Posts tagged ‘Chad Billingsley’

Monday: 07.4.2011

Hail Mary Team, Part 4

Now we take to the mound with the Hail Mary Team.  As I mentioned in the introduction piece, fixing rate stats (ERA & WHIP most commonly) is harder than piling up counting stats.  The more the innings pile up, the harder it is to make a significant move in ERA or WHIP without Justin Verlander-in-June-type numbers from a pitcher or three (0.92 ERA, 0.71 WHIP in 49 IP).  OK maybe you don’t need guys to throw that well, but you need some heavy innings of quality work to move the needle.

Of course that also depends on how stratified your league’s ERA & WHIP standings are to begin with and given how plentiful pitching has been this year, they might be pretty tight top to the bottom.  All that said, the guys on this list have the kind of skills to lower their ERA and WHIP totals by a decent margin over the second half, but the results haven’t been up to expectations so they can likely be had at a discount.  This group will contain a lot of strikeout upside and hopefully their continued display of strong skills will start to net the results they deserve leading in turn to wins along with several innings of quality ERA and WHIP.

Catchers, First Basemen & Second Basemen

Shortstops & Third Basemen

Outfield

STARTING PITCHER:

Zach Greinke (MIL) – The ultimate Hail Mary Teamer, Greinke should be your first target for pitching to see if that ugly 5.66 ERA can bring in a heavy discount.  For a lot of owners it won’t (as they realize he has been better than a 5.66), but even if he comes with a small discount he is worth it.  His skills have been amazing (11.7 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and 6.4 K/BB), but he has been brutalized by absurd LOB% (55%) and HR/FB (15%) rates that just can’t continue or at least I certainly wouldn’t bet on them continuing.  His .341 BABIP is a career high, too.  That could be equal parts his 24% line drive rate (highest since 2006) and a poor infield defense.  Adding it all together, there just seems to be no way that he can continue to post the base skills he is and yet carry an ERA that high.  Perhaps you can turn your best hitter or pitcher into Greinke plus something else to start your Hail Mary Team.

Matt Garza (CHC) – I was worried about Garza heading into Wrigley especially with an escalating flyball rate the last few years.  Without a skills change, I thought he would get knocked around for plenty of home runs, especially on afternoons when the wind was blowing out.  Alas, he made a major skills change.  His flyball rate has gone from 45% down to 28%(!) with his groundball rate rising in concert from 36% to 50%.

However his work with men on base has ailed him this year thus what should have been the makings of a career year (2.87 xFIP, 2.98 FIP) has resulted in modest improvements from a 3.91 ERA last year to 3.77 this year.  There is room for more and Garza is one to target.  His current ERA won’t earn you a clearance price via trade, but a 3.77 doesn’t quite get his current manager what it used to either so don’t buckle into your trade partner’s demands without some push & pull.

Chris Carpenter (STL) – Too bad I didn’t think of this strategy a few weeks ago because Carpenter would have been a perfect selection back in mid-June.  However he has started to turn a corner with back-to-back one run outings in seven and nine innings, respectively, lowering his ERA from 4.47 to an even 4.00.  Of course that is still a decent bit below average as he has just a 90 ERA+ for the season.

His hit rate has leapt from 8.2 to 9.8 H/9 this year.  He allowed 8+ hits nine times all of last year and has already matched that total in 2011.  He has doubled his outings of 10+ hits allowed from two to four.  While part of it may be the downgrade from Brendan Ryan to Ryan Theriot at shortstop, a bigger part is a massive surge in line drive rate to 24%, a three year high.  His groundball rate has dipped 5% as a result, too.  His skills suggest an ERA of about three and a quarter so there’s still room to go even in the midst of his current mini-hot streak.

Ricky Nolasco (FLO) – Is there a more maddening pitcher in fantasy baseball?  After slightly outperforming his skills in 2008 (3.52 ERA/3.69 xFIP), he has massively underperformed against his skills the last two and a half years.  ERAs of 5.06, 4.51 and this year’s 4.08 have left us scratching our heads standing next to xFIP totals of 3.23, 3.37 and 3.50.  Like Carpenter, Nolasco has seen a dramatic rise in his line drive percentage up to a career high of 25% after sitting 19-22% for his career.

The dip in strikeouts from 8.4 to 6.5 is a bit alarming, too, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio remains very strong at 3.1 so he should still be better than a 4.08 ERA.  I am still willing to bet on a guy who had three straight years of 4.4 K/BB spanning 555 innings coming into this year, especially if I’m going all-in on a season that hasn’t panned out as initially planned.  The Hail Mary Team is obviously about embracing risk, it is really the only way for the strategy to succeed.  Well the risk panning out is the only for it to succeed, but the first step is not being afraid of risk.

Edwin Jackson (CWS) – I have put him in my spot starter picks several times this year.  His talent is starting to shine through more often than in years past, but the results haven’t yet caught up as his ERA (4.24) is nearly a run higher than his xFIP (3.28).  He is yet another guy suffering from an outlier line drive rate as his is also at a career high of 25% after just once topping 19% since he became a full-time starter back in 2007 (21%, 2008).  So if that evens out this year, his hit rate will come down from 10.1 and with it the WHIP will drop and his results will start to resemble his true skill level.  I find that a lot of fantasy managers don’t really like Jackson so if you present them with an opportunity to remove him from their team, they may happily oblige at less than full value.

Mat Latos (SD) – We saw the kind of heights that Latos can reach last year and there aren’t any glaring issues in his profile that suggest he can’t get back there again this year.  The flyball rate has ticked up from 40% to 46% while the groundball rate is down from 45% to 40%, but that hurts a lot less in his home ballpark and a few others within his division where it is reasonable to assume he will find himself pitching throughout the second half.  He isn’t pitching like the sub-3.00 ERA guy from 2010, but you don’t need him to in order for him to be worth your while in a trade.  Test the waters on him in your league and if the Latos manager in your league is in a tight ERA battle, maybe you have someone with a shiny ERA he would be more interested in.

Chad Billingsley (LAD) – Billingsley appears to be coming out of his funk a bit having lowered his ERA from 4.65 on June 15th to 4.15 after Sunday night’s start.  Of course that is still below average with an 87 ERA+ and a buying opportunity is there even if the price hasn’t dropped significantly.  His skills remain rock solid with very little movement in his strikeout and walk rates since 2007. If he can just avoid those full-on implosion starts (6+ ER), he should be able to chisel his ERA down to 3.50ish by season’s end if not better.

Max Scherzer (DET) – Even if he isn’t on your team this year, you probably have an idea of how maddening his season has been.  And now 18 starts in, I can’t imagine a fantasy manager sticking to his guns and making someone pay full price for a 4.90 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.  Now he might just say “I have come this far and I’m going to stick it out,” and if so you just move on.  But more likely you can find something even on your down-trodden team that will entice his manager to make a move at something well under preseason costs.

For your end, you are getting a guy who is still posting very strong skills (8.1 K/9, 2.5 K/BB), but one who has been bitten hard by gopheritis (1.4 HR/9, 12% HR/FB).  Not only have his home run and home run per flyball rates hit career highs, but he is also allowing a career high 44% flyballs making it that much worse.  The Tigers fired their pitching coach on Sunday and perhaps newly promoted bullpen coach Jeff Jones can figure out what Rick Knapp couldn’t and get Scherzer back on his 2010 second half track.

Brandon Morrow (TOR) – In what was supposed to be another step forward if not a full on breakout season, Morrow has actually regressed in 2011 despite maintaining his 11.0 K/9 and lowering his walk rate from 4.1 to 3.6 BB/9.  Alas his efforts with men on base have continued to plague him as his LOB% has dropped from 69% in 2010 to 65% this year.  The talent is in there and we saw last August what it can deliver as he went 30 innings with a 2.97 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 14.7 K/9 en route to a 3-0 record in five starts.  Roll the dice on that potential without question, especially in a redraft league where you are taking a shot.

Edinson Volquez (CIN) – Another live arm (9.3 K/9) with an ERA that seems to belie his true skill (5.65 ERA, 3.97 xFIP).  A lot of his problems have been tied to home runs.  His insane 18% HR/FB has done a number on his ERA and even if that just evens out to his career mark of 12% (as opposed to league average around 9-10%), his ERA will feel it in a big way.  His ownership rates are way down so he is guy you might be able to get without a trade.  Hell, he may be a big reason you are in this place to begin with in which case just hold on.  The talent is there.  Let’s see if it comes to fore in the second half.

Brett Anderson (OAK) – Originally we were worried he would need Tommy John Surgery, but that appears to be out of the question now.  His return this year is still a question, but we’re throwing a Hail Mary here, so if a contender in your league has him, he might opt to get out from under that risk and get someone into his rotation who is actually pitching every fifth day.

Tuesday: 03.22.2011

Walking the Walk

Have you ever wondered how much analysts follow the advice they dole out?  I get curious sometimes when I’m listening to various podcasts or reading different sites.  In case that is something you have wondered about me, I wanted to share some information from a 15-team mixed league draft I just completed.

All told, I drafted five of the pitchers from the list of 18 favorites for 2011:

Chad Billingsley (95th overall, 7th round)

Ricky Romero (176th overall, 12th round)

Edwin Jackson (245th overall, 17th round)

James McDonald (296th overall, 20th round)

Tim Stauffer (326th overall, 22nd round)

I had a few others queued up and watched as they were swiped right before I could take them.   Of the many interesting picks throughout the draft, one that is pertinent to this discussion was Brandon Morrow being taken 101st overall (7th round).  Remember what I said about him yesterday, “I think he is getting a little trendy raising his value, but that doesn’t dissuade me.”

Going that early does dissuade me.  I like him a lot, but I have my limits.  Notable names taken shortly after him that I value higher include: Shaun Marcum, Wandy Rodriguez, Colby Lewis, Brett Anderson, Hiroki Kuroda and Romero.  And that was just in the subsequent two rounds.  In a 15-team draft, you will have to extend out at times to get your target, but that was a bit egregious as far as I’m concerned.

Even though there is a near-100% chance nobody cares, here’s how my whole team turned out.  I picked 5th and it’s a hold + saves league otherwise standard 5×5 categories:

C – J.P. Arencibia

C – A.J. Pierzynski

1B – Billy Butler

2B – Omar Infante

3B – Evan Longoria

SS – Derek Jeter

CI – Gaby Sanchez

MI – Danny Espinosa

OF – Shin-Soo Choo

OF – Ichiro Suzuki

OF – Jay Bruce

OF – Nick Markakis

OF – J.D. Drew

UT – Adam Lind

BE – Juan Uribe

BE – Mark DeRosa

BE – Bill Hall


P1 – Chad Billingsley

P2 – Ricky Romero

P3 – John Lackey

P4 – Edwin Jackson

P5 – James McDonald

P6 – Tim Stauffer

P7 – Aroldis Chapman

P8 – Mike Adams

P9 – J.J. Putz

BE – Rick Porcello

BE – Randy Wells

BE – Jordan Walden

BE – Bobby Jenks

Miguel Cabrera was available at 5, but I went with Longoria because third base dries up in a hurry and I didn’t think Ryan Zimmerman would make it back to me in the 2nd round (I was right, he went 5 picks before me in that round).  I was going to build my infield with Dustin Pedroia in the 2nd round, but he went the pick before more so I shifted to outfield with Choo.  The same exact thing happened in the 3rd round as I was looking infield again with Jose Reyes and he went three picks before me so I shifted again to the outfield.

I think the depth/scarcity of outfield is consistently misperceived in these leagues with five outfield spots.  I do think there is some scarcity within the position in that middle area so I decided to build a beastly outfield since I covered the two scarcest positions very well (Longoria) and pretty well (Jeter).

I trust myself enough with pitching that I can work with this group and on the wire to put together a strong staff.  I would rather have enough offense at the outset and have to work on the pitching aspect than vice versa.  Consider one team that has Roy Halladay, C.C. Sabathia, Tommy Hanson, Chris Carpenter, Carlos Marmol, Brian Wilson and Jonathan Papelbon giving them the makings of a tremendous staff, but a severely lagging offense after Miguel Cabrera including an outfield “highlighted” by Brett Gardner along with Franklin Gutierrez, Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce and Seth Smith.

That’s just one example, of course.  But I got “my guys” on that pitching staff and if they perform as I expect/hope, I may not have to do much work on the wire, anyway.

Monday: 03.21.2011

18 of My Favorite Pitchers for 2011, Part 1

Any fantasy baseball magazine, book or website is bound to have a sleepers section somewhere.  They are a fantasy staple loved by all and for good reason as everyone is looking to get the next big thing at a great price that will propel them to a title and help them for years to come if they play in a keeper league.

Of course in the Information Age we live in these days, it is really hard to get anything by your leaguemates in terms of a legitimate sleeper.  The more obvious sleepers turn up in seemingly every one of these articles all of sudden making them overvalued or at least just fairly priced sapping the value.  I am not here to bash sleeper articles as I have done them for the last five or six years whether here or at the various outlets I have worked for in the past.  I wanted to try a different approach this year.

Instead of worrying about sleeper label and pretending like we are pulling a fast one on our leaguemates, let’s just look at some guys I like for 2011.  These aren’t necessarily sleepers as many will be firmly entrenched on the radar of your opponents.  Nor are they necessarily breakout candidates, either.  After all, who really knows what defines a breakout?  It can mean 10 different things to 10 different people.

If you read the Starting Pitching Guide then you won’t be surprised by some of these guys as I made it clear how much I liked them there by suggesting you aggressively buy in or go the extra dollar or a host of other ways I used to convey my excitement for them.  Essentially if they are on this list, I like them more than their current projection meaning there is profit to gained.  There isn’t a uniform theme to this piece so let’s just get started with the names and you’ll see what I mean.

1. Cole Hamels – Seeing Hamels on a list like this might come as a surprise after all he doesn’t fall too far out of the top 10 starting pitchers in most drafts.  His inclusion is due to the fact that I have him as a top 5 guy for 2011.  He has Cy Young-quality stuff.  It was a travesty that his pitching led to just 12 wins, but that’s why judging pitchers on wins is foolish.  He is a bit overshadowed by teammates Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, but I think he’s the best bet from a production-to-cost ratio.

2. Tommy Hanson – Like Hamels, this is a superstar in the making, but an overreaction to a 10-11 record from 2010 is depressing his value a bit.  Guys like Hamels and Hanson are the ones who will be my aces in 12-team mixed leagues because I refuse to pay the premium attached to the Lincecums and Felixes of the world.  If you’re looking for guys to take Ubaldian leaps from good to great, target Hanson and this next guy…

3. Chad Billingsley – Noticing a trend with these first three guys?  Billingsley also had a record that belied his true value going 12-11 for the second straight season masking his return to 2008’s 2.5 K/BB and a career best 0.4 HR/9.  Are you surprised to learn that he is just 26 years old?  In a standard 12-team mixer, I’m building my hitting base filling in some scarcity fields like shortstop (if I can get Hanley or Tulow), third base and outfield (remember, we need five) while taking advantage of the first base depth with those first 6-8 picks then pairing Hanson and Billingsley as my 1-2 punch.  My offense is going to be better than the guy who took Halladay in round 1 or 2 and my pitching is going to nearly on par and potentially better even if he paired a Sabathia or Weaver with him using yet another early round pick.

4. Brandon Morrow – I think he is getting a little trendy raising his value, but that doesn’t dissuade me.  Last year, I loved Gio Gonzalez and Jonathan Sanchez to make big leaps forward and they didn’t let me down.  Morrow is my guy of that class this year.  If he can shave a full walk off of his rate like Gonzalez did, he would be near 3.0 and if it didn’t cost him over two strikeouts in the process (as it did Gonzalez), he can be truly elite.

5. Ricky Romero – I love me some Blue Jays this year.  I will lift a quote from myself from the Guide re: Romero, “Romero meets the three criteria of Sporer Trifecta of Excellence (patent pending) with a strong strikeout rate (7.5 K/9), a truly elite groundball rate (55% career) and an above average changeup (though it was valued higher in ’09)”.  He has the stuff to take a step forward, but even a 2010 repeat has value at the cost I’m seeing for him in the two drafts I have already done and the expert leagues that have already taken place.

6. Hiroki Kuroda – A victim in the W-L column going just 11-13 last year despite a very strong skill set.  He has managed three straight sub-3.80 ERA seasons in the majors despite failing to reach even 70% LOB% let alone the league average 72% mark.  His age (36) undoubtedly scares some off, but nothing in his profile warrants fear (50%+ GB rate, 2.2 or better BB/9 and improving K/9 reached 7.3 last year).  He comes cheaper or at the same cost as the likes Matt Garza and Tim Hudson despite a more stable set of skills and even a tick of upside if that LOB% bumps up to average.

7. Edwin Jackson – Not much love out there for Jackson for some reason.  Maybe because it took him so long to begin paying any sort of dividends on his elite prospect status (4th in baseball in 2004) or because he teased and tantalized with so many false starts prior to that breakout year in Detroit back in 2009.  In Don Cooper I trust.  In 75 innings he righted Jackson’s season from the disaster it was in Arizona assisting Jackson to eight quality starts out of 11 including a run of three in which he struck out 11, 10 and 11.  I think Cooper and the Sox will finally extract the best out of Jackson for a full season returning a sharp profit on his current value.

8. James McDonald – This is the third year of me driving the McDonald Bandwagon.  He’s just getting going after a trade to the Pirates finally got him into a rotation so I’m not going anywhere now.  He went for $4 in NL Tout Wars over the weekend.  He is the kind of endgame play that can yield $10+ dollars of profit and be integral to a championship run.  Frankly I’m surprised he was so cheap as he has popped up on a lot of sleeper lists this offseason, much to my chagrin.

9. Jordan Zimmermann He got a nice little 71-inning (31 in the majors) tune up last year coming back from Tommy John Surgery displaying 99% of his velocity from 2009 (92 of 93 MPH) and posted some decent stats albeit in smallish sample.  I am quite intrigued by what he can do in a full season (though a full season this year may mean  approx. 170 innings) having displayed strikeout an inning stuff throughout his minor league career as well as the 91 innings from his rookie year.  Injury returns are often a great source of profit and Zimmermann will be a prime candidate in this field for 2011.

Tomorrow’s portion of the list will feature nine names geared more towards single leagues and deeper mixed leagues.  That doesn’t mean they are entirely out of play for 10 and 12 mixed leaguers, especially if you have a reserve roster or taxi squad, but a lot of those leagues will have several of these guys on the waiver wire after the draft.

Ed. Note – if you’re wondering where Dan Haren is on this list, I figured he was too obvious to include.  If you’ve been reading my work at all this offseason, participated in the chat I hosted a few weeks back or talked with me via Twitter, you know how much I love this guy for 2011 (and beyond for that matter).  He is an unheralded ace with one of the best and most stable skills profiles in all of baseball.  He was tied with Max Scherzer as the 6th most expensive starter in AL Tout Wars ($20), a bargain in my book.  I have him 3rd-best in the AL behind Felix Hernandez and Jon Lester, just ahead of Justin Verlander.

Friday: 05.15.2009

K/BB as an ERA Indicator Addendum

Over at Owner’s Edge by Fanball.com, I wrote a piece about strikeout-to-walk ratios and how they relate to a pitcher’s ERA. I looked at the past two seasons to see how strong a correlation there was between K/BB ratio and ERA. If a strong enough relation existed, I wanted to use that information to see which pitchers stood out as buy-low or sell-high targets based on their K/BB and ERA thus far.

I was happy with the results in terms of the players identified, but some of my statistical conclusions left me a little uneasy, so I went back to the drawing board a bit. This time around, I went five years back and grabbed every qualifying ERA. This data set presented 393 samples with ERAs ranging from 2.27 to 6.47 and K/BB ratios from 8.3 to 1.1. I was comfortable with the depth of this set. In the original piece I used a 2.0 K/BB threshold, but given that 2.0 is the baseline that we generally look for in the fantasy baseball world, I thought it was a bit low for the purposes of what I’m looking to get out of the data.

I bumped it up to 2.5. At 2.0, it’s essentially a coinflip which isn’t surprising considering that it is hardly an elite mark. In fact there were 248 data points of 2.0 or better and it was a 60%/40% split of ERAs +/- 4.00. The worst ERA in the entire study, Eric Milton‘s disgusting 6.47 offering from 2005, actually topped the 2.0 threshold thanks to his sparkling 2.5 BB/9 rate. Moving to 2.5 cuts out the bottom 31 ERAs in the study and 46 of the bottom 50.

Here are the results with the deeper data pool and higher K/BB threshold:
k-bb ratio

4.00+ ERA

The above charts show that a 2.5+ K/BB ratio is three times more likely to yield a sub-4.00 ERA than not. Within a given season, there will be a group of pitchers whose skills should have netted them a better ERA, but poor defense or simply bad luck plagued them and left their skills unrewarded. The average was eight such starters per season. Given that recent trends have between 80 and 90 ERA qualifiers, it is about 9-10% of starting pitchers that get the short of the stick regardless of skills.

Here are some of the best buy-low opportunities who are also at risk of being part of this year’s batch of unlucky pitchers:

buy low

I don’t think you can really buy low on Justin Verlander given how unbelievably hot he has been lately striking out 9, 11, 11 and 13 in his past four starts. However all four of his AL Central counterparts on the list should come at legitimate discounts. I’d target Minnesota’s Kevin Slowey above all. His 0.9 BB/9 is amazing and while it might not hold 100%, he maintained a 1.3 in 160 IP last year so it’s unlikely to jump up too much. Rich Harden, Jon Lester and Jake Peavy won’t be bargain bin pick ups because of their gaudy strikeout totals (and because Harden and Peavy don’t have outrageous ERAs), but if you can get them at any discount, I’d recommend doing so immediately.

The at-risk group has it’s fair share of star power on it, too:

sell high

Three-fifths of the New York Yankees rotation is overachieving so far while the remaining two are getting obliterated (A.J. Burnett-5.36, Phil Hughes-7.56). And that over achievement has earned a record just one game above .500. Any regression could be very damaging and quickly push the Yankees to fourth in their division. But I actually expect Sabathia and Chamberlain to get better as we close out May and head into June. Sabathia will up his K-rate while Chamberlain will trim his BB-rate and continue to strikeout a batter per innings.

Jair Jurrjens and Brian Bannister are major red flags. We know what the bottom looks like for Bannister (1.9 K/BB in 183 IP last year led to 5.76 ERA), but Jurrjens flirted with the 2.0 threshold last year and ended up having a pretty successful year. Of course he did go for a sub-3.00 ERA in the first half and then regress heavily with a 4.49 in the second half. At least in 2008 he was straddling the limit with a 1.9 first half and 2.1 second half. I’d sell him instantly. And I’d have never bought Bannister so if you do have him, cash in that lottery ticket as soon as you can because it has an expiration date.

The names on this list that I’m least worried about are: Chad Billingsley, Max Scherzer and Matt Garza because of their strong K-rates of 9.3, 8.4 and 7.9, respectively. Yes Mitchell Boggs is toting an 8.1 K/9, but the last time he reached a mark that high was his final year at the University of Georgia in 2005 so I’m not buying it in the least with just 22 innings of work. As I mentioned earlier, I do think Chamberlain will turn it around, but there is still some risk because he has a nearly 10.0 H/9 rate to go with the gaudy BB-rate. There are concerns that he is trying to save himself to go six or seven innings and it’s causing him to be very hittable in the rare instances that he is actually in zone.

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