Michael Salfino

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

  • Predicting pitchers set to improve behind homer correction

    Homers allowed are a quandary for fantasy baseball owners. They are worth about 1.4 runs allowed every time they occur yet they are relatively isolated events even at the most extreme levels. So the question becomes whether they are fact or fluke. In other words, do we blame pitchers for allowing homers and, if so, how much?

    Stats like xFIP just normalize a rate based on fly balls allowed for everyone, essentially stipulating that homers allowed are completely random. But this seems like an overcorrection; if pitchers are not to be blamed at all for homers, what are we even doing here in projecting them? Hits are random. Homers are random. Are strikeouts the fault of the hitter, too? Obviously this becomes ridiculous when you proceed even halfway down the slippery slope.

    So this week let’s look at the homers allowed leaders through Wednesday, using homers per nine innings. These are the only stats my database allowed me to sort by date. And I needed to do this to see in recent years

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  • Examining effectiveness of starting pitchers deep in games

    The third time is not a charm in baseball. Meaning, the third time through the order. This year, pitchers allow a .778 OPS the third-time through the order compared with .717 the first time and .744 the second. Of course, individual mileage will vary. We want guys who are capable of pitching deeper into games because each out they get on their own increases the likelihood that a tied or trailing game can turn into a win.

    While Scott Pianowski put values on starting pitchers the rest of the season earlier this week, we're going to focus on the pitchers who have proven to be much better than average — and much worse — the third-time around (minimum 80 at bats vs. batters). You could of course note career averages for broader context but pitchers are really more “of the moment” performers versus hitters, who you can usually count on to level out to the back of their baseball cards.

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    For example, a pitcher who struggles this

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Power rankings for relievers

    We have enough 2016 data to put closers under the stat microscope to form a power ranking for all of those who have at least five saves through Wednesday, regardless of whether they’re currently in the job.

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    We’re using two metrics to accomplish this. The first is of course (K-BB)/IP because dominance in this area is arguably more important in the one-inning role than it is overall. The second is ISO Allowed (ISO is slugging average minus batting average), which is a proxy for hit quality because you of course want your closer to have to allow three hits to give up a run.

    We’ve made an index of just these two stats. That’s simply adding the ranking of each of the 34 qualifiers in (K-BB)/IP and also in ISO Allowed and then adding those rankings, so the lower the sum of these rankings, the better the pitcher.

    It’s no surprise that Aroldis Chapman is the best pitcher who is closing in baseball.

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Trying to uncover starters worth an add

    Today we isolate the recent month-long sample for starting pitchers to examine their (strikeouts-walks)/inning pitched. 

    I’d never do this with hitters because I can’t really think of a reason generally why a hitter would greatly improve in a slice of a season beyond a natural peak-age progression. Of course, hitters do radically improve and sustain that improvement but I don’t view it as something you can confidently bet on at its outset. But there are so many reasons why a pitcher can improve or decline for at least the remainder of the season including refining a pitch, developing a new one, eliminating a pitch, optimal health, injury, a mechanical change that significantly boosts or reduces velocity, a sudden emphasis or fear of throwing inside, etc., etc.

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    Plus the best part of isolating current samples is that they are masked by the full-year where perhaps some of the issues mentioned above were conversely in play.

    But of course,

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  • Hitting by the Numbers: Overlooked adds for your fantasy team

    We’re going to take a short break from pitching this week and use our Inside Edge well-hit metrics to look at select hitters in the context of the MLB-wide average rate of .138. 

    While that’s the main statistic, I also noted each hitter’s slugging percentage through Wednesday and also their rate of quality at-bats. Of course a quality at-bat is any at-bat resulting in a hit or walk, but also includes well-hit outs and any at bat regardless of outcome that lasts at least seven pitches. The MLB average for this is 39 percent. (It also includes sacrifices and hit by pitch.)

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    The objective is to take a fresh look at the hitters now that the plate appearances are gaining stabilization rates for the respective stats. Who is a lot better or a lot worse than we expected? In some cases, as with Victor Martinez, the league’s best hitter based on the combination of these metrics, it’s simply the product of retaining peak skills that we assumed were

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Luckiest and unluckiest fantasy starters

    We’re told that batting average allowed is largely luck, making so much bottom-line pitching performance (ERA and WHIP) largely random. This is depressing. But the solution isn’t to curse that our faults lie in the stars but rather to strive to better isolate luck by cross-checking batting average against contact type.

    We use well-hit data here from Inside Edge, where scouts review each batted ball for whether, to their eyes, it was well struck. Balls out of play — homers — are counted as they should be as well-hit. Grounders are assessed. Not all line drives are well hit. Strikeouts count because the stat is tethered to at bats. The MLB well-hit average this year is .134, meaning that pitchers allow batters to hit the ball well 13.4 percent of the time.

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    We also know that, as of action through Wednesday, the MLB-wide batting average was .251. So a pitcher’s batting average allowed is expected to be .117 higher than his well-hit rate. To

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Fantasy Baseball's most dominant relievers

    We’re going to focus on relievers this week in Pitching by the Numbers, using a combination of obvious run prevention and less obvious dominance and control — irrespective of saves.

    But first a statistical analysis of Matt Harvey focusing on the central question of whether the game’s most disappointing pitcher to date is a buy-low candidate. 

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    Let’s start with FIP, where his ERA now sits at an expected 3.66. His actual ERA of 5.77 is driven by an absurd .390 BABIP. While line-drive stats say this is earned given that clocks in at 34 percent, I’m not a fan of this stat. There are many soft line drives.

    So let’s just look at well-hit rate, which our friends at InsideEdge provide. His well-hit rate is still eight points better than average at .130 and moved up from .115 in just his last start, where in fairness he was hit hard. His fastball velocity and command are still good. But his breaking ball is not working. Mets announcer Ron Darling

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Judging starters by their fastball

    The No. 1 criteria upon which to judge a starting pitcher is his No. 1 — the fastball. Is it a pitch that hitters can sit on since on average this year starters throw it about 55 percent of the time? Or can it vex them even when they guess right?

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    So this week let’s put fastball pitching performance under the microscope with our friends at Inside Edge. The criteria was that you had to throw 300 fastballs thus far, which would seemingly eliminate all non-starters. But Scott Feldman snuck onto the list even though he’s recently shifted into the bullpen. Carlos Torres is also a reliever so ignore him, too. The relievers remember are facing batters one time mostly and can just max out. Also note that the league averages are a .228 well-hit rate on fastballs and 15.9 percent miss rate on fastball swings. 

    These stats are current entering action on Thursday. So we missed Vincent

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Luckiest and unluckiest starters

    In this week’s edition, we’re looking at walks and strikeouts. The latter has already stabilized and as the former is about to, given you only need 170 batters faced for walk rate, according to Fangraphs.

    The formula I’ve been using here for years is slightly different because it came about before K%-BB%. Mine is (K-BB)/IP. I have no problem with the K%-BB% except that it’s harder to track in a game because we typically don’t know exactly how many batters a pitcher has faced. 

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    These stats are through Tuesday’s action. We’re going to make them through Wednesday starting next week. Make sure you check for subsequent starts before making any moves with the players referenced. Note that the MLB average in (K-BB)/IP is 0.56, meaning 0.56 more strikeouts than walks per inning for a typical starting pitcher. That’s the bar to clear.

    I’ve tethered the chart below to ERA, meaning that being “unlucky” or “lucky” is merely a

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Examining dominance of fantasy starters

    Let’s take an early season look at dominance with the help of our friends at Inside Edge. These are the pitchers entering Wednesday’s action who had an A-minus or better overall grade based on three statistical categories: 1-2-3 innings as a percentage of complete innings, strikeouts in four pitches or less and swinging strike rate. All are graded based on the league averages. The numerical grade is based on a 100-point scale in the chart below.

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    Again the point here isn’t to go out and get these ungettable pitchers who everyone knows are great. Rather, note the lesser names who are keeping such elite company. And this is also a check against overreacting too much to highly volatile and statistically insignificant (at this point of the season) ERA. If your pitcher is bad in ERA but good in our dominance metric, you should just relax and hold him.

    I like lumping the three

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