Michael Salfino

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Michael Salfino provides quantitative player and team analysis for the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! Sports.

  • Pitching by the Numbers: Looking for luck

    The time to trade Julio Teheran is right now. (USAT)Let’s focus on the pitchers who have ERAs that are not supported by their strikeout and walk performance, meaning they are unfairly high or low.

    The stat here is strikeouts minus walks divided by innings pitched. The league average on Monday among pitchers who qualify for the ERA title is 0.56. The league leader is Felix Hernandez at 1.27. Hey, he’s pretty good! In fact, his 1.91 ERA has actually been a little unlucky. The league trailer, and the only pitcher in negative territory in the stat is A.J. Burnett (minus-0.04). But Burnett has a 2.74 ERA that has not killed his owners. (In fairness, he’s also pitching with a hernia that’s been a problem all year and will require surgery.)

    Burnett illustrates the problem with projections. Even if the stat is very solid, as I believe Ks minus BBs/IP is, we need past performance in the stat to approximate future performance. Some of the pitchers like Burnett that I touted this preseason because of excellence in the stat in 2013 have not

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Radar love/hate

    Justin Masterson needs to pick up the pace of his pitches. (Getty)One important takeaway in the early part of the season is velocity. We expect pitchers to be off about a mile per hour out of the gates. So we have to set the alarm bar higher.

    Generally, every mile per hour in velocity gained or lost results in an ERA decrease or increase of about a third of a run. Of course, individual mileage may vary. These are averages. The more a pitcher utilizes a fastball, for example, the greater the effect may be. Pitchers with solid changeups may not be as susceptible to this effect if their changeup speed maintains the prior differential relative to the fastball.

    Let’s focus on pitchers who have lost at least two miles per hour. But a mile per hour gained at any time is noteworthy. So we’ll highlight the few velocity gainers at this level, too.

    Here are the biggest losers, thus far, not including Clayton Kershaw, who was down about four miles per hour in his overseas start (and now we know why).

    Unfortunately, a few of my preseason favorites are on this

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Distant early warning

    It’s too early for doubt, but doubt is healthy. We should always question our choices. But we also must be reasonable in understanding sample sizes. Remember, we are now one quarter into April, which is in its entirety a whopping one-sixth of our season.


    Let’s look at the ERA leaderboards from April 2013 to see if we can even bet on the first month of the season. I personally think May 15 is the date to circle on your calendars for a fresh take, as that at least gets nearly 50 innings into the seasons of our starting pitchers. I’m sorting by ERA, because runs are what we fear most in this early juncture. It’s the category that almost begs us to overreact.



    Let’s start at the top. Matt Moore owners were spraining their elbows patting themselves on the back last April. Moore finished the year with averages of 3.29 and 1.30, way below expectations on April 30. He was a sell high given how he was greatly overachieving his 20th ranking in Ks minus BBs divided by IP.


    Buchholz could

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Grounders and fly balls

    Opening day is the season for second thoughts, doubt and recriminations.

    I’m all in on my K minus BB model, with a touch of isolated slugging allowed (slugging average allowed minus batting average allowed). This favors ground ball pitchers. And looking at my Friends and Family staff, I am concerned that my WHIP will be too high while remaining confident that the model will keep my ERA relatively low.

    Let’s look at what to expect generally from ground ball and fly ball pitchers on those specific batted-ball types.

    We’ll start with the ground ball pitchers and with those who, in 250-plus ground balls, allowed the lowest batting average on grounders. Note the small gap between average allowed on grounders and slugging allowed. Almost all these hits are singles. Note the average on grounders is .236. It is hard for grounders to find the holes.

    One of the things you notice right away is that there’s a 2013 Royal above at the top of the list for batting average allowed on grounders and

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Draft analysis

    With the alarm about to go off for real league-wide, let me share what pitchers I drafted in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League and also opine about what I would have rostered, pitching wise, had I participated in the Tout Wars Mixed League auction. The rule for the Tout Wars exercise is pretty simple -- a dollar more than the winning bid gets me the player.

    Friends and Family (round, overall pick, player)

    5. (66) Greg Holland (KC - RP)
    7. (96) Danny Salazar (Cle - SP)
    11. (156) Bobby Parnell (NYM - RP)
    12. (175) Justin Masterson (Cle - SP)
    13. (186) A.J. Burnett (Phi - SP)
    14. (205) Yordano Ventura (KC - SP)
    16. (235) Tyson Ross (SD - SP,RP)
    21. (306) Tim Lincecum (SF - SP)
    22. (325) Kelvin Herrera (KC - RP)

    Holland was the best available in Ks minus IPs, which I weight very heavily with closers. But it seems my colleagues did, too. To summarize, last year, Holland’s 36 Ks more than innings kept him at a winning rate of 9 K/9 IP while raising the K/9 of other pitchers

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: The 70/30 split

    A thread throughout this Pitching by the Numbers 2014 Preseason Primer has been that we find surplus fantasy baseball value with pitching because it’s cheap.

    There’s a debate within the industry on why a near universal 70/30 percent hitting/pitching split exists in auctions (which I know that so few of you play, but that doesn’t matter for this exercise). Since hitting is 50 percent of the categories, why shouldn’t we use 50 percent of our budget on it? Extending to drafts, why shouldn’t, say, every other one of your top picks be spent on a pitcher?

    I’ve tested focusing on pitching as equally as I can stomach in expert leagues (which are almost always free/no money) just to see if it really is much harder to construct a winning team that way. I’m convinced it is. But I stipulate that, in this game, any strategy well executed could win. But no one is winning because they are swimming upstream looking for bargain hitters after paying top dollar top pitchers.

    The are a number of

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Swing and a miss

    Is a K boost in Dan Straily's near future? (USAT)It sure feels like swinging strike percentage (SS%) and strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) should track together. But they often don’t. Let’s look for the outliers under the assumption that players who have a much higher SS% rank than their K/9 rank have strikeout upside not reflected in their 2013 category total. Conversely, if you have a SS% ranking much lower than your K/9 ranking, that may indicate that your higher K/9 rate is a mirage.

    Yes, I’m hedging a little. Readers know that I don’t do that often. Here’s my problem: a pitcher’s rankings in SS% and K/9 are not clustered together as neatly as, say, WHIP and ERA. I feel like they should be. It makes perfect sense that they would be. But they are not.

    I’ve charted the 158 pitchers last year who, according to Fangraphs.com, qualify as starters and pitched at least 70 innings. (I use 70 innings since that’s a number we feel good enough about to bet on for relievers; plus I always want to cast the widest net). Of those 158 pitchers,

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Tier review

    Every week, we essentially rank by telling you who is over and underachieving in fantasy based on the more predictable stats that usually are the foundation of fantasy performance.

    Owners would be wise to pass on Justin Verlander at his current market rate. (USAT)Winning pitching is the key to fantasy baseball. It’s the best way to make a profit on draft day. We all know who the good hitters are, so there is a convergence of opinion and thus price on them. You just have to accept that you’re going to have to pay retail for hitters. But with the exception of most of the top tier, there is significant divergence of opinion on pitchers, even among top fantasy baseball players. So me being right about the pitchers I like offers a profit potential that often is the difference between winning and losing.

    With that in mind, here are pitcher rankings for your drafts, as you have made your demands clear for a rankings of sort, especially via Twitter (@michaelsalfino). But I hate numerical rankings. Nine times out of 10, choosing between the 19th and 20th starter is

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Double trouble

    No pitcher allowed more doubles in '13 than Cole Hamels. (USAT)There’s a lot of talk every year around this time about hitters who had far more doubles than homers. The idea is that they are due for more homers this year. Call it the Manny Machado effect.

    But this is a better stat for pitchers. Hitters control outcomes more than pitchers do. So you can be a doubles hitter more reasonably than you can be a doubles pitcher.

    Yes, if you are a ground-ball pitcher, you can “earn” your higher double rate to some degree. While you are giving up hard contact, you arguably are controlling that this contact is of the ground-ball variety. And of course there are cheap doubles, too. But they are rare.

    So this list (below) is a good check, generally, and especially at the extremes, for pitchers due for a homer correction. The major league average last year was 1.8 doubles per homer.

    Let’s start with pitchers who had their hard contact turned into homers at a far higher rate than the league average (minimum 150 innings). Again, we expect a much higher ratio of

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Strikeouts Minus Walks

    Many sabermetricians prefer strikeouts minus walks to the more commonly available K/BB ratio. I agree. But I still use the latter mainly because none of the stats sites produce sortable strikeout-minus-walk lists.

    The price is right for Salazar. (USAT)But it’s easy enough to put one together ourselves in a spreadsheet. The missing element though is tethering it to innings pitched. So I simply divided the K minus BB total by the innings pitched (IP).

    Those who read Pitching by the Numbers and follow me on Twitter (@MichaelSalfino) know my belief that strikeouts and walks are the keys to projecting pitching. And I really like this one hybrid stat very much for ranking purposes, too, since strikeout and walk rates repeat better than the other statistics (i.e., they are more bettable; remember, nothing is bankable). And I’m using only 2013 numbers because, in some cases, that’s all we have and also because pitchers can and do make lasting changes to their repertoires that especially affect strikeout rates – witness Justin

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