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August 13, 2013 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

Fantasy Baseball Lies, Damn Lies and Advanced Metrics: Week 19 Edition

Fantasy Baseball Lies, Damn Lies and Advanced Metrics: Week 19 Edition
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The idea of “safety” and starting pitchers needs to be taken out of the fantasy baseball lexicon. Pitchers are inherently risky. All pitchers. Every single one. Roy Halladay was considered a pitching metronome. He would post double digit wins, above average ratios and competent strikeout totals. Fantasy GMs could bank on it…until the innings caught up to Roy and he finally broke down. Drafting pitching is a risky proposition. Some so-called “safe” starting pitchers have gone out of their way to murder fantasy teams this year. One of these guys has value from here on out and the other….is a great buy-low for 2014.

R.A. Dickey was viewed as a legit ace heading into this season, but he hasn’t performed like an ace in 2013. Dickey was coming off a career year and was due for a regression. He also moved from a pitcher’s park to a hitter’s park and from a league without the DH to a league with a DH, but his 2013 has had more issues than just simple regression.

His .266 BABIP in 2013 is actually lower than the .275 BABIP he posted in 2012. The biggest difference in Dickey’s advanced metrics is his LOB %. Dickey stranded 80.0% of hitters in 2012 and his 2013 LOB % has plunged to 72.0%. His walk rate has also jumped from 5.8% in 2012 to 8.0% in 2013. He’s allowing roughly the same amount of baserunners, but more of them have made it all the way around the bases in 2013.

His 12.9% HR:FB ratio is within a standard deviation of his 11.3% career average (he posted an 11.3% rate in 2012 as well), but he’s allowing more fly balls in 2013 this year (40.2% fly ball rate) than he has in any other season as a starting pitcher. He’s giving up homers at a similar rate to his career average, but he’s giving up more fly balls.

The biggest issue with Dickey has been his velocity. His “angry” knuckleball from 2012 has been downgraded to “slightly annoyed” in 2013. His knuckleball velocity is down two miles per hour in 2012.  Hitters are only hitting .242 against his knuckler in 2013. His career average BAA on the knuckler is .241, but he’s allowing a .405 SLG on the knuckler in 2013. His career average is .372. Hitters are making contact on the slower knuckleball at the same rate, but they’re making better contact against it. The drop in velocity also shows up in Dickey’s K-rate. Dickey set a career high in 2012 with a 24.8% strike out rate. His K-rate has regressed to 17.7% this year. He’s still above his 16.6% career average, but a 17.7% K-rate was not what fantasy GMs had in mind when they added Dickey to their roster in the preseason.

Dickey could be a useful innings eater in the future, but viewing him as an elite starting pitcher in 2014 is foolish at best and a losing strategy at worst. He’s likely to come at a considerable discount in 2014, so he could actually be a decent value play in 2014, but he’s not a good bet for the stretch run in 2013.

Matt Cain was about as safe as it got when it came to starting pitching in fantasy baseball. So what the hell went wrong with this guy? He was in that metronome category. He would post double digit wins, great ratios and competent strikeout numbers. He’s on pace to miss double digit wins for the first time since 2008 and his ratios aren’t what fantasy GMs expected when he was drafted in March.

The good news is that his issues aren’t physical. His velocity has been virtually the same for the past three years, 2013 included. He’s even striking out batters at the same rate as last season (22.0% K %). He’s walking slightly more (7.5% BB% this year compared to a career low 5.8% last year). His .254 BABIP is even in-line with his .263 career average.

Cain has two issues that have caused fantasy GMs pain in 2013. Neither are Cain’s fault. First of all, Cain’s LOB % is only 66.8%. Nearly 1/3 of batters who reach base against Cain are scoring. A 66.8% LOB % is a career worst for Cain by a wide, wide margin and it should slowly march towards his 74.4% career average.

His second issue is his HR:FB ratio. Cain was killed on fly balls early in the year and his numbers are only now starting to normalize. He posted a 19.1% HR:FB ratio in April and a 12.5% HR:FB ratio in May before his numbers started to inch closer to his 7.1% career average.

Cain has looked like the Matt Cain that fantasy GMs wanted to have for the full season in the second half of 2013. His numbers should continue to inch towards his career averages as 2013 draws to a close. He’s a great stretch run addition who could boost a sagging pitching staff for the final six weeks. He’ll also likely be had for a discount in 2014 drafts, but not nearly as extreme as the discount that fantasy GMs will be able to get R.A. Dickey for.

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