Picking a Probable Pitcher/Spot Starter: Tips & Pointers

In Fantasy Baseball, probable pitchers are one of the more infamous aspects of the game but this is only because of how useless they can be. To avoid it, however, some leagues only allow lineups to be managed once a week, some restrict the limit on total starts for a week, but those who are able to utilize probables have a clear advantage over stand by their weekly designated pitchers.

Some Tools for picking the right starter (sites can be found using google):

ESPN Daily Notes - provides daily pitcher rankings and other statistics for matchups available usually until a few minutes before the first game
Bleacher Report (MLB & MLB Fantasy) - articles written by thousands of different writers with opinion, analysis, and statistics on many baseball players player search - allows you to look up and otherwise research a player, offers many splits to highlight many facets of their game
Baseball-reference - Everything you could possibly imagine about anything that has happened in baseball over at least the past 100 years
Fangraphs - very useful data and analysis
Pitch FX TexasLeaguers - some of the most in depth analysis on almost every batter/pitcher in baseball including pitch preference, location, hitting trends, etc.
Fantasy Rundown - a seemingly infinite abundance of fantasy info from over 100 different sites all in one place

Picking the perfect Probable:

It's saturday and you need a safety shield of anywhere from 5-20 points to ensure your victory and you've sacrificed a roster spot for a probable pitcher, who should you pick?
I'm going to use different examples, evaluate them, and elaborate upon them in order to get across some points.

First Pick: John Danks, June 6th - the law of averages for a pitcher, small sample sizes

Think back to early June. Here you are, starring at a guy who has an ERA of exactly 3.61 from '08 - '10 and wondering why in the world he is one of the worst fantasy options to date, hosting an ERA high above 5; what happened? He was drafted in nearly every ESPN standard league and now isn't even owned in 50% of 12-team leagues. In baseball, sample sizes always get people worked up and it just so happens with Danks, only the ugly sample sizes have come out this year. So with that being said why would anybody want to pick up a pitcher who just posted a 4.0 IP 9 H 9 ER 1 BB 1 K outing?  The answer is the law of averages.

It is a very reasonable statement to say that a pitchers career ERA is what they are capable of as a pitcher, a numeral value (along with many others to be considered) to show just how good of a pitcher they really are; given this, Danks who has posted a mid-3 ERA over the past 3 years is obviously due to provide us with some positive data to work his way down to his real ERA; he HAS to eventually. His capability is shown to be that of a very good pitcher and it's not like he has stopped trying this year, or gotten traded, or gotten hurt, or grown old.

Now you know he's due, but I wouldn't trust a guy just off that notion...but if you take a look at his splits (via ESPN player profile > splits) you'll note that Seattle (a known-to-be below average hitting team) had hit around .220 off him over a larger sample size of 36 innings. While you're at it, check out the rest of the splits (or snippets of data based on a certain scenario) for Danks at home, versus Seattle, in June, etc. over the past 3 years ('08-'10) in order to properly assess the law of averages in the theory that his numbers will even out. It's all favorable: 3.94 ERA at home, 2.08 against the Mariners, 3.09 in June. So with all this being said, remember these number were proved over the course of 3 years, and if nothing has really changed then why in the world wouldn't John be able to replicate that? Well see for yourself:

Danks would go on to post of a line of 7.1 IP 7 H 0 ER 1 BB 6 K and his first Win AND best line of the year! Why not right? Without numbers like those to counteract the ugly ones that made him a fantasy wash up, how would it make sense that his ERA would ever go down to what he is capable of (and has done). In fact, the numbers that had made him out to be a good pitcher would only continue to prove themselves as Danks would continue the madness of success to post 22 IP 18 H 3 ER 3 BB 17 K and 3-0 since June 6th, a viable fantasy option each of his 3 outings!

Second Pick: Juan Nicasio, June 14th - picking for a W

Picking for the W! In most leagues a win is worth 10 points, which usually account for 50% or more of the points that a pitcher puts out in their line. The matchup was Wade LeBanc and the weak hitting Padres versus the unproven rookie Nicasio and the strong hitting Rockies. This isn't about unproven pitchers though, this is about who will end up with more run support given 2 averages performances by 2 different average/below average/unproven pitchers (whatever you'd like to pick). So who do you like? Nicasio versus the Padres or LeBanc versus the Rockies? If you went with Nicasio who had actually pitched pretty well in his 3 starts so far you would see that he fanned 9 in a 6 IP 2 earned performance that yield him the win over LeBanc who could not keep up at 4.2 IP 3 ER and the Loss. Also if you'd like, you can consider both teams have about average bullpens. So there you have it, seems pretty reasonable right? 2 pitchers who it would be safe-to-say to have about average starts but given the favorable bats the rockies had and LeBanc -- who had made one other start the entire year, is young, and career 4.50 ERA -- Nicasio gets the W.

Third Pick: Jonathan Niese, June 19th - looks can be deceiving

Being added by 35% of all users in the past 7 days in Standard ESPN leagues you have the promising season that Johnathan Niese has made thus far and now writers are acknowledging it! He was going up against Tyler Chatwood, who quite frankly, is a high-hype prospect who has underachieved this year. It's in the first week of inter league play and the Mets bats have been struggling aside from Jose Reyes. The Angels, on the other hand, seem to have their offensive weapons playing pretty well. I gambled on Chatwood's failure and took a risk with a pitcher who had been very good lately. His numbers were due to fall back a little because quite frankly, he isn't as good of a pitcher as he'd been this year, in fact I never even thought for a second how lucky he was to get those wins because of the Met's poor run support.

As previously, stated the Mets have had struggling bats. If research was properly done you would note that in his past 3 starts the Mets averaged 3.6 runs of run support per game, all against familiar teams like Atlanta and Milwaukee. This start was a young guy going up an AL team full of hot batted rookies like Macier Izturus and savy vets like Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells. What do you think happened? Niese posted a line of 4 IP 8 H 5 ER 3 Ks and got the loss; his run support? Well let's just say the Met finished the game scoring 3 runs...Chatwood posted his best start of the year behind his run support with 7 IP 0 ER and a W. Seems pretty reasonable right?

Truth is, I had 4 minutes to make a pick for the day on my phone and I went with the seemingly best fantasy pitcher available but I completely disregarded the match up and circumstances.

Fourth Pick: Brandon Morrow, June 11th - stay away from hot bats!

Coming off one of his better performances of the year, Brandon Morrow had been pitching pretty well, Ks up, ERA around 4.50. You pick this guy because he's been a decent pitcher over his years and has always been a solid option because you know he'll get strikeouts. You see the opposing pitcher is John Lackey (whos ERA way sky-high around 8 at the time) and you maybe gamble that Morrow is due for a quality start to get to even out his ERA a little. Good pick right? Nope!

From the beginning of the year you knew Boston was going to be a threat in terms of overall offense, their entire roster is filled with all-stars. Here you are, all positive aspects of Morrow's start aside, looking at a team that had been on fire lately, and for good reason! Boston was on a 7 game win streak averaging over 7 runs a game and to this day they are the MLB leaders in runs scored. Put Morrow up against that sort of power and what do you get? You get fire, Morrow was LIT. UP. Posting a line of 4.1 IP 10 H 9 ER and 3 BB and a big fat loss, but the madness wouldn't stop there. The bullpen would go up to let up another 7 runs to make the came end painful at 16-4 Boston. You want more proof one could see that start coming from a mile away? Look at Morrows splits on ESPN for the past 3 years: against Boston he hoisted a 7.47 ERA.

*Note: The picks provide rational for a decision, but the tools given at the top should be considered and applied to various situations as you see fit. They all help if you interpret them properly!

Well I hope the morals of my stories and rational were enough and the lessons were clear; please comment/critique/criticize/rate/whatever this post.

Good luck!

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