2020 baseball season is finally here and, at least for the time being, the world is better because of that. At this moment, you might have already drafted your team and feel confident that you got the right guys for the right price. On the other side, you could be still feeling a bit bothered about something that did not go the way you wanted during draft time. Or, maybe you haven’t still drafted and could use a few tips.
That’s fine, anyway, there is always space for improvement so I would like to take a few minutes to take a glance over the general scenario and hopefully, help you pick a couple of interesting pitchers from the FA that could make a difference in this shortened and atypical season. So, let’s dive in!
First, I would like to acknowledge some things. I am going to use a couple of stats that, although common nowadays, go just a little beyond traditional ones like ERA, Ks, or W/L. These stats, which you might already know, are almost the same and are called (k-bb)/ip and K%-BB%: they summarize in a very simple way the achievement a pitcher has over what are the two principal outcomes that he can directly influence the most during an outing: strikeouts and walks.
If you want to dig deeper into why I am using these, please check this article where I explain myself about it but for a quick’n’dirty analogy you can ask yourself:
What makes a pitcher dominant?
There are multiple answers to this question but to me, it is the ability to keep batters off the bases and, even better, not letting them hit the ball at all.
(k-bb)/ip and K%-BB% show this dominance, measuring how successful has a pitcher been avoiding any contact from the batters (Ks or strikeouts) while also avoiding people on base (by the way of BBs or walks). That way, we can isolate some/most (depending on who you ask) of the pitcher’s responsibility, taking out what depends on the batter’s ability or his team’s defensive performance from the equation.
The use of percentages or the division by the innings pitched (IP) in either formula is just the way to be able to compare between pitchers with different amount of batters faced or innings pitched.
The other thing that wanted to acknowledge is that my main target leagues are Standard 5×5 Roto and H2H 12 teams points leagues, but the info can easily apply to other types.
Now, let’s look at the data. Here we have a table with the best 50* pitchers according to (k-bb)/ip and K%-BB% for 2019.
|Rank||Avg Pick||Avg Round||Name||(k-bb)/ip||K%-BB%||CSW|
50 Best SPs
The chart features, besides the mentioned stats, the Average Draft and Round Picks (ADP, ARP) at Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball and in the final column there is also CSW, which is another great predictive pitching stat (I highly recommend this 2019 FSWA Article of the Year piece by Alex Fast about it) and I use it as a comparative index and consistency check. I narrowed the data to pitchers with at least 10 games started in the 2019 season for two reasons: first, these stats tend to behave better after a nice amount of innings and second, I wanted to focus on SPs and not in high mileage relievers, although a couple of them still made the cut.
At first view there is nothing outstanding, as the usual suspects (Cole, Scherzer, and Verlander) top the board, and deGrom sits comfortably at 7th, lower than expected but still high enough. Doing some housekeeping (Sale is out and Green is an “opener” not a starter, this is our first tier:
There is one pitcher, Mike Clevinger, that jumps to the eye as in theory might look as if he does not belong to this group, although Clevinger is coming from a career year in 2019, with high totals in pretty much every category (one notable exception in IP due to injury). It is important to know that it was not a fluke, as you can see there is a progression in his performance for the past 3 years:
Clevinger could be considered an injury risk, especially coming from an off-season knee surgery but a shortened season will be beneficial for him as it will reduce the workload. I tend to avoid paying a premium for pitchers as I prefer top batting talent for my first picks so having a tentative first-tier SP as low as late in the 4th or early 5th round is a God-sent gift. If you need more info to make up your mind about Clevinger, look at this comparison with deGrom taken from https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/:
Clevinger is on the left side, the difference in the profiles is small but the price gap is huge, so the gamble is worth it.
Let’s jump to the second tier:
To me, this is by far the most interesting tier and I would pick any of these guys (I drafted 3 out of the 4 in this league) except for Bieber: his numbers are too similar to Glasnow’s, Lamet’s and Boyd’s but the asking price is too high, so I would prefer to take any of the other three. Glasnow is a borderline Tier 1 guy at a bargain price, Lamet, Boyd, and Keller are not for the faint of heart but their metrics scream upside and you can get them easily after round 11, so the risk is minimum.
I am particularly intrigued and enticed by what can Keller do, he is a well-regarded prospect with underlying stats pointing to his true abilities with a somehow disappointing 2019. His (k-bb)/ip is superb and if he can keep the ball in the park he should fare very well.
Now, let’s venture into the third tier:
This tier is the perfect cautionary tale when drafting pitchers, we find a mixture of highly regarded players who are being drafted in the second and third round in a possible same performance scale with others at least twice as cheap. That’s why I stay far from these highlighted pitchers and use those premium picks with batters, which is boring but tends to have a smaller variance. Then, I use later picks to get some options as the mentioned Lamet, Keller o Carrasco.
Carrasco is remarkably interesting as people are avoiding using top picks with him because, due to his condition, he might lose a lot of time if he gets sick with COVID-19. I have some news for you: we are all playing Russian Roulette the minute we go out of our home’s door so any player could lose a lot of time independently of any condition, just ask Freddie Freeman. So at this price, Carrasco is a deal.
One final thought about this tier: I am not advocating that the players highlighted in red are bad pitchers; I am just saying that they are bad picks at their current ADPs and ARPs.
Let’s move on to the next tier:
Comparable situation, a couple of no-nos in Flaherty and Paddack and 6 particularly useful SPs. I am very fond of Hill and in a short season, his value increases as the veteran pitcher will have a diminished workload. Andrew Heaney finds in Maddon a better manager for his skill set and Robbie Ray has improved his arm-action, so he could be on the verge of an awesome season, and the best thing is you would be paying almost nothing for them.
The final tier is the hardest to make something out of it, for sure. In it, we find big names as Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke, and Patrick Corbin which shows that a huge “Handle with care” sign is on them. I would stay away from them unless for some strange reason you can still grab any of them way after their average draft position. Even last year’s darling Luis Castillo is in the danger zone. The rest look like they are well situated according to their profile but I would also be cautious with Bauer and Ryu.
A very intriguing pick is Kevin Gausman. It’s a shame he must deal with a DH roster even now, but I am taking a few shares of him right from the FA stash.
In the end, everything depends on your preferred draft strategy: If you, like me, like to stash on big-hitting names and look for pitching help from diverse sources I think you might find these tips useful. Just remember that this is a season as non-other before, so we are going on for a wild ride. Let’s buckle up.
EE, Data geek, Baseball fan. Twitter: @camarcano