Thursday, June 28, 2012
Yes, you can have some control in the wins categoryPosted by Mike Silver at 8:52am
Pitcher wins are both the most exciting and most frustrating category in fantasy. One day, they vindicate a seven-inning, two-run effort. The next they bail you out of a five-inning, six-run stinker. The one after that, a lack of run support ruins an exemplary eight-inning, 10-strikeout shutout.
They’re erratic, they’re wildly unpredictable, and they're an unavoidable part of fantasy life.
They're also a fantasy strategist's greatest opportunity.
In an age where we espouse the virtue of milking every bit of value from every corner and under every unturned stone, wins remains one of the least explored categories—one still open to discovery and exploitation.
And where there’s opportunity, you can bet that smart, championship-caliber owners will take advantage. And there’s an opportunity here, readers. Where lesser owners shy away from the category, ignoring the wins column as if it were called “runs,” you can take advantage.
First, the hard part: How do you weave through the inconsistency and figure out how many wins my pitcher will rack up this year? As a statistic that is fraught with unpredictability, this must be easier said than done, right?
Luckily for us, FantasyPlayerRater.com has published a wins formula (follow this link, first article down) that can help you with that first step. It calculates starting pitcher wins per game started, taking into account a pitcher’s ERA, run support, bullpen strength and a couple of other variables.
ERA, obviously, is the most important factor, followed by run support. Bullpen strength, AL v. NL, and innings pitched per games started are also important, but those first two dominate the landscape.
(A side note: I hope by now that THT, Baseball Prospectus, and Fangraphs have fully debunked any of those “this guy gets more run support than this guy in the same rotation because…” theories. To those who still believe: Run support has nothing to do with who’s on the mound. You can estimate run support by dividing the number of runs scored in a season (or expected runs scored) by 162 games.)
I would like to caution anyone against understating the value of run support—or team quality in general. I’ve come across many who argue that wins are so volatile that they should be ignored altogether. I would caution against that sentiment. So, just how important is team strength when you’re determining expected wins?
In a one word: very. In two words: very, very. Get the picture? It’s extraordinarily important. In fact, a huge amount of a pitcher’s value hinges on this statistic.
To illustrate the point, let’s take Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia 2011 season and see how many games he would have won had he been on each team in the majors:
- Sabathia’s profile in 2011: 3.00 ERA, 7.192 IP/GS, American League pitcher.
- Yankees' average run support per game: 5.352 (867 runs / 162 games)
- Yankees' bullpen ERA: 3.12
The results, with Sabathia holding constant at a 3.00 ERA:
By the formula, Sabathia was expected to lock down just shy of 20 wins. This is encouraging: He won 19, so we’re within one win of the actual result.
With the results in hand, I would like to draw the reader’s attention to three main pieces.
First, column four illustrates the expected number of wins for Sabathia on each of the 30 teams.
Building on that, column two reports how many points above or below average that win total is according to FantasyPlayerRater.com’s roto-points calculator. Said another way, this is the expected affect C.C. Sabathia will have on your final standings in the category. So, if you were at six or seven points at the end of the year in wins (the middle of the pack in a 12-team league), adding Sabathia would have brought you up to 8.5-9.5 points in wins. As fantasy owners can tell, that 2.5 points is a huge margin and can spell victory, defeat, or standings position in any given season.
The third column depicts how many points a team would gain/lose in the standings if Sabathia switched teams from the Yankees to a new home.
Looking down the list, we can see that the best team for wins was, unsurprisingly, the Yankees, followed closely by the Red Sox. The worst team for wins was the Astros, followed closely by the Mariners. On either of these two teams, Sabathia would have lost more than six wins—a staggering sum that would have accounted for a loss of more than 2.5 points in 12-team leagues, according to FantasyPlayerRater.com’s ratings.
That's a huge number. Is anyone out there worried that they may have fallen short of a championship because they chose Seattle’s Felix Hernandez and the pathetic Mariners offense over the vaunted Yankees? I know I would be. In my main league last season, this exact scenario played out: The first-place team finished with 90 points and owned Sabathia, while the second place team finished with 88 points while owning Felix Hernandez. Could a simple trade have brought victory to the second place team? It’s a frightening thought.
But now we know! And now we can take advantage of this easily exploitable category and start winning championships. Now that the information is out there, go hit the free agent and trade market and bring home some heists! With half a season left, what are you waiting for?
Returning from a brief hiatus, Mike is excited to be back at THT.
Mike's former writing homes include FireBrandAL.com and StatSpeak.net, while his content has appeared on Fangraphs.com, ESPN.com, and others. A lifelong Red Sox fan native to New York, Mike loves to blend baseball and statistical analysis.
Feel free to email him at mjasilver AT gmail DOT com.