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Fantasy Value In a 50-Game Season: Starting Pitchers

Having now passed the ides of June, there is still no start date for the 2020 season and no guarantee that we'll even ever get one. MLB and the MLBPA continue to pass proposals back and forth, with each side taking their turn at rejection. This puts baseball in a situation where Commissioner Rob Manfred is likely to unilaterally imposed a season length of his own determination, a power given to him in the original March agreement between baseball and the player's union.

All signs seem to point to around a 50-game season being the number that Manfred is most likely to land on, as that's the number of games that owners have said they can financially manage, given the player's insistence on getting the fully prorated salaries they had already agreed to. A 50-game season will have none of the subtlety, with no time to iron out the randomness inherent to the game. With only less than a third of a season, statistics (and their fantasy value) will run to extremes that just aren't usually seen. Lots of suspect pitchers can run elite ratios for 10 starts and stumble their way into a relative pile of wins. For example, after the first 50 games of 2019, Zach Davies was the 10th-most valuable starter in fantasy and Zach Eflin was #22. Marcus Walden was the #3 reliever and John Gant was #5.

Let's look back at the first 50 games in 2019 and see if there will be any strategies for the small-sample carnival that appears likely in 2020. We'll begin with the starting pitchers.

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Methodology For a 50-Game Season

We obviously don't have any precedent for a pandemic-shortened 50-game season. Even in a strike-shortened 1994 season, teams still played around 115 games and plenty of pitchers still had a sample size of innings that allowed more confidence in their numbers. It was a different game and all but 40 pitchers still managed over 150 IP and 37 finished with double-digit wins. And let us never forget that in just 115 games, Greg Maddux had a 1.56 ERA in 202 innings. Praise be to Maddux.

To get a more exact picture of how extreme samples in just 50 games could get, I determined the player values for a standard 12-team 5x5 Roto league using only the first 50 games played in 2019. I used the first 50 games, as opposed to the last 50 because even though the season wouldn't be starting until mid-July, players will still be at the beginning of their season in terms of hitters having seen major league pitching and vice-versa. Using the last 50 games I think would be judging players on the time after they'd been able to make adjustments that they won't have time to make in 2020.

With these "full-season" stats, I then used a standard z-score treatment for assigning dollar-values to each player. Note that this was an attempt to determine the best 108 pitchers and 154 position players in a standard league, not serve as a hindsight draft guide. So while more players than these would've been on rosters, these are the players who finished above replacement-level.

Z-scores (or zed-scores, as my Canadian friends call them) are a popular statistical tool used to assign fantasy value by judging how far away from average a player's particular stat is. The actual number of strikeouts a pitcher has doesn't matter; what matters is how that number compares to that of his peers. In other words, having 300 strikeouts isn't that great if everyone else averages 295 strikeouts.

After calculating and totaling the z-scores for each category (putting the rate categories on a scale that properly accounts for the number of innings pitched/plate appearances) I made positional adjustments and translated the totals to dollar-values. The dollar values were determined using a typical budget of $260 per team, with a 67-33 hitter/pitcher split.

 

50 Game Leaderboard

Included with stats and fantasy values from the first 50 games, are each player's overall and positional rankings, as well as 2019 ADP the difference between ADP and final rankings. Of the 108 best pitchers in our hypothetical season, 58 were starters. Here are their rankings after 50 games, as well as their final starting pitcher ranking in 2019 according to the Fangraphs auction calculator:

ADP 50 G Rank 2019 Rank Name $ VAL IP W SO ERA WHIP
20.9 1 1 Justin Verlander 32.1 72 8 89 2.24 0.73
180.2 2 6 Hyun-Jin Ryu 27.8 59 6 59 1.52 0.74
469.6 3 16 Mike Soroka 20.7 45 5 41 1.01 0.87
65.6 4 4 Zack Greinke 20.7 72 6 67 2.89 0.87
318.0 5 19 Chris Paddack 20.3 51 4 56 1.93 0.76
115.4 6 17 Luis Castillo 19.9 64 5 78 2.38 1.04
162.6 7 21 Tyler Glasnow 19.7 48 6 55 1.86 0.91
430.6 8 24 Domingo Germán 19.7 55 9 57 2.60 0.98
367.1 9 31 Mike Minor 17.7 71 5 72 2.55 1.13
669.4 10 62 Zach Davies 16.3 53 5 36 1.54 1.18
117.7 11 8 Charlie Morton 16.2 60 5 77 2.54 1.16
459.6 12 22 Jake Odorizzi 16.0 53 6 52 2.38 1.06
59.3 13 7 Stephen Strasburg 15.8 72 4 87 3.25 0.99
317.2 14 73 Matthew Boyd 15.2 67 4 80 3.11 1.01
566.2 15 15 Lucas Giolito 14.4 52 6 59 2.77 1.06
70.0 16 33 José Berríos 13.8 70 7 64 3.20 1.15
600.8 17 48 Max Fried 13.8 56 7 51 2.88 1.12
438.1 18 70 Caleb Smith 13.0 56 3 72 3.05 0.96
137.0 19 9 Shane Bieber 13.0 64 3 79 3.11 1.05
29.9 20 67 Blake Snell 12.8 56 3 78 3.07 1.01
652.5 21 23 Frankie Montas 12.6 54 5 52 2.67 1.13
308.8 22 102 Zach Eflin 12.4 62 5 47 2.76 1.15
80.3 23 80 German Marquez 12.2 72 5 72 3.38 1.11
702.7 24 61 Jordan Lyles 12.1 51 5 53 2.81 1.09
49.4 25 18 Patrick Corbin 12.0 64 4 76 3.25 1.10
132.4 26 92 Masahiro Tanaka 11.1 64 3 58 2.94 1.12
666.9 27 182 Martin Perez 11.0 58 7 56 2.95 1.33
293.9 28 45 Luke Weaver 10.3 57 3 62 3.14 1.06
5.4 29 10 Max Scherzer 10.1 71 2 96 3.41 1.18
745.0 30 30 John Means 9.7 44 5 34 2.68 1.10
582.6 31 Matt Shoemaker 9.5 29 3 24 1.57 0.87
24.1 32 2 Gerrit Cole 9.0 66 4 100 4.11 1.08
308.4 33 27 Brandon Woodruff 8.9 56 6 65 3.51 1.22
56.4 34 11 Clayton Kershaw 8.4 46 4 44 3.33 0.98
127.6 35 25 Kyle Hendricks 8.0 62 4 54 3.34 1.18
730.6 36 43 Chris Bassitt 7.6 36 2 44 2.48 1.07
717.3 37 157 Spencer Turnbull 7.3 54 2 54 2.68 1.30
181.4 38 192 Yusei Kikuchi 7.3 60 3 49 3.43 1.08
192.0 39 127 José Quintana 7.3 57 4 54 3.30 1.22
203.8 40 28 Kenta Maeda 7.1 51 5 52 3.51 1.19
11.0 41 3 Jacob deGrom 7.0 58 3 75 3.72 1.14
332.7 42 44 Marcus Stroman 7.0 64 2 55 2.81 1.34
205.6 43 138 Jon Lester 6.9 47 3 47 2.68 1.32
151.1 44 91 Cole Hamels 6.9 59 4 60 3.38 1.26
31.2 45 76 Trevor Bauer 6.6 71 4 80 3.95 1.17
55.0 46 34 James Paxton 6.0 38 3 52 3.11 1.19
123.4 47 65 Robbie Ray 5.9 53 3 67 3.25 1.35
38.6 48 12 Walker Buehler 5.5 49 4 46 3.83 1.05
98.3 49 81 David Price 5.2 41 2 46 3.29 1.07
451.1 50 68 Wade Miley 5.0 56 4 37 3.51 1.17
324.2 51 177 Trevor Williams 5.0 54 2 42 3.33 1.13
437.1 52 26 Jeff Samardzija 4.7 52 2 41 3.27 1.17
279.0 53 69 Julio Teheran 4.4 61 3 62 3.67 1.26
654.8 54 122 Jerad Eickhoff 4.4 39 2 38 3.23 1.13
660.4 55 149 Tyler Mahle 3.6 51 1 54 3.51 1.17
266.7 56 66 Marco Gonzales 3.5 62 5 45 3.65 1.35
91.7 57 38 Madison Bumgarner 3.3 68 3 70 4.10 1.19
211.4 58 148 Jake Arrieta 1.9 62 4 51 3.77 1.37

Did you know that Yusei Kikuchi had earned more after 50 games than Jacob deGrom? The eventual NL Cy Young winner dwarfed Kikuchi in strikeouts (75 K to 49 K) and they both had three wins but Kikuchi narrowly edged deGrom in both the ratio categories. Is this just a funny anamoly or can we we learn anything?

Before we get there, let's also look at the important players who failed to qualify. Here are the remainder of the pitchers who were within the top-300 of ADP but weren't in the top-108 of earnings after 50 games. In addition to their 2019 ADP and 50-game stats, are the eventual starting pitcher ranks for the entirety of the season according to the Fangraphs auction calculator:

2019 ADP 2019 Rank Name IP W SO ERA WHIP
13.9 40 Chris Sale 56 1 83 4.31 1.08
25.0 46 Aaron Nola 58 5 66 4.53 1.54
29.1 132 Corey Kluber 36 2 38 5.80 1.65
36.9 106 Carlos Carrasco 52 4 66 4.30 1.22
38.9 71 Noah Syndergaard 69 3 72 4.93 1.25
59.5 5 Jack Flaherty 54 4 58 4.19 1.25
61.0 13 Mike Clevinger 12 1 22 0.00 0.50
65.1 85 Jameson Taillon 37 2 30 4.10 1.13
87.1 54 Zack Wheeler 63 3 70 4.74 1.37
97.9 83 Miles Mikolas 62 4 46 4.76 1.17
121.6 89 Mike Foltynewicz 27 0 17 6.91 1.35
133.8 152 Chris Archer 41 1 40 5.75 1.55
143.2 115 J.A. Happ 58 4 50 5.16 1.30
143.5 35 Yu Darvish 55 2 67 5.40 1.62
151.5 156 Nick Pivetta 18 2 16 8.35 2.13
152.8 37 Eduardo Rodriguez 55 4 61 5.43 1.46
166.5 168 Rick Porcello 57 3 47 4.45 1.31
176.3 194 Kyle Freeland 52 2 46 6.02 1.43
177.4 214 Nathan Eovaldi 21 0 16 6.00 1.52
184.2 39 Rich Hill 27 1 31 2.67 1.07
194.9 59 Joey Lucchesi 48 3 46 4.28 1.26
199.1 63 Jon Gray 60 4 66 4.62 1.34
208.3 53 Ross Stripling 38 2 37 3.05 1.10
209.8 74 Joe Musgrove 59 3 45 4.27 1.15
212.6 84 Dallas Keuchel Inj
213.7 105 Andrew Heaney Inj
233.1 161 Kevin Gausman 48 2 50 4.31 1.25
238.7 94 Collin McHugh 45 3 48 6.04 1.23
239.9 78 Tyler Skaggs 41 4 40 5.01 1.40
247.6 90 Steven Matz 45 3 45 3.63 1.37
260.6 170 Zack Godley 41 1 35 7.90 1.78
266.5 184 Jhoulys Chacin 50 3 36 4.65 1.31
267.3 29 Julio Urias 28 2 32 3.18 1.09
272.0 14 Sonny Gray 50 1 57 3.78 1.22
276.2 137 Kyle Gibson 50 4 51 4.47 1.25
280.9 166 Michael Wacha 47 3 43 5.59 1.69
286.3 124 Alex Wood Inj
289.5 57 Anibal Sanchez 42 0 41 5.10 1.68
297.1 186 Reynaldo Lopez 60 3 57 6.03 1.56

Parsing through the above lists isn't about trying to gain insight about the stats themselves, or the players that could be helped or hurt by a hot or cold start in a shortened 2020. This is about seeing if there are any strategies that can be identified in the patterns of where value flowed to. Excepting saves, let's go category by category.

 

Wins

Ahh, the category that is both the most fickle and the least indicative of skill. One pitcher had nine wins through 50 games, one had eight wins, and three had seven wins. Of the 40 pitchers drafted inside the top-500 who finished below-replacement, only Aaron Nola (5) had more than four wins. Domingo German had a terrific ERA but his nine wins were a big part of him finishing as SP 6.

I think wins in a short-sample world will be even more disproportionally weighted. When we get to relievers, we'll talk about how I think this call for a more aggressive bullpen strategy but for now, there are some takeaways for evaluating starters in a shortened season.

Bump Up

  • Strong offense - A lot of wins are going to come from backend starters on good teams. Or above-average teams facing a relatively easy schedule. Martin Perez wasn't a superstar in 2019 but he was backed by the league's best offense and he picked up wins against Toronto, Seattle, and Cleveland, with two against Baltimore.
  • Strong Bullpens - Ask Zack Greinke if there was a difference in going from Arizona to Houston. And good relievers will protect leads for average pitching just as they will for the aces.
  • Going Deep - The longer you're in the game, the better chance you have to pick up the win. And the more efficient you are with your batters, the longer you'll potentially stay in the game. Simply put, we want the horses. Here are the top-25 pitchers in 2019 in terms of average innings per start (min. 10 starts). Also included is the average number of batters faced per innings and the accompanying rank:
Name GS W IP IP/GS rank TBF/IP rank
Justin Verlander 34 21 223 6.56 1 3.80 2
Mike Minor 32 14 208 6.51 2 4.14 42
Gerrit Cole 33 20 212 6.43 3 3.85 3
Shane Bieber 33 15 212 6.43 4 4.01 14
Max Scherzer 27 11 172 6.38 5 4.02 16
Jacob deGrom 32 11 204 6.38 6 3.94 7
Stephen Strasburg 33 18 209 6.33 7 4.02 17
Clayton Kershaw 28 16 177 6.33 8 3.96 11
Zack Greinke 33 18 209 6.32 9 3.88 4
Lance Lynn 33 16 208 6.31 10 4.20 56
Zack Wheeler 31 11 195 6.30 11 4.24 77
Hyun-Jin Ryu 29 14 183 6.30 12 3.96 9
Trevor Bauer 34 11 213 6.26 13 4.28 90
Jose Berrios 32 14 200 6.26 14 4.20 58
German Marquez 28 12 174 6.21 15 4.14 43
Noah Syndergaard 32 10 198 6.18 16 4.17 49
Sandy Alcantara 32 6 197 6.17 17 4.25 78
Mike Leake 32 12 197 6.16 18 4.24 76
Patrick Corbin 33 14 202 6.12 19 4.13 40
Ryan Yarbrough 14 3 86 6.12 20 3.97 12
Madison Bumgarner 34 9 208 6.11 21 4.06 25
Lucas Giolito 29 14 177 6.09 22 3.99 13
Walker Buehler 30 14 182 6.08 23 4.04 22
Mike Soroka 29 13 175 6.02 24 4.01 15
Mike Clevinger 21 13 126 6.00 25 3.96 10

Bump Down

  • Bad Offense - We must of course drop the inverses of the attractive situations from above. It's always hard to pick up wins when you're backed by a poor offense but every win will be that much more important in a shortened season and good pitchers on bad teams are getting dinged more in my book.

Here are the 20 pitchers taken inside the top-200 in 2019 who didn't finish above-replacement level after 50 games, along with how their team offenses were ranked in April/May:

19 ADP Name Tm W IP OPS Rank wOBA Rank
13.9 Chris Sale BOS 1 56 9 8
25.0 Aaron Nola PHI 5 58 17 19
29.1 Corey Kluber CLE 2 36 26 26
36.9 Carlos Carrasco CLE 4 52 26 26
38.9 Noah Syndergaard NYM 3 69 19 18
59.5 Jack Flaherty STL 4 54 16 16
61.0 Mike Clevinger CLE 1 12 26 26
65.1 Jameson Taillon PIT 2 37 24 23
87.1 Zack Wheeler NYM 3 63 19 18
97.9 Miles Mikolas STL 4 62 16 16
121.6 Mike Foltynewicz ATL 0 27 14 14
133.8 Chris Archer PIT 1 41 24 23
143.2 J.A. Happ NYY 4 58 7 6
143.5 Yu Darvish CHC 2 55 4 4
152.8 Eduardo Rodriguez BOS 4 55 9 8
166.5 Rick Porcello BOS 3 57 9 8
176.3 Kyle Freeland COL 2 52 6 7
184.2 Rich Hill LAD 1 27 3 3
194.9 Joey Lucchesi SDP 3 48 23 24
199.1 Jon Gray COL 4 60 6 7
  • Bad Bullpens and Defenses - Whether streaming, drafting, or trading, I'm not messing around with average pitchers backed by subpar pitchers coming in behind them. Please tell me more about all of the wins that the Angels bullpen will hang on to for the starters...I'll wait. And whoever thought to pair an atrocious Mets defense with a rotation full of pitch-to-contact pitchers, could you please stand up? Now please imagine all of New York simultaneously booing you.

 

Strikeouts

Elite strikeout rates are like warm and fuzzy security blankets in fantasy. Not only are they incredibly reliable from year to year but they are often the saving grace when pitchers go through rough patches in the other fantasy categories. When the ratios are running high and the wins have been dry, at least you'll always have the K's.

In a shortened season, however, there won't be as many games for differences in strikeout rates to prove to a be a separating factor in the final tally. Being as consistent as it generally is, elite k-rates are a grinding force compared to lesser rates. With every game that passes, the bigger the gap in strikeouts becomes. But with only 50 games, there just isn't enough time for the gaps to become canyons.

Take a look at the top-25 earnings from strikeouts in our mini-2019, along with their starting pitcher rank and ERA earnings rank. What seemed to contribute more to the overall value?

Name SO Rank SP Rank ERA Rank
Gerrit Cole 1 31 71
Max Scherzer 2 28 35
Justin Verlander 3 1 3
Stephen Strasburg 4 12 27
Chris Sale 5 60 81
Matthew Boyd 6 14 21
Trevor Bauer 7 39 68
Shane Bieber 8 18 26
Luis Castillo 9 4 5
Blake Snell 10 23 30
Charlie Morton 11 10 9
Patrick Corbin 12 24 33
Jacob deGrom 13 43 60
Noah Syndergaard 14 86 114
Mike Minor 15 9 6
Caleb Smith 16 22 29
German Marquez 17 19 34
Zack Wheeler 18 85 105
Madison Bumgarner 19 55 70
Zack Greinke 20 3 11
Robbie Ray 21 46 39
Yu Darvish 22 113 125
Carlos Carrasco 23 59 80
Aaron Nola 24 81 90
Jon Gray 25 78 97

Of the 25-highest strikeout earners, only five finished as top-10 pitchers and they all had ERA earnings that were as good or better than from strikeouts. On the other hand, seven finished outside of the top-50. Strikeouts by themselves will not save you and we won't be able to go by Bed, Bath, and Beyond either. There just won't be enough time.

 

Mitigating the Risks

Don't think I'm saying to avoid high strikeout pitchers. That would be silly. I'm only saying to be aware that they won't have the difference-making fantasy effect of year's past. Besides being aware, can anything else be done?

  • One Trick Ponies - I'm downgrading pitchers whose carrying trait is their whiffery if they could be dicey everywhere else. In a full season, I'm fine risking an ERA near four with Dinelson Lamet because of the power of his 30%+ K-rate. Not so much in one-third of a season.
  • Purge the Walkers - Pitchers with questionable walk-rates are also going to take a hit in my book. If your K-BB% is held aloft by a lot more K thank lack of BB, I'll be treading lightly. Rooo-bbie Ray!... Do not come on down!
  • No Homers Allowed - Once again, the more valuable strikeouts are, the more warts high-K guys can get away with having. And having a homer problem when strikeouts are cheaper and each earned run will count against you more than ever, is a big wart to have. It's hard to make me say something bad about Matthew Boyd but what if the homer issue from last year (1.89 HR/9 overall, 2.30 HR/8 in the second half) comes back in 2020? Looking at different bad stretches in his game log last season is downright terrifying. Two games with four home runs, three games with three home runs, and over two different three-game stretches, Boyd allowed a combined 8 HR. When Boyd's slinging up dingers, he does not mess around and that's the kind of volatility that I'm not keen to roster in a shortened season.

 

The Ratios

If you thought wins were important, wait until you get a hold of the ratios. Nothing in baseball is easy but lots of pitchers are capable of going on a 10-start stretch of elite ratios. And these men will be the kings of pitching in 2020 while making paupers of the rest.

Going back to z-scores for a minute, ratio stats are a hair trickier because the value isn't just about the actual number, it's about how long of a period that stat was achieved over. A 2.95 ERA over 200 IP is going to be worth more than a 1.50 ERA over 100 IP, etc.  I won't bore you with the math but calculating z-scores for ratios takes this factor into account and puts all stats on a level playing field, regardless of innings pitched.

By looking at the separate categorical z-scores, we can then determine how much of a player's value came from each category. Here again are the top starting pitchers from the first 50 games, with their ERA and WHIP, as well as their total z-score, their combined z-scores from the two categories, and what percent of that total was earned from ratios.

50 G Rank Name IP ERA WHIP zTOT zRatios Comb%
1 Justin Verlander 72 2.24 0.73 16.7 12.0 71.7%
2 Hyun-Jin Ryu 59 1.52 0.74 14.6 12.4 85.3%
3 Zack Greinke 72 2.89 0.87 10.6 8.1 76.1%
4 Luis Castillo 64 2.38 1.04 10.8 8.2 76.5%
5 Mike Soroka 45 1.01 0.87 10.8 10.1 93.5%
6 Domingo German 55 2.60 0.98 10.2 6.5 63.8%
7 Chris Paddack 51 1.93 0.76 10.1 9.2 91.3%
8 Tyler Glasnow 48 1.86 0.91 10.1 8.2 80.8%
9 Mike Minor 71 2.55 1.13 10.0 7.8 77.7%
10 Charlie Morton 60 2.54 1.16 8.9 6.4 72.2%
11 Zach Davies 53 1.54 1.18 9.3 8.8 95.1%
12 Stephen Strasburg 72 3.25 0.99 8.1 5.7 70.1%
13 Jake Odorizzi 53 2.38 1.06 8.4 6.6 78.6%
14 Matthew Boyd 67 3.11 1.01 7.8 5.7 73.3%
15 Jose Berrios 70 3.20 1.15 7.6 4.7 61.4%
16 Lucas Giolito 52 2.77 1.06 7.3 5.2 70.7%
17 Max Fried 56 2.88 1.12 7.3 5.0 68.3%
18 Shane Bieber 64 3.11 1.05 6.6 5.1 77.7%
19 German Marquez 72 3.38 1.11 6.5 4.3 65.7%
20 Zach Eflin 62 2.76 1.15 6.8 5.8 85.4%
21 Frankie Montas 54 2.67 1.13 6.6 5.4 81.3%
22 Caleb Smith 56 3.05 0.96 6.2 5.1 81.9%
23 Blake Snell 56 3.07 1.01 6.2 4.8 77.1%
24 Patrick Corbin 64 3.25 1.10 6.1 4.3 69.5%
25 Martin Perez 58 2.95 1.33 6.3 3.8 59.6%
26 Jordan Lyles 51 2.81 1.09 6.1 4.8 78.9%
27 Masahiro Tanaka 64 2.94 1.12 5.9 5.5 92.8%
28 Max Scherzer 71 3.41 1.18 5.4 3.7 67.6%
29 Luke Weaver 57 3.14 1.06 5.0 4.4 87.5%
30 Brandon Woodruff 56 3.51 1.22 4.6 2.1 46.5%
31 Gerrit Cole 66 4.11 1.08 4.0 0.9 23.4%
32 John Means 44 2.68 1.10 4.7 4.3 92.5%
33 Kyle Hendricks 62 3.34 1.18 4.1 3.4 81.1%
34 Marcus Stroman 64 2.81 1.34 4.4 4.7 106.3%
35 Matt Shoemaker 29 1.57 0.87 4.0 5.2 131.5%
36 Jose Quintana 57 3.30 1.22 3.8 3.0 79.2%
37 Spencer Turnbull 54 2.68 1.30 4.1 4.4 107.9%
38 Clayton Kershaw 46 3.33 0.98 3.5 3.2 91.7%
39 Trevor Bauer 71 3.95 1.17 3.3 1.2 36.6%
40 Cole Hamels 59 3.38 1.26 3.6 2.6 70.3%
41 Yusei Kikuchi 60 3.43 1.08 3.4 3.4 100.5%
42 Kenta Maeda 51 3.51 1.19 3.3 2.1 62.5%
43 Jacob deGrom 58 3.72 1.14 3.2 1.9 59.8%
44 Jon Lester 47 2.68 1.32 3.6 3.8 103.2%
45 Chris Bassitt 36 2.48 1.07 3.2 4.0 125.5%
46 Robbie Ray 53 3.25 1.35 3.1 2.3 72.1%
47 James Paxton 38 3.11 1.19 2.4 2.3 94.6%
48 Wade Miley 56 3.51 1.17 2.3 2.4 102.4%
49 Julio Teheran 61 3.67 1.26 2.2 1.6 71.9%
50 Walker Buehler 49 3.83 1.05 1.9 1.5 79.9%
51 Trevor Williams 54 3.33 1.13 2.2 3.1 142.2%
52 Marco Gonzales 62 3.65 1.35 2.1 1.2 56.9%
53 Jeff Samardzija 52 3.27 1.17 2.1 3.0 147.0%
54 David Price 41 3.29 1.07 1.8 2.5 140.3%
55 Madison Bumgarner 68 4.10 1.19 1.4 0.4 25.6%
56 Jerad Eickhoff 39 3.23 1.13 9.6 2.3 24.1%
57 Tyler Mahle 51 3.51 1.17 1.3 2.2 168.8%
58 Jake Arrieta 62 3.77 1.37 1.2 0.6 46.6%

You don't have to have high scores in both categories but you better nail one of them. Zach Davies wasn't the #11 starter because of his five wins (2.0 z) and 36 K (0.3 z), or even his 1.18 WHIP (o.6 z). It was because of a 1.54 ERA over 53 IP that was good for an 8.1 z that was the 4th-highest, just behind Justin Verlander's 8.2 z.

Ratios (especially ERA) are going to be the dominant fantasy force for pitchers. Why was Jacob deGrom only the #43 starting pitcher? Just three wins didn't help but it was still above the 1.7 wins that the rest of the pool averaged. His 1.18 WHIP was below the average 1.28 WHIP and deGrom's 75 K was the 13th-highest. However, while his 3.72 ERA was below the average 4.2o ERA, his 1.6 z-score was the 60th-highest among starters. And that's how you turn a top-10 draft pick into an SP4. It's not just deGrom's mediocre ERA, it's also how good everyone else's was.

 

Playing Ratio Whack-A-Mole

You're still going to draft Jacob deGrom and you're still not going to draft Zach Davies. Pointing out the above is about understanding the risks that starters will carry in a shortened season. However, can we really do anything but draft good pitchers and hope for the gods of luck to smile upon them? Sure we can!

  • Diversify Your Bonds - I'm going to want "safe" starters with less ceiling but more floor; and I'm going to want more of them. In terms of who returns the most total value, the trio of Scherzer (16 ADP), Strasburg (29 ADP), and Paddack (50 ADP) would be the favorite over Ryu (146 ADP), Hendricks (153 ADP), and Maeda (162 ADP). However, given their respective draft prices, I'd far prefer the latter group.
  • Protect Your Neck - In defense of my ratios, the bar will be lower for sitting a good pitcher with a tough matchup. You usually want to trust the process with pitchers; always start your studs and you're usually going to start your top three or four guys in a majority of their matchups. But I'll have my safety vest on this year and will be willing to send anyone to the pine. And if baseball is played in normal stadiums, I promise my pitchers will pitch zero innings at Coors. Zero. The upside won't be worth it given that just one bad start can blow an entire season of value.
  • Nothing to FAAB With - No time for waiting, no time for caution. I'm not saying to bust your bankroll early and often, but rather be more willing to gamble on (and pay for) pitchers who may be set up for any sort of hot streak. And also be ready to drop them like hot lava. Look at the below example of our poster boy, Zach Davies, if we were to jump his 2019 season forward in time to our COVID reality of 2020:

Davies started improbably, giving up just three earned runs in his first four starts. Given that starts three and four were against the Dodgers, you probably wouldn't have wanted to open the wallet then. But after he got through them with a 1.19 ERA and staring at an upcoming schedule of St. Louis, Colorado (at home) and the Mets, I'd be looking to spend big, if necessary.

I wouldn't be counting on him keeping it up all (shortened) season, I'd just be looking to squeeze whatever juice was left. Catching even a three or four-game stretch in the middle of a hot streak could be enough to earn back a large FAAB expenditure in this shortened season.

 

Wrap It Up

The statistical extremes that will come along with a shortened season will make projecting performance (and fantasy value) even more difficult than usual. We can't predict the future but that doesn't mean we need to throw our hands up and declare it all a game of chance. It just means that we have to stack every advantage we can, no matter how small.

We've covered the starters but I think relievers will have just as much potential to return excess value and could fill in any holes left by being more careful with some of the players covered above. Next time out we'll dig into the bullpen and see if there are any golden nuggets to be mined. Until then, may Maddux shine down upon all of us and bring tidings soon of a 2020 season.

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