Waiver Wire efficiency: ERA, WHIP, and K

Sorry guys. I know I told you I’d finish up this series yesterday, but a lot came up. We’ll finish everything up today and then maybe have another post late tonight.

The problem

If you are in need of ERA and WHIP help, you might be in trouble. You could go for some of our LIPS ERA and DIPS WHIP favorites, but if they are all gone, you have a big decision to make. Once the likes of Shaun Marcum, Scott Baker, Wandy Rodriguez, and Orlando Hernandez are gone, you will need to decide in which categories you can gain more points: ERA and WHIP, or wins and strikeouts. It probably won’t be possible to get both.

After these types of guys are gone, there won’t be much left besides replacement level fantasy starters. You can either hope to catch a lucky wave from an average/below average starter, or decide to—essentially—ignore strikeouts and wins from here on out.

This is because a replacement level starter won’t help you gain points in ERA or WHIP, so you have to turn to relievers. The problem with relievers, though, is that they won’t get nearly as many strikeouts or wins as even a replacement level starter would.

Jonathan Broxton has appeared in 62 games, sixth most in the majors this year. Even with his 10.94 K/9, he still only has 77 strikeouts. You could take a guy like Kevin Millwood—who is available in 2.9% of ESPN leagues—who has started 23 games (tied for 64th in baseball) and has a K/9 of 6.89 (just a little above league average) and get 96 strikeouts out of him.

The advantage to going with Broxton is that he’ll post a much better ERA and WHIP. The problem is that while his strikeouts might be somewhat useful, they probably won’t help you gain ground in the category. Of course, Millwood probably wouldn’t help much either unless you’re in a pretty deep league.

The solution

So at this point, with all the quality starters gone and several good relief men available, you need to do a little math. Check out how many innings your team has used up so far, and how many you have left.

Then, you need to fool around a little bit with the numbers, deciding how many starters you should drop and how many relievers you should pick up to make up the points you need in ERA and WHIP. Just picking up one probably won’t be enough, since relievers throw fewer innings than starters and therefore have less effect on your team’s ERA and WHIP. You’ll need to grab a few unless you’re shooting for a very limited amount of ERA or WHIP points.

There’s no general way of going through this math, so I can’t really do it for you here. If you put in a little work, though, you’ll be that much closer to a fantasy championship. Before you run these numbers, though, let’s weigh our options just a little bit more.

One more option

Is there some way we would be able to gain points in three categories, instead of just two? Well, if those three are ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, it is possible. Our example above about Broxton and Millwood would indicate that this isn’t possible, but we need to understand that this example is on a small scale, examining a single roster spot. If we expand it to several roster spots, we might be able to work something out.

Imagine that you drop all of your pitchers and can somehow replace them with a roster full of Jonathan Broxtons. Assuming this roster would reach your maximum innings limit by the end of the season, a roster full of Jonathan Broxtons would get more strikeouts than a roster full of Kevin Millwoods. The roster full of Millwoods would reach the limit faster, but as long as both reach the limit, the group with the higher ratio of strikeouts would get more total strikeouts given the same number of innings. Understand?

Now for the drawback to this route. In taking on a lot of relievers, you might not be able to keep more than two or three starters—if that many. By dropping these starters, you could be sacrificing some serious points in the wins category. Even if no one is closing in on you, they can make up ground a lot quicker if your total remains stagnant.

Please note that this strategy will work only at this point in the year and only for certain teams. You will have to determine if you would be able to reach your league’s maximum innings limit, or come close with mostly relievers.

At the beginning of the year, stacking up on relievers wouldn’t allow you to reach the maximum innings, therefore their elite strikeout rates wouldn’t translate into enough actual strikeouts because you wouldn’t get enough innings out of them. At this point in the year, though, it is possible in certain situations to fill out the rest of your innings with these high strikeout guys, therefore reaping the benefits of those strikeouts and the excellent ERAs and WHIPs.

You have to make sure you run the numbers very carefully. There are a lot of variables with this strategy, so you need to make sure you’re not sacrificing more points than you are gaining.

With that, let’s look at some of our options!

Starters – ERA and WHIP

If you’re in a very close race or a deep league, and a sub-4.30 ERA or a sub-1.35 WHIP would be okay for your purposes, you could try some of these guys. For each player, I’ll also list current LIPS ERA, DIPS WHIP, and K/9.

Jeff Francis | COL | SP | 23.1% | 4.19 | 1.31 | 6.99 – Best strikeout and walk rates of his career. Since the All-Star break, his K/9 has been 8.76, making his overall numbers that much more believable. His 2.76 BB/9 in that time is also encouraging.

Dustin McGowan | TOR | SP | 4.2% | 4.28 | 1.37 | 6.90 – Very borderline for this list, and it’s possible he’ll regress a little. Be careful if you choose him.

Kyle Lohse | PHI | SP | 5.1% | 4.24 | 1.31 | 5.47 – Not much to say about Lohse. A bland, unsexy pick, but in certain leagues he’ll get the job done for you. Not very good with strikeouts or groundballs, but he has very good control, which makes him a serviceable starter.

Dave Bush | MIL | SP | 17.7% | 4.07 | 1.28 | 6.64 – Not pitching as well as last year, but that only makes an improvement more likely. Numbers since the All-Star break are very similar to his numbers on the year, so that improvement might not come. Even if it doesn’t, Bush is still usable in a lot of leagues and can help your ERA and WHIP in certain ones.

Andrew Sonnanstine | TB | SP | 0.0% | 4.09 | 1.27 | 6.07 – A guy I hyped up a lot around the All-Star break due to good minor league numbers and good numbers in the beginning of his major league career, Sonnanstine has disappointed since. After his July 19 start, everything fell to ruins. Since July 25, he’s put up just a 4.61 K/9 and 3.62 BB/9 without a single truly inspiring start in the mix. I still think he could be good in the future, but it might be best to hold off this year.

Starters – Strikeouts

If you’re not concerned with your ERA or WHIP, here are some starters who can help you with strikeouts in most leagues.

Jeff Francis | COL | SP | 23.1% | 4.19 | 1.31 | 6.99 – The 8.76 K/9 since the All-Star break puts Francis on this list as well. Probably the best option of anyone on the list.

Rick Vanden Hurk | FLA | SP | 0.0% | 4.70 | 1.62 | 8.52 – Doesn’t have a guaranteed rotation spot, and because of his terrible control, his LIPS ERA and DIPS WHIP will hurt you. Still, his minor league numbers support his very useful K/9.

Chad Billingsley | LAD | SP | 14.6% | 4.07 | 1.36 | 8.50 – K/9 has dropped to 7.56 as a starter, but as it’s still more than a point above league average, it can be helpful in some leagues.

Chris Capuano | MIL | SP | 25.9% | 3.89 | 1.38 | 8.14 – Has been getting unlucky this year, but if he keeps his roster spot he should help with Ks and maybe even a little with ERA.

Andrew Miller | DET | SP | 2.0% | 4.36 | 1.58 | 7.93 – Miller is expected back on Friday. Terrible control (5.03 BB/9) and therefore a poor ERA and WHIP, but his strikeouts will help you.

Relievers

If you’re in a shallower league or have more than a few ERA and WHIP points to make up, you’re probably better off with some of these guys.

I’m including LIPS ERA, DIPS WHIP, and K/9 as I did above, but am also including innings pitched divided by games active. That should help you figure out how often they are being used and should help with your calculations that we talked about before.

Rafael Betancourt | CLE | RP | 10.4% | 2.66 | 0.88 | 7.96 | .469 – Wow. Betancourt has been absolutely amazing. It’s funny that guys like Jonathan Broxton and Pat Neshek are owned in roughly 50% of leagues, yet this guy beats them both in LIPS ERA and DIPS WHIP and is owned in just 10%.

Heath Bell | SD | RP | 23.1% | 3.07 | 1.09 | 9.21 | .572 – It pains me everytime I write about Bell. I still can’t forgive Omar. He’s a fantastic pitcher who throws a lot of innings. Great choice. Numbers aren’t quite as great as Betancourt’s, but he is used more.

Derrick Turnbow | MIL | RP | 6.7% | 3.16 | 1.28 | 11.87 | .443 – The former Brewers closer is having a great year. His WHIP might not help you and he doesn’t pitch as much as Betancourt or Bell, but his ERA should be useful.

Rafael Soriano | ATL | RP | 20.7% | 3.37 | 1.10 | 8.07 | .437 – Soriano is one of the bigger names on this list, so I probably don’t need to go over him too much. Basically, he’s good.

Cla Meredith | SD | RP | 1.1% | 3.40 | 1.31 | 6.52 | .482 – The second Padre on the list, but Meredith isn’t as good a choice as Bell. His WHIP probably won’t help you gain points, but his ERA might. He also doesn’t strike out as many batters as a dominating reliever.

Chad Qualls | HOU | RP | 4.5% | 3.43 | 1.18 | 8.95 | .527 – The eighth inning man in Houston is used plenty, and has good numbers to back it up. There are better options, but if you’re grabbing more than a couple guys, Qualls fits in well.

Juan Cruz | ARZ | RP | 0.2% | 3.52 | 1.34 | 12.26 | .452 – Generally considered No. 5 in the Arizona bullpen, Cruz’s LIPS ERA is second only to Jose Valerde. He has control problems, though, so his WHIP won’t be very good. Consider him if the pickings are slim.

Joaquin Benoit | TEX | RP | 23.3% | 3.52 | 1.15 | 9.97 | .528 – Since C.J. Wilson took the closer’s role, Benoit’s ownership has stayed relatively low. Good news for you.

Manny Delcarmen | BOS | RP | 0.1% | 3.33 | 1.20 | 9.11 | .404 – Has been in the majors only since May and has been very good.

Andrew Brown | OAK | RP | 2.6% | 2.63 | 0.92 | 10.88 | .324 – Another mid-season callup, Brown was acquired in the Milton Bradley deal. Control will probably worsen a bit, but his LIPS and DIPS numbers are so good they could afford a regression. Not really used as much as you’d like, though.

Joba Chamberlain | NYY | RP | 32.0% | 2.05 | 1.71 | 14.14 | .538 – Over the 25% barrier, but he’s worth mentioning. Won’t be this good all year, but he is definitely a nice pickup when using this strategy.

Concluding thoughts

That’s about it for these three categories. Absolutely make sure you run the numbers to see if this strategy will work for you.

If you can fill 75% or so of your remaining innings with a group of potent relievers like these guys, you could significantly improve your place in the standings. Remember, there’s still more than 20% of the season left, so there is still time to better your ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, especially if you aren’t yet projected to meet the maximum innings. Just make sure that a lot of those innings are giving you great numbers and you’ll be golden.

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