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Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy 2016: Starting Pitchers

Ray takes a look at how you should approach starting pitchers when preparing your fantasy baseball draft strategy for 2016 and beyond.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Todays article is a follow up to a similar research piece I wrote in each of the last few offseasons (2015 research is here) where I looked at starting pitchers who threw more than 50 innings the previous year and focused 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 induced 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. One cannot predict wins, and strikeouts are a skill and increase and decrease based on the number of innings pitched. I think this is common knowledge in the fantasy baseball community, but here I provide the actual results, starting with pitchers who struck out seven or more batters per nine innings:

Pitchers with K/9 > 7.00, BB/9 < 3.00 and GB% > 45%: 2015

Name

Team

W

IP

K/9

BB/9

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WHIP

SwStr%

Hard%

Dallas Keuchel

Astros

20

232

8.38

1.98

61.70%

2.48

2.91

2.75

1.02

10.30%

21.20%

Jake Arrieta

Cubs

22

229

9.28

1.89

56.20%

1.77

2.35

2.61

0.86

11.10%

22.20%

Felix Hernandez

Mariners

18

201.2

8.52

2.59

56.20%

3.53

3.72

3.33

1.18

10.70%

25.40%

Carlos Martinez

Cardinals

14

174.2

9.33

2.99

54.50%

3.04

3.16

3.18

1.27

10.70%

26.90%

A.J. Burnett

Pirates

9

164

7.85

2.69

53.40%

3.18

3.36

3.55

1.36

8.90%

34.10%

Sonny Gray

Athletics

14

208

7.31

2.55

52.70%

2.73

3.45

3.69

1.08

9.70%

25.00%

Nathan Eovaldi

Yankees

14

154.1

7.06

2.86

52.20%

4.2

3.42

3.81

1.45

8.70%

28.00%

Kyle Hendricks

Cubs

8

180

8.35

2.15

51.30%

3.95

3.36

3.25

1.16

8.10%

25.60%

Carlos Carrasco

Indians

14

183.2

10.58

2.11

51.20%

3.63

2.84

2.66

1.07

14.00%

27.30%

Hisashi Iwakuma

Mariners

9

129.2

7.7

1.46

50.40%

3.54

3.74

3.27

1.06

10.60%

26.10%

Clayton Kershaw

Dodgers

16

232.2

11.64

1.62

50.00%

2.13

1.99

2.09

0.88

15.90%

25.10%

Joe Ross

Nationals

5

73.2

8.31

2.44

49.50%

3.79

3.42

3.57

1.11

11.80%

29.30%

Jon Lester

Cubs

11

205

9.09

2.06

48.90%

3.34

2.92

3.06

1.12

10.40%

29.20%

David Hale

Rockies

3

68.1

7.38

2.5

48.40%

6.06

4.7

3.97

1.48

11.10%

24.00%

Clay Buchholz

Red Sox

7

113.1

8.5

1.83

48.30%

3.26

2.68

3.3

1.21

10.60%

23.70%

Michael Pineda

Yankees

12

160.2

8.74

1.18

48.20%

4.37

3.34

2.95

1.23

11.90%

29.70%

Zack Greinke

Dodgers

19

222.2

8.08

1.62

48.00%

1.66

2.76

3.22

0.84

12.00%

26.60%

Gerrit Cole

Pirates

19

208

8.74

1.9

48.00%

2.6

2.66

3.16

1.09

10.20%

29.50%

Cole Hamels

- - -

13

212.1

9.11

2.63

47.70%

3.65

3.47

3.4

1.19

13.30%

27.00%

Aaron Nola

Phillies

6

77.2

7.88

2.2

47.60%

3.59

4.04

3.58

1.2

8.60%

27.50%

Jose Quintana

White Sox

9

206.1

7.72

1.92

47.10%

3.36

3.18

3.51

1.27

9.30%

27.30%

Masahiro Tanaka

Yankees

12

154

8.12

1.58

47.00%

3.51

3.98

3.29

0.99

11.40%

30.60%

Raisel Iglesias

Reds

3

92.1

9.94

2.63

47.00%

4

3.58

3.21

1.09

11.80%

25.20%

Patrick Corbin

Diamondbacks

6

85

8.26

1.8

46.90%

3.6

3.35

3.27

1.27

10.80%

30.80%

Noah Syndergaard

Mets

9

150

9.96

1.86

46.50%

3.24

3.25

2.91

1.05

12.20%

24.60%

Chris Archer

Rays

12

212

10.7

2.8

46.10%

3.23

2.9

3.01

1.14

12.80%

32.00%

Matt Harvey

Mets

13

189.1

8.94

1.76

46.00%

2.71

3.05

3.24

1.02

11.60%

26.70%

John Lackey

Cardinals

13

218

7.22

2.19

46.00%

2.77

3.57

3.77

1.21

9.40%

30.10%

CC Sabathia

Yankees

6

167.1

7.37

2.69

45.90%

4.73

4.68

3.99

1.42

9.10%

29.10%

Michael Wacha

Cardinals

17

181.1

7.59

2.88

45.80%

3.38

3.87

3.88

1.21

9.50%

29.50%

Rick Porcello

Red Sox

9

172

7.8

1.99

45.70%

4.92

4.13

3.72

1.36

8.50%

32.80%

Collin McHugh

Astros

19

203.2

7.56

2.34

45.40%

3.89

3.58

3.91

1.28

10.30%

24.80%

Kevin Gausman

Orioles

3

100.1

8.07

2.15

45.20%

4.22

4.06

3.74

1.22

10.90%

27.50%

Anthony DeSclafani

Reds

9

184.2

7.36

2.68

45.10%

4.05

3.67

3.97

1.35

9.50%

31.20%

Totals

5,740

3.33

1.15

The above filter yields a list of starting pitchers that averaged an ERA of 3.33 and WHIP of 1.15. This same research using 2014 data yielded an average ERA of 3.33 and a WHIP of 1.22. Of the 34 starters who met the above critteria, only eight had an ERA above 4.00, and only six had a WHIP of 1.30 or higher. Off the 34 starters meeting the criteria, only 13 had an ERA below the 3.33 average, 8 of which threw 200+ innings in 2015. This research shows how important it is to draft an ace starting pitcher in the first 3-4 rounds to anchor your staff.

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%: 2015

Name

W

IP

K/9

BB/9

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WHIP

SwStr%

Hard%

Clayton Kershaw

16

232.2

11.64

1.62

50.00%

2.13

1.99

2.09

0.88

15.90%

25.10%

Chris Archer

12

212

10.7

2.8

46.10%

3.23

2.9

3.01

1.14

12.80%

32.00%

Carlos Carrasco

14

183.2

10.58

2.11

51.20%

3.63

2.84

2.66

1.07

14.00%

27.30%

Noah Syndergaard

9

150

9.96

1.86

46.50%

3.24

3.25

2.91

1.05

12.20%

24.60%

Raisel Iglesias

3

92.1

9.94

2.63

47.00%

4

3.58

3.21

1.09

11.80%

25.20%

Carlos Martinez

14

174.2

9.33

2.99

54.50%

3.04

3.16

3.18

1.27

10.70%

26.90%

Jake Arrieta

22

229

9.28

1.89

56.20%

1.77

2.35

2.61

0.86

11.10%

22.20%

Cole Hamels

13

212.1

9.11

2.63

47.70%

3.65

3.47

3.4

1.19

13.30%

27.00%

Jon Lester

11

205

9.09

2.06

48.90%

3.34

2.92

3.06

1.12

10.40%

29.20%

Matt Harvey

13

189.1

8.94

1.76

46.00%

2.71

3.05

3.24

1.02

11.60%

26.70%

Michael Pineda

12

160.2

8.74

1.18

48.20%

4.37

3.34

2.95

1.23

11.90%

29.70%

Gerrit Cole

19

208

8.74

1.9

48.00%

2.6

2.66

3.16

1.09

10.20%

29.50%

Felix Hernandez

18

201.2

8.52

2.59

56.20%

3.53

3.72

3.33

1.18

10.70%

25.40%

Clay Buchholz

7

113.1

8.5

1.83

48.30%

3.26

2.68

3.3

1.21

10.60%

23.70%

Dallas Keuchel

20

232

8.38

1.98

61.70%

2.48

2.91

2.75

1.02

10.30%

21.20%

Kyle Hendricks

8

180

8.35

2.15

51.30%

3.95

3.36

3.25

1.16

8.10%

25.60%

Joe Ross

5

73.2

8.31

2.44

49.50%

3.79

3.42

3.57

1.11

11.80%

29.30%

Patrick Corbin

6

85

8.26

1.8

46.90%

3.6

3.35

3.27

1.27

10.80%

30.80%

Masahiro Tanaka

12

154

8.12

1.58

47.00%

3.51

3.98

3.29

0.99

11.40%

30.60%

Zack Greinke

19

222.2

8.08

1.62

48.00%

1.66

2.76

3.22

0.84

12.00%

26.60%

Kevin Gausman

3

100.1

8.07

2.15

45.20%

4.22

4.06

3.74

1.22

10.90%

27.50%

Totals

3,608

3.09

1.08

The above list of starters provided an average ERA of 3.09 and a 1.08 WHIP, ace-like stats. That said, the average ERA of the group listed above is lower than the starting pitchers who met the same criteria in 2014 (3.09 vs 2.74 in 2014), but the 2015 group had a lower WHIP(1.13 in 2014 vs 1.08 in 2015). Of the 21 starters who met the above criteria, eight of them had an ERA below the 3.09 average, buoyed by the sub-1.80 ERAs put up by Zack Greinke and Jake Arrieta. Only three of the starters meeting the above criteria had an ERA above 4.00 in 2015, so while the average ERA is lower, this group also produced a higher percentage of starters with an ERA below 4.00.

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%: 2015

Name

W

IP

K/9

BB/9

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WHIP

SwStr%

Hard%

Clayton Kershaw

16

232.2

11.64

1.62

50.00%

2.13

1.99

2.09

0.88

15.90%

25.10%

Chris Archer

12

212

10.7

2.8

46.10%

3.23

2.9

3.01

1.14

12.80%

32.00%

Carlos Carrasco

14

183.2

10.58

2.11

51.20%

3.63

2.84

2.66

1.07

14.00%

27.30%

Noah Syndergaard

9

150

9.96

1.86

46.50%

3.24

3.25

2.91

1.05

12.20%

24.60%

Raisel Iglesias

3

92.1

9.94

2.63

47.00%

4

3.58

3.21

1.09

11.80%

25.20%

Carlos Martinez

14

174.2

9.33

2.99

54.50%

3.04

3.16

3.18

1.27

10.70%

26.90%

Jake Arrieta

22

229

9.28

1.89

56.20%

1.77

2.35

2.61

0.86

11.10%

22.20%

Cole Hamels

13

212.1

9.11

2.63

47.70%

3.65

3.47

3.4

1.19

13.30%

27.00%

Jon Lester

11

205

9.09

2.06

48.90%

3.34

2.92

3.06

1.12

10.40%

29.20%

Totals

1689.8

3.01

1.07

This group of starting pitchers produced an average ERA of 3.01 and a WHIP of 1.07. Of the nine starters who met the above criteria, eight of the nine put up an ERA below 4.00, while only two pitched to an ERA below the 3.01 average.

If you want an ace starting pitcher in 2016, you must focus on starting pitchers who strike out at least seven batters per nine, limit the walks to three or fewer per nine, and own a 45% or better ground ball rate. The higher the strikeout rate, the better the ERA, WHIP, and strikeout totals. That said, the number of starters striking out nine batters or more per nine innings is very limited.

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