August starting pitcher rankingsby Jesse Sakstrup
August 10, 2012
Most fantasy rankings are forged on "gut calls" and the whimsical notions of whoever is compiling the list. Some experts don’t pay for saves, some don’t pay for steals, some wait on pitching, some value upside, some value reliability, and so on. While it might be nice to see plenty of different opinions, it probably doesn’t truly help unless you understand the biases of each individual ranker. This is why some of the writers here at The Hardball Times have created their own, objective valuation methods, outlined here and here (reading, or at least skimming, these introductory articles will give you a much better understanding of the rankings that follow and should help to answer most potential questions).
In accompaniment with
These rankings will assume a 12-team league in adjusting for league average. The ordering of players, however, is unaffected; players will rank in identical order for leagues of all sizes.
Quick Note: ZiPS is a projection system that takes past performance into consideration. For many pitchers, the past applies less to the present than it does for hitters, as is the case with pitchers who have experienced significant velocity loss; this is something that pitchers generally don’t recoup. ZiPS may not recognize diminished skill sets, but I will try to cover what I can in the analysis section.
|Num||Name||IP||SO||W||SV||ERA||WHIP||rPAA (ROS)||EYES (ROS)||Full Season*|
*Full season = the raw (non-adjusted) full season pace roto score using the roto points-above-replacement method. This is, essentially, the amount of expected roto points each player would score above an empty spot in a lineup over a full season.
Pitchers I like less than their ZiPS ranking
Tim Lincecum—What to make of Tim Lincecum? He has undoubtedly been one of the most disappointing fantasy pitchers in all of baseball. His ERA sits at 5.43, his WHIP at 1.49. But, despite his woeful surface numbers, Lincecum has maintained a 9.67 K/9 rate and his FIP, xFIP and SIERA are all sub-4.00. Even his 4.31 walk rate has a silver lining, as his first strike percentage of 58.2 percent is the highest it has been since 2007, which suggests that he should be demonstrating better control.
Lincecum has been bitten by a strand rate that is 10 percent lower than his career average, a BABIP 27 points higher than his career mark, and a four percent spike in his HR/FB rate. ZiPS is looking at Lincecum’s dominant 2008-2011 where he posted an average FIP of 2.82, and his 3.82 FIP this season and is expecting some regression toward’s his personal mean.
DIPS don’t absolve Lincecum of all blame for his results, he has not been sharp with his command, but this type of thing generally doesn’t continue to happen over extended periods of time. We should expect Lincecum to improve, but lets not go overboard and write off the first four months of his season solely as bad luck.
I would certainly not treat Lincecum as a top-10 pitcher going forward, but his underlying numbers make a good case for him as a buy-low.
Matt Garza— Garza was placed on the disabled list on Tuesday with a stress reaction in his right elbow—an elbow-related trip to the disabled list is typically not a good thing. The move was made retroactive to July 28, but that doesn’t mean he is close to returning. There is currentlyno word on whether or not Garza will return in 2012. Garza is the Cubs’ biggest trade chip, so they won’t want to rush him back before they are certain he is healthy. Since there is no timetable, it is almost futile to put a rank on him, just be judicious in your valuation.
Ricky Romero— Unlike Tim Lincecum, Romero’s peripherals don’t exonerate him of any blame. His ERA is 5.47 and his FIP (5.05) and xFIP (4.62) agree that he has been awful. His walk rate has shot up to 4.87 and his F-Strike percentage (53.1 percent) is far below his career average. His strikeout rate is down to 6.39 and his swinging strike rate (7.8 percent) confirms that he is missing less bats. He is probably stranding fewer runners than he should and is giving up home runs a little more frequently than he should, but he has been really bad, without any real positives.
With Lincecum, we are hoping that he sharpens control enough to allow his underlying numbers to show through. With Romero, there appears to be no quick fix. We aren’t puzzled as to why Romero is struggling. We may wonder what has caused the degradation of his skills, but the numbers are clearly telling us that there are ample differences with the 2012 version of Ricky Romero.
The American League East is unforgiving, so when you pitch poorly you don’t often get away with it. Romero is showing no signs of turning things around, and even if he does, the division he pitches in will limit his upside. With less than two months remaining in the season, expecting Ricky Romero to return to some semblance of his former self is probably unwise. ZiPS is regressing what he is doing this year towards what he has been in the past, but Romero has not been that pitcher at all this year. He should get a little better, but you don’t want to be rolling him out there unless you are trying to attain a better draft slot for 2013.
Ubaldo Jimenez— ZiPS is, again, taking Ubaldo’s 2008-2011 into consideration. But, Ubaldo is simply not the same pitcher. He has lost 3.3 mph off of his fastball since 2010 (down 1.4 mph from 2011) and hasn’t developed enough command to mitigate these loses. Without that mid-90’s heater, Ubaldo is not generating swinging strikes—just 6.5 percent in 2012 (career 8.6 percent), well below league average—and batters aren’t going out of the zone as much, either—22.5 percent in 2012 (career 25.9 percent). And, to add to his woes, his control has completely abandoned him, as he is walking an outrageous 5.36 batters per nine innings (13.2 percent).
His ERA is 5.29 and all of his DIPS agree that an ERA over 5.00 is appropriate. He isn’t even getting unlucky with his BABIP or his strand rate. The story is similar to that of Romero, only Ubaldo offers less hope of respite.
Jair Jurrjens — In 2010, Jurrjens averaged 91.3 mph on his fastball. This year, his average heater is registering just 88.6 mph. As a result, Jurrjens isn’t missing bats. He is striking out just 3.54 batters per nine, a level that is fully embraced by his 4.6 percent swinging strike rate (career 8.0 percent). With a 6.89 ERA, it is difficult to imagine he won’t improve some, but he just doesn’t have the same stuff as he used to and a return to fantasy usefulness in any format seems unlikely.
Pitchers I like More than their ZiPS ranking
RA Dickey— Dickey’s swinging strike rate of 12.1 percent ranks fourth among all starting pitchers this year. Since he began resorting to the knuckleball as a main component of his arsenal, he had not posted a swinging strike rate of higher than 8.4 percent in any season prior to this one. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what is causing all of the extra whiffs. Batters are chasing pitches out of the zone more and he is throwing the knuckler 1.1 mph faster this year than he did in 2011, but it isn’t as if he has added a breaking pitch or drastically changed the usage of any single pitch. He is just getting batters to swing and miss more often than ever before.
ZiPS projects a conservative 7.08 strikeout rate going forward, but given his newfound ability to miss bats, I think Dickey has the upside to maintain a strikeout rate of nearly a batter an inning. Thus, I see Dickey as more of a top-15—or fringe top-10—pitcher than top-20.
Doug Fister— Fister upped the usage of his slider and curveball in 2011 and saw his strikeout rate climb from 4.89 to 6.07, validated by a 2.3 percent increase in his whiff rate. This year, Fister has increased his curveball usage further and is also utilizing his changeup more. The result: an increase in swinging strike rate from 6.7 percent to 8.1 percent and a jump to 7.68 strikeouts per nine.
While this type of strikeout rate surge will probably not be completely sustained, a change in pitch mix, especially when increasing the usage of off-speed pitches, makes an increased strikeout rate more explainable. ZiPS projects a strikeout rate of 5.94 going forward, but given the pitch mix/swinging strike rate combination, it seems reasonable that Fister could outperform that projection, and, in turn, produce a lower ERA and WHIP, as well.
Ryan Dempster— With a BABIP 46 points lower than his career average and a strand rate 8 percent higher, it is reasonable to expect a lot of regression from Dempster down the stretch. And swapping the NL Central for the AL West will only fuel that regression further. The question is how much regression, though? ZiPS thinks a 4.50 ERA is an appropriate adjustment given Dempster’s track record and league switch. Maybe ZiPS will end up being correct, but given the way he has pitched so far this year, and given his control gains both in walk rate and in his first strike percentage—the best of his career—I would give Dempster more credit than that.
Arbitrary Adjustment: Giving him a 4.00 ERA, 1.35 WHIP would move him up to 56th among starters. A 3.75 ERA and 1.30 WHIP moves him to 46th, and add a win to the latter projection and he slides up to 33rd. Dempster is a sell-high right now, there is little debate about that, but I would still move him up to the 40-50 range among starting pitchers.
Matt Harvey—ZiPS only projects Harvey for six starts. If we translate his numbers to nine starts, he would move up to 89th.
Wade Miley—One would assume that a pitcher with a 3.64 FIP over his first 172.2 major league innings would get more love from ZiPS, but this is not the case. Miley has never really had the type of success in the minors that he is having this season. He is probably getting some BABIP assistance and some good fortune with his strand rate, too, but he has demonstrated tremendous control and is crafting a profile that is beginning to look very reminiscent to that of Doug Fister - good ground ball rate, very low walk rate, modest strikeout numbers. He isn't quite in Doug Fister's range yet, but he has probably established himself as a top-60 option.
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