June 4, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Leaders and Laggards K/9 Edition

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Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox

Strikeouts are usually an afterthought in fantasy baseball drafts, but strikeouts are by far the easiest stat to predict for pitchers. ERA and WHIP? Good luck trying to predict where a pitcher’s ERA or WHIP will end up. There are simply too many factors influencing them to make them easily predictable.

Wins? Come on. Cliff Lee owners can tell you how unpredictable wins can be. Wins are a stat assigned to pitchers that they have very little influence over. Strikeouts, and more specifically K/9, is easier to predict because guys tend post K/9 numbers within a few standard deviations of their career average.

As long as a pitcher is healthy, he’ll probably be around his career average K/9. That’s part of the reason that Tim Lincecum’s 2012 season is so bizarre.

K/9 lets you know who will give you the most K’s possible in the least amount of innings. Brandon McCarthy(40) has exactly two more strikeouts than Kenley Jansen(38). The difference is that McCarthy has over twice as many innings as Jansen. K/9 matters more in leagues with innings caps because you have to squeeze every last K out before you hit your limit. Jansen racks up a ton of K’s in a very few innings while a guy like McCarthy needs to eat up innings in order to produce comparable numbers.

K/9 is a stat that matters in fantasy baseball even if its not a stat that will show up on a standings page and it’s a stat that fantasy GM’s need to be aware of. Fantasy GMs with a team that posts lower than average K/9 is at a competitive disadvantage from the rest of the league.

1. Max Scherzer 11.70
2. Gio Gonzalez 11.53
3. Stephen Strasburg 10.86
4. Yu Darvish 9.74
5. Zack Greinke 9.55
6. Tim Lincecum 9.55
7. Chris Sale 9.52
8. Felix Doubront 9.48
9. Cole Hamels 9.21
10. Matt Moore 9.21

Max Scherzer has had a rougher start to 2012 than Facebook stock but is worth acquiring. The same can’t be said for Facebook stock. Scherzer is leading the league in K/9 and he’s endured a combination of bad pitching and bad luck. His BB/9 sits at a slightly ugly 3.15, but his BABIP is sitting at .387. Scherzer’s career mark is only .313. His HR:FB ratio is at 16.7%. Scherzer owns a career mark of 11.5%. His ERA and WHIP will go down once his BABIP and HR:FB ratio start to normalize. He’s got the stuff to put together an amazing second half and should be a pitcher that fantasy GMs should acquire for the second half.

Gio Gonzalez appears to enjoy making the switch to the NL. Gonzalez has been nothing short of dominant with a 11.53 K/9 and a 2.04 ERA. He’s getting by with a .232 BABIP and a 2.3 HR:FB ratio. Both of those numbers are well off his career averages and he’s poised to regress in the second half, but the K’s are legit. There’s no reason for Gio to finish the year with a sub-10.00 K/9.

It’s nice to actually be able to see how Stephen Strasburg stacks up against the best in the league. We’ve never really had a large enough sample size to know just how good Strasburg is. He’s awesome and should be a dominant force in fantasy baseball for years to come. His luck stats (HR:FB ratio and BABIP) are both right around league average and he’s having an All-Star first half. He can’t dial it up to 97/98 MPH like he could in his first year, but he can still reach 96 and that appears to be more than enough to get batters to swing and miss. The only concern with Strasburg is his innings limit.

Yu Darvish’s 9.74 K/9 is for real, but, sadly, so is his 5.16 BB/9. It’s been reported that he’s been dealing with back stiffness for the past few weeks. It doesn’t fully explain why Yu has had trouble with walks, but it gives us a starting point. The problem with Darvish is that we don’t really have any reliable data to fall back on and point to as an excuse. It could be that the combination of back issues and adjusting to a new league in a different country have caused Darvish’ problems with command or there could be an underlying sabrmetric issue, but it’s impossible to know at this point.

Zack Greinke has been a sabrmetric darling for a few years and for good reason. He strikes out lots of batters and keeps the ball on the ground (2.44 GB:FB ratio). Greinke is elite and he’s been getting by with a .368 BABIP. Part of that BABIP is a function of his crazy high GB:FB ratio. Ground ball pitchers tend to carry a higher than average BABIP. Ground balls are more likely to turn into hits than fly balls. He’s likely to carry a higher than average BABIP as long as he’s giving up ground balls 51.9% of the time. The K’s are legit and should continue for, oh, the next 5-7 years.

Tim Lincecum still looks like a buy low guy, if you have the stomach for it. The Giants have sworn up and down that Lincecum is healthy. His most recent start would indicate that they’re telling the truth. Lincecum threw seven innings of two-run baseball(one earned). Timmy Lince gave up four hits and five walks while striking out six. His fastball velocity was clocked at 91.8 MPH which would be a solid improvement over the 88-89 MPH he was lobbing up there in April. The 5.07 BB/9 is a concern, but his 3.89 xFIP indicates that he’s thrown better than his results have shown and could be do for a correction. His BABIP is at .327. That number would be a career high for Lincecum if the season ended today. He’s likely to regress and his increased velocity can only help.

Chris Sale has made the transition from the bullpen to the rotation seamlessly. He’s posting numbers that Daniel Bard would have a wet dream over. The problem with Sale is that he’s another guy who doesn’t have much of a history as a pitcher at the major league level. We can guess that his .264 BABIP is lucky, but there’s no way to know for sure without having something to compare it to. His velocity is down from when he was able to air it out in the bullpen, but that was to be expected. The problem with Sale is two-fold. First, he’s throwing a ton of sliders this year. Sale uses his slider 25.6% of the time as a starter. That’s the pitch that chews up elbows and spits them out in Dr. Andrews office. Also, it’s unclear if the White Sox plan to limit Sale’s innings. He only threw 71 innings out of the bullpen last year and probably should be limited to 120-140 innings this year, but this is the White Sox. Sound planning and sensible decisions are not part of the White Sox vocabulary. He’ll either get hurt or wear down in the second half. He looks more and more like a sell-high candidate.

Felix Doubront has been quietly piling up K’s for a Boston team that’s been fairly controversial. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle when Josh Beckett is playing golf with an injury and Bobby V is calling out everyone in the organization. Doubront is another guy that innings will play a role in how his season plays out. Doubront only threw 87 innings across four levels in 2011. He’s heading into uncharted territory after June. He’s another guy who could wear down if he’s asked to log heavy innings.

Cole Hamels is putting together a solid season for a mediocre Phillies team. There really aren’t any red flags or reasons to think this is a fluke. Hamels is about as reliable as a pitcher can be in 2012.

Matt Moore hasn’t been the superman who posted a 14+ K/9 during his cup of coffee in 2011. He’s a frustrating pitcher to have on a fantasy roster in 2012. The K’s have been there, but they’ve come with a 4.45 BB/9. He hasn’t been a victim of bad luck or bad fielding, he’s been a victim of bad pitching. His 4.43 xFIP indicates that he’s going to continue to be mediocre. He’ll deliver solid K numbers, but he’ll likely keep roasting ratios.

1. Henderson Alvarez 2.63
2. Derek Lowe 2.66
3. Kevin Correia 3.10
4. Mark Buerhle 4.38
5. Blake Beavan 4.55
6. Lucas Harrell 4.57
7. Carl Pavano 4.71
8. Tommy Hunter 4.81
9. Tommy Milone 4.90
10. Jeanmar Gomez 4.92

Henderson Alvarez’ low K/9 in 2011 has gotten worse. His K numbers were a problem in 2011, but they’ve become a catastrophe in 2012. Alvarez’ 2.63 K/9 is the worst in the majors among pitchers who qualify. His 3.75 ERA is a mirage and will likely start to rise sharply if he can’t figure out how to miss a few bats. He’s been getting by thanks to a .258 BABIP. His ERA and WHIP will rise if that number starts to go up. It’s safe to cut him loose in most shallow leagues.

You would think that Derek Lowe’s stuff would be completely gone for him to be posting a sub 3.00 K/9. It’s not. He’s basically the same guy he’s been for the last few years in terms of velocity. His 4.6% swinging strike percentage would be a career low if the season ended today. He’s managing to succeed without striking anyone out. That formula doesn’t sound like it would provide long term success. He does own a 78.3% strand rate. That’s the highest strand rate he’s posted since he was closing games in Boston. It looks like he’s getting a lot of ground balls at the right time and his infield is sucking them up. He’s a spot starter in most mixed leagues and he’ll actually hurt your team in K’s if you have an innings cap.

Kevin Correia is essentially a guy who can take the ball every fifth day. Correia would be “A. Pitcher” if real life were a video game. There’s got to be another option, any option in your fantasy league.

The fact that Mark Buerhle has made it this far with the, erm, tools at his disposal is amazing. He’s 33 years old and struggles to reach 85 MPH on the radar gun. He’s an innings eater who should manage to get double digit wins, but he relies on his fielders managing to get to the balls that he puts in play. He’s a spot starter or NL only guy and that’s about it at this point in his career.

Blake Beavan is essentially a league average pitcher with slightly above average control. He doesn’t really strike anyone out and he won’t help your ratios. He’s not worthy of attention in fantasy baseball.

Lucas Harrell was having a very lucky season until he got absolutely pantsed last week in Coors field and his ERA shot up to 4.71. Harrell is about as mediocre as it gets and he won’t help your fantasy team in any format.

Injuries and age have taken their toll on Carl Pavano. He’s gone from a guy who was throwing in the low to mid 90s as a rookie to a 36 year old journeyman who is lobbing the ball up there at 86. He doesn’t seem to have much left at this point in his career and shouldn’t be on your fantasy team.

How Tommy Hunter managed to get 13 wins in 2010 is tied to the .255 BABIP and 12.1 HR:FB ratio he posted. Now? His BABIP is at .296 and his HR:FB ratio is at 19.4%. Hunter has done nothing to indicate he’s anything more than a league average fifth starter. He’ll likely be out of a job once Zach Britton returns to health.

Tommy Milone appears to be taking advantage of his home park. Milone is rocking a 0.98 ERA with a 2.6% HR:FB ratio when pitching in Oakland. He’s guy to use as a spot starter at home and completely stay away from on the road. His .250 BABIP and 4.30 xFIP indicate that Milone could be in trouble ahead. His stuff is slightly reminiscent of a younger Mark Buerhle. The only real difference is that Milone doesn’t throw a slider.

Jeanmar Gomez is simply not a major league level pitcher. He strikes out too few, walks too many and is getting by with a .266 BABIP. Friends don’t let friends roster Jeanmar Gomez.


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