Dudes and five lady dudes, pitching is going to be a mess in 2020. Pitching is usually where I excel at pinpointing guys to draft and avoid, and right now I’m looking at an array of hot takes: “Top starters are more valuable! “Top middle relievers are more valuable!” “Tops are bottoms, and I’m not talking about baseball anymore!” I can’t tell hot takes from shiitakes. Usually I’m able to say, “With 100% confidence, I would not draft a top starter.” This year, if you’re saying anything with 100% confidence, you’re lying. Seriously, don’t trust anyone who is confident in predicting anything in a 60-game season. We’ve never seen anything like this and may never again. Embrace it? Sure. But “Be Water” like Bruce Lee said, and adapt. With so few innings to prepare for the season in Summer Camp, will top starters even be ready to go? That alone should shut up the “You need top starters” people. With so few innings in the actual season, that should also shut up the “Don’t pay for starters this year” people. Instead, let’s just break down the categories, and see if we can’t just win those. Laura also just gave you a solid look at possible ERA strategy. So, with a 60-game season, what is a fantasy baseball strategy for ERA & WHIP?
1. Ground Ball Rate: I tried a ton of different combinations, and ground ball rate produced the best ERAs and WHIPs in the month of April last year. I chose April to focus in on because pitchers who start fast are going to be critical. As I said in the opening, none of this has a hard-fast rule. If a pitcher is throwing a lot of ground balls, well, good things could happen. Of course, GB% is prone to wide fluctuations of BABIP and ground balls are not exactly exciting. But if a pitcher comes off a long layoff and comes out throwing ground balls, how bad could things be? According to April GB% rates, not terrible for ERA and WHIP. Top ten guys last year were: Cole Hamels, Frankie Montas, Kyle Gibson, Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Marcus Stroman, German Marquez, Andrew Cashner, Max Fried, and Jon Gray. Only one guy had an ERA above 4.25: Kyle Gibson. Yes, even those Rockies pitchers were good last April. One word about them though. Coors in the summer is a lot different than April, so I’d be careful. Oh, and only one guy mentioned had a below-average WHIP: Andrew Cashner.
2. K/9-BB/9: In season-long leagues with 162 games, K/9-BB/9 is my number one draft tool followed by everything else in a distant 2nd. It’s the easiest most common sense thing you can look at and it does 95% of the lifting. If a guy strikes out hitters, and doesn’t give out free passes, he will be successful. K/BB does the same, but, if I’m being honest, I usually do the other subtraction in my head. Over the course of 32 starts and 162 games, this is awesome. I’ve had much success. In a 60-game season, well, I’ve looked at months of this stat and it’s not doing nearly as well. Top ten guys last year for April: Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, Blake Snell, Jack Flaherty, Zack Greinke, Tyler Glasnow, Caleb Smith, Zach Eflin, Luke Weaver, and Jose Berrios. Sounds great, right? Yeah, it’s not bad, but the top 3 had 4.00+ ERAs. The WHIPs, as you can imagine, were sparkling. When you turn everything into small samples of a 60-game season, I think weak ground ball contact is going to beat K/BB.
3. Streamonator – In a good season, I usually drop at least one starter I’ve drafted by the middle of April. With eight weeks only in a season, how long you think I’m running out there with anyone I draft? One start? Maybe. If Lucas Giolito is my number one starter, and he is in a few leagues, I might, honestly, only keep him for two starts if his first two starts aren’t good. This entire year is going to be about matchups, and I will be streaming starters using the Streamonator from the start. Podcaster Ralph texted me earlier, “I might only own Reds starters, since they’re facing Tigers, Royals and Pirates a lot.” PR ain’t wrong. I have Marcus Stroman in a lot of leagues, and he checks out with the 1st Rule of ERA & WHIP about ground balls, but if he gets Gerrit Cole, Aaron Nola and Scherzer, I might just have to peace out on him.
In summation: This is a working theory. Again, as I keep saying, after stealing the quote from William Goldman, no one knows anything. In a 60-game season, this will be even more pronounced. Shoot, I’ve already pronounced it a half dozen times in this post. I’m pronouncing it better than the name Luis Castillo. Ground balls to an able defender interests me more in a small sample mostly because: How bad could it get? Maybe he has a bad BABIP luck start, but that’s a bridge that’s worth crossing when we come to it, and other clichés. If you can find guys who are good at ground balls, Ks, BBs and the Streamonator likes them, then vroom vroom. Before matchups are locked in stone, though, here’s a list of guys who excelled last April and May at ground balls and K/9-BB/9: