Discussion

Looking out for No. 1

Updated: February 26, 2009, 4:57 PM ET
ESPN The Magazine

An old fantasy foe of mine used to say, "It would be a perfect game if we could play without pitchers." Amen. I'm still recovering from years of Mark Prior ownership.

Pitching is a cruel mistress, and that's why we're here to help you figure it out. (Hint: Tim Lincecum is good, but you know that by now.) On the mound, it's all about pitch location. In fantasy, it can be about ballpark location, strand rates, home runs per fly ball, even defense.

Together we'll crack the code of fantasy pitching, and never again will a hurler drive you crazy. Okay, one or two might. By the way, word in Padres camp is that Prior looks great.

— Matthew Berry, a.k.a. The Talented Mr. Roto


TIMING IS EVERYTHING
By Christopher Harris, ESPN.com

The Tigers didn't have many bright lights in 2008, but Armando Galarraga made his fantasy owners feel pretty good by going 13–7 with a 3.73 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. Still, before you run the 27-year-old righthander up your 2009 draft board, there's a big reason you should think twice.

Pitchers have significant control over many things (strikeouts, walks, homers) but far less influence over whether a batted ball falls in for a hit, not to mention the timing of said knock. Last season, Galarraga stranded 75.6% of his baserunners, compared with the MLB average rate of 71.4%. But here's the problem: Opponents batted a paltry .247 against him on balls in play, and it's unlikely that will happen again, because a pitcher's BABIP typically hovers near .300 for his career. So you would be wise to be leery of Galarraga's strand rate.

I know, I know … Johan Santana (82.6%) and Jake Peavy (82.2%) had the best strand rates in baseball last year, and no one thinks that was a fluke. But there are two key differences: First, Santana (.287) and Peavy (.285) had BABIPs much closer to the norm; and second, they're strikeout pitchers, which makes them more likely to strand runners (fewer balls in play = fewer hits).

If you find a low-BABIP pitcher whose strand rate is also out of line with the average (see top chart), be suspicious of his ERA, particularly if he doesn't rack up the K's. On the other hand, if a pitcher has a low strand rate and high BABIP (bottom chart), his numbers should revert to the mean. And before anyone else knows it, he could be on your staff.

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