Using Handedness and League Factors To Rank Pitchers
Last week, I brought you a way to break ties among hitters in an effort to lower your draft day anxiety and improve your in-draft decision-making. You didn’t think I’d leave you out in the cold when it comes to pitching, did you?
For my money, there are about 20 pitchers that you could justify drafting as your ace, not to mention that seemingly every starter is capable of posting reasonable ratios in what might go down in history as the second coming of the dead ball era. Suppressed offensive numbers mean that starting pitching is as deep as it has even been. For example, Henderson Alvarez is a 24-year-old who has shown strong signs of growth and posted a 2.65 ERA in 187 innings last season … and he is commonly being left out of the Top 80 starting pitchers in rankings, so how are you to decide which pitchers to trust?
We’ve come a long way in advanced statistics and those should be used when creating your tiers, but when you’re trying to distinguish within a tier, good luck splitting hairs. My goal was to take a step back and evaluate two factors that play into every pitcher’s value: the league in which he pitches and the hand with which he throws. Are these tiny details that have a marginal impact at best? Yes, but in a pitching-rich league, you need every edge you can get and this could help you correctly break a tie, something that could result in winning your league.
As hypothesized, the lack of a DH helped more than potentially being lifted for a pinch hitter hurt, and National League starting pitchers held a slight edge. As with the hitters, I understand that not all leagues use a points system, but the premise behind such a scoring system applies to all formats, as the pitcher with a better outing is rewarded with more points.
As you can see, the Senior Circuit holds roughly a 2.9 percent advantage over the last five seasons in points earned per start That slim bump in production may sound insignificant, but with NL starters actually averaging less outs per start than their AL counter parts, the fact that they are scoring more points indicates that they are in fact the percentage play. I’m not drafting Gerrit Cole over Corey Kluber because of statistic like this, but if you have a tie between Julio Teheran and Alex Cobb, this could well sway your opinion. That’s all fine and dandy, but does a similar train of thought apply when drafting relievers?
Sort of. While the NL relievers still hold the edge, it is essentially negligible (0.3 percent). If you’re primarily concerned with closers and are therefore less concerned with win-loss totals (let’s face it, you’re not drafting a closer and banking on victories), you should favor the National Leaguers. By taking decisions out of the equation, the advantage jumps 136 percent. It still isn’t a massive difference, but why not play the percentages when dealing with the crapshoot that is a Major League bullpen?
Nobody is going to look at you crooked if four of your Top 5 starting pitchers are lefties this season, but are a few dominating southpaws skewing our perception? A quick poll on Twitter revealed that most people would lean toward the lefty if they had to choose, most citing that the novelty of throwing from the wrong side of the rubber would result in batters being somewhat uncomfortable. For full disclosure, most respondents didn’t feel strongly, but it was interesting to find that the majority of Fantasy owners would go with a LHP with all else being equal. But even if everything else is equal, is it really? Here’s a team-by-team look at production vs lefties and righties (with the percentage change from their numbers against LHP to RHP).
|NYY v RHP||0.326||-2.1%||8.7||-6.5%||18.7||0.5%||0.164||5.1%||13||13.0%||20||-1.0%|
|NYY v LHP||0.333||9.3||18.6||0.156||11.5||20.2|
|MIN v RHP||0.314||0.3%||8.4||1.2%||19||2.2%||0.137||10.5%||9.2||13.6%||20.1||-0.5%|
|MIN v LHP||0.313||8.3||18.6||0.124||8.1||20.2|
|KC v RHP||0.315||1.0%||6.7||-9.5%||16.1||-0.6%||0.127||1.6%||7.4||-8.6%||20.4||2.5%|
|KC v LHP||0.312||7.4||16.2||0.125||8.1||19.9|
|DET v RHP||0.333||-0.6%||7.8||-13.3%||17.6||-6.4%||0.15||-3.8%||10.1||0.0%||21.7||4.8%|
|DET v LHP||0.335||9||18.8||0.156||10.1||20.7|
|CLE v RHP||0.317||2.3%||8.7||2.4%||19.7||4.2%||0.147||19.5%||10.4||31.6%||20.4||2.0%|
|CLE v LHP||0.31||8.5||18.9||0.123||7.9||20|
|CWS v RHP||0.314||-1.3%||7.2||-6.5%||18.7||2.2%||0.144||-5.9%||10.6||-6.2%||20.3||2.5%|
|CWS v LHP||0.318||7.7||18.3||0.153||11.3||19.8|
|SF v RHP||0.309||0.0%||7.6||2.7%||18.2||-3.7%||0.132||0.8%||8.4||9.1%||19.9||0.0%|
|SF v LHP||0.309||7.4||18.9||0.131||7.7||19.9|
|BOS v RHP||0.333||-0.3%||8.5||-2.3%||19.2||-2.0%||0.163||1.2%||10.6||1.0%||20.3||-1.9%|
|BOS v LHP||0.334||8.7||19.6||0.161||10.5||20.7|
|SD v RHP||0.294||-3.9%||8.2||-3.5%||21.5||10.8%||0.122||-4.7%||8.6||-7.5%||19.8||-1.5%|
|SD v LHP||0.306||8.5||19.4||0.128||9.3||20.1|
|STL v RHP||0.324||0.9%||8.2||-3.5%||17.2||-5.5%||0.134||-9.5%||9.5||-6.9%||20.9||0.0%|
|STL v LHP||0.321||8.5||18.2||0.148||10.2||20.9|
|PIT v RHP||0.309||1.3%||7.7||-7.2%||21.3||1.4%||0.144||9.9%||10.5||23.5%||19.9||1.5%|
|PIT v LHP||0.305||8.3||21||0.131||8.5||19.6|
|PHI v RHP||0.311||0.6%||7.8||0.0%||18||-7.2%||0.137||-5.5%||9.4||-11.3%||20||1.0%|
|PHI v LHP||0.309||7.8||19.4||0.145||10.6||19.8|
|NYM v RHP||0.308||2.7%||8.4||-1.2%||19.1||-9.9%||0.134||10.7%||8.3||12.2%||20.4||0.5%|
|NYM v LHP||0.3||8.5||21.2||0.121||7.4||20.3|
|WSH v RHP||0.314||-0.3%||7.8||-7.1%||20.5||-4.7%||0.148||3.5%||11.3||3.7%||19.1||-2.1%|
|WSH v LHP||0.315||8.4||21.5||0.143||10.9||19.5|
|MIL v RHP||0.322||-0.9%||7.5||-5.1%||18.9||-6.4%||0.156||-6.6%||11.2||-11.8%||19.2||0.0%|
|MIL v LHP||0.325||7.9||20.2||0.167||12.7||19.2|
|LAD v RHP||0.315||3.3%||8.2||0.0%||18.8||-2.6%||0.127||-2.3%||8.7||-2.2%||21.4||0.9%|
|LAD v LHP||0.305||8.2||19.3||0.13||8.9||21.2|
|HOU v RHP||0.298||-2.0%||7.2||-2.7%||21.7||1.9%||0.129||1.6%||9.4||3.3%||20.2||0.5%|
|HOU v LHP||0.304||7.4||21.3||0.127||9.1||20.1|
|MIA v RHP||0.301||-2.9%||8||-2.4%||21.2||0.5%||0.128||-9.9%||9.2||-4.2%||19.9||-1.5%|
|MIA v LHP||0.31||8.2||21.1||0.142||9.6||20.2|
|BAL v RHP||0.32||1.3%||7||-4.1%||19.2||0.0%||0.161||7.3%||12.2||8.9%||19.8||10.0%|
|BAL v LHP||0.316||7.3||19.2||0.15||11.2||18|
|COL v RHP||0.33||0.0%||7.7||-3.8%||20.1||3.1%||0.161||3.9%||11.5||-1.7%||21||-2.3%|
|COL v LHP||0.33||8||19.5||0.155||11.7||21.5|
|CIN v RHP||0.314||-4.3%||8||-8.0%||20.1||-0.5%||0.144||-11.1%||10.6||-9.4%||20.3||-3.3%|
|CIN v LHP||0.328||8.7||20.2||0.162||11.7||21|
|CHC v RHP||0.304||-3.8%||7.3||-2.7%||20.9||-1.9%||0.144||-4.6%||10||-6.5%||20.1||-0.5%|
|CHC v LHP||0.316||7.5||21.3||0.151||10.7||20.2|
|ATL v RHP||0.314||2.6%||8.7||-4.4%||20.7||-4.2%||0.144||9.9%||10.8||11.3%||19.9||0.5%|
|ATL v LHP||0.306||9.1||21.6||0.131||9.7||19.8|
|AZ v RHP||0.316||-0.3%||8.2||-5.7%||20.7||2.0%||0.148||-3.3%||10||-3.8%||20.6||3.0%|
|AZ v LHP||0.317||8.7||20.3||0.153||10.4||20|
|TOR v RHP||0.326||5.5%||8.1||1.3%||18.9||-5.0%||0.174||13.0%||12.3||8.8%||19||1.1%|
|TOR v LHP||0.309||8||19.9||0.154||11.3||18.8|
|TEX v RHP||0.327||-2.4%||7.3||-11.0%||16.7||-4.6%||0.154||2.7%||11.1||4.7%||20.1||-1.0%|
|TEX v LHP||0.335||8.2||17.5||0.15||10.6||20.3|
|TB v RHP||0.316||-1.3%||9.5||0.0%||19.3||-6.8%||0.149||2.1%||10.1||4.1%||19||-4.0%|
|TB v LHP||0.32||9.5||20.7||0.146||9.7||19.8|
|SEA v RHP||0.296||2.8%||7.8||9.9%||20.9||-0.5%||0.134||15.5%||9.5||21.8%||19.6||-1.5%|
|SEA v LHP||0.288||7.1||21||0.116||7.8||19.9|
|OAK v RHP||0.314||1.0%||8.9||0.0%||18.9||0.0%||0.142||-1.4%||8.3||-12.6%||20.6||3.5%|
|OAK v LHP||0.311||8.9||18.9||0.144||9.5||19.9|
|LAA v RHP||0.319||-1.2%||7.6||-2.6%||18.9||4.4%||0.147||-4.5%||10.9||5.8%||19.5||-1.5%|
|LAA v LHP||0.323||7.8||18.1||0.154||10.3||19.8|
The difference here isn’t obvious, or major, but it is worth noting and should be enough to help you through some difficult decisions. This five-year sample size indicates that righties own a slightly better strikeout-to-walk ratio, a Fantasy-friendly stat, as strikeouts help you in a category while fewer walks make a good outing more likely (fewer pitches, fewer base runners, fewer runs scored, etc.). You’ll notice that lefties hold the edge when it comes to limiting the power production of their opponent, but with hardly any advantage in weighted on base average (I had to expand this study to the fourth decimal place to find any difference at all), the ability to limit power appears to be moot. The near identical wOBA suggests that while righties give up more power, they minimize the negative impact by limiting “hitter’s overall offensive value.” Obviously, allowing opponents to hit for more power is never a good thing, but it would appear that the advantage held by RHPs in K/BB is more than enough to tip the scales in their favor from a Fantasy perspective. Again, this data did not result in a large enough gap to drastically adjust your rankings, but if you were struggling between two opposite handed pitchers (Collin McHugh or Dallas Keuchel for example), this should make that decision a bit easier.
Those numbers may hold for the entire MLB, but allow me to highlight a few interesting divisional trends that may alter your pitcher ranks a bit.
- All five teams in the AL East had a higher HR/FB rate against righties than lefties
- Four of the five teams in the AL Central have accumulated a line drive percentage against righties that is at least two percent higher than their mark against lefties
- If you’re targeting strikeouts from a lefty, the NL East is your spot. Only 10 teams in baseball saw their strikeout percentage drop by at least four percent when comparing righties to lefties and four of them (including the two biggest fallers in the Mets and Phillies) play in the NL East.
- The Pittsburgh Pirates rank as the second most improved offense in terms of HR/FB rate when facing RHP, but the other four teams in the NL Central rank among the eight worst in this category (supports the idea of Mark Melancon potentially being your fourth ranked closer this season).
At the end of the day, Fantasy Baseball is about playing the odds, and over the last five seasons, a pitcher in the NL, preferably a righty, is the smart choice when stuck between two similar pitchers. Statistics like these are not going to result in major changes on your draft board, but it will help you justify picking Ian Kennedy over Jose Quintana better than flipping a coin will. Baseball is a game of inches, and so is the Fantasy world in which we live, so don’t pass up an opportunity to gain even the slightest of edges over the less informed.
If you’re ready to win a Fantasy Baseball title in 2015, I’m here for you whenever a question comes up.
Stephen Strasburg Photo Credit: Scott Ableman
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