Assessing Where Your Pitching Roster Stands at the Midway Point (Fantasy Baseball)
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The baseball season is long. Managing a fantasy team effectively takes a huge amount of effort and concentration. One thing that is very important to the success of your fantasy team is to constantly be re-evaluating where you stand relative to the league. It is pretty rare that things go exactly how you thought they were going to go, so there are always opportunities for a fresh look and tweaks to your team to improve your chances of success.
There is a great opportunity to do so, especially with your pitching staff. It is a little easier to identify breakouts and busts among pitchers than hitters, just because we have a little bit more useful data on them. Pitcher seasons are also typically a little harder to predict than hitter seasons for a number of reasons, so you are more likely to finish with a wildly different group of pitchers than hitters – which should demand a little extra attention on that side of the game.
How do we assess our pitching staffs after we have a couple months of data to look at? While it is never an easy task to evaluate on the fly, here are some tips.
Check on Your Volume
In most league situations, a lot of your pitching outcomes are driven by how many innings your team is throwing up there every week. This can be overlooked. There is a big difference in a pitching staff that logs 40 innings a week and one that logs 80. Say that your pitching staff has logged 50 innings pitched for the week already and your line looks like this:
- 40 IP, 35 H, 10 BB, 45 K, 17 ER
This equates to a 3.83 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP, and a 10.13 K/9
Say then you get a pretty disastrous start from a pitcher who throws five innings, gives up six runs on seven hits, three walks, and strikes out just three hitters. Now you have a 4.71 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP, and a 9.82 K/9. These are pretty drastic changes.
Now say that your team had a line like this before that bad start: 60 IP, 26 ER, 53 H, 15 BB, 67 K. This equates to similar ratios to the first example, with a 3.90 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP, and a 10.05 K/9.
However, if now add in that bad 5 IP, 6 ER, 7 H, 3 BB, 3 K line – you get these ratios: 4.50 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 9.8 K/9.
The first example gives us a significantly better difference after the bad start than the second example. Since these ratios are all derived from division that has the innings pitched in the denominator, the more innings you have already, the less impact new innings will have.
It is important to understand what kind of innings volume you are getting week-to-week. If you are short-staffed and are getting less innings than the rest of the league, your weekly ratios are going to be much more random. This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what happens from start-to-start, but it is good to realize where you line up in terms of volume.
If you are in a league that has wins and/or quality starts as a category, this is even more important for obvious reasons. You will win those categories much less often if you are constantly letting your opponent put up three more starts than you. In some league situations, it makes sense to just jam in as many SP starts as you can to chase those counting categories and then hope for the best in the ratios. You should consider whether that is a worthwhile strategy for your team to take, and the first step in that would be to check on how many innings and starts you are already accruing on a weekly basis.
Consider Different Strategies
If you play in a categories league, there really is something to maximizing or minimizing your SP volume. Say you are in a league with the six SP categories – wins, quality starts, strikeouts, saves, ERA, and WHIP. Four of the six categories there are highly influenced by volume. You could win those categories a lot of weeks just by dominating your opponent in innings pitched. You could drop a couple hitters for some waiver wire starters, stream in two-start pitchers every week, and just attack those counting-stat categories and have some really big weeks.
Alternatively, if you are in a league with more ratio categories than volume, doing the opposite might be a great idea. If your categories are wins, saves, strikeout rate, ERA, and WHIP, there is really not much of an advantage to having a ton of SP’s on your team unless they are all very good. A bad start from a pitcher will hurt your team much more in this situation since the ratio categories have more weight. In this case, it is perfectly viable to go with a pitching staff that is all or mostly relievers.
Consider your categories, see how your pitching staff is currently performing, and don’t be afraid to take bold action.
Check Most Recent Developments
If you have an above-average pitching staff by the numbers, but then your two best starting pitchers hit the IL, those numbers don’t really mean anything any more. Losing one pitcher can make a huge impact on your team, so you have to constantly be re-configuring how you feel about your pitching staff based on who you currently have healthy and how your pitchers are currently performing.
You can afford to be more patient with hitters since they hit most days of the week, but you have to make quicker decisions with pitchers. If you were excited about a pitcher at the beginning of the year but he goes out and has four or five really bad looking starts to begin the season, you might want to consider cutting your losses and taking a gamble on someone else. This happens every year, with fantasy teams holding on to hope for a pitcher for too long and letting them wreck their pitching stats for far too long.
Don’t be afraid to cut bait with a pitcher who looks legitimately bad at the beginning of the year. Sometimes it will burn you (Yu Darvish in 2019 for example), but other times it will be hugely beneficial and could be the difference in your making the playoffs or missing.
Check the Advanced Stats
I haven’t heard of too many fantasy leagues that use xFIP as a category, but that does not mean you shouldn’t know where your team stacks up in that category as well since it is a much more predictive statistic than ERA. If you are last in the league in ERA, but it’s mostly because of really bad luck your pitchers are having, you can expect to climb out of the basement in that category in short order. However, you’ll never know if your ERA is justifiably bad if you just look at the ERA statistic.
Collect all the data for all your starters. Compare things like xFIP, xwOBA, K/BB ratio, and xBA to see if those expected stats looks better or worse than the actual stats. This is better information to use in decision-making, and your team will benefit from your efforts.