Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pitcher Benchmarks Applied to Fantasy Earnings

Eno Sarris wrote an article for Roto Hardball entitled “Sabremetrics & Fantasy: Starting Pitcher Benchmarks for Fantasy.”  In describing the premise, Sarris said:

We do know that there are three main components to a pitcher's performance: How often do they strike a guy out, how often do they walk a guy, and how often do they get a guy to ground out. These three aspects of pitching are the parts of the game that a pitcher has the most control over. Generally, you want a pitcher to be above-average or better in two of the three categories before you place your trust in them.
But what is 'good?' What sort of statistical benchmarks can we use when we're appraising a pitcher? Let's run the key numbers down in those three main categories to see what we can learn.

Sarris went on to suggest that the “ideal” pitcher would have a K/9 over 7.00, a BB/9 under 2.00 and a GB% over 50%.  The only ideal pitcher would be Roy Halladay under this scenario and, frankly, I did not need the fancy metrics to tell me that Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in the league and generated the most value in 2010.  Sarris went on to comment that he was looking at the league-wide rates and the starting pitcher rates more than the “ideal” rates, which, based on the numbers, is a more fair approach.

These “benchmarks” are an interesting premise for sure.  I asked myself: “What do all of these numbers mean in terms of fantasy?”  I mean, in reality, we cannot bid on 5 or 6 Roy Halladay’s per team. Outperforming league average strikeout rates, walk rates and ground-ball rates is nice, but how does the application of these “sabermetrics” help us value our fantasy baseball pitchers?  Putting aside whether these are the appropriate metrics or not, I decided to take a look at some year to year leaders in these particular areas, and how they pitchers fared year to year in terms of statistics and in terms of earnings.

I believe that Sarris’ premise is that a pitcher exceeding league average in each of these three categories is worth owning in fantasy.  We should review, then, the league averages for these three categories.  For strikeout rates, the 2010 league average for starters was 6.76 K/9.  The 2010 league average walk rate for starters was 3.05 BB/9.  Finally, the league ground-ball rate in 2010 for starters was 44%.  Using these numbers as benchmarks seems to be a bit odd: taken alone, the K/9 and GB% seem pretty low and the BB/9 seems pretty high.  Nonetheless, this is the paradigm we will work within today.

In 2011, there are 19 pitchers (going into games beginning Monday May 9) that currently exceed all three criteria:


K/9
BB/9
GB%
M. Garza
11.69
2.62
50.90%
T. Lincecum
10.84
3.04
56.60%
R. Halladay
9.62
1.18
53.50%
C. Hamels
9.25
2.08
47.90%
T. Hanson
9.00
2.41
46.70%
J. Lester
8.94
2.91
58.00%
J. Garcia
8.74
2.18
54.70%
8.57
2.79
48.70%
C. Narveson
8.54
3.00
46.00%
8.39
2.37
46.30%
D. Lowe
8.26
2.82
54.70%
M. Leake
8.13
2.88
45.00%
F. Hernandez
8.10
2.38
49.40%
G. Floyd
8.08
2.20
48.90%
T. Cahill
7.54
2.98
54.10%
J. Shields
7.38
2.01
45.90%
R. Nolasco
7.23
1.33
45.20%
J. Chacin
7.02
2.85
60.20%
C. Carpenter
6.91
2.72
48.50%

Mike Leake is an “eyebrow raiser” on the list.  It is no surprise that his FIP is 4.07 and his xFIP is 3.28 with those peripherals.  In fact, he is the only pitcher on this list with an FIP anywhere close to 4.00.

So, recognizing the small sample sizes for 2011, how many of these pitchers also exceeded these three benchmarks in 2010?  Six: Johnson, Hamels, Rodriguez, Halladay, Floyd and Carpenter.  Here are the 16 starting pitchers that eclipsed league averages in K/9, BB/9 and GB% in 2010:


K/9
BB/9
GB%
ERA
FIP
xFIP
F. Liriano
9.44
2.72
53.60%
3.62
2.66
2.95
M. Latos
9.21
2.44
44.70%
2.92
3.00
3.21
J. Johnson
9.11
2.35
45.70%
2.30
2.41
3.02
C. Hamels
9.10
2.63
45.40%
3.06
3.67
3.28
F. Hernandez
8.36
2.52
53.90%
2.27
3.04
3.14
A. Wainwright
8.32
2.19
51.60%
2.42
2.86
3.02
R. Oswalt
8.20
2.35
45.40%
2.73
3.28
3.32
R. Halladay
7.86
1.08
51.20%
2.44
3.01
2.80
7.46
2.80
50.70%
3.18
3.54
3.63
Z. Greinke
7.40
2.25
46.00%
4.17
3.34
3.60
H.Kuroda
7.29
2.20
51.10%
3.39
3.26
3.43
G. Floyd
7.25
2.79
49.90%
4.08
3.46
3.69
B. Myers
7.24
2.66
48.70%
3.14
3.56
3.67
J. Hammel
7.14
2.38
46.70%
4.81
3.70
3.66
C. Carpenter
6.86
2.41
51.10%
3.22
3.69
3.70
J. Danks
6.85
2.96
45.40%
3.72
3.70
3.99

In order to understand what all these numbers mean for purposes of fantasy, however, we need to take a look at fantasy earnings.  If the “benchmarks” do not translate to earnings, they really are not viable benchmarks.  So, here are the top 16 earners for 2010 among starting pitchers; assume 5x5 13 team NL-only and 12 team AL-only earnings (NOTE: We recalculated the earnings based on Mike's formulas, so the order of some of the pitchers has changed...sorry for any inconvenience):

R. Halladay
$38
A. Wainwright
$35
F. Hernandez
$35
C. Lee
$27
C.C. Sabathia
$28
T. Cahill
$25
T. Hudson
$25
U. Jimenez
$29
J. Weaver
$29
C. Buchholz
$24
J. Johnson
$26
M. Latos
$25
J. Verlander
$26
J. Lester
$26
C. Carpenter
$24
C. Kershaw
$24

As you can see, only 7 of the top 16 earners met all three “benchmarks.”  Of course, four of the top five earners did exceed the benchmarks, Cliff Lee being the notable exception (the ground ball rate keeps him off the list). Now, a few of the pitchers that missed the top earners list did not miss by much: Hamels, Myers, Kuroda, Danks and Liriano all earned in the high teens.  Hammel is the only pitcher earning less than double-digits:

C. Hamels
$23
B. Myers
$21
H. Kuroda
$19
J. Danks
$19
F. Liriano
$19
R. Oswalt
$29
Z. Greinke
$14
G. Floyd
$10
J. Hammel
$5

With regard to the pitchers that did not achieve the benchmarks, how did their numbers compare to the league averages?


K/9
BB/9
GB%
C. Lee
7.84
0.76
41.90%
T. Cahill
5.40
2.88
56.00%
T. Hudson
5.47
2.91
64.10%
U. Jimenez
8.69
3.74
48.80%
J. Weaver
9.35
2.17
36.00%
C. Buchholz
6.22
3.47
50.80%
J. Verlander
8.79
2.85
41.00%
J. Lester
9.74
3.95
53.60%
C. Kershaw
9.34
3.57
43.20%

So what conclusions can we draw from these numbers?  First, in terms of benchmarks, hitting all three league averages does not appear to be a sure-fire recipe for success in terms of fantasy earnings.  Any bench-mark that does not include more than half of the top fantasy dollar earners really is not helpful in terms of valuation and bidding.  This is not to say, however, that these statistical categories are not relevant.  Certainly, K/9, BB/9 and GB% are relevant to ranking pitchers and trying to predict outcomes.  Six of the nine pitchers that did not achieve the benchmarks earned over $15.

Second, taking a look at the pitchers that did not achieve the benchmarks but finished in the Top 16 of earners, it appears that each (with an exception) had at least one elite showing in these categories.  Clay Buchholz does not really have an elite showing in any of these categories; the 50% ground ball rate is nice, but combined with the sub-par strikeout rate and relatively high walk rate, it spells potential trouble.  Oddly enough, Buchholz is struggling quite a bit (the strikeout rate has dropped and the walk rate has gone up).  The other pitchers either have elite ground ball rates or elite strikeout rates.  In the case of Cliff Lee, he has an elite BB/9 to go with an above-league average strikeout rate.

Do we need to look at these specific categories to value fantasy starting pitchers?  That remains open to debate.  A quick glance at FIP and xFIP would give us a similar picture.  LD%, BABIP, Contact % and other combinations of statistics also likely get us to the same conclusion: the pitchers above are valuable.  At some point, I would like to come back to this and break down last year’s starting pitchers by value (quintiles maybe?) and see how their averages over a number of statistics compare.  Perhaps, then, we can find some practical application of these statistics to valuation.

1 comment:

Rotoman said...

I didn't read Eno's original post, but it sounds like Eno is trying to isolate out pitcher skills the way Ron Shandler did back in the day, but substituting Ground Ball Rate for HR Rate.

The objective being to identify pitchers with good schools, even if those aren't showing up in the ERA and WHIP or Win column.

I have no idea whether Eno's twist is better than Ron's, but I do know that comparing pitchers to single season roto earnings won't work because you're looking at these component stats in order to clear up the noise inherent in roto earnings.

What shows up in the earnings leaders are outliers, like Buchholz, who in theory at least won't sustain because their components aren't so good.

When Shandler wrote it up we weren't looking at BABIP and xFIP and didn't have LD rates, so there was more information. Now we get much the same, as you say, from a variety of angles.

I've always liked Mike Leake.