Welcome to the first installment of Roster Rodeo, an occasional series where I’ll discuss roster construction and manipulation ideas that I have experimented with and rodeo puns and metaphors as they amuse me. I’m not a deeply mathematically inclined fantasy player and I often lack the patience to dig into many players’ peripheral and underlying stats to try to uncover breakouts, inefficiencies, platoon strengths, or other nuggets of usefulness. I generally rely on fantasy articles and podcasts, as well as chats with Jeremy to spur my interest in those things with respect to individual players.
In place of such cold science/math, I actively test a variety of roster-building hypotheses and hair-brained schemes on my own teams. This series will discuss the successes and failures of some of these approaches, and will hopefully uncover some strategies that you can employ or avoid along the way.
For my first piece, I’m going to discuss a hypothesis I had about trying to maximize my ability to target valuable starting pitching in points leagues (specifically FGPTS for the purpose of this article). A few main ideas motivated my line of thinking. First, it’s no secret that aces are hard to come by, and all the more so if they are value-priced. Second, hitting the 1,500-inning threshold is a necessary achievement if you want a chance of winning your league. Finally, every fantasy format has its own form(s) of quality pitching scarcity, so where is that line in Ottoneu?
If 2019 sees you playing in a league that’s entering its second or later year, then you’re familiar with the most recent round of starting pitcher breakouts: Blake Snell, Trevor Bauer, Patrick Corbin, Mike Clevinger, Jose Berrios, and Mike Foltynewicz to name a handful. Most of these guys received considerable raises in Ottoneu arbitration but most are still priced at what seem like incredible values heading into the season. It’s absolutely true that you could have tried to identify that these guys were primed for breakouts if they adjusted their pitch mix toward their better pitches (an adjustment most of them made). However, there’s at least one other way that you might have capitalized on these and other starters when they were still cheap and, in many cases, undervalued.
Back to my hypothesis. At some point, I noticed that most starters who ranked outside the top tier or two – say, starters ranked 20-60 overall – cost less than $10 and, beyond that, seemed not very highly valued by many owners. It seemed to me that trying to stockpile a number of these arms when the price was right and the opportunity presented itself might be an area of tremendous value. Now that I’ve put this idea into practice, it’s clear that being prepared for these opportunities means having a plan at auction and continuing to follow your target players in season.
I’ll use 2017 full season statistics to illustrate my approach for the purpose of this article. As a start, I do two basic searches: total points by starters who threw 100+ innings and points per inning pitched by starters who threw 80+ innings. In 2017, 21 pitchers threw at least 100 innings and notched 800 or more total points, putting us right at my generic baseline to target SPs ranked 20-60. Let’s start there.
|Total Points: Starting Pitchers 20-60|
An experienced fantasy player will be able to look at this selection of guys and pretty quickly categorize them into a few buckets – bigger names (James Paxton or Masahiro Tanaka), older dudes who may or may not still have value (Rich Hill or Jake Arrieta), established rotation cogs (Charlie Morton or Dan Straily), and young dudes with upside and/or rotation spots (Jose Berrios or Dylan Bundy). In the parenthetical pairings above I’ve tried to quickly illustrate the caveat that pitchers in each group can go either way. Value can certainly be found in each group, and old dudes can be important and steady contributors to your fantasy rotation. But if you’re hunting for breakouts the last two groupings offer the most potential.
At a glance, shopping for guys in those buckets in advance of 2018 could have landed you breakouts from Bauer, Corbin, Berrios, or Trevor Williams. Reaching outside the top 60 – which does offer plenty of landmines – we also see breakouts from Clevinger, Jameson Taillon, German Marquez, Snell, Foltynewicz, and more. Almost none of these guys cost $10 or more going into 2018 auctions.
Now let’s look at the second group, focusing on points per inning pitched by starters who threw 80+ innings. Here’s the top 60:
|PIP: Starting Pitchers 1-60|
|1||Corey Kluber||1286||203 2/3||6.31|
|2||Chris Sale||1323||214 1/3||6.17|
|3||Max Scherzer||1221||200 2/3||6.08|
|4||Stephen Strasburg||1041||175 1/3||5.94|
|7||Luis Severino||1070||193 1/3||5.53|
|9||Alex Wood||795||152 1/3||5.22|
|11||Zack Greinke||1036||202 1/3||5.12|
|13||Luis Castillo||449||89 1/3||5.03|
|14||Rich Hill||680||135 2/3||5.01|
|15||Lance McCullers Jr.||591||118 2/3||4.98|
|17||Chase Anderson||700||141 1/3||4.95|
|18||Charlie Morton||722||146 2/3||4.92|
|19||Jacob deGrom||971||201 1/3||4.82|
|20||Mike Clevinger||583||121 2/3||4.79|
|21||Brandon McCarthy||443||92 2/3||4.78|
|22||Jon Gray||526||110 1/3||4.77|
|24||Dallas Keuchel||691||145 2/3||4.74|
|27||Jose Quintana||869||188 2/3||4.61|
|28||Danny Duffy||674||146 1/3||4.61|
|29||Yu Darvish||858||186 2/3||4.6|
|30||Michael Fulmer||749||164 2/3||4.55|
|31||Sonny Gray||730||162 1/3||4.45|
|32||Jeff Samardzija||930||207 2/3||4.48|
|34||Jose Berrios||644||145 2/3||4.42|
|35||Kyle Hendricks||613||139 2/3||4.39|
|36||Jake Faria||378||86 2/3||4.36|
|38||Michael Wacha||713||165 2/3||4.3|
|39||Drew Pomeranz||745||173 2/3||4.29|
|40||Eduardo Rodriguez||588||137 1/3||4.28|
|41||Kenta Maeda||575||134 1/3||4.28|
|42||J.A. Happ||621||145 1/3||4.27|
|43||Jordan Montgomery||657||155 1/3||4.23|
|44||Brent Suter||343||81 2/3||4.2|
|45||Jake Arrieta||702||168 1/3||4.17|
|46||Blake Snell||538||129 1/3||4.16|
|47||Jameson Taillon||555||133 2/3||4.15|
|49||Doug Fister||373||90 1/3||4.13|
|50||Jhoulys Chacin||739||180 1/3||4.1|
|51||Trevor Bauer||722||176 1/3||4.09|
|52||Trevor Williams||613||150 1/3||4.08|
|54||Erasmo Ramirez||528||131 1/3||4.02|
|55||Ervin Santana||848||211 1/3||4.01|
|56||Jon Lester||716||180 2/3||3.96|
|57||Tanner Roark||716||181 1/3||3.95|
|58||Alex Cobb||706||179 1/3||3.94|
|59||Dylan Bundy||667||169 2/3||3.93|
Looking at the second search we see that in 2017, 19 SPs threw at least 80 innings and had a P/IP of 4.9 or better. Even more importantly for the purpose of this exercise, you should note that only 56 SPs threw 80 innings and maintained a P/IP of 4 or higher. This second point is one of the discoveries that has motivated me to continue this experiment year over year and focus on the 20-60 group. Here’s why. For all 12 teams to even approach their 1,500-inning max in today’s game of short starts and busy bullpens, most Ottoneu teams will be seeking 1,050 – 1,200 innings from their SPs. Even taking into account roster shuffling that can incorporate rookies and guys who get a couple spot starts, each team is going to need a minimum of 7 reliable starters. That’s 84 starters as a league, closer to 100 if we’re being realistic/conservative. When we think of it this way, it’s easy to see that it’s massively valuable to be able to roster five or more SPs who make 20+ starts and have 4+ P/IP. For better and/or worse, volume matters.
By cross-referencing this list with the previous one, it is possible to make a stronger case for pursuing some SPs that can maintain a higher P/IP. Guys who appeared in the previous 20-60, had a favorable P/IP here, and had a great 2018 include Morton, Berrios, Bauer, and Williams. Other big breakouts from 2018 are here, too – Clevinger, Snell, Taillon.
As I mentioned at the outset, this isn’t a science. Not all indicators foretell of future success. While I’ve been pointing to these breakouts, I have been glossing over the expert darlings and others – many of whom also appear on these lists – who didn’t find success. To cherry pick a few, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, and Sonny Gray were among those guys who seemed to be putting it together, had rotation jobs, got talked up in pre-season expert rankings, and..coulda, shoulda, woulda had a great 2018. But didn’t.
One more point before wrapping up. It’s most fun to talk about breakouts and flops because there’s so much drama around those stories and their impacts. However, this strategy also pushes the owner to seek out and rely on a number of unsung One Dollar Hollers (maybe $1-3, but who’s counting?). The 2017 list includes a guy who’s a great example of this as he was still cheap everywhere in 2018 – Jhoulys Chacin. In 2017, Chacin ranked around 50th with 4.11 P/IP across 180.1 innings. In my leagues he was cut everywhere. In 2018, he put up 4.53 P/IP through 192.2 innings. I owned him for $1 on several teams this past year. It’s not a sexy name, but the dude had a secure job from day one and went out and put up the 23rd most points by an SP in 2018. Now I’m keeping him for $3.
In closing, here’s how I attempt to navigate this minefield and land as many cheap, valuable SPs as possible. Once I’ve taken a look at these two lists, I create my own rankings, taking into consideration players’ ranking on both lists, their price (if it’s in season), what experts have to say about them, and my own valuations. In my experience of applying this strategy for the past few years across multiple leagues, I’ve not only built solid rotations, but I have landed a number of highly valuable breakouts.
For a bit of follow through on this topic, I’ll be employing these strategies in my (three) FGPTs league auctions this spring and I’ll work up a partner piece to this one to illustrate where and how I targeted – and hopefully acquired – some undervalued arms that might take it to the next level in 2019.
(Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)