StrategyFebruary 26, 2012

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Scouting Starting Pitchers: Statistical Analysis of Peripherals - 3 comments

By interchange

Maybe you’re wondering if you should really waste a top pick on Clayton Kershaw or if Ricky Nolasco is really worth a roster spot. Maybe you’re just a sabermetrics uber geek who wants to see some numbers crunched. Either way, this article is for you. It may become the first of a multi-part series as I go more and more into depth of my analysis. For now, the purpose of this is to identify pitchers to target and to avoid on draft day or on the trading block, but not to put together a comprehensive rating system that absolutely identifies the best pitchers.

So, what exactly have I done? I’ve looked at three ratios which I feel are reflective of a pitcher’s overall chance for success: K/IP, BB/IP, and HR/IP. Why these three ratios? Well, mostly it’s my personal choice, but as I’ll demonstrate later these three together do correlate with success.

So here’s the table of the top 72 owned starting pitchers in the Yahoo! game sorted by their Y! rank. I rated only the numbers from their last pitching stop as a starter in the 2011 season. A few were omitted because they did not spend significant time at SP last year or split their time between multiple teams. Those that I did include are in bold.

Pitcher K/IP rating BB/IP rating HR/IP rating Total ERA
C. Kershaw 1.40 0.71 0.94 3.06 2.28
J. Verlander 0.92 0.76 -0.08 1.60 2.40
R. Halladay 0.53 1.64 1.64 3.81 2.35
C. Lee 1.12 1.29 0.52 2.92 2.40
F. Hernandez 0.59 0.08 0.39 1.05 3.47
T. Lincecum 1.05 -1.17 0.78 0.67 2.74
C. Hamels 0.21 1.02 0.17 1.40 2.79
C. Sabathia 0.73 0.41 0.71 1.85 3.00
J. Weaver -0.21 0.64 0.27 0.70 2.41
Z. Greinke 2.19 0.36 -0.57 1.98 3.83
D. Haren -0.46 1.76 0.30 1.61 3.17
D. Price 0.75 0.14 -0.16 0.73 3.49
Y. Gallardo 0.94 0.10 -1.20 -0.16 3.52
M. Cain -0.45 0.11 1.72 1.37 2.88
J. Lester 0.58 -1.11 -0.36 -0.89 3.47
S. Strasburg 0.95 2.39 3.04 6.38 1.50
J. Shields 0.24 0.37 -0.36 0.26 2.82
I. Kennedy 0.17 0.52 0.25 0.94 2.88
C. Wilson 0.39 -0.43 0.70 0.66 2.94
M. Bumgarner 0.47 0.78 1.13 2.38 3.21
D. Hudson -0.78 0.78 0.54 0.54 3.49
T. Hanson 1.62 -0.69 -1.22 -0.29 3.60
M. Garza 0.91 -0.28 0.74 1.38 3.32
J. Johnson 0.43 -0.43 1.96 1.95 1.64
M. Pineda 1.04 -0.32 -0.39 0.32 3.74
M. Latos 0.61 -0.30 0.35 0.67 3.47
J. Beckett 0.27 0.27 -0.51 0.04 2.89
R. Romero -0.57 -0.71 -0.72 -2.00 2.92
B. Beachy 2.35 -0.35 -0.64 1.36 3.68
G. Gonzalez 0.77 -1.79 0.30 -0.72 3.12
A. Wainwright 0.40 0.57 0.92 1.90 2.42
C. Luebke 1.69 -0.25 0.24 1.69 3.29
J. Zimmermann -0.73 1.15 0.62 1.04 3.18
C. Carpenter -0.47 0.70 0.84 1.08 3.45
A. Sanchez 1.16 -0.37 -0.28 0.51 3.67
S. Marcum -0.59 0.11 -0.53 -1.02 3.54
B. Morrow 1.91 -1.04 -0.78 0.09 4.72
J. Cueto -1.47 -0.09 1.37 -0.19 2.31
U. Jimenez 0.58 -1.36 -0.45 -1.23 5.10
T. Hudson -0.97 0.38 0.92 0.32 3.22
H. Kuroda -0.52 0.58 -0.83 -0.78 3.07
J. Garcia -0.49 0.42 0.53 0.45 3.56
M. Scherzer 0.17 0.07 -1.81 -1.57 4.43
R. Dempster 0.54 -1.23 -0.66 -1.39 4.80
E. Santana -0.66 -0.24 -0.67 -1.57 3.38
J. Hellickson -1.82 -1.00 -0.58 -3.40 2.95
J. Chacin -0.70 -1.76 -0.32 -2.78 3.62
W. Rodriguez 0.00 -0.77 -1.22 -2.00 3.49
D. Holland -0.37 -0.51 -0.58 -1.46 3.95
D. Fister -0.43 2.53 1.19 3.29 1.79
B. Norris 0.56 -0.94 -1.16 -1.55 3.77
C. Buchholz -1.04 -0.92 -0.90 -2.87 3.48
J. Masterson -1.00 -0.08 1.38 0.30 3.21
T. Lilly -0.36 0.33 -1.70 -1.72 3.97
A. Ogando -0.90 0.44 -0.05 -0.50 3.51
E. Jackson -1.56 -0.02 -0.30 -1.89 3.58
E. Volquez 0.64 -3.47 -2.66 -5.49 5.71
J. Danks -0.55 0.27 -0.59 -0.88 4.33
J. Jurrjens -2.01 0.05 0.04 -1.93 2.96
B. McCarthy -1.07 1.67 0.94 1.53 3.32
C. Lewis -0.18 0.16 -2.65 -2.68 4.40
S. Baker 0.32 0.64 -0.59 0.37 3.14
G. Floyd -0.65 0.70 -0.66 -0.62 4.37
T. Stauffer -1.30 0.09 -0.47 -1.68 3.73
V. Worley 0.25 -0.64 0.56 0.18 3.01
C. Billingsley -0.44 -1.75 0.61 -1.57 4.21
T. Cahill -1.17 -1.15 0.06 -2.27 4.16
M. Buehrle -2.46 0.85 -0.29 -1.90 3.59
R. Vogelsong -0.60 -0.59 0.27 -0.91 2.71
R. Nolasco -1.09 0.91 -0.12 -0.31 4.67
M. Harrison -1.38 -0.15 0.76 -0.78 3.39

For you stats geeks, the rating indicates how many standard deviations away from the mean a player is. If that means nothing to you, just know this: a rating of zero indicates an average contributor in that category, positive values are above average, and negative values are below average.

The individual ratings that are in bold are ratings which are statistically significantly different than their career norms. This means that there is a greater than 95% chance that the difference in these numbers is not due to random chance and reflects a real change in the pitcher from year to year. Numbers that are bolded but not underlined indicate numbers which are better than career norms and numbers that are bolded and underlined represent numbers which are worse than career norms.

Let’s look at some general conclusions we can draw from this data:

  • Nearly every pitcher whose K rate changed significantly from their career rate had an increase in their K rate. This constitutes a trend which supports a real improvement in these pitchers instead of random chance. Importantly, long-term aces Halladay and Lee have seen improvement over more than one season, suggesting it is possible to sustain improvement in this category over baseline numbers.
  • Every pitcher save one whose BB rate changed significantly from their career rate had a decrease in their BB rate. Using similar logic as above, this supports a real improvement in BB rate.
  • The most troublesome stat here is HR rate, in which only two pitchers have seen significant change. That is mostly because the number of HRs in a season is small compared to Ks and BBs, thus randomness plays more of a role. This suggests we should pay a bit more attention to career numbers in this category instead of recent numbers.

The next thing I’d like to do is present a graph:


This illustrates rating versus ERA. At first glance, ERA may seem like a random mess. To some extent it is, but it is obvious that there is a clear trend from ERA at or below 2 in highest rated pitchers to ERA at or above 4 in the lowest rated pitchers. As we know, this is a huge difference in fantasy value. The reason I’m doing this is to: a. illustrate that the rating methodology is valid, and b. illustrate that its utility is only to identify pitchers whose overall numbers deserve a second look. So let’s do just that.

Ladies and gents, I present to you one Stephen Strasburg and his career numbers.

IP K BB HR ERA WHIP K rat. BB rat. HR rat. Total
92.0 116 19 5 2.54 0.98 0.95 2.39 3.04 6.38

His rating is eye-poping 6.38. Even across his career, he is elite at all three stats. Clearly, he is a freak of nature — even in a class well above Halladay and Kershaw. The issues with him, of course, are that he has few big league innings, missed most of last year with injury, and will be on an innings limit in the season and probably a pitch limit in his starts. Despite Washington’s batting improvement, this will drastically hamper his win potential. Still, he can probably put together elite stats in 150 innings in every category except wins, and his ratio of wins/starts isn’t likely to hurt you. He’s a definite target. I’d even draft him above his rank in an H2H league, because he’s likely to lead you to the playoffs and/or cash in good trade value mid-season to a team on the playoff bubble.

Let’s look at the career numbers of a youngster whose Y! rank makes him look like a target: Jeremy Hellickson.

IP W K BB HR ERA WHIP K rat. BB rat. HR rat. Total
225.1 17 150 80 26 3.04 1.14 -1.82 -1.00 -0.58 -3.40

Here’s a guy who put up a line good for 86th in the Y! game last year in only 189 innings, yet his peripherals suggest a much worse pitcher than his prior success indicates. He’s pitching for a team with decent run support, but he’ll often be going up against the best lineups in baseball in some hitter-friendly environments. All of his peripherals are below average and significantly worse last year than career projections, although that is mostly a byproduct of having a short career. I project fewer wins and a higher ERA/WHIP. Y! must be on to this because he’s only ranked number 194 overall. I’d push him off my list altogether.

Let’s look at another youngster we may want to target: Brandon Beachy.

IP W K BB HR ERA WHIP K rat. BB rat. HR rat. Total
156.2 7 184 53 16 3.62 1.21 2.35 -0.36 -0.64 1.36

Compared to Jeremy Hellickson, he has fewer wins, worse ERA, and worse WHIP. However, his BB and HR peripherals are about average for top-70 pitchers, and he is a K machine. Really, what has mostly limited his potential is that he has not been given the opportunity to go deep into games and rack up the wins. Couple that with Atlanta’s meager offense and you might be scared. I’m not. This guy has clear potential to dominate.

Let’s look at a long time early rounder and his numbers last year: Tim Lincecum.

IP W K BB HR ERA WHIP K rat. BB rat. HR rat. Total
217.0 13 220 86 15 2.74 1.21 1.05 -1.17 0.79 0.67

What’s striking about Lincecum is that his ERA in 2011 improved over 2010 despite worse peripherals (except HR rate). He is walking a troubling amount of batters and moreso now than years past. He still racks up the Ks, but even these have been decreasing every year (although not meeting statistical┬ásignificance). His overall rating is good, but unfortunately this is no longer the ace you’re looking for.

And now we turn our attention to the real Giant’s ace: Madison Bumgarner.

IP W K BB HR ERA WHIP K rat. BB rat. HR rat. Total
204.2 13 191 46 12 3.21 1.21 0.47 0.78 1.13 2.38

Here’s a gentleman with the same offensive support and park as teammate Timmay but with a better overall peripherals rating. Interestingly, his HR rate last year was quite good, nearly half that of 2010’s, yet his ERA was higher. His career numbers suggest he’s average at worst at giving up HRs. He’s solid in every category. This makes him a great target. I even think he might out-produce Lincecum.

Here’s my favorite target: Mr. Doug Fister.

IP W K BB HR ERA WHIP K rat. BB rat. HR rat. Total
216.1 11 146 46 11 2.83 1.06 -0.43 2.53 1.19 3.29

His numbers last year were good enough for No. 51 in the Y! game yet he’s ranked 201 overall. Clearly a regression is expected. Really? The man moves from hell frozen over Seattle to heaven frozen over Detroit (in baseball world) and notches eight wins in 10 starts. Looking into his stats, the man has always been a control freak, walking about half as many batters as the average fantasy horse.┬áHis excellent HR rate suggests he’s not lofting them over the plate, either. However, last year he added the ability to miss bats at a respectable rate. There’s plenty of hope he’ll continue this trend, as Halladay has done with his career. In fact, his combination of peripherals is eerily similar to old Roy’s. Even if his K rate regresses, he’s vastly better than number 201 overall, especially in the H2H game where having no innings cap makes Ks less important. Plus, think of how many creative team names can you come up with featuring a guy named “Fister?”

Unfortunately, there has to be an end to the analysis, and here it is. However, I’ll leave you with some other players to put on the draft list and others to put in the reject pile (based on ADP).

DRAFT: M.Garza, M.Latos, C.Luebke, J.Zimmermann, C.Carpenter, B.McCarthy, S.Baker, V.Worley.

REJECT: Y.Gallardo, R.Romero, S.Marcum, M.Scherzer, E.Santana, J.Chacin, W.Rodriguez, C.Buchholz, E.Volquez, J.Jurrjens, T.Cahill

There are many, many more things I can do with the numbers. I have big plans for more articles. If you like this, they will come.

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3 Responses to “Scouting Starting Pitchers: Statistical Analysis of Peripherals”

  1. Ender says:

    My personal problem with this is in the HR/IP part. That is a stat that fluctuates wildly season to season because of randomness in HR/FB%. If I’m reading this correctly it also seems to be weighted too high since it should take a back seat to K and BB rates. So while it is useful to look at, it is not one of the more predictive stats out there.

  2. User avatar J35J says:

    I agree with Ender. I like to look at the K rates and BB rates of a SP but then I’ll look at their HR/FB%, BABIP and LOB% all compared to their career numbers as well to get a better picture of things. I’ll even compare the K and BB rates to their career numbers as well but they can generally stand alone a littler better than HR/FB, BABIP, LOB

    Solid article, keep it up.

  3. coldcereal says:

    Its an interesting article, as K/IP and BB/IP is always to be examined, however, I think he other thing that ought to be examined is H/IP which is 1/2 of our wildly popular WHIP. HR are one thing, however, when a guy generally gives up more Hits than innings pitched, even if he gets a good # of wins, he is often in line for a fall especially if his team doesnt have the run producers anymore to ‘outhit’ the other time.

    HR is merely one type of hit and even though no one likes hurlers who give up the gopher ball, a pitcher can be just as awful if not worst if he continues to give up series of singles and doubles especially with men on base. Keep the hits and walks down and you have yourself typically a great pitcher…case in point…look at the top pitchers in the game, they all has outstanding WHIP.

    HR/is really looking in a vacuum a bit for me.
    That being said, I love the article and the unique predictions especially for the ones you see as dangerous to draft based on these numbers and their ADP.

    Keep up the good work Cafe! :)


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