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: 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. 

    [Yahoo Fantasy Football is open for the 2016 season. Sign up now]

    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.

    [Yahoo Fantasy Football is open for the 2016 season. Sign up now]

    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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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Ross is boss of weak contact

    We’re transitioning to 2016 stats only this week in Pitching by the Numbers with a look at well-hit averages (of at bats) from our friends at Inside Edge. Small sample caveats obviously apply. But then how do we view these leaders in being toughest to hit thus far?

    I would view it exactly like I would view anyone who at this point has great fantasy pitching stats. It means they are healthy and sharp. It’s bullish for their prospects going forward. If the pitchers in question have good fantasy stats, this is solid support that these stats are real. And if they are struggling to any degree in our fantasy averages (ERA and WHIP), this POSSIBLY supports the notion that a turnaround is bettable.

    Everything we see at this stage of the season lacks definition. But I am a strong advocate of using what we have to make bets knowing that those bets are a lot more risky and speculative but still making them rather than just sitting things out until everyone can confidently say who is good and who

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Method for finding undervalued starters

    Strikeouts are a pitcher’s best friend. They leave little to chance. But the next best attribute a pitcher can have in run prevention is a high ground-ball rate. So in our last column that focuses primarily on last year’s stats (though 2016 stats are also included), let’s combine the two rates into one number and see who the leaders are in K percentage plus GB percentage.

    We’re doing things a little different, something not unusual in this space. These numbers have been combined before with a threshold of 75 percent or so being elite. However, the K percentage is based on batters faced while the GB percentage commonly is based on ground balls as a percentage of balls in play. In other words, apples and oranges.

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    So when you see Tyson Ross at 87 percent by that metric, you instinctively think that 87 percent of the batters Ross faces either strikeout or hit a ground ball. But that is false. That 87 percent doesn’t mean anything besides

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Examining dominance of starters

    I get accused fairly all the time in this space of being strikeout obsessed. And if you’re going to be obsessed about anything in pitching, it definitely should be that. But this week as we still wait for 2016 numbers to have any weight, let’s look more broadly at dominance with the help of our friends at Major League Baseball stat provider Inside Edge.

    They track three stats relative to league average in their “dominance” category in their individual pitching report cards. Dominance then as a whole receives a numerical grade on a scale of 1-to-100. The stats are: 1) percentage of outs that are strikeouts on four pitches or less, 2) 1-2-3 innings as a percentage of completed innings, 3) swing and miss percentage of strikes.

    So let’s pull all starting pitches who threw at least 800 pitches last year and who in these stats pulled an overall dominance grade of at least 88 — meaning they were B-plus or better in dominance. Note there are

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Score draft deals by focusing on velocity

    Pitchers are throwing harder than ever. And though there are many exceptions to the rule that velocity really matters, with some flamethrowers consistently disappointing while select soft tossers manage to flummox hitters with the subtleties of their craft, that doesn’t disprove anything.

    Bottom line, last year, starting pitchers whose fastballs averaged over 94 miles per hour in starts allowed a .683 OPS while all of those under 94 mph on average allowed hitters to rake to the tune of .741 — an 8.5 percent increase.

    Based on historical data across both leagues, a .683 OPS allowed by the flamethrowers typically translates into a 3.50 ERA while the .741 allowed by everyone else works out to about 4.12. Oh, and don’t forget strikeouts — 23.3 percent for the high velocity and 18.8 for all others. (Note that these numbers are for the pitchers on all pitches, not just fastballs.)

    [Sign up for Fantasy Baseball | Play for $40K | Expert rankings | Mock draft ]

    So our draft preparation

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  • Strikeouts key to finding closer value

    We rank our closers incorrectly. Projecting saves for guys who have the job is a fool’s errand because there is a poor correlation between team wins and team saves.

    Consider that last year, the AL East champion Blue Jays, winner of 93 games, ranked 27th with 40 wins of three runs or less. The Phillies who led the majors in losses with 99 had 42 of these wins that broadly met the save criteria.

    [Sign up for Fantasy Baseball | Play for $40K | Expert rankings | Mock draft ]

    Instead of projecting saves, we should just look for the guys with the job who are best in strikeouts minus innings. This is very different than our stat last week with starting pitchers: (K-BB)/IP. The reason is that these relievers don’t pitch enough for there to be a strong correlation between (K-BB)/IP and ERA, especially. And I’m looking more for help with Ks from my closers than help with averages — though of course the averages often are driven by strikeouts.

    By looking only at the projected strikeouts that

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Strikeouts key to finding closer value

    We rank our closers incorrectly. Projecting saves for guys who have the job is a fool’s errand because there is a poor correlation between team wins and team saves.

    Consider that last year, the AL East champion Blue Jays, winner of 93 games, ranked 27th with 40 wins of three runs or less. The Phillies who led the majors in losses with 99 had 42 of these wins that broadly met the save criteria.

    [Sign up for Fantasy Baseball | Play for $40K | Expert rankings | Mock draft ]

    Instead of projecting saves, we should just look for the guys with the job who are best in strikeouts minus innings. This is very different than our stat last week with starting pitchers: (K-BB)/IP. The reason is that these relievers don’t pitch enough for there to be a strong correlation between (K-BB)/IP and ERA, especially. And I’m looking more for help with Ks from my closers than help with averages — though of course the averages often are driven by strikeouts.

    By looking only at the projected strikeouts that

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Stat that can help you find fantasy value

    Last year was not a good one for projecting pitcher performance based on the prior year’s strikeouts and walks, the way we do it here is (K-BB) divided by innings pitched.

    But it worked wonderfully in 2014. Of course, the truth lies somewhere in between. This stat is the best tool we have in the pitcher projection toolbox but that is all contextual. It just means that players who demonstrated elite ratios of Ks and BBs in the prior year are bettable to have similar ratios in the upcoming year. They are not bankable to do this. Nothing is bankable. 

    [Sign up for Fantasy Baseball | Play for $40K | Expert rankings | Mock draft ]

    What this methodology comes down to is betting on stats. We hope the (K-BB)/IP stat is as bettable as the obvious stats that directly impact our fantasy categories — ERA and WHIP especially. It generally should be. But individual mileage varies. So to gamble on the outliers — the pitchers who were much better in Ks and BBs than they are currently projected to

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