Commentary

The Wandy Line for 2013

Updated: April 26, 2013, 4:20 PM ET
By Matthew Berry | ESPN.com

According to Wikipedia, so it must be true, when Wandy Rodriguez was scouted by the Houston Astros in 1998, he falsely stated his name was Eny Cabreja. I can buy a fan of the Astros wanting a fake identity these days but I'm surprised a player would do it. But apparently, Wandy wanted to appear younger, so he convinced the real Eny (two years younger) to let him borrow his identity and lived under the name Eny Cabreja until 2002, when he admitted he was really 23-year-old Wandy Rodriguez, not the 21-year-old Eny.

The Talented Mr. Roto

Wandy, or as I like to call him, Way-Rod, has long been a favorite of mine for no real reason other than I've always sort of liked him. He's good -- not great -- but always seems to be on the cusp of taking it to the next level without ever quite getting there. Owner of a career 3.99 ERA and 1.32 WHIP, he was better back in 2010, when I first came up with the concept of the "Wandy Line," than he has been the past couple of seasons; in that year, he had a 3.60 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP and a K/9 better than 8. Those stats were the dividing line between pitchers you need to have on your roster at all times and guys that you could throw back in order to pick up a hitter or another pitcher for the day. And so, even though Wandy is well below his own line these days -- even after a solid start to the year -- the name has stuck, mostly because I am a slave to tradition, and it flows better than "The Eny Line."

The line itself is constantly shifting in response to the quality of pitching in the league, but we're now far enough into the season that we have gained a little bit of perspective, can draw the line in the sand and sort the starting pitchers currently above or below this line.

Why is this important? Because of one oft-overlooked, not-even-scored-in-roto statistical category.

At-bats.

Over the past five seasons, the typical ESPN 10-team standard rotisserie league-winning team has consistently led its league in at-bats.

We're more impressed by big homers and big RBI totals, and they matter: Winning teams averaged 8.48 points from RBIs and 8.09 from home runs. Stolen bases are sought at the expense of power, but they've been worth an average of 7.58 points to winning teams. As for batting average, it contributed the least, 7.06 points to a winning team.

Runs are often overlooked. Yet winning teams earned an average of 8.85 points from runs scored, more than in any other hitting category. They aren't sexy, they aren't a big part of highlights, they're always the last to be invited to the party when stats gets together to throw a few down. When runs leave the bar, there are no paparazzi hanging out trying to take their picture, no one from TMZ is asking runs about who they were seen canoodling with in the corner. But make no mistake, runs is where it's at.

Runs are a product of good baseball. You get at-bats and you get on base? You're going to score some runs, along with helping in the other categories, because the more at-bats you get, the more opportunity you have to get a hit, drive in a run, crank one out of the park or swipe a base. And while you can get multiple RBIs or even multiple steals from one plate appearance, you can only ever score one run at a time. That is also true for home runs, of course, but not every batter is a home run hitter. But every batter is a potential run scorer. So by making sure you get as many at-bats as possible, you're giving yourself the most chances that something good is going to happen. And if you take an 0-for-5 that day? So be it. Because not only is batting average is the least important offensive category to winning teams, but the typical winning team's batting average had declined in three consecutive seasons since 2008 (.283, .281 in 2009, .277 in 2010, .274 in 2011) before rebounding to .275 last season.

Incidentally, the pitching category that winning teams averaged the most points in? Strikeouts. Because winning teams maximize their number of games started and supplement them with high-quality relievers who can contribute a couple of strikeouts per appearance along with the occasional vulture win or save while keeping your ERA or WHIP down.

Look, I'm not guaranteeing that if you accumulate the most at-bats and innings pitched, you will win your league, but I do promise you that you'll be in the mix at the end of the year. And in the last week of April? That's all you can ask for.

So how do you go about maximizing innings and at-bats? That's what the "Wandy Line" is all about.

This is the third annual edition of the Wandy Line, and while the names change, the strategy does not. And for the new kids in class, while the Wandy Line was created for ESPN standard 10-team leagues, it can easily be adjusted for any 8-, 10- or 12-team mixed league where there is a significant free-agent pool and bench spots are limited.

Now, in ESPN standard leagues, everyone has a 200-start limit. We'll talk about maximizing those 200 starts in a second, but since we all have the same limit, the place to gain an advantage is in every stat you can get without using up one of those 200 starts; there are no limits on how many at-bats you can accumulate or how many innings you can pitch, only on starts.

Based on ADP, the average ESPN standard league team is composed of six starters and three closers. Makes sense; if they average 32 starts each, six starters will get you 192 starts, and with 30 teams in the league, there's ostensibly 30 closers, or three per team. We know that's not exactly true, but the averages still work out that way.

[+] EnlargePhillies
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarEven the vaunted 2011 Philadelphia Phillies rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton was 80 percent useless on a day-to-day basis.

But how efficient is it to carry six starters, really? Think of it this way: for four out of every five games, your starting pitchers are not earning you anything. You are getting a zero from six roster slots, 80 percent of the time. Nada. Zip. Zilch. 100 percent less than the whole enchilada. That roster spot is just gold-bricking it, instead of working for you. And considering you get only three bench slots in ESPN standard leagues, every spot is really, really valuable.

Now, obviously, there are some pitchers who are so good, so elite, so consistent that they are worth burning that empty slot for four-day stretches. Those pitchers are considered to be ATWL, or "Above the Wandy Line." There's a secret handshake and everyone comes to exclusive parties where there's an inordinate amount of people with goatees; there always seem to be an excess of those types at parties, often in white jackets. It's weird. But I digress.

The point is, there are elite pitchers you hang onto no matter what. But everyone else is expendable. Replaceable. Dispensable.

Ideally, every single day your starting lineup has a hitter in all 13 active offensive spots, whatever starting pitchers you have actually starting that day are active and the rest of your slots are occupied by a bunch of relievers; either closers or high-upside setup guys who get strikeouts and pitch those high-leverage innings in which they can vulture a win. Heath Bell (2.5 percent owned), for example, already has two wins, a save and 14 strikeouts in eight innings. You know who doesn't have two wins or 14 strikeouts yet? Ross Detwiler (80.4 percent owned) and Brandon McCarthy (23 percent owned). But I digress.

Now, to be able to pick up these relievers, we need roster spots. And to get roster spots, we get rid of any starting pitcher who isn't above the Wandy Line (or in Lincecum Limbo, which we'll explain in a bit) or starting that day. Your three bench spots should be occupied only by ATWL pitchers who aren't starting, or hitters who aren't playing but who you can't throw back. As for the pitching slots, better to have a middle guy who at least has a chance to pitch and contribute. There will be days when those guys don't get in the game, but at least they have a shot. And on those days that they do, those additional strikeouts and quality innings will add up.

So on any given day, your active pitchers are one of three types of players:
• A pitcher who is actually starting that day with a good matchup.
• A closer or a good middle reliever who ideally gets strikeouts.
• A starter who is ATWL or in Lincecum Limbo but who you couldn't bench because you needed those bench slots for hitters who aren't starting and whose slot you gave to a pickup.

That's it. If he's a starter who is not above the Wandy Line and is not going today and there's someone on the waiver wire that you could put into your starting lineup that day, then kiss that player goodbye. Doesn't always have to be a starter that you pick up. In fact, with only 200 starts, it shouldn't be a starter a lot of the time. It should be an offensive player to patch up your lineup, or a reliever.

So where is the Wandy Line? Last year, to earn 7 points, you needed an ERA of 3.61 and a WHIP of 1.22, while 1,372 strikeouts would get you roughly 8.5 points. Divide those strikeouts by 200, that's 6.85 strikeouts per start (which is not the same as K/9, let's be clear), which sounds right to me. Let's shoot for at least six strikeouts a game and anything we get from relief will make up the difference.

Using those baselines -- 3.61 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and at least six strikeouts -- I looked at every start from last year in which pitchers went at least seven innings while getting at least six strikeouts but giving up two or fewer runs and eight or fewer baserunners. Guess how many pitchers managed to reach those three thresholds at least 10 times last season, regardless of whether they won?

There were 28 pitchers last year to do that. That's it. Many of them the names you expect; Justin Verlander (19) and Clayton Kershaw (18) leading the way. Felix Hernandez had 15 such starts, Stephen Strasburg, R.A. Dickey and Max Scherzer had 14 and the members of the "13 times" club were David Price, Cole Hamels and Yovani Gallardo. Matt Cain, Jeff Samardzija, Mat Latos, Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster, believe it or not, had 12 such starts. Madison Bumgarner, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, Zack Greinke, Josh Johnson, Ian Kennedy and Cliff Lee all had 11 and the guys with 10 starts last year meeting the criteria were Adam Wainwright, James Shields, CC Sabathia, Chris Sale, Yu Darvish, Bud Norris and, bet you wouldn't have guessed it, Joe Blanton.

The point is that it's fewer guys than you think who get those numbers very consistently. And so, it is with those benchmarks in mind -- along with each pitcher's run support, home park, bullpen and career track record -- that I present to you this year's Wandy Line.

These pitchers are above the line. They're the guys you should start no matter what and never drop, even though some of them are off to slow starts. It's too early to bail.

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesJon Lester fell below the Wandy Line as he struggled last season, but is back well above it having regained his form in 2013.

• Justin Verlander
• Clayton Kershaw
• Stephen Strasburg
• Felix Hernandez
• Yu Darvish
• Adam Wainwright
• David Price
• Matt Cain
• Cole Hamels
• Gio Gonzalez
• Madison Bumgarner
• R.A. Dickey
• Chris Sale
• Max Scherzer
• Ian Kennedy
• Doug Fister
• Mat Latos
Matt Moore
• James Shields
Jon Lester
Kris Medlen
Jordan Zimmermann
Matt Harvey
Paul Maholm
Clay Buchholz
Hisashi Iwakuma
Alex Cobb
• Jeff Samardzija
• Jake Peavy • Cliff Lee
• Shelby Miller

That's it. That's my current list of players who I am not dropping and who I am also starting no matter what every time they are up in the rotation.

Now, last year I added a new category: Lincecum Limbo. So named because of Tim Lincecum's early-season struggles. You didn't want to just drop him; he's Tim Lincecum, for Pete's sake, and last year at this time, that still meant something. But you also didn't feel comfortable starting him every time out. So the "Lincecum Limbo" list is comprised of either established studs who have performed worse than expected this year or have some sort of injury issue and will be dropped below the Wandy Line if those concerns aren't addressed; or they are up-and-comers who have been terrific this year and could be put permanently above the line but, due to a lack of track record, we are holding on to and taking a "wait and see" approach.

Injured guys include, but aren't limited to, Jered Weaver, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto and Jhoulys Chacin. The good-but-not-this-good guys include Justin Masterson, Anibal Sanchez, Mike Minor, Andy Pettitte, Patrick Corbin, A.J. Burnett, Ervin Santana, Homer Bailey and Hiroki Kuroda. Roy Halladay, Brandon Morrow, Yovani Gallardo and CC Sabathia are all ace-caliber guys who have to prove that they're still at this level before I trust them again.

That's it. If they are not on one of these two lists, then it's not a player I would keep on days they aren't starting. I'd have no problem dropping them, and if someone else gets them, so be it. The list is constantly updated and if you think there's a pitcher I forgot, ask away, either on Twitter or on Facebook and I'll try to answer.

Long live Eny Cabreja!

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- thought long and hard about making Bartolo Colon ATWL. He couldn't do it, but he thought about it. Berry is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off.

• Senior Fantasy analyst for ESPN
• Member, FSWA and FSTA Halls of Fame
• Best-selling author of "Fantasy Life"