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The Mad Prof’s First Occasional Rant: Pitching Stats in Fantasy.

It’s the end of the academic year. Our gentle Czar asked if I wanted to do something besides the Eastern division run downs (n.b.: not much has changed since I last wrote.  The Nationals are whaling, the Mets are searching for themselves, Philly fans are at least having fun.  Giancarlo Stanton IS waking up and Atlantans are eagerly awaiting the start of the NFL preseason schedule. The Yankees are running out of gurneys and Geritol, baseballs are denting the interior of the Skydome and the Orioles are re-emphasizing the O.  Boston is waking up as Porcello continues to pitch well.  Tampa Bay continues to pitch well and hit not so much.).  More on MLB’s mysterious East in later pieces.

Now then.

Today, I take aim at the stats we run in fantasy.  In this game, we all undertake analyses ranging from the basic to the sophisticated so that we can assemble quality rosters and maybe learn a bit more about the nuances of baseball.  Yet, some of the stuff we rely on for pitching really is kinda Neanderthal.

wThe Win

I begin with the obvious.  Get rid of the damn W.  As well, can we rethink the silly-arsed QS?  Wins is a useless category.  A starter can throw a QS and not get a W because the bullpen blows the game.

A starter can get a win by throwing 5 no-hit innings.  But, if he pitches only 5 innings, it will not constitute a QS (more on that later).  A win is dictated by who is the pitcher of record when the winning run is scored.  This leads in some cases to relievers getting vulture wins even if they pitch to only one batter.

And, just in case, this murky stuff leaves you with too clear an understanding of who should get a win, the MLB rulebook adds Rule 10.17(c):

The official scorer shall not credit as the winning pitcher a relief pitcher who is ineffective in a brief appearance, when at least one succeeding relief pitcher pitches effectively in helping his team maintain its lead. In such a case, the official scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher the succeeding relief pitcher who was most effective, in the judgment of the official scorer.

Rule 10.17(c) Comment: The official scorer generally should, but is not required to, consider the appearance of a relief pitcher to be ineffective and brief if such relief pitcher pitches less than one inning and allows two or more earned runs to score (even if such runs are charged to a previous pitcher). Rule 10.17(b) Comment provides guidance on choosing the winning pitcher from among several succeeding relief pitchers.

So, in essence, once the SP leaves, the allocation of the W may depend on the scorekeeper’s impression of an RP’s performance.  “Hey, nice shoes.  W.”

Seriously?  To the extent that fantasy baseball is driven by analysis—logic—one would hope that scoring categories would be better defined.  That is apparently, too much to ask.  So, take note:  we rely on the Wins category for part of SP assessment but:

  • The SP does not control his lineup or his bullpen.
  • Either of those can prevent an SP from getting a W regardless of how well he pitches.

So, it is essentially impossible to predict a win based on the abilities of an SP unless we can count on all SP to go the distance and then measure the possibility that the SP throws a shutout.  At best, this would predict a tie (because the SP does not provide offense from the mound so he can’t deliver a run).  This is unrealistic, of course.  But, it would remove variables that are not under the SP’s control.

 

The Quality Start

YOUTRIED-ribbonOne way to get around the ambiguity of the W is to seek refuge in our friend, the QS.  In principle, it is a clear improvement over the W because it focuses only on the performance of the SP.  A Quality Start occurs when an SP completes at least six innings and gives up no more than 3 runs.

OK—that is all on the SP.  But… Seriously?  We call a quality start six innings and three runs?  Really???  Two-thirds of a game and a 4.50 ERA?  Has baseball succumbed to the millennial disease of giving rewards for existence and participation? Bob Gibson, Bob Feller, and General Patton would slap our faces…

bob-gibson

 

I looked around and sought refuge in Wikipedia.  The concept of QS dates back to 1985.  It is attributed to John Lowe, who set it forth in the 26 December 1985 edition of the Philadelphia Enquirer.  (Good. So it has barely any tradition or sentiment.  Get rid of it… Oh, wait.   The DH was adopted in 1973.  Maybe this will be hard to kill…).

 

Folks have advocated improving on the QS. It is a goofy, milquetoast-ish, concept that leads to some pretty bizarre outcomes such as the following from an article by Joe Posnanski in Sports Illustrated:

  • “In July 2000,Mark Mulder went 6 2/3 innings, gave up 15 hits and nine runs — but only two were earned, so that was classified as a quality start.
  • In June 1997,Randy Johnson struck out 19 in a complete game but allowed four runs. That was not a quality start.
  • In July 1982,Mike Scott allowed seven hits and walked five in six innings, did not strike out anybody, gave up seven runs, but only three of those were earned. Quality start.
  • In April 1974,Gaylord Perry went 15 innings and allowed four runs. Not a quality start.”

In 2014, Dayn Perry of CBS Sports suggested that we raise the bar from “Quality Start” to “Dominant Start”.  The latter would require a starter to go 8 innings and give up no more than 1 earned run.  Insofar as the MLB is all about pitch counts and bullpen management, the Dominant Start might be all but unattainable.

Still, we need something out there to measure and count not only to assess SP quality but also to  give us fantasy folks something to study when scouring the  FA markets.

In a slick piece hot off the presses on 29 April, Michael Salfino at Yahoo! Sports draws upon data from Inside Edge to assess SP dominance with three measures:

  • 1-2-3 innings as a percentage of complete innings,
  • strikeouts in four pitches or less and
  • swinging strike rate

For fantasy purposes, this measure certainly addresses individual pitching prowess.  Granted 1-2-3 innings are attributable in part to quality of the defense behind a pitcher.  Nonetheless, the measure takes into account that balls are 1) not leaving the park and 2) probably being hit in a manageable way.

The data produce some surprises.  Chad Bettis, Matt Wisler, Rickey Nolasco, and Nathan Eovaldi join the ranks of Kluber, Arrieta and Sale on this list.   Salfino includes total number of pitches thrown and were I to rework the numbers (which I may, given my wonkish disposition), I’d average that over innings pitched to get a sense of how efficient these guys are.  If you are forcing hitters not to take pitches AND you are getting them to hit harmlessly (see my colleague Kyle Amore’s great piece earlier in the season), then you are really demonstrating some defense-independent prowess.

Great stuff.  Thanks to our friend, Michael Salfino and kudos to Kyle.

 

The Save

Ya gotta love the save.  Despite the fact that Moneyball showed us that one can manufacture a closer and a save, we still count it.  Granted, it’s necessary.  It matters.  If you disagree than don’t get upset when your closer blows a save.  It’s a dumb stat.  No?

Actually, it isn’t.  You’ve been given a lead.  Keep it.  It’s late in the game.  You are fresh, the batters have played for 9 innings.  We have to work tomorrow.  Mow them down and get us out of this mess.

So here is the definition of a save.  Rule 10.19 of the Official Rules of Major League Baseball says that the official scorer shall credit a pitcher with a save when he meets all four of the following conditions:

  1. He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his team;
  2. He is not the winning pitcher;
  3. He is credited with at least ? of an inning pitched; and
  4. He satisfies one of the following conditions:
    1. He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning
    2. He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on baseat bat or on deck
    3. He pitches for at least three innings.

I need to get more data on this. But, how many closers come into situations where they have to get you out of a jam?  It’s one thing to stride to the mound in the ninth inning and shut the game down with the bases empty.  This is your problem.  But what if you inherit runners?

The Inherited Runners Stranded measure shows which pitchers—usually setup men or middle relievers—are able to come in and clean up someone else’s mess.  These guys work for a living.

As a quick and dirty analysis, I went to Fox Sports where they have a pretty impressive statistical table for relief pitchers.  I accessed it Sunday, 1 May at 10 PM.  I looked at the top 50 relievers in terms of number of Saves and also Inherited Runners Stranded. The numbers are pretty impressive and give you a good sense of who is doing the work out there.

The relievers with 5 or more saves so far include no surprises. The following tables refer to Saves (SV), inherited runners (IR), inherited runners stranded (IRS), percentage of inherited runners that scored (IRS%) and I added inherited runners per innings pitched (IRIP).

 

Save Leaders 1 May 2016

Name SV IR IRS IRS% IRIP
K Jansen LAD 9 2 2 0% 0.2
R Madson OAK 8 2 2 0% 0.2
J Papelbon WSH 8 3 0 100% 0.3
D Robertson CHW 8 2 1 50% 0.2
J Gómez PHI 8 0 0 0% 0.0
S Tolleson TEX 8 3 2 33% 0.3
J Familia NYM 8 1 0 100% 0.1
M Melancon PIT 7 6 5 17% 0.6
W Davis KC 7 2 2 0% 0.2
C Kimbrel BOS 7 5 2 60% 0.5
A Ramos MIA 7 1 1 0% 0.1
C Allen CLE 7 3 3 0% 0.3
F Rodríguez DET 6 4 4 0% 0.5
J Jeffress MIL 6 1 0 100% 0.1
S Cishek SEA 6 0 0 0% 0.0
Z Britton BAL 6 2 2 0% 0.2
R Osuna TOR 6 3 2 33% 0.3
H Street LAA 5 2 1 50% 0.3
A Miller NYY 5 0 0 0% 0.0
B Ziegler ARZ 5 0 0 0% 0.0
J McGee COL 5 0 0 0% 0.0
T Rosenthal STL 5 3 3 0% 0.4
Á Colomé TB 5 2 2 0% 0.2
F Rodney SD 4 0 0 0% 0.0
S Casilla SF 4 2 2 0% 0.3
L Gregerson HOU 4 0 0 0% 0.0
H Rondón CHC 4 0 0 0% 0.0
K Jepsen MIN 2 0 0 0% 0.0
A Vizcaíno ATL 2 5 3 40% 0.6
S Doolittle OAK 2 5 1 80% 0.5
J Grilli ATL 1 0 0 0% 0.0
J Soria KC 1 0 0 0% 0.0
T Clippard ARZ 1 1 1 0% 0.1
J Smith LAA 1 0 0 0% 0.0
D O’Day BAL 1 1 1 0% 0.1
I Nova NYY 1 2 2 0% 0.2
D Storen TOR 1 0 0 0% 0.0
A Reed NYM 1 9 8 11% 0.7
N Jones CHW 1 5 4 20% 0.4
D Phelps MIA 1 4 3 25% 0.3
J Hoover CIN 1 3 0 100% 0.4
N Vincent SEA 1 2 1 50% 0.2
A Caminero PIT 1 2 1 50% 0.2
M Wisler ATL 1 0 0 0% 0.0
A Schugel PIT 1 3 3 0% 0.3
F Rivero WSH 1 5 3 40% 0.4
S Greene DET 1 0 0 0% 0.0
J Urena MIA 1 7 5 29% 1.7
B Colón NYM 0 2 1 50% 1.8
R Vogelsong PIT 0 3 2 33% 0.5
Averages 3.84  2.16 1.50 21% 0.27

 

These are the stud closers.  The guys who stroll in to the sounds of “Wild Thing” or “Shipping Off to Boston” and put the fear of God into opposing hitters.  Take note, though.  On average, the closers inherit 2.16 runners (an average of 0.27 inherited runners per inning pitched).  On average, they strand 1.5 runners.  That is, 21% of the runners they inherit actually score.

Now compare this to the leaders in inherited runners.  (Before doing so, consider asking the closers to tone down the entrance music).  This stable ranks non-SP by the number of runners they have inherited so far this season

Most inherited runners, 1 May 2016

Name SV IR IRS IRS% IRIP
A Chafin ARZ 0 14 10 29% 1.5
E O’Flaherty ATL 0 12 7 42% 2.4
L Hochevar KC 0 12 11 8% 1.2
J Blevins NYM 0 12 11 8% 1.7
J Chavez TOR 0 11 5 55% 1.2
B Hand SD 0 11 6 46% 1.2
M Rzepczynski OAK 0 10 10 0% 1.0
J Álvarez LAA 0 10 7 30% 0.8
J Osich SF 0 10 10 0% 1.0
C Narveson MIA 0 9 5 44% 1.1
B Logan COL 0 9 7 22% 1.0
N Feliz PIT 0 9 8 11% 0.8
B Cecil TOR 0 9 3 67% 1.0
A Ogando ATL 0 9 4 56% 0.7
F Abad MIN 0 9 6 33% 0.9
A Reed NYM 1 9 8 11% 0.7
E Ramírez TB 0 9 9 0% 0.4
T Cingrani CIN 0 9 5 44% 1.0
B Morris MIA 0 9 4 56% 1.1
C Withrow ATL 0 9 5 44% 1.3
M Givens BAL 0 9 6 33% 0.8
J Manship CLE 0 8 7 13% 1.3
S Kelley WSH 0 8 5 38% 1.0
F Salas LAA 0 8 7 13% 0.7
R Delgado ARZ 0 8 4 50% 0.5
C Gearrin SF 0 8 6 25% 0.8
S Dyson TEX 0 8 8 0% 0.8
K Siegrist STL 0 8 5 38% 1.0
P Báez LAD 0 8 2 75% 0.8
R Dull OAK 0 8 8 0% 0.6
H Cervenka ATL 0 8 8 0% 1.3
T Barnette TEX 0 8 7 13% 0.8
C Capuano MIL 0 7 6 14% 0.5
C Fien MIN 0 7 7 0% 0.6
F Rodríguez OAK 0 7 7 0% 0.5
B Wood CIN 0 7 7 0% 0.7
S Maness STL 0 7 3 57% 0.9
H Neris PHI 0 7 4 43% 0.5
J Urena MIA 1 7 5 29% 1.7
H Robles NYM 0 7 5 29% 0.7
T Cravy MIL 0 7 4 43% 1.3
O Pérez WSH 0 6 6 0% 1.0
P Neshek HOU 0 6 5 17% 0.9
M Melancon PIT 7 6 5 17% 0.6
L Coleman LAD 0 6 5 17% 0.6
C Rusin COL 0 6 3 50% 0.4
J Diekman TEX 0 6 5 17% 0.7
J Petricka CHW 0 6 3 50% 0.8
J Miller COL 0 6 3 50% 0.6
M Tonkin MIN 0 6 0 100% 0.5
Averages 0.18 8.3 5.94 29% 0.91

Whereas none of the saves leaders has inherited a double-digit total of runners, nine of the 50 setup men have 10 or more inherited runners.  On average, the setup guys have inherited 8.3 runners since the start of the season.  That amounts to 0.91 inherited runners per IP.  That is more than three times what the closers inherit.  Yet, the setup men allow only 29% of those runners to score (as opposed to the closers who allow 21%)

What’s amazing is that effectiveness is not respected.  Sure we reward holds.  But how closely do we look at this kind of performance?  “Closers” average 3.84 saves so far.  Non-closers average 0.18.  Yet the closers clearly come in with less on the line in terms of what’s on the bases.  Maybe they should be shifting towards a bit of “Have You Never Been Mellow”.  It’s the setup guys who should be rolling in with the Undertaker’s theme music playing.

More on this next week.  Best wishes to all.

________________________________________________________________________________

(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Show: Join Corey D. Roberts on Sunday May 1st, 2016 from 7-9pm EST for this week’s episode of the Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show. We are a live call in radio show so we encourage callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. Every week we will do a quick recap of Fr-Sat games, and a forecast of Monday through Thursday’s games.

Our guests this week are Kyle Amore and Jesse Ellison. Jesse is a good child hood friend mine, fantasy baseball fan, and is the owner of Ellison Baseball Instruction which he founded in 2011. I encourage everyone to check out his organization. Kyle is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com, a former college baseball player, and pro in Italy.

“You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

 

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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