Assessing the New Pitching Landscape

I was perusing some league rosters last night preparing for the upcoming week when it struck me how strong a particular team’s pitching staff was after a month of play.  I then flipped back to my own team and noticed it was similarly strong.  Neither of our teams is being fueled by Jered Weaver or Dan Haren (it’s an AL-Only league).

My team is middle of the pack in total pitching points while the other team is out in front, but not because it is loaded with front-line starters.  In fact the other’s team highest pitching pick was Justin Verlander and his 3.64 ERA is actually a team-worst.

My point here is that the depth that everyone projected in pitching is coming to fruition, but as such, it takes even more quality pitchers to succeed.  You have to change the reference point since it is so plentiful.  Starting pitcher ERA from last April has dropped 0.08 league-wide including a drop of nearly 0.30 in the American League:

Last year there were nearly twice as many sub-2.00 ERA starters (*20+ innings thrown) as there have been this year (14 to 8), but the 2.00-3.00 ERA pool has fattened up a bit so far this year growing from 23 to 29 leaving both pools with 37 sub-3.00 pitchers all told.

Looking further, it is the middle tier of usable starters (sub-4.00 ERA) that has seen the improvement early on as 14 more sub-4.00 ERA pitchers have emerged as compared to last year.  What that means, assuming the pitching surge continues, is that staffs built around an ace and a pair of mid-level guys while piecing the rest together between relievers and another starter or two now needs to add another legitimate starter to the equation in order to compete.

That’s just one example.  There are many ways to build a staff, but if you didn’t build yours while accounting for the influx of good starting pitching, then you’re likely lagging behind, especially without one of the superlatives thus far like a Josh Johnson, Roy Halladay or one of the aforementioned Angels.

I have always believed you can wait on pitching and I remain firmly in that camp, but the emergence (again assuming it continues on this way) we saw in 2010 and continue to see so far in 2011 doesn’t mean you can wait longer.  That’s the common misconception.   You still need to build from the same theoretical tier you’ve built from in the past.  The names may change, but the rounds and dollars values need to remain the same.

You can’t wait longer just because you see more guys with sub-4.00 ERAs and passable WHIPs available later; the improved pitching league-wide just means that replacement level is now a higher bar.

What does this mean now that the season in a month in?  It means don’t be fooled by free agents with shiny ERAs and WHIPs thinking they are automatic keepers because of how enticing someone with a 3.50 ERA on the wire (or whatever would be a good ERA for a starter in your league format… I’m assuming standard 12-team mixed) would’ve been three-four years ago.  You have to re-adjust your thresholds of what is good and what merits someone being picked up and kept long-term.

You also have to honestly assess the staff you built back in March to determine if it’s good enough to compete.  If you were one of those who waited longer than usual assuming there would be enough to pitching to feed off of, then you may find that you’re placing as well as you’d hoped and perhaps a trade is in order.  A month in, we can’t fully know what is going to happen with our team, but taking a detailed look at how you assembled your staff should give you some insight into how it will hold up in this brave new pitching world we seem to be living in since last year.

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