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: Walk the line

    Phil Hughes, control freak. (USAT)Phil Hughes, control freak. (USAT)We continue setting the table for our 2015 pitching analysis by putting today’s individual numbers into the modern context. Last week, we adjusted strikeout percentage for the league average, where 100 was average. This week, we do the same with BB%. 

    Next up, we put our K and BB analysis together in one formula and tier pitchers based on their 2014 numbers. You will see that many experts and fellow owners are largely ignoring 2014 performance in their 2015 projections/ADP. I believe that is foolish and it’s the basis of my recommendation to wait for pitching. Merely draft last year’s elite key stat without much pushback at all, even deep into drafts.
    Early March should be plenty of time for you to prepare for your drafts. But if you have a pressing matter in the meantime and want my opinion, just ask me on Twitter (@michaelsalfino).
    Last year, the average pitcher walked 7.6 percent of batters, which is historically low and exactly where we were in 1968, the fabled “Year of the
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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Special Ks

    Mike Fiers (USAT)Mike Fiers (USAT)Baseball has changed dramatically in recent years and, in pitching, that requires us to rethink what makes a strikeout rate or walk rate good or bad.

    Usually we index stats to allow us to compare players of different eras. But I think it’s imperative that we index strikeout and walk numbers for the new game, where strikeouts are much higher and walks much lower than ever before. So the old rules of what makes pitchers valuable in creating category advantages above the league average must be adjusted, too.
    I adjusted strikeout rate for the league average strikeout rate, which is now an all-time high 20.4%. I used the percentages because that’s what the stat feed had and I’m tired of arguing about such a marginal issue. It barely matters if you did the same thing with K/9 instead of K%. But to further help you assess, note the average K/9 last year throughout major league baseball was 7.73/9 (for only starters it was 7.38). These are not typos. The important thing is that you adjust
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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Closing costs

    Aroldis Chapman is one of the few closers worth the premium price tag. (Getty)Aroldis Chapman is one of the few closers worth the premium price tag. (Getty)Last week I detailed my strategyof not drafting starting pitching when a top 80(ish) hitter is still on the board. Now let me make it clear, that doesn’t mean that I’m not drafting any pitchers in those rounds. I’m willing to pay the freight on certain closers.

    But the closers I want are of a very specific variety that also happens to typically be the most expensive — those who dominate in strikeouts.
    I hate paying retail for anything, of course. And, yes, saves are one category. But my targeted closers are not one category pitchers. Their strikeout ability not only provides a huge surplus relative to average closers but also likely reduces their ERAs and WHIPs to levels where they each take a second-tier pitcher and combine to create a first-tier hybrid totaling 270 or so innings. And of course I hope some of the “second-tier pitchers” I draft have a decent shot of ending up being first-tier, like Corey Kluber in 2014. 
    Drafting closers late is dangerous in Yahoo! formats that cap
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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Wait on arms

    Don't get stuck paying the price for the ace that becomes this year's version of Justin Verlander. (Getty)Don't get stuck paying the price for the ace that becomes this year's version of Justin Verlander. (Getty)Let’s start Pitching by the Numbers not by projecting individual pitchers but instead looking at general draft strategy. How should we build a staff that increases our odds of winning a fantasy baseball championship?

    The answer is the same way as ever before: Wait on starting pitching.
    Let’s dispense with the silliness right away. I’m not worried about what I’ll do if everyone waits on starting pitching in favor of taking hitters. That never happens. Experts don’t even fully commit to it (they may dabble but they’ll crack by Round 6-7). So this is like worrying that everyone in the world is going to go to my favorite diner tomorrow morning for blueberry pancakes. And I’m not saying that I’m ranking 80 hitters over Clayton Kershaw even though I know I will take about that many over any starting pitcher. Trust me, someone is going to take Kershaw about where he’s ranked, same with all the other top pitchers. And you should silently thank your fellow owners for taking you off the hook.
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  • Splitsville: The DeMarco dilemma

    Let’s start Splitsville in Dallas, which has multiple fantasy football wild cards in Championship Week.

    DeMarco Murray was thought to be out for sure with a broken hand. But then Stephania Bell at ESPN reported expertly that this injury had an average 2.8 day recovery time for football players based on a recent medical study. This was within minutes of the news breaking. So then it was bettable that Murray was going to play as normal and I proceeded that way. I did not waste a waiver claim on Joseph Randle knowing my championship game opponent would block me. That resulted in me adding two players I wanted on waivers instead of just one, completely closing the projected points gap. It could still blow up in my face, of course. There is no guarantee that Murray will play. But I thought it was bettable. The process is correct, regardless of the results. Remember, this is an elimination game, essentially, for Dallas.
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  • Scouting Notebook: Backs on the wire

    Week 15 in Fantasy Football was the proverbial “Drunkard’s Walk.” Whether you advanced or were vanquished depends on whether your big players showed up at all. That’s usually the case, of course, but it’s hard to remember another playoff week where so many big names came up empty.

    But before the post-mortem, let’s help those that are advancing assess the waiver wire, which, as is the case every week, is ripe.

    It’s quite frankly hilarious that Toby Gerhart may decide fantasy championships, but that’s our game, boys. The zeroRB guys don’t care, of course. Gerhart suddenly is in line for the most touches and probably any goal-line ones on a team that plays a low-scoring, running friendly brand of defensive football. This week, in front of a nation-wide Thursday audience (as part of, I’m sure, some elaborate practical joke), Gerhart and the Jaguars face the Titans, one of the friendliest running-game matchups going.

    In San Francisco, Carlos Hyde may be in line for the most touches now that

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  • Splitsville: Holding out for a hero

    Let’s start Splitsville this week with a look at the top scorers of Week 15 last year, mostly to prepare ourselves for how cruelly random our game can be. Source for this is Pro-Football-Reference’s excellent player-finder database, well worth a subscription.

    Top five Week 15, 2013 QBs: Nick Foles, Alex Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Cassel and Matt Flynn.

    Top five RBs: Jamaal Charles, Matt Asiata, Eddie Lacy, DeAngelo Williams, Rashad Jennings

    Top five WRs: DeSean Jackson, Greg Jennings, Dez Bryant, Pierre Garcon, Julian Edelman, Andre Caldwell

    So some crazy players may end up being on the Week 15 Hero list this year. You know the candidates, guys like Johnny Manziel, Derek Anderson, Jake Locker, Marquess Wilson, Kerwynn Williams, Latavius Murray, Harry Douglas…. Who knows? Anyone who is starting is dangerous in any given week.

    Again, forget about “fantasy points vs. position X” stats to pick your lineups. They’re too touchdown driven and touchdowns are random. The rate stats are way

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  • Scouting Notebook: Le'Veon on legendary run

    Le'Veon Bell has been delivering plenty of Sweetness for his fantasy owners. (USAT)Le'Veon Bell has been delivering plenty of Sweetness for his fantasy owners. (USAT)Le’Veon Bell has been a disappointment to his owners when it comes to converting yardage into touchdowns but all that changed at a perfect time for his owners, with three scores in Week 14.

    So let’s start our Scouting Notebook with the player who is rapidly emerging as the consensus No. 1 running back (and thus, in the non-zeroRB world, the No. 1 overall pick) in 2015. Bell now has a remarkable 711 yards in his last three games. Only one player in league history has more (or has even ever broken 700) in a three game stretch — Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears in 1977. Bell's season total is up to 1,924 yards. He’ll have to play near his recent pace to break Chris Johnson’s 2009 record of 2,509 scrimmage yards. But just holding his full-season average, which seems a safe bet considering his recent surge, would get Bell to 2,368 scrimmage yards, the fourth most in league history (leapfrogging 1997 Barry Sanders).

    Bell is the complete package, of course, except for home-run speed. But his

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  • Splitsville: The tall and the short of it

    Let’s mine the data this week for the players who were least and most efficient in converting yards from scrimmage into touchdowns. I’ve also included position and height/weight. Thanks to Pro-Football-Reference for the stats.

    Here’s a link to the full chart.  We’ll just do the highlights here.

    The top 20 most efficient scorers are:

    The big WR model still works but it hasn’t been a great year for it. I think we have some selection bias going on. I’ll explain in a moment. First the details. Seven of the nine most efficient scoring wide receivers are at least six-feet tall. But players 5-11 and under average a TD every 212 yards and players 6-2 and over one every 190. That’s not close to the advantage I’d expect based on historical data.

    So what’s going on? Randall Cobb and Antonio Brown are having crazy efficient touchdown seasons. That’s a big part of it.

    But I noticed something when sorting. I typically pull the 6-3 and over guys and 5-10 and under guys and the sample sizes are similar.

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  • Scouting Notebook: Donte's inferno

    Expect Donte Moncrief's fantasy value to skyrocket in the coming years..  (Getty)Expect Donte Moncrief's fantasy value to skyrocket in the coming years.. (Getty)Week 13 was a breakout for a select class of young wideouts. What DeAndre Hopkins, Kenny Stills and Keenan Allen all had in common entering this year was producing at an all-time level for a 21-year-old receiver in their rookie season of 2013.

    So the expectation, from me at least, was that we have to age-adjust their stats like we would a super-young baseball player and thus expect star-caliber performance going forward. Unfortunately, going forward is a long time, as much as we’d like that to mean “from Week 1 of the upcoming season forward.”

    It’s been rocky at times with all three guys. Hopkins has mysteriously not been given the lion’s share of targets despite elite yards-per-target production all year. Stills entered the season hurt and and afterthought given the new, 21-year-old wide receiver in town, Brandin Cooks. Allen went seven games without a touchdown and, in fairness, was doing very little with his targets. But in Week 13, the trio combined for 25 catches on 30 targets for

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