Re-Rank: Starting Pitchers

Five weeks into the season, standings begin to matter in our fantasy game. There has been large enough of a sample to decide categories of strength and weakness, while deciding which starting pitchers to buy and sell. Starting pitching is the easiest position to take advantage of someone in a trade, because the average fantasy owner is not looking at the correct stats. Stats like BABIP, FIP, xFIP, K:BB, are all better indicators of how a pitcher is performing that allow us to identify pitchers to buy low or sell high. Wins are mostly fluky, and for the most part, WHIP can predict ERA.

ERA and Wins are dependent upon many factors outside of a pitcher’s control (mainly defense and offensive output),  and are poor indicators of a pitcher’s true ability. Take Jake Westbrook for example who miraculously sports an ERA of 1.07 due to an alarmingly high LOB (left on base) rate. His FIP and xFIP are 3.55 and 4.49 respectively which are more in line with his career totals. Of course nobody expects Jake Westbrook to have even a sub-3 ERA but his ownership hovering around 30%, shows me that many fantasy gamers still focus on old-age statistics.

Below are our rankings as of today. Starting pitching is the position best to upgrade in mid-May, because if you do your research (or we do it for you), you can find many buy low and sell high candidates. These are ranked for a Daily, 1400 IP limit Yahoo Pro’s league.

Player Name  Team  Position
Clayton Kershaw LAD SP 1
Justin Verlander DET SP 2
Felix Hernandez SEA SP 3
Yu Darvish TEX SP 4
Cole Hamels PHI SP 5
Cliff Lee PHI SP 6
Stephen Strasburg WSH SP 8
Adam Wainwright STL SP 9
David Price TB SP 7
Matt Cain SF SP 10
Max Scherzer DET SP 11
Madison Bumgarner SF SP 12
CC Sabathia NYY SP 13
Matt Moore TB SP 14
Chris Sale CWS SP 15
Matt Harvey NYM SP 16
Mat Latos CIN SP 17
Gio Gonzalez WSH SP 18
Jeff Samardzija CHC SP 19
Jordan Zimmermann WSH SP 20
James Shields KC SP 21
Jon Lester BOS SP 22
R.A. Dickey TOR SP 23
Yovani Gallardo MIL SP 24
Johnny Cueto CIN SP 25
Jake Peavy CWS SP 26
Clay Buchholz BOS SP 27
Anibal Sanchez DET SP 28
Shelby Miller STL SP,RP 29
Ian Kennedy ARI SP 30
Kris Medlen ATL SP,RP 31
Jered Weaver LAA SP 32
Doug Fister DET SP 33
A.J. Burnett PIT SP 34
Lance Lynn STL SP,RP 35
Hiroki Kuroda NYY SP 36
Zack Greinke LAD SP 43
Mike Minor ATL SP 37
Hyun-Jin Ryu LAD SP 38
Brandon Morrow TOR SP 39
Hisashi Iwakuma SEA SP,RP 40
Homer Bailey CIN SP 42
Tony Cingrani CIN SP 44
Ryan Dempster BOS SP 45
Paul Maholm ATL SP 46
Jonathon Niese NYM SP 47
Marco Estrada MIL SP,RP 41
C.J. Wilson LAA SP 48
Dan Haren WSH SP 49
Alex Cobb TB SP 50
Trevor Cahill ARI SP 51
Jaime Garcia STL SP 52
Ervin Santana KC SP 53
Matt Garza CHC SP 54

Below are the players we would buy/sell. The formula for this is simple; if a player’s perceived value greatly exceeds his true value, we advise to sell, and vice versa.

Buy high: Max Scherzer, Matt Harvey, Jeff Samardzija

This trio of strikeout kings have emerged into our top 20 and we are heavily invested in each of these players. Scherzer and Samardzija are continuing their flirtation with double digit K/9 from 2012, while Harvey seems poised to join them among that rarified air. Strikeouts are great in any fantasy game, but especially in Yahoo’s Pro Leagues as each team has an innings limit of 1400 innings. Harvey and Samardzija do play for poor teams which will handicap their ability to get wins, but wins are a fluky stat anyway which is hard to predict. We are content taking the double digit strikeout performances and quality starts. It would not surprise me to see these three each amass 225+ strikeouts and finish in the top 12 among fantasy starters in 2013. You can deal a sell high candidate and perhaps pick up a bat along with Samardzija or Harvey.

Sell High: Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale

Sell high candidates, as previously stated, are based mainly on perceived value. In my opinion Strasburg’s perceived value has carried his ADP and ranking above where it actually lies. Sale and Strasburg both scare me as guys who could miss time with injuries (Sale has his violent delivery and Strasburg has not looked 100% healthy this year). Don’t count me as a Strasburg hater, his stuff is fantastic, but Cliff Lee is more likely to appear in 30 games, eclipse 200 innings and they will likely post similar W/ERA/WHIP totals. I will forego the additional 20 strikeouts Strasburg MAY throw for a healthier, safer player and perhaps a bat in return. Madison Bumgarner is young and talented, but frankly it is surprising how many experts have him as a top 10 SP. I would prefer to see Bumgarner miss more bats before I invest in him, and in most leagues you could swap him for Scherzer and pick up some value.

Buy low: Hyun-Jin Ryu, AJ Burnett, Paul Maholm

Despite recent spectacular performances Korean phenom Hyun-Jin Ryu is still being undervalued by fantasy owners. Perhaps it is his Wellsian-figure, West Coast Bias or thought that “hitters have yet to adjust,” which have caused Ryu to still be unowned in some leagues. Ryu is a strikeout machine, pitches in a pitcher’s park, and is completely undervalued by fantasy owners. If you can swap a sell low candidate for him, do it. AJ Burnett has been spectacular since leaving the Yankees. His FIP is actually lower than his mid-2 ERA right now, suggesting he has actually been unlucky sporting a 2.57 ERA. Burnett has seen an increase in his swing-strike percent, which has lead to a career-high strikeout rate. I expect the 36-year old is still being undervalued and can be an affordable buy. I have listened to experts Buster Olney and Matthew Berry gush over Paul Maholm all season, and from the 10 or so innings I have seen, he is a solid fantasy buy. His increase in strikeout rate from 11′ to 12′ is encouraging, and his walk rate remained the same. I think that he would be fairly easy to acquire in a 12 or 14-team league, and will finish as a top 35 starter by years end.

Sell low: CJ Wilson, Dan Haren, Kris Medlen

Sadly I have multiple shares in each of these players. Medlen had a horrific spring and has not impressed in his first half-dozen starts this season. His strikeout rate is way down (Small Sample), walk rate is up, and Medlen seems more hittable. Dan Haren has been in April what he will be the rest of the season: erratic, destroying your fantasy team one week and dominant the next. His velocity is up from 2012, but part of his perceived value is that he may return to the Dan Haren of old, and folks that ain’t happening. As an owner with CJ Wilson on half of his teams (no idea why), I beg of you to please take him off my hands. CJ Wilson’s perceived value also is partly based on what he was able to do as a member of the Rangers and although he now plays in a pitcher-friendly park, he is not the same pitcher. I expect the CJ Wilson of ’13 to be like the CJ Wilson of ’12, and if you can get a pitcher you expect to outperform those pedestrian numbers, pull the trigger.

As always tweet feedback to @manwithaspreads

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