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What should you focus on when ranking starting pitchers?

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What stats should you focus on when ranking starting pitchers? Rays offers some thoughts.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

This piece is a follow up to a similar research piece I wrote last offseason where I looked at starting pitchers who threw more than 50 innings in 2014, focusing on the following pitching statistics:

  • strikeouts per nine innings
  • walks per nine innings
  • ground ball ratio

I focused on pitchers who struck out more than seven batters and walked three batters or less per nine innings, and induce ground balls at a 45% rate or higher. My research from last year indicated that focusing on high strikeout pitchers yielded the best results in ERA and WHIP. I think this is common knowledge in the baseball and fantasy baseball community, but here I provide the actual results, starting with pitcher who struck out seven or more batters per nine innings:

Pitchers with K/9 > 7.00, BB/9 < 3.00 and GB% > 45%

Name

Team

W

ERA

IP

K/9

BB/9

GB%

WHIP

FIP

xFIP

Jose Fernandez

Marlins

4

2.44

51.2

12.19

2.26

48.80%

0.95

2.18

2.18

Clayton Kershaw

Dodgers

21

1.77

198.1

10.85

1.41

51.80%

0.86

1.81

2.08

Corey Kluber

Indians

18

2.44

235.2

10.27

1.95

48.00%

1.09

2.35

2.57

Stephen Strasburg

Nationals

14

3.14

215

10.13

1.8

45.90%

1.12

2.94

2.56

Carlos Carrasco

Indians

5

2.67

91

9.99

1.98

50.40%

0.98

2.21

2.52

Jake Arrieta

Cubs

10

2.53

156.2

9.59

2.36

49.20%

0.99

2.26

2.73

Felix Hernandez

Mariners

15

2.14

236

9.46

1.75

56.20%

0.92

2.56

2.51

Masahiro Tanaka

Yankees

13

2.77

136.1

9.31

1.39

46.60%

1.06

3.04

2.58

Jacob deGrom

Mets

9

2.69

140.1

9.24

2.76

45.40%

1.14

2.67

3.03

Zack Greinke

Dodgers

17

2.71

202.1

9.21

1.91

48.70%

1.15

2.97

2.72

Shane Greene

Yankees

5

3.79

78.1

9.19

2.99

50.00%

1.37

3.64

3.31

Gerrit Cole

Pirates

11

3.65

138

9

2.61

49.20%

1.21

3.23

3.25

Johnny Cueto

Reds

20

2.25

243.2

8.94

2.4

46.20%

0.96

3.3

3.21

Garrett Richards

Angels

13

2.61

168.2

8.75

2.72

50.90%

1.04

2.6

3.15

Cole Hamels

Phillies

9

2.46

204.2

8.71

2.59

46.40%

1.15

3.07

3.21

Alex Wood

Braves

8

2.59

156.1

8.69

2.25

45.90%

1.09

3.23

3.23

Jeff Samardzija

A's

7

2.99

219.2

8.28

1.76

50.20%

1.07

3.2

3.07

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Dodgers

14

3.38

152

8.23

1.72

47.40%

1.19

2.62

3.03

Alex Cobb

Rays

10

2.87

166.1

8.06

2.54

56.20%

1.14

3.23

3.33

Cliff Lee

Phillies

4

3.65

81.1

7.97

1.33

48.40%

1.38

2.96

3.01

Brandon McCarthy

Yankees

10

4.05

200

7.88

1.49

52.60%

1.28

3.55

2.87

Hisashi Iwakuma

Mariners

15

3.52

179

7.74

1.06

50.20%

1.05

3.25

2.85

Marcus Stroman

Blue Jays

10

3.29

120.1

7.7

2.02

53.70%

1.15

2.79

3.16

Homer Bailey

Reds

9

3.71

145.2

7.66

2.78

50.60%

1.23

3.93

3.53

Gavin Floyd

Braves

2

2.65

54.1

7.45

2.15

49.40%

1.25

3.79

3.47

Jimmy Nelson

Brewers

2

4.76

68

7.41

2.51

48.60%

1.4

3.82

3.93

Anibal Sanchez

Tigers

8

3.46

125

7.34

2.16

45.40%

1.1

2.71

3.56

James Shields

Royals

14

3.21

227

7.14

1.74

45.20%

1.18

3.59

3.56

T.J. House

Indians

5

3.39

101

7.13

1.96

60.50%

1.34

3.7

3.09

Adam Wainwright

Cardinals

20

2.38

227

7.1

1.98

46.30%

1.03

2.88

3.34

Average

3.34

1693.6

7.54

1.93

1.22

The above filter yields a list of starting pitchers that averaged an ERA of 3.34 and WHIP of 1.22. Good to very good ERA, and solid WHIP. Let's see what happens when we improve the filter to starting pitchers who struck out at least eight batters per nine innings, keeping the walks per nine and ground ball rate constant:

Pitchers with K/9 > 8.00, BB/9 < 3.00 and GB% > 45%

Name

Team

W

ERA

IP

K/9

BB/9

GB%

WHIP

FIP

xFIP

Felix Hernandez

Mariners

15

2.14

236

9.46

1.75

56.20%

0.92

2.56

2.51

Alex Cobb

Rays

10

2.87

166.1

8.06

2.54

56.20%

1.14

3.23

3.33

Clayton Kershaw

Dodgers

21

1.77

198.1

10.85

1.41

51.80%

0.86

1.81

2.08

Garrett Richards

Angels

13

2.61

168.2

8.75

2.72

50.90%

1.04

2.6

3.15

Carlos Carrasco

Indians

5

2.67

91

9.99

1.98

50.40%

0.98

2.21

2.52

Jeff Samardzija

A's

7

2.99

219.2

8.28

1.76

50.20%

1.07

3.2

3.07

Shane Greene

Yankees

5

3.79

78.1

9.19

2.99

50.00%

1.37

3.64

3.31

Jake Arrieta

Cubs

10

2.53

156.2

9.59

2.36

49.20%

0.99

2.26

2.73

Gerrit Cole

Pirates

11

3.65

138

9.00

2.61

49.20%

1.21

3.23

3.25

Jose Fernandez

Marlins

4

2.44

51.2

12.19

2.26

48.80%

0.95

2.18

2.18

Zack Greinke

Dodgers

17

2.71

202.1

9.21

1.91

48.70%

1.15

2.97

2.72

Corey Kluber

Indians

18

2.44

235.2

10.27

1.95

48.00%

1.09

2.35

2.57

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Dodgers

14

3.38

152

8.23

1.72

47.40%

1.19

2.62

3.03

Masahiro Tanaka

Yankees

13

2.77

136.1

9.31

1.39

46.60%

1.06

3.04

2.58

Cole Hamels

Phillies

9

2.46

204.2

8.71

2.59

46.40%

1.15

3.07

3.21

Johnny Cueto

Reds

20

2.25

243.2

8.94

2.40

46.20%

0.96

3.3

3.21

Stephen Strasburg

Nationals

14

3.14

215

10.13

1.80

45.90%

1.12

2.94

2.56

Alex Wood

Braves

8

2.59

156.1

8.69

2.25

45.90%

1.09

3.23

3.23

Jacob deGrom

Mets

9

2.69

140.1

9.24

2.76

45.40%

1.14

2.67

3.03

Average

2.74

2029.4

9.35

2.16

1.13

This filter yeilds some of the top starting pitchers in the game, along with a few pitchers, Jake Arrieta, Jacob deGrom, Alex Wood, Shane Greene and Carlos Carrasco, who pitched great in 2014, yet own a limited track record of success.

Carrasco, Wood, Arrieta and deGrom will get plenty of love from the fantasy community this offseason, and for good reason. I am not sold on Greene yet. Some think deGrom, Carrasco and Arrieta have made changes that are repeatable, so we can expect more of the same in 2015, while some are still skeptical of Wood.

The above list of starters provided an average ERA of 2.74 and a 1.13 WHIP, ace-like stats. Now, let's limit our universe of starters to pitchers who struck out nine or more batters, while leaving the walks per nine and ground ball rate constant once again:

Pitchers with K/9 > 9.00, BB/9 < 3.00 and GB% > 45%

Name

Team

W

ERA

IP

K/9

BB/9

GB%

WHIP

FIP

xFIP

Felix Hernandez

Mariners

15

2.14

236

9.46

1.75

56.20%

0.92

2.56

2.51

Clayton Kershaw

Dodgers

21

1.77

198.1

10.85

1.41

51.80%

0.86

1.81

2.08

Carlos Carrasco

Indians

5

2.67

91

9.99

1.98

50.40%

0.98

2.21

2.52

Shane Greene

Yankees

5

3.79

78.1

9.19

2.99

50.00%

1.37

3.64

3.31

Jake Arrieta

Cubs

10

2.53

156.2

9.59

2.36

49.20%

0.99

2.26

2.73

Gerrit Cole

Pirates

11

3.65

138

9

2.61

49.20%

1.21

3.23

3.25

Jose Fernandez

Marlins

4

2.44

51.2

12.19

2.26

48.80%

0.95

2.18

2.18

Zack Greinke

Dodgers

17

2.71

202.1

9.21

1.91

48.70%

1.15

2.97

2.72

Corey Kluber

Indians

18

2.44

235.2

10.27

1.95

48.00%

1.09

2.35

2.57

Masahiro Tanaka

Yankees

13

2.77

136.1

9.31

1.39

46.60%

1.06

3.04

2.58

Stephen Strasburg

Nationals

14

3.14

215

10.13

1.8

45.90%

1.12

2.94

2.56

Jacob deGrom

Mets

9

2.69

140.1

9.24

2.76

45.40%

1.14

2.67

3.03

Average

2.65

1877.1

9.81

2.00

1.08

As you can see from the list above, there aren't many starting pitchers in baseball who struck out more than nine batters per nine innings in 2014, twelve to be exact. The list includes several of the starters I discussed above, which bodes well for a repeat in 2015. But, then again, nothing is guaranteed in baseball. Injuries, reported or not, can affect the performance of any pitcher in the game.

The refined filter produces an average ERA of 2.65 and a WHIP of 1.08. These are elite level stats for any starting pitcher. The performance of Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez certainly influence the performance of the set of pitchers in the list above, but you can see that pitchers who possess the ability to keep the ball on the ground, limit the free pass and strike out batters at an above league average rate can help your fake baseball rosters in the pitching categories.

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