Actually, this is a brief reflection on Fantasy SP, reality, the human body and the laws of physics.
As he went into his windup, Bugs Bunny told us: “Watch me paste this pathetic palooka with a powerful paralyzing perfect pachhydermas percussion pitch!” The featured image, by the way, was Created by Friz Freleng/Courtesy of Warner Bros. Bugs was superhuman in beating the Gashouse Gang that day. Some SP seem to be superhuman occasionally. But, not for long…
Bugs is an animated cartoon character. He could pitch all day, play all nine positions and still get home in time to irritate Elmer Fudd before getting up the next day to pitch another game. Humans, on the other hand, are bound by the laws of physics–for the most part. And it is here, at the intersection of physics, cartoons, statistics, physics, and fantasy baseball that we find the inspiration for this article.
Fantasy baseball is peculiar. If we were really looking to mimic baseball, we’d reward pitching efficiency as much as strikeouts. A quiet, efficient pitcher like Dallas Keuchel puts balls on the ground, wins games and is a valuable asset. Ivan Nova is another such SP who looms as a potential #2 somewhere because he gets people to hit groundballs to happy infielders. But, neither Keuchel nor Nova mow people down a la Sale and Kershaw. We all like these latter guys because people in CF hang up K signs when they are on the mound. What’s astonishing is when we see a rare SP who not only generates Ks but also does so efficiently—that is, by getting batters to swing, put the ball in play, and quietly make an out. (Spoiler alert: Kershaw is one of these freaks of nature.)
Efficiency and strikeouts do not complement each other—at least not intuitively. To strike you out, I must throw at least three pitches. To get you out, in theory, I could get away with throwing one pitch per batter—as long as the batter swings and my defense is paying attention. As a result, we would expect strikeout pitchers to throw a lot of pitches. If they don’t walk many folks, they can temper the impact on their pitch counts. Still, there are a few folks out there who are both efficient in terms of the number of pitches they throw per inning (PIP in the tables below) and the number of batters they strike out.
To assess pitching efficiency, I like to look at PIP and total pitches for a year. In an era of pitch counts, 10-day DL slots and injuries that teams may want to hide, real and fantasy managers want to keep an eye on this important stuff.
Average Key Pitching Stats, 2017 (IP >60)
In 2017, the average number of pitches per IP (PIP) for the 274 pitchers with 60 or more IP was 16.5. NINE out of the top 10 SP in terms of WAR did better than that last in 2017. Kershaw and Kluber came in at 14.41 and 14.49 PIP, respectively. That’s 1.5 standard deviations better than the league average. That is simply otherworldly and bettered only by five other pitchers (Alex Claudio, Luis Garcia, Chris Rusin and Ivan Nova) whose WAR numbers are a lot less impressive. (In the tables, “pbf” is “pitches per batter faced”.)
Top MLB SP in terms of WAR, 2017
No one questions Chris Sale’s value. He is arguably the #1 Ranked SP in 2018. Kershaw, Sale, Scherzer and Kluber are the only SP to average more than a $30 price tag in my data for these 2018 articles. But, you have to wonder whether workload is not going to take its toll on him relative to Kluber and Kershaw (back issues notwithstanding). In 2017, Sale (16 PIP) threw 900 pitches more than Kershaw and 400 more than Kluber. The difference is hardly accounted for by the difference in IP. Simply put, Sale works a lot harder. Makes you wonder how to invest. Can Sale keep dominating if he’s working almost 33% harder than Kershaw? Imagine what Kershaw would do if he didn’t get hurt???
Make no mistake. All of these guys are freaking X-men compared to the rest of the league. Still, workload matters on the human arm, no?
2017 was not an outlier. See below. Between 2015 and 2017, Kershaw (19.7 WAR), Sale, Scherzer and Kluber (17.9) had the highest WAR among pitchers. Sale and Scherzer threw more than 10,000 pitches. Kershaw threw 7,975. Kluber threw 9,400. Of the SP listed, Archer threw the most.
MLB Three-Year Averages, 2015-17
Top MLB SP in terms of WAR, 2015-17
Of course, there are a lot of inferences to be drawn from data such as these. The quality of the defense behind you, your catcher’s talent at framing pitches, whether you are facing a team full of guys who will take a few pitches and foul off a bunch, confidence in your bullpen, etc. all factor into the significance of these numbers. I offer these quick views just to raise what I think is an important fantasy issue that pertains especially to stud Starters: No matter how you slice it, some starters have a lot more bad highway miles on their arms than others.
Still, looking at these numbers, taking age into account, etc. the risk averse manager might lean towards Corey Kluber—and maybe over bid a bit—to get essentially the same performance as you’d get from Sale or Kershaw without the risk of injury looming over a big investment. In general, managers would be wise to look at these numbers when comparing pitchers within tiers. Based on these numbers for 2017, James Paxton is worth a closer look (Ditto for Jimmy Nelson if he had not hurt his arm). I know I’ll review this stuff before my draft…
More to come. Best wishes.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and John Gozzi live on Sunday February 25th, 2018 from [7:30]-9pm EST for episode #101 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. This is our kick off show for the new 2018 fantasy baseball season. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Our guest this week is Professor Mark Rush. By day Mark is the well respected Law & Political Professor of Washington & Lee University and by night is the Chief Editor as well as a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com. His articles are published every Monday morning and his primary focus is starting pitching.
The link above is to listen on our blog talk radio website. You can listen to the show directly on the homepage of majorleaguefantasysports.com without the annoying popups and obnoxious ads that are on the blog talk website. It will be playing automatically during the show time.