Chasing Wins is Stupid

It gets said time and time again during every single fantasy baseball season, but it’s just foolish to chase wins. Making trades or pick-ups based solely on the idea of acquiring wins is a losing proposition almost every single time. Think about it, you’re acquiring one piece (albeit a substantial piece) of an amazingly large puzzle that determines whether or not a team wins. Too often, fantasy owners are expectant of wins from their pitchers with strong ratios (ERA & WHIP) without giving enough consideration to the other factors, specifically how well the starter pitcher’s team performs for him while they are batting. The adage that you can’t win a game 0-0 has often been used when talking about excellent starting pitchers that have terrible offense behind them. This is primarily why it is stupid to chase wins. But if you are going to do it, at least do it right.

Shaun Marcum has a 2.65 ERA and 1.00 WHIP this season, yet he’s just 5-4 in 15 starts. Kyle Kendrick has a 4.59 and 1.44 WHIP yet he is 7-3 in 16 starts. The point of that exercise isn’t to suggest that you should want Kendrick over Marcum; rather it exemplifies the “unfairness” of win distribution at times. Marcum should probably have 10+ wins given how well he has pitched and Kendrick should be the one with four or five victories. Livan Hernandez and his 5.22 ERA has yielded eight wins, but Scott Olsen and his 3.47 ERA has netted a meager four wins.

So what is the “right” way to chase a category not worth chasing? It comes down to information, specifically information that goes beyond earned run averages and WHIP ratios. I do not encourage ignoring either of those because regardless of how many wins you need, you can’t blow up those ratios just to maybe grab a handful of elusive wins. The key information necessary is Run Support. Run Support is the amount of runs a pitcher’s offense is scoring for him while he is the pitcher of record. It is calculated like an ERA, that is to say, it’s also based off of a nine inning average.

For the piece, I took starters with 80 or more innings this season and sorted them by their Run Support. I broke the 105 qualifying pitchers into two groups. The ones with good Run Support are those getting 5.00+ runs and the rest are those getting “bad” Run Support. Using that measure splits the group very evenly with 54 pitchers falling under the good column and the remaining 51 being part of the bad group.

Here are the findings of the study:
• The good group is averaging 7.3 wins apiece on an average of 16.3 starts, 12 of which are resulting in decisions (74%)
• The bad group is averaging 5.1 wins apiece on an average of 16.2 starts, 11.3 of which are resulting in decisions (70%)
• The good group has a composite ERA of 4.16 and composite WHIP of 1.36 in 5280 innings
• The bad group has a composite ERA of 4.07 and composite WHIP of 1.33 in 5077.3 innings
• Of those in the good group, eight have fewer than six wins (15%)
• Of those in the bad group, 32 have fewer than six wins (63%)

So what does this all mean? It means, obviously, that Run Support is a key factor in determining wins and losses regardless of a pitcher’s performance (that is, ERA & WHIP). Now that doesn’t mean I advocate grabbing a group of shlocks with good run support and try to pile up a ton of wins. To wit, those with good Run Support but an ERA of 4.40 or worse are averaging five wins while those below are enjoying an average of eight wins. The pitcher’s performance still matters so don’t just roll the dice on lesser pitchers playing for supposedly high-octane offenses and assume that will be enough. Take the time to see who is getting the support and make your decisions accordingly.

Chasing wins isn’t for me. I will still take the better peripheral performance 100 out of 100 times. Give me Shaun Marcum (five wins), John Danks (five) and Greg Maddux (three) before Ted Lilly (eight wins), Kyle Kendrick (seven) and Oliver Perez (six). That said, you can listen to any fantasy baseball radio show or peruse any fantasy baseball message board and find plenty of threads that say, “I needed wins, so I grabbed Mike Pelfrey since he’s on the Mets and they have a great offense.” A great offense isn’t equal to all pitchers. Kyle Kendrick tops the list at 8.13 runs, but teammates Adam Eaton, Cole Hamels and Brett Myers are all on the list of pitchers getting poor run support despite Philadelphia being the league’s 4th-best team in terms of runs scored.

The only area with more volatility than wins is saves and both can make you gray or worse yet, bald if you try to acquire them directly instead of trusting skills to be rewarded in the long run. Consider that of the 24 pitchers to win 15 or more games last year, only two had an ERA above 4.40 by season’s end (8%). That was a five-year low that followed 2006’s high watermark of 26% during the timeframe. Looking at the eight-win pitchers here at the halfway point shows that 12% of them have an ERA over 4.40.

Conclusion: Chasing wins is stupid.

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