Pitch Arsenals. Tunneling. X-Stats. Exit Velocity. Spin rate.
The number, and complexity, of new stats to evaluate pitchers is amazing. No doubt, there are edges to be found by parsing this data. Some of the sharpest minds in baseball are assessing this mountain of information to better describe & predict player performance.
There is one pitching stat that captures the majority of what we fantasy players care about, is infinitely more accessible than all the new metrics, and has existed long before Statcast: K-BB% (strikeout % minus walk %).
Yeah, I’m not exactly revolutionizing baseball analysis here. 10 years ago, sharp fantasy managers were using this stat. K-BB% is simple. The more batters you strikeout, and the fewer you walk, the better. Outs are good, on-base is bad, and you’re wondering why you’re still reading. Can one metric (one that we’ve had for a long time) really encapsulate the complexities of pitching?
Well, not really. But evaluating all of these complex factors takes time, and effort, and analytical skill. Feel free to spend all your free time learning about the intricate metrics and data available. If you have the analytical chops & free time, for some of you, that’s fun. More power to you.
For the rest of us, if we can get 90% of the way to the same answer at 10% of the effort, that leaves more time for other things. Most fantasy owners would be better off spending more time planning how to beat their league via strategy and game theory than trying to become the next Eno Sarris.
To use a software development term, let’s smoke test this metric and look at K-BB% results. If this metric is still a good one, we’d expect the top pitchers to do well. Here are the top 10 SP, combining the 2nd-half of 2019 and all of 2020 to get a larger sample size (100IP min):
- Gerrit Cole (32%)
- Yu Darvish (31%)
- Jacob DeGrom (29%)
- Shane Bieber (29%)
- Max Scherzer (28%)
- Lucas Giolito (26%)
- Dinelson Lamet (26%)
- Trevor Bauer (25%)
- Brandon Woodruff (25%)
- Jack Flaherty (24%)
Suffice to say, this very simple metric passes the smoke test with flying colors.
Enough preamble. On to the chart, showing K-BB% and relative ADP:
Top 50 ADP
For the most part, the top-drafted starters are also great by K-BB%. A few notes:
- Gerrit Cole has a 91% LOB (Left-on-Base) and .250 BABIP over his last 188.7 IP. He’s great…and has been lucky.
- Max Scherzer stands out as a potential value, with the 5th-best K-BB% including his ugly 2020. Was that age catching up, or a slight injury downgrade that he’ll bounce back from? How you view 2020 will determine whether you see Max as a value or bust at the slot.
- As much as I love Zac Gallen, he’s only 26th by this metric, and yet is drafted as the 14th SP off the board. With an xFIP of 3.90 last year (84% LOB helped his ERA to stay a full run better), he looks overpriced.
You start to see some real discrepancies once you get out of the first few rounds. Of note:
- Stephen Strasburg and Dinelson Lamet are being downgraded by ADP due to health risk, not talent. I’m a lot more interested in Strasburg at cost; just a year ago, he pitched 209 innings of 3.32/1.04 ball with 10.8 K/9. If he’s healthy at the start of spring training, his cost will rise, but likely not in line with his talent. Lamet has the skills but I’d be shocked if he pitched significant IP this year.
- In 55IP last year, Zach Plesac was a different pitcher than in 2019. Combined, he looks severely overpriced; do you believe in his breakout? #16 SP cost is paying for ceiling, IMO.
- Jose Berrios strikes me as perpetually overrated. In 3.5 seasons (not counting his rookie year), his career-best ERA sits at 3.68 with an average WHIP in the mid-1.20s. And therein lies his K-BB% issues: Berrios walks too many to have an elite K-BB%, and so his ratios suffer. Another instance of paying for a breakout, which is -EV.
- Zack Wheeler has kept his walks in check the last three years; his poor showing in this metric, surprisingly, is due to a really bad K% last year. Over 71 IP, Wheeler only struck out 53 batters; K% dropped from 24% in 2018/2019 to 18% in 2020. His ERA/WHIP didn’t suffer (2.92/1.17) and so his draft stock hasn’t dropped. He’ll need the Ks to (positively) regress in order to return draft cost.
Plenty of guys to target & avoid as we enter the middle portions of the draft:
- Charlie Morton struggled in 2020, and drafters are punishing him. But that was 38IP, and the fact that the Braves just dropped $15M on a 1-year deal tells me he’s healthy coming out of the offseason. His K-BB% skills over the last 139IP are in line with a top-40 pick.
- The Padres seems to know what they’re doing: in addition to Yu Darvish’s #2 overall K-BB% and Lamet, Chris Paddack and Joe Musgrove come in as bargains. I’d draft either at cost, with a slight preference for Paddack who has shown dominant results in the majors.
- On the bust side, steer clear of Sandy Alcantara. He’s young, and showed improvement in 2020. But you’re paying for 42 IP to be real, while projections have him down as a high-3s/low-4s ERA, mid-1.20s WHIP pitcher. You can get similar skills 100 picks later.
- Imagine drafting Dallas Keuchel?
Quick hitters on a handful of guys:
- Andrew Heaney appears to be healthy and has pitched great over his last 136 IP.
- We all know the deal with James Paxton. If he signs somewhere and appears to be healthy heading towards opening day, he’s one of the most talented pitcher being drafted after pick 150. He may only pitch 100IP but they should be quality, and that risk is baked into his price.
- Matthew Boyd man… apparently injured in 2020? At pick 272, I’ll take a flyer on the 25th-best SP by this metric.
- If another owner beats me with Robbie Ray, so be it.
- The case for Madison Bumgarner is all about velocity in spring training. He was crushed in 2020 when he lost several MPH; if that returns, he could be a solid rotation filler. If not, avoid.
- Zach Davies put up a career-best season in San Diego; I won’t be betting on a repeat.
- Yusei Kikuchi found some strikeouts last year (K%: 16%–>24%), but in only 47 IP and BB% also spiked (7%–>10%). Plenty of SP available later I’d prefer.
- I want to like Caleb Smith. But a .242 BABIP over the period is masking some really crappy K-BB% skills.
Who do you like better than their K-BB% would suggest? Let me know in the comments.