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Fantasy owners would love to be able to come up with the holy grail of statistics, that one number they can look at and instantly decide whether a player is on his way up or is headed for a jump off the proverbial cliff in terms of future performance.
Of course, life does not work that way. Things are never that simple. However, at least when it comes to pitchers -- especially in points leagues -- there is one number that can serve as an early warning system of sorts. If you're looking for one of the biggest red flags in the fantasy world, look no further than a starting pitcher's K/BB rate.
A quick look at the top-ranked pitchers in terms of ESPN standard scoring thus far in 2012 and the large gap between the number of strikeouts they've tallied in relation to the free passes they've issued to hitters this season and you'll see nary a slacker in the group:
The only pitcher with a somewhat disappointing K/BB in this group is David Price, but, looking at his recent run of seven games with a 6-0 record and 1.82 ERA, over those games, he has had a 4.0 K/BB. In his prior seven starts, in which he went 3-3 with a 3.57 ERA, that number was only 2.39.
It's not a direct indicator of success or failure, but, more often than not, there's at least some semblance of a correlation between a K/BB of 2.0 or lower and poor performance, not only in real life but especially in points leagues.
Take a look at the top 50 pitchers who come closest to the 2.0 K/BB mark and you'll see some pitchers who have been struggling:
Using C.J. Wilson as an example, the All Star is 0-3 with a 4.23 ERA in July, and his K/BB has been a "below the threshold" 1.79. Before that, he was 9-4 with a 2.36 ERA and a K/BB of 1.98. That's still not great, and it might speak to his style of pitching, as his career K/BB is 2.12. But the worse that number gets, the fewer fantasy points a pitcher will accumulate. Plus, last season, when Wilson finished sixth in AL CY Young voting, he did post a career-high 2.78 K/BB. It's not as if he "can't" do better than he's doing.
So, if you're looking to see which pitchers might well be headed for a fall, let's finish up our discussion on K/BB by listing some pitchers with an ERA under 4.00 and a K/BB under 2.00. As the fantasy trade deadline continues its fast approach, perhaps these are the "Hemingway" pitchers: the kinds of arms you might want to bid a fond farewell to before the bottom drops out.
One final note before we get into this week's hot commodities: After last week's column, which outlined the difficulty of weighing the value of hitters relative to pitchers and vice versa, I decided to adjust the top 100 rankings a bit to get them a little more in line with that process. As a result, you will see a lot fewer starting pitchers in the list, and those who remain have been scaled back a bit in terms of weighing their past production versus future projections. Hopefully, this "new" format will be more helpful in terms of making lineup decisions going forward. Practice what you preach!
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Washington Nationals: Since the second half started, Zimmerman has been on fire, with a .384 batting average and 1.198 OPS in his past 18 games. That's not to say it has all been roses and sunshine. Zimmerman did go through a midweek stretch in the last scoring period in which he went 2-for-12 with no extra-base hits and six strikeouts, however, as Eddie Izzard would say, "If you start strong and end strong, nobody remembers the middle bit."
Shane Victorino, OF, Philadelphia Phillies: I won't begin to try to read Victorino's mind, but, if he's trying to do all he can to make himself appealing to other clubs as the trade deadline approaches, he couldn't have had a better week. In his five starts, he went 8-for-19 (.421) and even stole three bases in four tries -- more running than he had done in the previous 19 games combined. If not for the one game he left after one at-bat with an elbow injury, he would have a nine-game hitting streak working. The Hawaiian is Flyin' yet again.
Chris Perez, RP, Cleveland Indians: There've been two straight scoring periods now in which Perez has had at least 24 fantasy points, thanks to retiring 18 of 21 batters faced since July 13. At that success rate, it hardly matters how many save chances he gets. Perez is 5-for-5 in saves in his past six appearances even though the Tribe is only 6-11 since the break. Whether or not Cleveland ends up righting the ship, Perez's value remains solid.
Denard Span, OF, Minnesota Twins: A seven-game hitting streak in which he hit .414 with two steals and eight runs scored has seen Span's value skyrocket. Span's power numbers (3 HRs, 32 RBIs in 2012) leave a lot to be desired, but, at least with five doubles in the past week, he's showing some pop that wasn't there in his previous 18 games, when he managed just two doubles and a .275 batting average.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B/OF, Boston Red Sox: Gonzalez is hitting .405 this season against the New York Yankees, including a 6-for-13 series last week in which he homered and drove in four runs. Boston still has nine more games left on the schedule versus the Bronx Bombers later this season, but, for now, Gonzalez's owners can smile in the knowledge that his next 10 games come at Fenway Park, where he's hitting .312 this season.
Wade Miley, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks: Keeping with our K/BB theme, Miley has been just 2-3 with a 6.04 ERA in his past five starts, but most of that damage came June 30 in an awful 10-2 loss in Milwaukee in which he allowed eight runs in 3 2/3 innings. His K/BB in this stretch is a very healthy 4.8, only a slight drop from the 5.5 K/BB he has posted since May 12. He'll be just fine.
Ricky Romero, SP, Toronto Blue Jays: Four of Romero's past six starts have resulted in not just negative fantasy value but double-digit negative fantasy value. In a word: ugly. Even in his other two starts in that stretch -- both quality starts -- he took the loss. Few pitchers are going to emerge from an 0-6 run unscarred, but that .364 BAA and hideous 0.73 K/BB rate have us shielding our eyes and recoiling in horror.
Dan Uggla, 2B, Atlanta Braves: It's a points league thing that magnifies any slumping done by Uggla. Certainly, any hitter who goes 1-for-24 is going to hurt your fantasy lineup. However, when you add an extra 10 points off thanks to strikeouts, the damage is even worse. Although hope springs eternal, you kind of have to bench Uggla right now because of his .171 slugging percentage in July.
Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers: He has gone just 6-for-48 (.125) since action resumed July 13, and only two of those hits went for extra bases. Add to the mix 19 strikeouts over his 55 plate appearances and even the Rangers felt the need to give the league leader in RBIs some time off. Hamilton's slide is not going to last forever, but certainly you can't call giving you as much fantasy production as Omar Vizquel in the past 15 days a "positive sign."
Jim Johnson, RP, Baltimore Orioles: You should never overreact to one bad outing, even one as abysmally awful as Johnson's 1/3 of an inning against Oakland when he gave up six runs on five hits and a walk. That said, Johnson's post-break ERA was 10.50 before that game, and the Orioles are in the midst of their first losing month of the season. The clock might be striking midnight for this potential Cinderella squad, and Johnson's upside might be in the rearview mirror as a result.
Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Cleveland Indians: He ranks fourth among all hitters named Cabrera over the past two weeks. All kidding aside, despite a .348 batting average last scoring period, he managed just six fantasy points thanks to no walks and only a single run scored. Considering the Indians' offense has scored more than three runs in a game only twice since July 15, we're thinking perhaps this week's production was as good as it is going to get from Asdrubal.
Matt Harrison, SP, Texas Rangers: Sure, he shut out Seattle on July 15, but that's been it in terms of victories this month. Could the 1.45 K/BB rate have something to do with it? Considering it was 2.6 at the end of June, we tend to think so. The home run ball also isn't doing him any favors as he allowed four home runs in his three July losses. Putting men on base, then serving up the long ball on a silver platter? Never a good combination.