Which is Better in Fantasy Baseball, Pitchers with Elite Skills or Innings Eaters?
Starting pitchers are clearly throwing fewer innings than in the past. Last year, only 15 starters topped 200 innings, and none reached the 220 mark. I looked back all the way to 2000, and last season was the only one since then in which that occurred, and there is a good chance it is the first time in MLB history. We constantly hear how valuable pitchers who amass high innings totals are to our Fantasy Baseball teams. But, is this really true?
Below you will see pitchers classified as either “Pitchers with Elite Skills” or “Innings Eaters.” To qualify in the first group, pitchers had to average at least one strikeout per inning and have an ERA that was one run per nine innings below the league average (4.49). In addition, I only utilized pitchers who threw less than 140 innings because pitchers who satisfied the study conditions and exceeded 140 innings are unquestionably considered elite.
The second group is comprised of pitchers who threw 180 or more innings but did not average a strikeout per inning, and in most cases had a higher ERA. After looking at the two lists, we will compare to determine which group is more valuable in Fantasy Baseball: Pitchers with Elite Skills or Innings Eaters.
Next to each pitcher’s name is their innings pitched in 2017, along with their K/9 and ERA. This is followed by their finish in standard 5×5 Roto leagues and in points leagues.
Pitchers with Elite Skills:
Rich Hill – 135 IP, 11.01 K/9, 3.32 ERA
Roto – 17 Points – 54
Brad Peacock – 132 IP, 10.98 K/9, 3.00 ERA
Roto – 20 Points – 48
James Paxton – 136 IP, 10.32 K/9, 2.98 ERA
Roto – 16 Points – 37
Mike Clevinger – 121.2 IP, 10.13 K/9, 3.11 ERA
Roto – 32 Points – 67
Jon Gray – 110.1 IP, 9.14 K/9, 3.67 ERA (Made an exception since ERA is close to what we were looking for)
Roto- 60 Points – 87
All these pitchers have elite strikeout stuff and aside from Gray, all had an ERA of 3.32 or lower. Paxton, Hill, and Peacock all finished inside the Top-20 in Roto formats, while Clevinger was an SP3. Gray had the worst finish of them all, but even he was an SP5 in Roto, and definitely worthy of a roster spot, most likely in consideration as a starter.
Jeff Samardzija – 207.2 IP, 8.88 K/9, 4.42 ERA
Roto – 34 Points – 17
Rick Porcello – 203.1 IP, 8.01 K/9, 4.65 ERA
Roto – 68 Points – 39
Gerrit Cole – 203 IP, 8.69 K/9, 4.26 ERA
Roto – 37 Points – 19
Marcus Stroman – 201 IP, 7.34 K/9, 3.09 ERA
Roto – 28 Points – 16
Clayton Richard 197.1 IP, 6.89 K/9, 4.79 IP
Roto – 127 Points – 72
Zach Davies – 191.1 IP, 5.83 K/9, 3.90 ERA
Roto – 45 Points – 33
Patrick Corbin – 189.2 IP, 8.45 K/9, 4.03 ERA
Roto – 47 Points – 32
Julio Teheran– 188.1 IP, 7.22 IP, 4.49 ERA
Roto – 71 Points – 46
Lance Lynn – 186.1 IP, 7.39 K/9, 3.42 ERA
Roto – 33 Points – 24
Mike Leake – 186 IP, 6.29 K/9, 3.92 IP
Roto – 62 Points – 45
Which is Better in Fantasy Baseball?
As you can see, Stroman was the only one of these pitchers to finish as a Top-30 option in Roto. Yet, four of them finished as Top-30 options in points leagues and seven finished inside the Top-40.
Innings are clearly much more important in points-based leagues, rather than in Roto. Stroman broke 200 innings, had an ERA just over 3.00, yet he finished behind Paxton, Hill and even Peacock in Roto formats, as did Samardzija. However, both Stroman and Samardzija, as well as Lynn, Cole, Corbin, and Davies finished ahead of all the elite per inning pitchers in points formats.
Does that mean you should draft Davies or Lynn over Paxton in a points league format? Obviously not, as a pitcher of Paxton or Hill’s caliber will average more points per start. If both are healthy, you are obviously going to go with the more talented pitcher. This just helps drive home my point that innings are overrated in Fantasy Baseball.
Even in a format that rewards pitchers for racking up innings, you would use the more talented arm on a weekly basis if given the opportunity. Where these lower-level pitchers who rack up innings come into play is during your draft You can pick Davies up late in a points league draft and pair him with Paxton or Hill as an insurance policy for the games that those pitchers will undoubtedly miss. You can also bump these inning eaters up ahead of pitchers with similar skills who will provide fewer innings.
The argument that you’d rather the more talented player holds water against most of these pitchers that rack up innings, but you can make the case to take the higher quality arms like Cole and Stroman in points-leagues over the pitchers with elite skills. You can trust Cole and Stroman in your lineup every week, and the added starts clearly make them more valuable than a pitcher you will need to replace for 40-plus innings during the season when they likely on the disabled list.
To me, Innings Eaters come into play after the Elite Skill Pitchers are off the board. You can also use it as a tie-breaker when deciding between two closely ranked pitchers. However, do not make the mistake of passing up on a very talented arm for a lesser talented pitcher just because you know he will not miss time.
Good Strikeout Pitchers Despite Elevated ERA:
Lance McCullers – 118.2 IP, 10.01 K/9, 4.25 ERA (3.10 FIP)
Roto – 74 Points – 96
Kenta Maeda– 134.1 IP, 9.38 K/9, 4.22 ERA
Roto- 36 Points – 66
Dinelson Lamet 114 IP, 10.94 K/9, 4.57 ERA
Roto – 69 Points – 98
Eduardo Rodriguez – 137.1 IP, 9.83 K/9, 4.19 ERA
Roto – 70 Points – 74
These pitchers are candidates to make the jump into the Pitchers with Elite Skills category. They just need to work on the ERA. The most likely candidate to make the jump is McCullers, as his secondary numbers indicate he is already elite. If you have any Fantasy Baseball questions feel free to hit me up on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.