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Bust or Trust? The MadProf on SP rankings at the end of May.

Last year around this time, I ran analysis inspired by Yahoo!’s Mike Salfino.  I was already working on this year’s version when Mike did his own update here.  So, again, I’m indebted to and in respectful disagreement with, Mike.

He ran an analysis here of ERA and ((K-BB)/IP).  Essentially, there should be an inverse relationship:  as the latter gets higher (a sign of dominance), the former should get lower (because better pitchers should give up fewer runs).  Based on this, Mike identified several pitchers to be held and several to be sold as high as possible as soon as possible because they were clearly overperforming.

I’m still not sold on this particular measure.  My principal basis for doubt is that it overlooks other important measures of pitching performance that we fantasy folks tend to overlook because we don’t include them in our league stats (for the most part).  These include:

  • # of pitches thrown
  • Total batters faced
  • BABIP
  • LD%

We do take BABIP and LD% into consideration when looking to explain over and underperformance.  But, we don’t factor it in when using a stat such as (K-BB)/IP.

Overview: What do the numbers say?

As of Sunday morning 28 May, MLB stats for pitching are:

(K-BB)/IP ERA
0.543 4.17

Let’s see how this looks with regard to the 145 pitchers with at least 30 IP so far (data are courtesy of Fangraphs).  It will surprise no one that Chris Sale shows up on top of the (K-BB)/IP chart.

Name Team IP (K-BB)/IP ERA
Chris Sale Red Sox 73 1.19 2.34
Max Scherzer Nationals 68.1 1.04 2.77
Jeff Samardzija Giants 68 1.00 4.50
Michael Pineda Yankees 53.2 0.98 3.35
Zack Greinke Diamondbacks 72.1 0.97 3.24
Jacob deGrom Mets 64 0.97 3.23
Alex Wood Dodgers 48 0.94 1.69
James Paxton Mariners 37.2 0.91 1.43
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 71.2 0.90 2.01
Marco Estrada Blue Jays 68.2 0.89 3.15
Drew Pomeranz Red Sox 44 0.89 4.70
Chris Archer Rays 72.1 0.87 3.61
Jake Arrieta Cubs 56.2 0.87 4.92
Danny Salazar Indians 52.1 0.86 5.50
Luis Severino Yankees 55 0.85 3.11
Nathan Karns Royals 45.1 0.84 4.17
Stephen Strasburg Nationals 67.1 0.83 2.94
Yusmeiro Petit Angels 30.2 0.83 2.35
Trevor Cahill Padres 41.1 0.83 3.27
Trevor Bauer Indians 50 0.82 6.30

According to these numbers, though, you should be looking to scoop up Samardzija, Pomeranz, Arrieta, Karns, Salazar and Bauer if they are available or if you can get them at a good price.  Their (K-BB)/IP ratio is well above the league average, yet their ERA is also well above.  So, they are victims of bad luck or the gods’ anger.  If they keep pitching at these levels of K and BB efficiency, their ERA should regress towards the mean and their overall value should improve.  Hold that thought…

Similarly, sell-high candidates can be found where pitchers have very low ERA but are not performing with regard to (K-BB)/IP.  Here are the top 20 pitchers in terms of ERA (and at least 30 IP).

Name Team (K-BB)/IP ERA
James Paxton Mariners 0.91 1.43
Alex Wood Dodgers 0.94 1.69
Ervin Santana Twins 0.33 1.80
Dallas Keuchel Astros 0.66 1.81
Mike Leake Cardinals 0.52 1.91
Zack Godley Diamondbacks 0.48 1.99
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 0.90 2.01
Mike Montgomery Cubs 0.03 2.27
Chris Sale Red Sox 1.19 2.34
Yusmeiro Petit Angels 0.83 2.35
Derek Holland White Sox 0.47 2.37
Jason Vargas Royals 0.60 2.39
Lance McCullers Astros 0.81 2.43
Lance Lynn Cardinals 0.58 2.53
Michael Fulmer Tigers 0.57 2.65
Wade LeBlanc Pirates 0.60 2.70
Max Scherzer Nationals 1.04 2.77
Eduardo Rodriguez Red Sox 0.69 2.77
Andrew Triggs Athletics 0.52 2.77
Ivan Nova Pirates 0.46 2.83

 

Based on this, you might want to consider selling Leake, Godley, Montgomery, Holland, Triggs and Nova while you still can.  Their ERAs are much too low relative to their (K-BB)/IP.  Well, yeah.  I guess.  But last week, I said that Leake should be owned in all leagues.  I’m not ready to recant based on this data.

The Statistics Don’t Lie…

The problem with this stat is that it does not take into account pitchers who induce outs without throwing a lot of K.  A good groundball pitcher who induces swings and outs will not show up on this radar.  Also, keep in mind that in today’s era of pitch counts strikeouts are expensive because they eat into pitch counts.  So, let’s look at a few additional stats.

MLB Averages 28 May 2017

Here, I look at league stats for Pitches per IP (PIP), Batters faced per IP (BFIP) and a couple of additional important stats that demo pitching prowess: BABIP, HR/FB, etc.

Season KBBIP PIP BFIP ERA BABIP HR/FB LD% GB% FB%
2017 0.54 16.5 4.3 4.17 0.291 13.10% 20.00% 44.40% 35.70%

Sell-High Candidates in terms of (K-BB)/IP and ERA

Name Team PIP BFIP (K-BB)/IP ERA BABIP HR/FB LD% GB% FB%
James Paxton Mariners 16.59 4.03 0.91 1.43 0.28 0.00 0.23 0.40 0.38
Alex Wood Dodgers 15.48 4.00 0.94 1.69 0.28 0.05 0.13 0.69 0.18
Ervin Santana Twins 14.24 3.74 0.33 1.80 0.14 0.09 0.14 0.42 0.44
Dallas Keuchel Astros 13.71 3.76 0.66 1.81 0.22 0.19 0.14 0.68 0.18
Mike Leake Cardinals 14.40 3.90 0.52 1.91 0.24 0.09 0.20 0.54 0.26
Zack Godley Diamondbacks 14.29 3.88 0.48 1.99 0.24 0.13 0.14 0.66 0.20
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 13.64 3.75 0.90 2.01 0.24 0.11 0.18 0.48 0.34
Mike Montgomery Cubs 16.70 4.17 0.03 2.27 0.25 0.00 0.25 0.58 0.18
Chris Sale Red Sox 14.77 3.77 1.19 2.34 0.26 0.08 0.20 0.39 0.42
Yusmeiro Petit Angels 15.56 4.11 0.83 2.35 0.25 0.08 0.15 0.35 0.51
Derek Holland White Sox 16.46 4.22 0.47 2.37 0.26 0.11 0.20 0.38 0.43
Jason Vargas Royals 15.81 4.04 0.60 2.39 0.28 0.06 0.20 0.34 0.46
Lance McCullers Astros 16.04 4.04 0.81 2.43 0.27 0.17 0.20 0.61 0.20
Lance Lynn Cardinals 17.19 4.11 0.58 2.53 0.20 0.17 0.14 0.48 0.38
Michael Fulmer Tigers 15.10 4.07 0.57 2.65 0.28 0.06 0.20 0.49 0.31
Wade LeBlanc Pirates 14.97 3.93 0.60 2.70 0.24 0.09 0.21 0.53 0.26
Max Scherzer Nationals 15.62 3.92 1.04 2.77 0.25 0.13 0.16 0.35 0.50
Eduardo Rodriguez Red Sox 16.84 4.03 0.69 2.77 0.27 0.08 0.22 0.34 0.44
Andrew Triggs Athletics 15.90 4.13 0.52 2.77 0.27 0.06 0.17 0.51 0.32

Hmmm…those sell high candidates don’t look so bad now.  With the exception of Holland, these guys are inducing GB at a very high rate.  With the exception of Montgomery and Holland, they are all throwing fewer PIP and facing fewer batters than the league average.  Leake and Godley are throwing 2 fewer PIP than the league average.  They are efficient.  They won’t rack up your K counts, but they are good bets for W, QS and ratio stats going forward. (As a side note, do look at Sale’s line. This is filthy stuff.  He is striking guys out like a god and throwing nearly 2 fewer PIP than the league average.)

Looking back at those leaders in terms of (K-BB)/IP, who might we want to be wary of?

Name Team PIP BFIP (K-BB)/IP ERA BABIP HR/FB LD% GB% FB%
Chris Sale Red Sox 14.77 3.77 1.19 2.34 0.261 0.08 0.20 0.39 0.42
Max Scherzer Nationals 15.62 3.92 1.04 2.77 0.247 0.13 0.16 0.35 0.50
Jeff Samardzija Giants 15.40 4.06 1.00 4.50 0.32 0.16 0.27 0.39 0.34
Michael Pineda Yankees 15.43 4.08 0.98 3.35 0.269 0.23 0.17 0.51 0.33
Zack Greinke Diamondbacks 15.41 3.94 0.97 3.24 0.269 0.15 0.16 0.43 0.41
Jacob deGrom Mets 16.34 4.17 0.97 3.23 0.324 0.16 0.24 0.44 0.33
Alex Wood Dodgers 15.48 4.00 0.94 1.69 0.281 0.05 0.13 0.69 0.18
James Paxton Mariners 16.59 4.03 0.91 1.43 0.277 0.00 0.23 0.40 0.38
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 13.64 3.75 0.90 2.01 0.244 0.11 0.18 0.48 0.34
Marco Estrada Blue Jays 16.47 4.11 0.89 3.15 0.286 0.11 0.17 0.36 0.47
Drew Pomeranz Red Sox 18.64 4.36 0.89 4.70 0.324 0.18 0.23 0.39 0.39
Chris Archer Rays 16.19 4.13 0.87 3.61 0.305 0.09 0.20 0.42 0.38
Jake Arrieta Cubs 16.83 4.36 0.87 4.92 0.340 0.16 0.21 0.41 0.38
Danny Salazar Indians 18.83 4.53 0.86 5.50 0.361 0.23 0.26 0.37 0.37
Luis Severino Yankees 16.29 4.02 0.85 3.11 0.268 0.17 0.19 0.51 0.30
Nathan Karns Royals 16.61 4.17 0.84 4.17 0.283 0.20 0.12 0.50 0.38
Stephen Strasburg Nationals 15.66 4.04 0.83 2.94 0.282 0.07 0.19 0.47 0.33
Yusmeiro Petit Angels 15.56 4.11 0.83 2.35 0.253 0.08 0.15 0.35 0.51
Trevor Cahill Padres 16.62 4.21 0.83 3.27 0.300 0.11 0.14 0.60 0.26
Trevor Bauer Indians 19.02 4.32 0.82 6.30 0.328 0.22 0.21 0.43 0.36

Pomeranz, Arrieta, Salazar, Karns, Cahill and Bauer are throwing a lot of PIP.  They are more or less league average in terms of BFIP.  So, they are taking longer to get batters out.  They are getting hurt because their BABIPs are all significantly higher than the league average.

Some things to note:

Karns is putting a lot of balls on the ground. He is, correspondingly, not suffering with regard to BABIP.  With the exception of Cahill (with an extraordinary .60 GB rate), these guys are way above average in terms of HR/FB and generally above average in terms of FB%.  So, when balls do leave bats with these guys, they tend to come equipped with a flight crew.

Arrieta is just having a weird year.   Nothing outstanding in his ratios.  Yet his BABIP is at coach-pitch heights and he’s throwing a lot of pitches.  This is an act waiting to get back together.

Salfino likes Karns, Arrieta, Samardzija, Lackey, Porcello, Severino and Morton as buy low candidates. Let’s have a look:

Name Team PIP BFIP (K-BB)/IP ERA BABIP HR/FB LD% GB% FB%
Jeff Samardzija Giants 15.40 4.06 1.00 4.50 0.320 0.16 0.27 0.39 0.34
Jake Arrieta Cubs 16.83 4.36 0.87 4.92 0.340 0.16 0.21 0.41 0.38
Luis Severino Yankees 16.29 4.02 0.85 3.11 0.268 0.17 0.19 0.51 0.30
Nathan Karns Royals 16.61 4.17 0.84 4.17 0.283 0.20 0.12 0.50 0.38
Rick Porcello Red Sox 19.02 4.32 0.81 4.35 0.354 0.13 0.21 0.39 0.40
Charlie Morton Astros 19.02 4.32 0.73 4.06 0.325 0.18 0.24 0.51 0.24
John Lackey Cubs 19.02 4.32 0.72 5.18 0.313 0.21 0.19 0.44 0.36

 

With the exception of Severino, these guys are all suffering high BABIP so you have to figure they will improve with regard to ERA.  But take a look:  Porcello, Morton, and Lackey are throwing 2.5 more PIP than the league average while facing a league average 4.3 batters per inning.  Morton is putting a lot of balls on the ground (51%) so that BABIP should come down. Still, there is more here than simply looking at the K/BB ratio

Selfino is down on Santana, Gonzalez, Bundy and Holland.  What do we know?

Name Team PIP BFIP (K-BB)/IP ERA BABIP HR/FB LD% GB% FB%
Derek Holland White Sox 19.02 4.32 0.47 2.37 0.257 0.11 0.20 0.38 0.43
Dylan Bundy Orioles 19.02 4.32 0.42 2.92 0.261 0.09 0.25 0.32 0.43
Gio Gonzalez Nationals 19.02 4.32 0.35 2.90 0.264 0.16 0.18 0.45 0.37
Ervin Santana Twins 19.02 4.32 0.33 1.80 0.136 0.09 0.14 0.42 0.44

 

There is much more to agree with here. These guys are all throwing a lot of PIP (19.02).  So they are not helping themselves.   Santana is benefiting from a ridiculous 0.136 BABIP.  He’s giving up a lot of FB but has an equally ridiculous 0.09 HR/FB ratio.  He would seem to be a good candidate for gravity to punish. Dylan Bundy is in essentially the same boat.  The gods of probability suggest that their ERAs should rise as their HR/FB (and Santana’s BABIP) normalize.

So, keep an eye on the data that we don’t tend to track in our fantasy standings.  Some of those sell-high candidates are keepers. Some of these guys are time bombs.  Let’s be careful out there.

Happy Memorial Day!

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Unrepentant Red Sox fan and all things Boston. Deflategate was a joke. Boston Latin School is awesome. Harvard and Johns Hopkins alma maters... Besides that... Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Professor of Politics and Law at Washington and Lee University. Wrote for Ron Shandler's Shandler Park for two summers and have been on board with MLFS since 2011. Been at Washington and Lee since 1990 with a brief hiatus (2010-2013) in the Middle East. Currently developing that last word in Fantasy Baseball analysis. Married to Flor, Dad to William and Alex, and adopted daughter Reem. Soon to be father and law to Meaghann. Alpha male to the world's super-pup, Humphrey. Life is not bad.

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