The double-unlucky pitching staff

Today, I thought it would be interesting to look at players who were doubly unlucky in 2008. For readers who are in leagues with owners who know about some of the more advanced statistics, it might be difficult to get top value on a pitcher simply because he was unlucky with his BABIP last year. Here at THT Fantasy, though, we have access to stats (CAPS) that will tell us whether a pitcher got unlucky with his peripheral skills (K/9, BB/9, GB%), something your competitors surely don’t have access to.

As an example, most people know that Javier Vazquez has been unlucky for the past few years, but as we now know, he could actually be one of the top pitchers in baseball this year—not just a good one. While you won’t be able to reap all of the value from his unlucky BABIPs and LOB%s, you will surely be able to reap the additional value from his unlucky peripherals. The same can be said for a number of other pitchers, a few of which I’d like to highlight today.

The “Double-Unlucky Rotation”

To qualify for the “Double-Unlucky Rotation,” a pitcher’s 2008 ERA must have been higher than his QERA, which must have been higher than his CAPS QERA. This indicates that not only was he unlucky with one or more of his luck indicators (BABIP, HR/FB, LOB%), but he was also unlucky with one or more of his peripheral stats (K/9, BB/9, GB%).

Side-note
If you’re unfamiliar with CAPS (Context Adjusted Pitching Statistics), it’s a stat I invented and then improved upon earlier this offseason. It’s a stat that can’t be found anywhere else and can give us a much better picture of a pitcher’s true talent than unadjusted number. CAPS adjusts each of a pitcher’s component stats based on the following factors:

  • Past home ballpark
  • 2009 home ballpark
  • Past road ballparks
  • 2009 road ballparks
  • Past quality of opponents (neutralized)
  • League switch adjustments
  • Ground balls adjusted for league average line-drive rate (called xGB)

Qualifications
To qualify, a pitcher also must have thrown at least 100 innings in 2008, have a chance at a starting role in 2009, have a final CAPS QERA under 5.00 (to assure relevance to fantasy leaguers), and be selected by my subjective means (since there are more than five guys who fit this criteria).

Without further ado, the “Double-Unlucky Starting Rotation”:
1. Josh Beckett
2. Brett Myers
3. Pedro Martinez
4. Brian Bannister
5. Nate Robertson

Note: All average draft position (ADP) data comes from Mock Draft Central and ESPN.

Josh Beckett

+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----------+-------+-------+------+-----------+-------+
| YEAR | AGE | IP    | ERA  | QERA | CAPS QERA | BABIP | HR/FB | LOB% | K/BB RI   | xGB%  |
+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----------+-------+-------+------+-----------+-------+
| 2008 |  27 | 174.3 | 4.03 | 3.23 |      3.05 | 0.320 |  11.7 |   71 | 0.87/0.94 | 41/44 |
+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----------+-------+-------+------+-----------+-------+

Beckett’s bad luck isn’t very noticeable in the underlying numbers, but as you can see, his CAPS QERA of 3.05 is a full point better than his actual ERA of 4.03. The original bad luck comes a little bit from BABIP, a little from HR/FB, and a little from LOB%. Put it all together and you get his QERA of 3.23. From there, the drop to 3.05 can mostly be attributed to his GB% being three percent lower than it should be, as well as a pinch of bad luck with his strikeouts and walks.

In 2007, his CAPS QERA was 2.99, so Beckett could very well be the best pitcher in the AL in 2009. For those who bought Rotoworld’s Draft Guide, you’ll notice that Beckett was actually my pick for AL Cy Young.

According to MDC, he’s currently the 11th pitcher selected on average, the fifth from the AL, and is being taken at the beginning of the sixth round. This is later than is deserved, and he’s even further down on ESPN’s list as the 16th starter (although he’s also going in the sixth round here). He makes a great pick if you decide to take pitchers early. A rotation topped by Beckett, Dan Haren, and Javier Vazquez would probably be the best in your league and could be acquired after round five.

Brett Myers

+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----------+-------+-----------+
| YEAR | AGE | IP    | ERA  | QERA | CAPS QERA | HR_FB | K_BB_RI   |
+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----------+-------+-----------+
| 2008 |  27 | 190.0 | 4.55 | 4.04 |      3.86 |    18 | 0.29/0.38 |
+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----------+-------+-----------+

Unlike Beckett, Myers’s bad luck is pretty easy to pick out. He had an 18 percent HR/FB rate, making up a large portion of the gap between his 4.55 ERA and his 4.04 QERA. The gap between that QERA and 3.86 CAPS QERA can be explained mostly by his BB/9 (3.1 to 2.8) but also a bit by his K/9 (7.7 to 7.85).

Myers has a very strong history, so don’t let his 2008 season deter you. From 2005 to 2008, his CAPS ERA was 3.46, 3.58, 3.16, and 3.86. 2008 was his worst, but at 27 years old and with a history like he has, I’m not worried at all. His CAPS HR/FB trend is a bit worrisome, though: 17.6, 14.2, 13.6, 16.3. Part of that is Citizens Bank Park, but part can also be attributed to Myers, and after four years I think it’s safe to say he won’t regress to league average. Even if he posts a 14 HR/FB, though, he should still be able to post an ERA under 4.00.

He’s currently the 31st starter being taken on Mock Draft Central, towards the end of Round 11, and has lasted as long as Round 15. On ESPN, he’s the 51st starter taken, in Round 16.

Pedro Martinez

+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----------+-------+-------+-----------+-------+
| YEAR | AGE | IP    | ERA  | QERA | CAPS QERA | BABIP | HR/FB | K/BB RI   | xGB%  |
+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----------+-------+-------+-----------+-------+
| 2008 |  36 | 109.0 | 5.61 | 4.69 |      4.47 | 0.329 |  16.5 | 0.03/0.13 | 41/43 |
+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----------+-------+-------+-----------+-------+

Note: As Pedro is still a free agent, his 2008 home and road park factors are assumed to be neutral. This will change based upon the team he signs with.

Pedro is getting up there in age, but he’s not nearly as bad as that 5.61 ERA would indicate. He’s still capable of fanning nearly 7.5 batters per game and maintaining respectable walk and groundball rates. He was extremely unlucky with his BABIP (0.329) and HR/FB (16.5 percent), making up a large portion of the ERA-CAPS QERA gap. Going from his QERA to his CAPS QERA, we see that he was aided by a combination of more strikeouts, fewer walks, and more ground balls.

From 2004 to 2007, Pedro’s CAPS QERAs were 3.13, 3.22, 3.49, and 3.21. While 2008 was significantly higher, there is some potential upside here because of that terrific past.

Pedro doesn’t make the top 71 pitchers listed on the ESPN ADP sheet, and he’s the 99th pitcher on Mock Draft Central. That would put him towards the end of the 27th round, drafted only in deep mixed leagues. He’s a guy who you could consider at the end of a moderate-depth mixed league and makes a solid sleeper pick in NL (or AL)-only leagues.

Brian Bannister

+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----------+-------------+-------+------+
| YEAR | AGE | IP    | ERA  | QERA | CAPS QERA | K/BB RI     | xGB%  | LOB% |
+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----------+-------------+-------+------+
| 2008 |  27 | 182.7 | 5.76 | 5.05 |      4.85 | -0.23/-0.15 | 38/40 |   64 |
+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----------+-------------+-------+------+

Everyone’s favorite sabermetrician was thought by many to have taken a big step backwards this year after posting a 3.87 ERA in 2007. While we all knew that he was lucky and that he would regress, in 2008 he went too far the other way. His CAPS QERA is nearly a full point lower than his actual ERA as he suffered from an absurd 64 percent LOB%. CAPS also thought his strikeouts, walks, and ground balls should have been better. With a 4.85 ERA, Bannister would be plenty good enough to own in an AL-only league.

Bannister’s CAPS QERA has been on the rise for the past three years, moving from 6.67 to 5.09 to 4.85. If he sees anymore improvement, he could become noteworthy in deep mixed leagues.

Bannister is not listed on ESPN’s ADP sheet or MDC’s mixed league sheet. He is being drafted as the 46th starter in MDC NL-only leagues, at the end of round 16. He could probably stand to be taken a little earlier, ahead of guys like Fausto Carmona, Glen Perkins, and Anthony Reyes.

Nate Robertson

+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----------+-------+-------+------+-------------+
| YEAR | AGE | IP    | ERA  | QERA | CAPS QERA | BABIP | HR_FB | LOB% | K_BB_RI     |
+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----------+-------+-------+------+-------------+
| 2008 |  30 | 168.7 | 6.35 | 4.97 |      4.70 | 0.350 |    14 |   64 | -0.27/-0.11 |
+------+-----+-------+------+------+-----------+-------+-------+------+-------------+

Robertson was so “bad” in 2008 that he lost his rotation spot towards the end of the season, making his final four appearances out of the bullpen. He got incredibly unlucky, though, with his BABIP (0.350), LOB% (64%), and HR/FB (14%), leading to a 4.97 QERA that was much better than his 6.35 actual ERA. CAPS also sees his strikeout and walk skills to be better than they were as well, resulting in a final 4.70 CAPS QERA.

Since 2005, Robertson has posted CAPS QERAs of 4.61, 4.46, and 4.67, putting his 2008 figure right in line with the rest. I’d expect some big-time improvement for Robertson’s surface numbers in 2008, although he’ll need to impress the Tigers in spring training to get a spot in the rotation. He has Zach Miner, Dontrelle Willis, and prospect Rick Porcello to worry about.

He’s currently the 66th pitcher off the board in MDC AL-only leagues, being drafted in round 21 on average. He makes a great speculative pick here and has a lot of profit potential if he manages to make the Tigers’ rotation. Continue to monitor the situation throughout spring training.

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Comments

  1. Ed S. said...

    Thanks Derek, this is the great analysis I’ve come to expect from you and Hardball Times!

    Brett Myers might also still be suffering from the trip to the bullpen in 2007. Hard to say for sure (maybe pitch f/x shows something), but just a thought.

  2. Rudy Gamble said...

    Good piece, Derek.

    Amazing how Beckett and Dice-K had such wild swings for the same team.

    I’m very down on Myers this year.  At the rate he threw his slider last year (40+%), I think his arm might fall off by June…

  3. Eric said...

    I agree that Myers is an injury risk, although he shook off ‘07’s issues to finish strong in ‘08.  I recall he stopped throwing certain pitches altogether in 2007 and then (as mentioned) threw a ton of sliders last year. 

    He reported to camp in much better shape this year (contract year) than in the past couple.  From that it would be nice to think that he strengthened his arm as part of his conditioning, but even if true, he could end up with shoulder or elbow troubles this year. 

    It might mean I will miss out, but I say too risky without a discounted price.

  4. Chris said...

    Is this CAPS analysis being incorporated in THT’s $10 projections? Is doesn’t seem so based on Beackett’s projected 3.97 ERA. I’m curious how THT came up with their projections. Any insight would be much appreciated.

  5. Derek Carty said...

    Thanks for the comments, guys.  There’s definitely some risk with Myers, but I just wanted to show that the skills are there.  He’s a guy to take if you can get him late enough.

    Chris,
    They are not, to the best of my knowledge.  David Gassko does THT’s projections, not me, so you’d have to ask him how they’re created.

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