I was having a Twitter discussion today about the Angels’ Joe Saunders, and I said what I always say when asked about him – he just isn’t that good. The other guy pointed out that Saunders is fourth in wins the past two years, and while that’s true, it brought up the point that I always try to make when I talk to people about pitchers – wins are a horrid way to evaluate performance. It’s not 1967 when that’s all people cared about, it’s 2010 and hopefully we are all aware of how useless wins and loses are as a tool to evaluate a pitchers performance (consider Zack Greinke is 0-2 with a 2.56 ERA and 1.11 WHIP while Casey Janssen is 3-0 with a 6.97 ERA and 1.65 WHIP). So what should you look at when it comes to which pitchers you might want to add if they are available or hold on to if they are struggling? Here are some thoughts.
(1) Look for high strikeout pitchers. The floor should be 6.00 per nine, but you really would like to see that number at seven or higher (extreme groundball pitchers can obviously have success with lower rates).
(2) Look for pitchers who keep walks in check. You don’t really want to add anyone with a mark higher than 3.50 per nine innings if you can help it.
(3) Look at pitchers with a K/BB mark of at least 2.00. The higher the better, ideally you’d like to be above 2.50, but be very careful of taking a shot at a guy with a mark under 2.00.
(4) Select pitchers who keep the ball in the ball yard. A HR/9 mark of 1.00 is about big league average.
(5) Power pitchers, who keep the ball on the ground, are the best options. Obviously these are always the ones that go for big bucks on draft day, so at least focus on a hurlers groundball to fly ball ratio (you’ll want it to be at least 1.25).
With those parameters, how do a few of the hotter starting pitchers in baseball this season fair? Here you go.
Mike Pelfrey: 4-0, 0.69 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
6.58 K/9, 4.50 BB/9, 1.46 K/BB, 0.00 HR/9, 1.50 G/F
Pelfrey is one of those guys who relies on a sinker and can confound analysis a bit, but at the same time he has never struck out more than 5.57 batters per nine in a season.
Doug Fister: 2-1, 1.67 ERA, 0.93 WHIP
4.33 K/9, 1.67 BB/9, 2.60 K/BB, 0.00 HR/9, 1.48G/F
Fister will have success as long as his pinpoint control lasts. When it vanishes, he is in trouble given his poor K/9 rate and an impossible to hold on to HR/F mark.
Fausto Carmona: 3-0, 2.96 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
4.28 K/9, 3.95 BB/9, 1.08 K/BB, 0.33 HR/9, 1.38 G/F
Carmona isn’t a strike out pitcher, he is a groundball inducing machine. Oddly, his G/F ratio is currently at a career worst level (2.49 career), but at least he has cut a full batter off his BB/9 mark from the past two seasons.
Mitch Talbot: 3-1, 2.05 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
2.39 K/9, 3.76 BB/9, 0.64 K/BB, 0.68 HR/9, 2.42 G/F
Unless he keeps up that G/F rate, one that would land him in the top-10 in baseball this season, the lack of punchouts will sink him.
Dallas Braden: 3-1, 4.20 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
5.70 K/9, 2.10 BB/9, 2.71 K/BB, 1.20 HR/9, 1.05G/F
Only his impeccable control keeps him from having a score of 0/5. If his BB/9 rate climbs back up to his career level of 2.90, he’ll be down to 1/5.
Livan Hernandez: 3-1, 0.87 ERA, 0.87 WHIP
2.90 K/9, 2.32 BB/9, 1.25 K/BB, 0.58 HR/9, 1.05G/F
Livan is awful. I’m not even going to waste any time describing why – you can read that discussion in my Weekly Mailbag piece.
Jon Garland: 2-2, 2.57 ERA, 1.43 WHIP
6.43 K/9, 4.82 BB/9, 1.33 K/BB, 0.96 HR/9, 1.38G/F
Considering that Garland has never posted a K/9 mark above 5.43 in his 10 previous seasons I feel pretty confident that number will regress in short order, and when it does only Petco Park will keep him from having a grade of 1/5 (it will keep the homers in check).
In the short-run you might be able to get away with a handful of these guys, but sooner or later the percentages will even out, and when they do my bet is that every pitcher on this list will suffer a substantial step back in their performance making them questionable plays in mixed leagues.
By Ray Flowers