Today, we play the brand name game. According to Yahoo’s most up-to-date preseason ranks, Anibal Sanchez is ranked as the No. 154 overall player in standard 5×5, mixed league roto formats. Matt Garza is ranked No. 103 overall. Is that gap really justified? At the outset, my gut says no.
First, let’s look at the surface statistics. Here is how the fantasy numbers of Matt Garza and Anibal Sanchez compared in 2011, especially against the average qualified starting pitcher in 2011:
|Qual. MLB SP Average*||N/A||198.2||12.2||3.70||1.25||156||18.8%|
Off the bat, a few things stand out. First, Garza was the better fantasy player, but not by enough to matter. Their ERAs and WHIPs are close enough that a few extra good or bad starts for either pitcher could have a drastic impact on who ended the season with better rate stats. Although elite pitching has become more clustered in recent years, a third of a run and .02 base runners differential in ERA and WHIP are relatively marginal.
More shocking, however, might be the average qualified major league starting pitcher numbers. Would you have seriously guessed that they produced those numbers, even in the second coming of the era of the pitcher? Essentially, the league average qualified starting pitcher, in terms of ERA and WHIP, was a little better than what it took to win a fantasy league with your pitching staff in 2009. That’s down right crazy, if you ask me.
Of course, here at The Hardball Times, we preach looking beyond the numbers. Single season surface results, particularly ERA and WHIP, are generally not the best predictors of future performance. So let’s look at the overall peripherals:
From the perspective of peripherals, we find the two players near identical. Their strikeout and walk rates, in addition to their first pitch strike and whiff rates, are marginally divergent. All of SIERRA, FIP, xFIP and eFIP agree that both pitchers flashed legit ace-type talent last season, and their expected ERAs are essentially within .05 runs per nine innings of each other no matter which ERA estimator you use. Likewise, xWHIP thought both pitchers were near identical in talent at limiting baserunners in a vacuum last season.
This confirms, at least to some degree, the initial hypothesis: that a significant gap in their rankings/ADP is not justified on functional/substantive grounds—at least not based on 2011. A comparison of their career numbers, though, with Garza pitching in the harder league and division before 2011, would certainly give Garza the rankings edge, all else considered and nothing else relevant, heading into 2011. But consider a couple of other points.
First, compare the past two years of performance by the two pitchers. They are as eerily similar as their 2011 performances standing alone:
|Garza Past 2||402.2||25||3.62||1.25||3.79||20.5%||7.4%|
|Sanchez Past 2||391.1||21||3.61||1.31||3.30||21.5%||8.0%|
Second, a look at both pitchers’ monthly strikeout rate and xFIP splits reveals that Sanchez was substantially more consistent in his month-to-month production:
Sanchez: 23.4% K%, 3.34 xFIP
Garza: 30.5% K%, 2.09 xFIP
Sanchez: 26.0% K%, 3.24 xFIP
Garza: 22.7% K%, 3.90 xFIP
Sanchez: 25.4% K%, 2.73 xFIP
Garza: 16.5% K%, 3.71 xFIP
Sanchez: 24.3% K%, 3.27 xFIP
Garza: 21.1% K%, 3.70 xFIP
Sanchez: 19.7% K%, 3.75 xFIP
Garza: 26.1% K%, 2.98 xFIP
Sanchez: 26.6% K%, 3.24 xFIP
Garza: 21.5% K%, 3.30 xFIP
These splits might be less of a concern in Roto leagues, where patience is king, rather than H2H formats, but the volatility raises some question as to where Garza’s true talents in the National League lies. Is Garza the pitcher he was in July or August? April or May? June or September? Likely, it’s somewhere in the middle, putting Sanchez and Garza on near equal footing in terms of process and talent last year and over the past two years. At the very least, Garza’s volatility is enough of a question mark to make the prospective value of the two pitchers a closer question than their career numbers would otherwise indicate.
The bottom line is this. You should be happy to have either pitcher on your roster anchoring your staff. xFIP and SIERRA do not tell the whole story and are far from the be-all, end-all, but the consensus of the most popular ERA estimators (plus my own calculations) seem to indicate that both starters are capable and likely to repeat and outperform last year’s surface stats.
Both have the potential to be equally or more valuable than starters like Yovani Gallardo, James Shields, C.J. Wilson and Daniel Hudson, all of whom rank substantially higher in Yahoo. The only real difference between them that I see is that one is going to cost you your ninth or 10 pick, assuming no one reaches given his hype, while the other is going a full five rounds later in 12-team mixed leagues. Garza has popped up in plenty of non-expert discussions that I have had in the offseason as a trendy starting pitcher and sleeper for 2012 (much in the same way as Zack Greinke). Why pay for that name brand, when you can have the equally functional “knock off” at a fraction of the price?
As always, lave the love/hate in the comments below.