I got permission to try different taglines and whatnot since this is my first opportunity to test the patience of the staff and the audience. So, trying to come up with something to compare to the others’ remains a bit of a challenge. I figured I’d give ol’ Road Warrior Hawk a try. Apparently, he is a doppelganger. We’ve never been photographed together. Just saying…
Last week, I covered the top 20 (+/-) starting pitchers as they were ranked by BaseballHQ, Yahoo!, and three of our friends from CBS. For the most part, the rankings surprised no one. The only real controversy in such a ranking is at the margin. Who are the last five and first 5 that don’t make the cut will always be a source of discussion, if not difference of opinion. But, hey—no need to do a Cam Newton and pout about this. We are in it for the love of the game
This weekend and next, we’ll look at the top 90 +/- pitchers in the ranks. While this will include the top 20, it will also get more difficult because this is where we see many of the pitchers on the cusp of being #1s, a lot of fading workhorses, and as you drop down past 60 (+/-) more variation due to:
- the rapid drop-off in dollar values
- speculative picks on sleepers and bounceback candidates
So, whereas last week left little to debate about (everyone we discussed was a money ballplayer), this week there is a lot to ponder.
What’s important to keep in mind is that we are much more likely to generate a positive (and significant) return on investment from the SP we look at this week. Kershaw’s a great pitcher. But if you fork out $35 or $40 for him, you can’t expect him to deliver $50 (unless he strikes out 400). So, you are much more likely to find players who are undervalued or, at least, you can acquire at a relative bargain price on draft day. This is because these players are going to be on the board much longer than the likes of Kershaw, Sale, Bumgarner, etc.
This week, I’ll focus on macro-level analysis. There are some impressive and important trends and patterns to note when looking at the top 90-100 SP (and to infinity and beyond). In contrast to last week, I will not seek to identify the un- or semi-disputed top 20 or 25 SP according to a particular ranking system. Instead, I draw upon CBS, BaseballHQ, and Yahoo essentially to crowdsource the top 90 or so SP. Next week, I’ll discuss particular SP who are likely to be over or undervalued based on this week’s and last week’s analysis.
Let’s start by seeing who actually makes the cut in the top 90 SP. (The composite data appears in a long table at the end of the article. I draw upon bits and pieces as I work through the discussion.) There are 133 different pitchers named in the top 90 by our sources. Seventy SP are ranked in the top 90 by all five sources.
Table 1. Allocation of Top players among the Five Expert Sources
|# of lists on which the player appears||# players appearing|
Among those 70 players on all 5 lists we see some intriguing patterns:
- ten pitchers average a ranking of 10 or better (Kershaw through Strasburg);
- nineteen average a ranking of 20 or better (Kershaw through Lester)
- twenty-six average 30 or better (Kershaw through Wacha)
Table 1: SP with an average ranking of 30 or higher
The data follows a predictable trend. Graph 1 shows that as we move from the consensus #1 to the lower ranked players, disagreement increases about any player’s ranking.
The X axis lists the average ranking. Everyone agrees that Kershaw is #1 (That is him in the lower left-hand corner: standard deviation of 0). But, the 70th player on all 5 lists, Edinson Volquez, has an average ranking of 80.8 and a standard deviation of 12.8. This tells us that once we get outside of the top 20 or so, our drafts and rankings are necessarily based on tiers of talent discounted by our intuition and individual analysis. There is too much disagreement to seek certainty in the metrics.
If we look at the players who make four or fewer listings, we begin to see some real variability. Players such as Joe Ross (WSH), Alex Cobb (TB), Eduardo Rodriguez (BOS), and Ervin Santana (MIN) start to appear. Each of these guys represents a different category of SP with potential #1 Skills: two rookies (Ross and Rodriguez) entering their second year, a solid young player who is coming back from injury (Cobb), and a veteran who was brilliant and who can still put together streaks of brilliance while delivering strikeouts (Santana) or making you pull out what little hair you have left.
Table 2: SP on exactly Four Lists
Dollar Value Rankings
This listing of ranks is helpful to get a sense of where the experts are trending. But if we turn to look at dollar values, we find more useful information. The dollar table is a little different because (as last week), Yahoo does not offer dollar values. So, we deal with four sources instead of five. Looking at the the following graph of the dollar values for the 70 pitchers who appear on all four lists, we see a similar pattern of ranking but an interesting shift in agreement.
With a couple of exceptions, the pattern of agreement is reversed: the higher the ranking, the greater the disagreement. For pitchers valued below $25, the standard deviation falls between $0 and $4. Once we cross $25, the pundits start to disagree significantly.
Granted, “significant” disagreement is a term of art. Clay Buchholz (BOS) has an average dollar value of $3.50, but his standard deviation is $2.38. In the pundits’ opinion, he could be a complete bust or offer nearly a $6 payoff. But, a standard deviation of about $2.38 on your investment in Clay Buchholz has radically different implications than the $2.31 standard deviation that accompanies Matt Harvey’s $22 pricetag. If Harvey delivers between $20 and $24, you will be happy. If Buchholz delivers $1.12, you won’t.
So, what’s peculiar here? That outstanding point at $11.25 value and $6.02 standard deviation is Justin Verlander. No surprise here. As Ron Shandler says, “Once you display a skill, you own it.” I guess the question regarding Verlander is, “What skill does Verlander own?” The last couple of years indicate that he’s clearly a high risk, high reward proposition.
Look at the players on the graph valued at $25 or better. Those seven points on the right of the graph give us some things to ponder and reflect some of our conclusions from last week.
Table 3: SP Valued $25 or Higher
While Kershaw is the consensus #1 overall, his projected value varies by nearly 20% among the experts ($6.51 on an average value of $38.50). In relative terms, Bumgarner and Price are much more dependable acquisitions in terms of their value. In both cases, the standard deviation of their price tags is only about 10% or so of their value. So, as you build your rosters, you need to keep such predicted variation in mind. In H2H leagues, that variability matters much more than standard rotisserie formats.
Looking at the Tiers
Twenty Seven SP fall between 20 and 50 in the overall rankings. Their dollar values vary significantly. As you work your way down through the rankings, you move from potential #1s who are flawed (Cueto), injured (Tanaka, Wainwright, Darvish and Verlander), or headcases (Ventura), to solid SP who have yet to cross the threshold into stardom, but seem due (Gray, Salazar, Ross, Martinez, etc.)
I will bite the bullet and offer some clear recommendations on whom to buy and whom to avoid next week. For now, I’ll close by looking at the rest of the tiers.
Tier 3: Average Rank 51-80
What I find amazing in terms of draft strategy and ranking is the speed with which we enter single-digit values for pitchers. We are deep into the single digits when we cross into the 50s. In this tier there are solid players worth gambling on–and who will most likely go for much higher prices than the pundits suggest. How much does Scott Kazmir have left in him? Rodon is a young stud. Is he a sleeper? What do the experts know? Will Jeff Samardzjia or Mr. Hyde show up? Ho many novenas will be offered up when paying for Michael Pineda? We know what Andrew Heaney can do. But can he do it for an entire season?
Tier 4: Not Quite Bobby Heenen’s Ham and Eggers, but still… Ranks 80 and Beyond
“It’s a dog eat dog world and Mr. Perfect is Milk Bone.” “Shut up, Monsoon…”
OK, If I’m going to cite Bobby the Brain, I owe him at least one quote. So many quotes, so little time… You had to love his ham and eggers references. The SP ranking below 80 are hardly Joe Shlabotniks. In fact, this is where we will find the SP who will make a difference between getting into and watching the playoffs.
But, that does not devalue a good Heenan quote…
I won’t add another table here. You can see the entire table below. Needless to say, the value here is outstanding. Alex Cobb, Nathan Eovaldi, James Paxton…Yovani Gallardo are all quality SP who will deliver value to your roster. What’s important to note; there are 30 teams in MLB. They all maintain starting rotations of 4-5 pitchers. This ranking includes only 130 layers–there are 20 innings-eating #5 SP out there that have not made the list–in the same way that a nontrivial number of the folks in the bottom tier won’t be on it come Opening Day or Labor Day.
More to come from this analysis next week. Best wishes for the South Carolina Primary!
Table: Summary Data: Top 100 players listed on Yahoo!, CBS Sportsline and calculated from BaseballHQ. 14 February 2015
RankN: The number of lists on which a SP is ranked in the Top 100
Mean Rank: The average rank across those five lists
RankSD: The standard deviation of the ranks
Value N: The number of lists on which a SP is ranked in the Top 100 in terms of Dollar Value
Mean Value: The average dollar value across the four lists
ValueSD: The standard deviation of those dollar values
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