Friends, folx, well-wishers, and haters — Happy third birthday to my tenure as the Top 100 SP writer. There have been ups (Robbie Ray), Downs (Scott), and 89,140 instances of me saying “that’s a lateral move.” When Grey found me living behind a Burger King dumpster in 2020 (yes, he was wearing one of those paper crowns), he came to me and said, “EWB, would you like to become the 15th most important imaginary sports pitching ranker on Reddit?” And I said, “King, you’re so short and your ideals are so pure. I will endeavor to be better than the previous guy yet not so good that we put the other 14 rankers out of business.”
Everything in moderation, right?
Here’s the ab-so-freaking-lute truth of fantasy ranking: If an analyst isn’t showing you their “score” (however defined) or a projection, then they’re just arbitrarily ordering players by their whims. In itself, this is a morally neutral way of producing fantasy content. Like I said last week, most fantasy content creators are working for nickels and a supply of Zebra Stripes gum. And like I said in my Fantasy Sports Writers Association-finalist article (how about that name drop?), you can order starting pitchers in 1×10^bajillionth ways. Tony Gonsolin being a top 10 pitcher? The guy has never pitched more than 60IP in the majors. Kyle Wright in the top 20? His MLB ERA was like 7+ coming into this year. Nestor Cortes at SP17 and he wasn’t even supposed to be in the Yankees’ rotation. Nobody actually knew these guys were going to be your fantasy studs this year.
Vecna limps towards you, the Hero of Hawkins. With a bent finger, he points at your heart, his mouth starting to open. In ten seconds, you will die — unless you slay the lich with one final blow. What do you do?
The Dungeon Master looks at you and says, “Friend, you’ve worked hard to get here. I’ll let you know that Vecna has less than 20 hit points left. I’m not telling you the exact number though. I’m not a cheater. Just that it’s less than or equal to 20 — you can win! Luckily, you’ve got a weapon that can deal 20 damage.” The Dungeon Master feels generous for you and allows you to choose your own damage roll from the following options — and remember, you want to do the most possible damage because otherwise, Vecna will kill you with his next attack because he’s a boss lich like that:
- Roll 1 20-sided die (1 die numbered 1-20)
- Roll 5 4-sided dice (5 dice, numbered 1-4)
So, hot shot: your game is on the line, which option do you choose?
Statistically, you should roll the 5 4-sided dice. Let’s break this down.
- You know Vecna has between 1-20 hit points left. There’s a 5% chance he has 1 hit point…and a 5% chance he has 20 hit points. Restated, he has a 95% chance of having more than 1 hit point, and a 95% chance of having less than 20 hit points. And 50% chance he has more than 10 hit points, 50% chance he has less than 10.
- Fantasy sports translation: you never know how good your opponent is going to be over the rest of the season.
- If you roll the 20-sided die, you have a 5% chance of the worst outcome of the whole lot: a 1. You have a 95% chance of losing.
- If you roll the 20-sided die, you also have a 5% outcome of the best outcome of the lot: a 20. A 20 guarantees victory, but you also have a 95% chance of arriving at any other number.
- Fantasy sports translation: Just because you choose the highest-powered potential option, that choice doesn’t guarantee you the highest-powered outcome.
- If you roll 5 4-sided die, you have a 0% chance of getting a 1 because the minimum cumulative roll you can get is a 5 — 5 dice all rolling 1. Furthermore: the chance of all those dice rolling 1s at the same time and you getting a 5? Way less than 1%. Using this strategy, you have a 15% chance of rolling a cumulative 12 or 13. So, 3x the possibility of this outcome compared to rolling the single 20-sided die. What’s more, is that you’re more likely to roll a 16 by 5 4-sided dice than by 1 20-sided die. So, you’ve still got a potential for a nice outcome.
- Fantasy sports translation: If you distribute your odds over multiple pitchers, you have a higher floor, a significantly higher median outcome, and a nearly as-good optimal outcome as the proverbial “ace” option.
Still with me? No? Did you go watch Hopper un-die? It’s OK, I’m just gonna keep explaining for the three of you that care. I’m gonna convert a bunch of you degenerates to Dungeons and Dragons by the end of this, I swear…
Here’s the summary of the above:
- Roll 1 20-sided die, 5% of getting any number from 1-20, with low of 1 and max of 20.
- Roll 5 4-sided dice, receive a minimum score of 5, with most likely combination being a 12 or 13, and has better odds than a 20-sider up to 16.
What does killing Vecna in the Upside Down have to do with your fantasy baseball pitching staff?
- They’re each tools to win a game: you kill Vecna, you win. You pitch well, you win.
- They’re each metaphors for uncertainty: you don’t know the threshold score required to kill Vecna, and you don’t know the threshold score required to win your fantasy league.
- Uncertainty cannot be predicted, but it can be managed.
- Each scenario is statistically driven: you can reach 20 in many ways by rolling dice, just like you can have a good pitching staff in many compositions.
- If you perform poorly on your rolls, you are certain to lose: There was a 95% chance Vecna had more than 1 hit point remaining, and an 80% chance that Vecna had more than 4 hit points remaining. If you chose the 1 20-sided die option and rolled low, you had an 80% chance of losing from the outset. If you chose the 5 4-sided dice, your base was a 75% chance of losing.
- If you can’t guarantee optimal outcomes, sometimes the best recourse is to limit your chance of losing.
- Poor pitching will cause you to lose: if you have one ace on your staff and that ace fails, you are much more likely to lose. Your odds of winning are much better to have 5 pitchers capable of putting up status quo numbers than 1 pitcher who is boom or bust.
Done with the dice? Never going to Vegas? Sure, let’s see the fantasy world implications of this data.
The question is: do we want one ace, or 5 “others.”
This is to say, the top 5 pitchers on the Player Rater were all easily draftable on the same team:
|Name||ADP||Current Player Rater|
Somewhere out there, there’s a team that started Corbin Burnes, Yordan Alvarez, Aaron Judge, Sandy Alcantara, and Pete Alonso. That team was probably given a C draft rating by FantasyPros and never shared on social media because it’s pretty unsexy. Yet, that team would be decimating the competition at the midway point. The remainder of the pitching staff? Verlander and McClanahan were sensible picks, coming much later in the draft.
Of course, these theoretical drafts mean nothing without real-life performance, right? So, let’s take a look at the top-performing teams from the National Fantasy Baseball Championship right now:
#1 Main Event Team SP:
|Name||ADP||Current Player Rater|
#1 Bestball Cutline Team SP:
|Name||ADP||Current Player Rater|
Sure, this is half the season and small sample size, but I think you can see the point that I’m driving home right now — diversifying over many, “smaller” players is generally more effective than “pocket aces.” These teams I’m showing you now aren’t beating just 11 other teams in a home league; they’re beating hundreds of other teams from people who ostensibly study fantasy baseball non-stop and are willing to pay significant money to compete in these leagues.
I suppose this is a long way of saying: over the course of a season, it’s better to keep a diverse group of pitchers, rather than to consolidate by trading away your “excess” staff.
ENYWHEY. This is all just a mathematical and metaphorical explanation of variance, hopefully in a more understandable way than saying, “Pitchers are kinda random.” When touts say, “You can make your own luck,” this is what they mean. Just like over a long time index funds are “safer” and have more “return” than individual stocks, this is the same for pitchers: the more status quo pitchers you have (and by status quo, I’m saying, the top 70 or so), the more likely you are to out-perform your peers. Only in DFS are speculative pitchers worth the investment.
And to circle back to my initial problematic, this is why it matters if your ranker is providing a score or a projection: arbitrary rankings a meaningless for fantasy sports. Hunches succeed in the short run because they amplify randomness, but they don’t work in the long run. Conversely, predictors of future long-term performance often look foolish in the short run because seemingly outlier results (i.e. “black swan” events — low-frequency events that skew otherwise predictable outcomes) seem to “disprove” predictions. In the end, we’re all armchair astrologers, and the best we can do is tell y’all what is most likely to happen.
With that, happy third birthday to SP me, and I hope you slay Vecna this weekend.
News and Notes
Jacob deGrom: Starting rehab, and not the Amy Winehouse kind. DeGrom has been out of professional action for about a year, and there are pundits out there who will chant, “Our fantasy savior is here!” Sure, deGrom’s per-game fantasy contribution will be nice — sometime around August or September. Just in time for the playoffs! But first, you gotta make it to the playoffs, right? Think about Mike Clevinger’s return after a year off — he just reached a 6IP outing after 3 months of the season. deGrom will be great, we’re all going to love watching him on Pitching Ninja or Sports Center or whatever, but statistically, he’s not going to be racking up enough innings to move your fantasy needle until he’s got his mound legs under him. Start every time in DFS, grab him in leagues if your unaware competitors left him on the FA, and enjoy the playoff run if he’s healthy.
Max Scherzer: Buying all the minor leaguers dinner and AirPods. Sometimes I wish MLB millionaires would take us fantasy analysts to dinner, right? Scherzer’s starting on Tuesday, but bad news is — that oblique muscle can be fussy. See Jack Flaherty in 2021…and 2022. Ostensibly, Scherzer — an MLB workhorse for over a decade — should know how to better recover from these types of injuries than the greenhorn Flaherty. But Scherzer’s also 38 years old and dealing with the Mets trainers, who have basically torched every arm they’ve come into contact with over the past few years. [whispers Firestarter, twisted firestarter] Start Scherzer when he returns, just temper those expectations a bit until we know if he’s actually healed or if the Mets are repeating their nefarious history.
Cristian Javier: Here’s what I wrote about Javier back in May:
Even after getting blown up for 7 runnings early in May, his time as a “starter” has been pretty effective: 10.5+ K/9, 3.90 ERA, and 3.75 FIP, and 2 Wins. His pitch mix is changing pretty drastically recently — nearly 15% more fastballs, a quintupling of curveballs, and a big cut to his slider usage. Plus, he’s gaining some velo on his fastball. So, the [Astros](https://razzball.com/teams/houston-astros/) are tinkering with both his role (starter/Roleless Rob) and pitch mix, and we could see a big change in his results soon. In his last start, he went 6IP with 9 strikeouts and a walk, which fantasy managers will take to the bank every day.
That was then, this is now:
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 2, 2022
I mean, I’m not saying my system is perfect — it has many known flaws. But I was also giving you fringe Tier 1 Cristian Javier when he was still a Roleless Rob, and now he’s SP15 on the year. Yes, dear readers — that is why I decided to include “non-starters” in my starting pitcher list. In fact, I picked up Javier a month before I told y’all to get him, and I put this bid 10-20% below what I expected his true value to be. Sometimes, it’s rough being ahead of the curve (takes a bath in milk and ego).
Keegan Thompson: On that same fabled May table that called the success of Cristian Javier, I see Keegan Thompson sitting nonchalantly at the top of Tier 3, ahead of guys like Jose Berrios, Ian Anderson, George Kirby, etc. Flash forward a month and Thompson is SP36 on the year, and after a couple rough outings in early June, he put up 24 strikeouts in 18 innings while walking a meager 3 batters. His ERA is 2.45 while his FIP over that period is 1.69, indicating he was even better than he performed. He’s available in 50% of RCLs, so go roster him and get excited about Cubs pitchers again. It’s worthwhile to point out that his swinging strike rate is a dismal sub-10% — even with these recent punchout-filled games, so we should expect a decent amount of regression. What we’re looking at is a Roleless Rob who is tinkering with his pitch mix — the fastball mix has increased nearly 10% over the past few outings, while his cutter and change mix has plummeted. Play to your strengths, Keegan!
Eli Morgan: We’ve already talked about two Roleless Robs who have broken the top [checks notes] 36 starting pitcher plateau on the Razzball Player Rater, and here’s a long-shot. Eli Morgan came into the Guardians organization as a starter and even started 18 games for the club last year. This year, Morgan transitioned into the Roleless Rob — he has 6 holds, 1 game started…and is SP39 on the year. Like, you can criticize me and my system as much as you like, but…your team’s SP 3 is sitting right out there on the waiver wire (rostered in 23% of RCLs). On the year, Morgan is 4-2 with an 11.25 K/9 and 2.75 ERA across 36IP. He’s got more Wins than Shane Bieber, a higher K/9 than Corbin Burnes, and a better ERA than Zack Wheeler. All he needs are…IP. Did I mention that Morgan was a starter in the Guardians’ organization from 2017-2021 and started 18 games last year? Far be it from me to re-define Morgan’s role from setup to starter…but…is Kirk McCarty really the spot starter? Is the Cal Quantrill project working out? If I’m in a deep league and looking for a speculative edge, I’m grabbing Morgan and crossing my fingers that the Guardians move him back to a starter role. Even in his current Roleless Rob spot, he’s SP39 on the year, and that’s plenty usable — might even get some vulture saves out of him down the road.
Kyle Gibson: Good news: The guy who was drafted before Mike Trout went in the record books! Bad news: it was because he allowed 4 homers in a row. Good news: If you started him, your fantasy season is basically over now and you can go back to watching Stranger Things. Bad news: Stranger Things Season 4 is…not good.
Yusei Kikuchi: Had a Twitter question about using the rest of season Razzball projections this weekend, so I figured I’d expand that question to this column. First: Ch’Y’all know that Razzball offers the most voluminous, most free (‘mericuh), most accurate rankings out there? I think people often forget these unassailable facts. ENYWHEY. Rudy’s got Kikuchi in the top 50 SP for the rest of the season, and he’s available in 90% of leagues. Add.
Spencer Strider: This
— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) July 3, 2022
|3||Enyel De Los Santos||CLE||2.344||-26|
|3||Duane Underwood Jr.||PIT||2.304||-13.1|
|3||Mark Leiter Jr.||CHC||2.148||0.6|