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. 

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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 perform in fantasy — we need to be paid. That means we need to acquire these players at prices very close to ADP.

You don’t want to reach for these guys because then you are paying to gamble on them. Rather, get a handful of these pitchers at very close to ADP (but not waiting well beyond it) is optimal because then you are more likely to build the surplus value (stats over cost) that we need to win fantasy championships.

As I have long maintained and said repeatedly last year, the (K-BB)/IP or any variation (K%-B% is used on Fangraphs) is much better as an in-season tool because Ks and BBs stabilize pretty quickly (about 70 batters faced for Ks and 170 for walks. Plus pitchers are more likely to retain those skills in-season than after an offseason reset.

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But we don’t have the season now. We only have last season. Again, people are going to draft largely based on ERAs and WHIP which are less bettable year-to-year than our stat. And (K-BB)/IP also has the benefit of being largely ignored while those averages stare everyone in the face from the draft queue. 

Don’t misconstrue what I’m saying as hedging. If these guys are more likely than not to be values, you definitely want them at cost. There’s nothing wishy-washy about that. And please do not assume that I’m saying that all the guys who are better in (K-BB)/IP are preferred over all the guys who are worse. That’s not the case. Some guys compile Ks with innings. Some are so good at generating weak and harmless contact, as we outlined last week, that their dominance measured this way is not of paramount concern. There are exceptions to every rule.

Let’s focus on two things in the accompanying chart — where the pitcher ranked in the (K-BB)/IP stat and where they are being drafted. 

Notable Pitchers Ranked by (K-BB)/IP vs Yahoo ADP | PointAfter

Here are the guys the model says are bargains at ADP: Noah Syndergaard (8th in stat, 60th overall), Drew Smyly (12th, 203rd), Michael Pineda (13th, 131st), Raisel Iglesias (17th, 128th), Jason Hammel (21st, 199th), Clay Buchholz (26th, 235th), Ian Kennedy (29th, 247), Jerad Eikhoff (35, 257), Joe Ross (49th, 247). This is based on eight starts, pitcher had to be primarily a starter. Again, DO NOT Jeff Lageman these pitchers by over-drafting them because the numbers like them. Let them fall to you very near market price because most will. 

Syndergaard is a fantasy No. 1 starter, I’m confident in saying. I also believe it’s likely he out-earns Gerrit Cole (23rd in the stat). And exactly no one on Planet Earth will make you draft Syndergaard over Cole. Take the gifts life gives you.

Yes, Smyly lacks durability. But in a mixed league you can recover easily from pitching injuries and innings limits. We’re talking 17th round for Smyly. Sold! Pineda also may not be around long but he was way more healthy last year than I imagined and did prove he does not need elite velocity.

Iglesias is very trendy but rightfully so. His sample last year was definitely big enough.

Please get Hammel anywhere near this price. The last two years his WHIPs have been 1.12 and 1.16. That’s in line with Cole’s career WHIP. And Hammel’s K/9 is as good as Cole’s too. Are you getting the point that I think Cole is overdrafted? 

Buchholz is being punished for an unsightly ERA but his peripherals were way better than in 2010 when his ERA was 2.33. Buchholz is essentially free, as is Ian Kennedy who seems to have found a perfect home in that park with that Royals defense.

The model says to back Eickhoff but I can’t sign off on that given his small sample plus his relatively poor minor league numbers. 

Here is where I get the nasty comments from the guys who have not drafted. But we’re not trying to help you feel good about yourself here. Right off I am overriding the model and refusing to advise passing on Sonny Gray and Michael Wacha given that you are buying them for their averages that we said in last week’s column are reasonably projectable given how hard they are to hit hard. But do not draft Tyson Ross when his brother Joe is about as good and 12 rounds cheaper.

I think Johnny Cueto is going to blow up in people’s faces this year and even if I’m wrong, why pay that market price given how poor he was in 2015? I can’t put that much stock in a league change. Remember, Cueto’s park and team and defense were first-rate in the AL.

Felix Hernandez is one big flashing neon warning sign now but people want to have at him in the fourth round? That’s insane. 

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