MLB
September 3, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Leaders and Laggards xFIP Revisited Leaders Edition

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Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington Nationals

 This is the list that fantasy GMs want to see their pitchers on. It means they strike out lots of batters, don’t walk tons of guys, post solid ratios and generally take teams to glory in fantasy baseball. This is also the list that features at least one ace that will be available at a discount next year and a couple of guys who are legit stay-aways in 2013.

This list also features two guys that are complete and utter anomalies in a fantasy baseball/sabermetric sense. At some point even those of us with the spread sheets, protractors and formulas throw up our arms in frustration. 

Some men lead and others lag. These are the men that have been our beacon in the night. These men are the light that have lead us to high positions in roto leagues and “wins” in H2H leagues. These men are the leaders in this week’s Leaders and Laggards…

1. Stephen Strasburg 2.79
2. Adam Wainwright 3.07
3. David Price 3.12
4. CC Sabathia 3.12
5. Cliff Lee 3.16
6. Zack Greinke 3.16
7. Clayton Kershaw 3.21
8. R.A. Dickey 3.21
9. Max Scherzer 3.24
10. Chris Sale 3.25

The big question isn’t “Is Stephen Strasburg legit?” He clearly is by just about every metric we have. The big question is “How long does he have left this season?” The Washington Nationals have every reason to handle their franchise pitcher very, very carefully. He’s not that far removed from TJS and he’s getting into deep water with his innings count. Basically, take every extra Strasburg start from here on out as a gift and treat it like an injury when he does finally shut it down.

Adam Wainwright has pitched much better than his actual numbers and there’s a very good chance that he’s a guy that a lot of sharps will target in next year’s drafts. His 3.07 xFIP is almost a full point lower than his 3.90 actual ERA. Wainwright is posting a career high 2.13 GB:FB ratio and his BABIP is taking a beating. A lot of those grounders are slipping through for hits and his BABIP is almost 30 points above his career average. Wainwright looks like a sneaky sleeper that everyone knows about for 2013.

David Price is putting together quite the track record of 8.00+ K/9, double digit seasons. His 3.12 xFIP indicates that he’s been the beneficiary of good luck, but Price at a 3.12 ERA is still an elite starting pitcher. There’s nothing to be afraid of here and Price actually looks like one of the safer options for 2013.

CC Sabathia has been a little unlucky on balls hit in the air with a 12.9% HR:FB ratio, but he’s basically pitching to his career numbers. There’s not much to see here other than an elite starter doing what he does best….well, except for the annoying little injuries.

This is pretty well worn territory for Cliff Lee. Lee has been solid in just about every category except wins. It’s just yet another reason why wins for pitchers is a ridiculous stat. Jason Vargas is about as average as average gets, but he’s managed to rack up more than three times as many wins as Cliff Lee. Most fantasy GMs would rather have the guy who strikes out almost a batter per inning and rarely walks anyone. Lee has pitched better than his 3.52 actual ERA and there’s a good chance he could be an underdraft candidate in 2013.

Zack Greinke continues to be an anomaly. He posts advanced metrics that make fantasy GMs drool over his potential, but he always seems to underperform. He’s heading towards the “Nolasco Zone.” Ricky Nolasco was a sabermetric darling for YEARS. Everyone loved his K numbers and would claim that he was a victim of bad luck. It was either a high BABIP, a high HR:FB ratio or both. Ricky could never catch a break and it looks like Greinke is a slightly better, less extreme version. You’ve heard the song and dance before. Greinke strikes out tons of hitters and posts completely frustrating ratios. His xFIP claims he’s better than his actual ERA, but you’ve heard that before too.

Clayton Kershaw is one of the elite starters in fantasy baseball. He routinely outperforms his xFIP numbers and 2012 is no exception. There’s not much to analyze here other than a great pitcher just entering his prime years.

R.A. Dickey’s dream season continues. He’s so unprecedented that he’s hard to analyze sabermetrically. This year is so different from his track record that the previous years of data is essentially useless. He’s essentially a full-time knuckle ball pitcher. The very nature of the pitch lends itself to the unpredictability of baseball. Further, and deeper, analysis is needed before he can really be broken down properly. xFIP claims that he’s outperforming his actual 2.63 ERA, but Dickey at a 3.22 is still worth a roster spot. Especially with the 8.94 K/9.

Max Scherzer will be the new sabr-crush for next year. Fantasy pundits will develop googly eyes and spend the off season writing Max’s name on their notebooks. Scherzer strikes out a ton of batters(11.29 K/9) and has been really unlucky with a .341 BABIP. A lot of the high BABIP can be blamed on Detroit’s infield “defense”, but .341 is ridiculously for a fly ball pitcher(0.89 GB:FB ratio). It would really help Scherzer’s case as an elite level starter if the Tigers would invest in rangy middle infielders.

Chris Sale is also entering deep water in his 2012 season and could be shut down soon. He’s already thrown more than double the amount of innings he threw as a reliever in 2011 and he throws his slider over 25% of the time. Those numbers make owning Sale really scary for 2013. Sliders tend to chew up young, overtaxed arms. Hey wait, Sale has one of those! His xFIP claims he’s due to regress slightly in 2013. 3.25 ERA is still among the elite in baseball. Stay away because of injury risk, not because of his advanced metrics.

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