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Major League Pitching 2017.  The MadProf on SP and RP value and Offense.

Hi Campers.  The All-Star Break looms and the minds of spunky fantasy baseball managers are turning to ponder second-half strategies or the location of the first Fantasy Football magazines…

This column takes a drive-by shooting view of some uber-trends in MLB pitching and makes a first foray into some macro-level analysis that has micro-level impact on your pitching decisions.  I end up focusing more today on RP than SP. (It’s OK. I cleared it with the home office.)  But, I do so via a quick analysis of Run Differential and Save Opps which ties indirectly into the quality of SP.  More on the SP issue in future columns.

Contemporary MLB Pitching: Duck!(?)

This weekend, Baltimore pitching decided to offer its fans a clinic for how to pitch batting practices.  #Seriously?  On Friday they let Tampa Bay have 15 runs as the O’s seized the bottom rung of the ladder and gave up five or more runs for the 20th consecutive game.  They settled for a tie with the 1924 Phillies and they woke up and slapped an 8-3 drubbing on the (no longer Devil) Rays on Saturday.

That’s ok in my book.  No need to be gaudy about it.  Just prove that you can attain historic levels of lameness without surpassing them.  That’s the mark of true sportsmanship.

But, I digress…

Is something up with MLB pitching this year?  The Angels are working with what amounts to a second tier SP staff since they have FIVE starters on the shelf. Nolasco, Chavez, Ramirez, Meyers and Bridwell are supposed to be Skaggs, Richards, Tropeano, Heaney and Shoemaker.  (And, oh, by the way, Bailey and Norris are supposed to be in the bullpen).  Mad Bum: Down.  David Price:  continuing to prove the wisdom of the Red Sox’s decision NOT to overpay for starting pitching and therefore letting ham and eggers like Lester and Lackey go so they can not- overpay David Price.

Is the deadball era over (again)?  Are there new PEDs floating around out there that we don’t know about?  Is Donald Trump president?

For starters, let’s take a look at some trends across the league.    Frankly, there is some weird sh*t going on. As of Sunday morning, 25 June, we are through 75 games.  Some typical league indicators look like this:


2017 75 4.36 18 665 322 349 243 613
0.255 0.324 0.426 0.75 10 28 64.51 26
15 650 129 12 95 1086
39 15 28.26 1.34 2.56 8.28 3.89

I went and adjusted these data to 89 games (the average number of games before the All Star Break over the previous 5 years).  Below are the adjusted predictions for where we are headed in 2017 v. where we’ve been at the ASB over the prior five years.

2017adj 4.36 21.36 789.1 382.1 414.1 288.4 727.4
2012-2016 3.95 23.6 808.8 355.2 385.4 270.4 691.4
2017adj 0.255 0.324 0.426 0.750 11.87 33.23 64.51 30.85
2012-2016 0.254 0.318 0.402 0.720 10.60 34.40 69.06 29.40
2017adj 17.80 771.3 153.1 14.24 112.7 1289
2012-2016 18.60 782.6 154.6 16.2 90.0 1240
2017adj 46.28 17.80 28.26 1.34 2.56 8.28 3.89
2012-2016 50.60 20.00 28.66 1.30 2.59 7.69 3.83

Hello?  MLB pitchers are giving up more runs, saving fewer net games (but with fewer save opportunities), hitting more batters, giving up more home runs, but striking out more batters while suffering an increase in OPS. (Please note:  I did not adjust the numbers highlighted in BOLD because they are ratios.  So, we assume that they will continue at roughly the same pace through 89 games that they’ve been for the first 75.)

More strikeouts, more HR, more OPS.  Life is good.  This is one way to keep the fans from straying to watch the US Open.  More pitches per plate appearance seem to be the rotation’s answer to speeding up games.  But, still…

There is some general weirdness occurring in the league.  A lot more pitchers are cracking the 90+ mph barrier and more than a few are cracking or threatening to crack 100 mph. Batters now prefer to swing for the fences and risk a K rather than to swing for average and risk a lazy fly ball out.  I’m not going to try to sort it halfway through the season when 1) this could all normalize as a result of the second half, 2) it’s a beautiful day outside and 3) folks with more computing power on hand could offer ore piercing analysis.  Nonetheless, I offer some additional thoughts that pertain to your overall SP concerns and how they impact your RP.

Save Opportunities, Quality SP and Offensive Output

As all of the Sabermetric gods have told us, the key to MLB success is runs produced.  While this translates into success in the MLB, it does not necessarily help you out with your fantasy squad.  For example, if a team leads the league in runs scored and QS, there may not be much in the way of Save Opportunities even if your closer is named Kimbrel or Jansen.  If your SP mow down the opposition and your batters wipe out opposing pitchers, it will be hard to find a save opportunity when you are up by 5 runs in the ninth inning.

So, when looking for RP in fantasy, you do want to find teams that will create save opportunities.  But, that requires a balance between stud SP and offense. Too much or too little of both will leave your relievers with very little to do at the end of a game.

So, what makes a closer or RP great?  We are stuck here in Fantasyland.  Unless your league uses a lot of arcane or complex statistics, you essentially look for SV, K, and WHIP.  That can kill you when selecting “good” RP.

The following graph shows the relationship between WAR and SV through 24 June.  Essentially, there is not much of a relationship.  To no one’s surprise, Jansen, Kimbrel, and Knebel lead the MLB in WAR.  But, they don’t lead it in saves—that honor belongs to Colorado’s Greg Holland with a WAR that is half that of the other three.




To put this in perspective, though, let’s take a look at total Save Opportunities.  You can’t get a save without the opportunity.  How do Save Opportunities square with offense?  The next graph tracks Save Opps as a function of Run Differential.



The Dodgers, Astros, Yankees, and Diamondbacks are clobbering opponents’ pitching.  But, their pitching staffs are responding with quality performances.  As a result, the best offenses are not delivering the most Save Opportunities and, therefore, probably decreasing the value of pitchers like Giles, Jansen, Betances, Chapman and even Archie Bradley who is not the closer for Arizona…yet.

But, let’s spin this differently.  Let’s look at the overall performance of an RP—WAR—and compare it to team offense.  That is, regardless of how the team is producing runs, how is a closer (or closer in waiting) performing?  This graph nicely puts performance into perspective—and makes you wonder about the post season.  Jansen is pitching well—but Joe Shlabotnik could come in to close games with the Dodgers’ Run Differential.

According to this graph, if the game is on the line, you want to hand the ball to Kimbrel, Miller, Knebel, Parker, Osuna or maybe Rivero or Nicasio. They are closing games that are on the line (because their teams Run Differential is lower) and maintaining outstanding WAR.  No disrespect to the guys on the right-hand side.

Fine. But, how does this translate into overall Saves value?  The next graph compares a reliever’s SV rate (RPSVPCT) to the percentage of a team’s Save Opportunities that he owns (RPSVOPCT).


This again shows true value.  Kimbrel and Holland are called upon more than 80% of the time in save opportunities and save more than 90% of the games. Miller, Rivero, Betances, and Knebel have been outstanding as well.  But, they don’t’ get the call as much due to occupying the second chair or occupying the first chair for only part of the season so far.

All-Star Break Ponderables

OK, Gentle Reader. This is round one of an analysis that will go through some significant revision.  I need to tie it into QS and SP performance.  If a team with a big run differential has a lot of QS, those SP are going to burn your SP at least a bit–unless the middle relievers like to pitch batting practice.  For now, I wanted to toss these data out to you as I chew on them myself. I admit that this is the beginning of a project, so I welcome feedback.

Meanwhile, Scorpio has risen, the All-Star Break looms and June is about done. Best wishes for the 4th.


(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join guest host Andrea LaMont, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday July 2nd, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #92 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.

The Legend Lenny Melnick is our guest this week. Check out his work at, his podcasts every morning on his site, and his Sirius Sattellite radio with Craig Mish every Sunday from 7-10am. 

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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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