There are some pitchers you should be targeting in daily transactions leagues. No, I’m not referring to top tier pitchers like Johan Santana. I’m also not referring to sleepers, like Max Scherzer. I’m talking about the worst of the worst starting pitchers. Those who are so bad, that opposing hitters can be expected to drastically outperform what they’re usually capable of. Lots of players in leagues with daily transactions will consider benching hitters who face “stud” starting pitchers, but very few people take the time to really evaluate which starting pitchers are so bad that marginal hitters should be used against them.
In this article, I’ll provide the names of some pitchers to keep a close eye on. Of course, any list of bad major league pitchers is likely to change frequently, as these guys are particularly likely to be sent down to the minor leagues or put on the disabled list. So I’ll also provide some guidelines to identifying bad pitchers yourself.
Generally what you’re looking for are the following:
Low strikeout rates—In general, pitchers with low strikeout rates are bad. Anytime a batter doesn’t strike out, they’ve got a chance of a hit. All types of hits are more common against pitchers with low strikeout rates. That means that not only will batting average be higher against these pitchers, but home runs will increase, and consequently runs and runs batted in will increase. If you’re in points leagues, where double and triples are worth more than singles, those will increase proportionally as well.
High walk rates—The impact of high walk rates is a little more subtle than low strikeout rates. While these obviously have a great impact on a pitcher’s overall success, walks aren’t that valuable (if they have any direct value at all) in most formats. However, more walks leads to more opportunities for runs, runs batted in, and stolen bases.
Low groundball rates—Pitchers with low groundball rates allow more home runs. That in itself is reason enough to target them. An added benefit is the increase in runs and runs batted in.
Weak bullpens—This is an easy factor to overlook, but very important. Particularly because lousy starting pitchers will frequently be knocked out of the game early, you want to target those on teams where the relievers who replace them will be just as bad. Keep in mind that when these guys start, more often than not, their team will be losing by the time the bullpen is used. So you’re not quite as interested in the quality of the closer and setup men as you are in the pitchers likely to see action when the team is losing. Evaluating the bullpen can be tricky, but basically you’re looking for the same things in the bullpen that you did for starting pitchers … low strikeout rates, high walk rates, and low groundball rates.
I would have liked to include an exhaustive list of the worst pitchers likely to be in starting rotations on Opening Day, but out of my original list of 40 of the worst pitchers to get major league starts last year, only three seem like sure things to make an Opening Day rotation.
Kyle Davies—Low strikeout rate, high walk rate, flyball pitcher, on a bad team, pitching in a hitters’ park. The only thing about Davies that isn’t ideal as a target is that he’s young enough at 25 that he might improve.
Matt Harrison—Extremely low strikeout rate, mediocre control, flyball pitcher, in a hitters’ park, on a team with a shaky bullpen. Like Davies, the only risk with Harrison is that at 23 years old, its very possible he won’t always be this bad.
Edwin Jackson—Like the others, the main thing Jackson has going for him is youth. Incredibly, he’s still only 25, even though it seems like many years since he was considered a hot prospect. Statistically Jackson is very similar to Davies, although he did put up a substantially better groundball rate in 2007 than he did in 2008. While he pitches in a relatively favorable park, Jackson is likely to have a terrible bullpen behind him in 2009.
As the season progresses, many other bad pitchers, some even worse than these three, will find their way into starting rotations. Identifying them quickly, and taking advantage of hitters matched up against them, is a key to success in leagues with daily transactions.
NOTE: On an unrelated note, I’d like to invite readers of The Hardball Times to participate in a free fantasy baseball contest that my Website, Draftbug, is hosting with $100 in prizes. Unlike our standard daily contests, this one will involve choosing 10 hitters within a salary cap, and scoring a point for each home run your team hits in the month of April. The top 20 finishers will get cash prizes, with 1st place receiving $24. Registration for the site and the contest are free, and only take a minute.