StrategyJune 11, 2008

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Streaming Consciousness

By Scott Swanay

In leagues that allow weekly lineup changes many fantasy baseball team owners choose to rotate different starting pitchers each week through the same roster spot. Commonly known as streaming, this practice usually involves looking for pitchers with either two starts or one very favorable match-up during the upcoming week.

How do you assess which pitchers have the most favorable match-ups? There are three main criteria to consider: (1) the quality of the pitcher you’re considering, (2) the quality of the pitcher’s probable pitching opponent(s), and (3) the opposing team’s strength in the areas relevant to your league’s pitching categories.

Most fantasy team owners are fairly confident in their ability to assess the first two factors. However, most owners don’t give sufficient consideration to the opposing team’s capabilities. Some owners make a quick, qualitative judgment (e.g. – the Royals’ offense stinks) and move on. Others focus on a statistics that either don’t tell the whole story by themselves (e.g. – batting average, number of runs scored), or worse yet, may have limited relevance (e.g. – number of home runs hit, unless “HR Allowed” is one of your pitching categories).

Fortunately, teams’ strength in the areas relevant to your league’s pitching categories can be quantified and used to your advantage. Let’s assume that you’re playing in a league that uses the standard five pitching categories (Wins, Saves, ERA, WHIP, and Strikeouts). Obviously, saves aren’t a consideration in selecting your starting pitchers, so we want to find teams that combine a low number of wins, runs scored, and hits + walks with a high number of strikeouts.

The Sherpa Points system involves assigning each team a score between 0 and 1.00 in each category, then summing across categories to get an overall score. The calculations are straightforward for counting categories in which we want the opposing team to have a low score (e.g. – Wins, Runs Scored, Walks+Hits). The team with the highest total in each category receives a score of 1.00; a team with 75% of the leading team’s total would receive a score of .75, a team with 50% of the leading team’s total would receive a score of .50, etc. For counting categories such as strikeouts (where lower values are better for hitting teams) or average based categories such as K/BB or K/9, you can choose a proxy statistic that can be minimized. Again, we want to be able to minimize all the opponents’ statistics that we’re considering.

I performed season-to-date rankings based on this system for the 30 teams through the games of Thursday, 6/5/08. If you’re trying to find the best teams to stream a starting pitcher against, you want the teams with the lowest total scores. Here are the results of my study (ranked from most favorable team to pitch against to least favorable):

1. Kansas City Royals 2.96
2. Seattle Mariners 2.98
3. Washington Nationals 3.00
4. Colorado Rockies 3.07
5. San Francisco Giants 3.08
6. San Diego Padres 3.10
7. Cleveland Indians 3.15
8. Baltimore Orioles 3.18
9. Detroit Tigers 3.19
10. Los Angeles Dodgers 3.26
11. Florida Marlins 3.33
12. Milwaukee Brewers 3.33
13. Cincinnati Reds 3.34
14. Houston Astros 3.37
15. Arizona Diamondbacks 3.37
16. New York Mets 3.37
17. Chicago White Sox 3.39
18. New York Yankees 3.39
19. Tampa Bay Rays 3.40
20. Minnesota Twins 3.41
21. Pittsburgh Pirates 3.42
22. Oakland A’s 3.43
23. Toronto Blue Jays 3.45
24. Los Angeles Angels 3.46
25. Atlanta Braves 3.59
26. St. Louis Cardinals 3.74
27. Philadelphia Phillies 3.75
28. Texas Rangers 3.78
29. Boston Red Sox 3.87
30. Chicago Cubs 3.97

There are a number of surprises on this list (e.g. – Twins, Pirates, A’s, and Angels), but it can serve as a fairly informative guide if you’re trying to decide among several starting pitchers that you have rated fairly evenly for the upcoming week.

This approach can be used for either points-based leagues or roto-style leagues; just be sure that the categories you choose are relevant to your league. For example, if your league also uses “Home Runs Allowed” as a pitching category, Baltimore, Florida, and Milwaukee would become less desirable opponents.

You can update this analysis as often as you see fit. I don’t expect that the results would change significantly from week to week, but I would expect meaningful changes over time periods of a month or longer.

And oh yes, the Royals’ offense does indeed stink.

Scott hit a home run (on errors) in his third at-bat in his first-ever Little League game. He tells that story proudly, usually neglecting to mention that the ball traveled about 6 inches after somehow colliding with his bat, or that he struck out on three pitches in each of his first two at-bats. These omissions probably explain why Scott never quite made it to Yankee Stadium (without buying a ticket). Catch up with Scott in the Cafe's Forums where he posts as The Sherpa.
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