When to take starting pitching is a hot button topic. Of course, league context is everything, but the majority of pundits still advise to wait on your arms. However, the more successful owners in the high stakes National Fantasy Baseball Championship are starting their staffs earlier. Remember, context matters. Today, the Knights will be ranking a quartet of pitchers that could be the ace of a staff if you wait on pitching. Joining us is Paul Sporer of Baseball Prospectus and co-host of the "Towers of Power" fantasy baseball podcast. Paul also authors the "2013 Starting Pitcher Guide," which is available for purchase from his website, Baseball by Paul.
Let's rank the following four starting pitchers. Would you be comfortable having any of them as your mixed staff anchor?
Adam Wainwright, R.A. Dickey, Yu Darvish and Zack Greinke
Perry Van Hook
Darvish, Wainwright, Greinke, Dickey
I would prefer in a mixed league that any of them be my SP2 at the highest - but that is somewhat dependent on draft position and league/competition structure. I would be fine with any of the top three as my SP1 in a single league format but in NFBC where there is league and overall scoring, I need more strikeouts. Dickey is by far the toughest to project, moving from the National League and facing pitchers to the American League East and facing designated hitters and pitching in the Rogers Homerdome.
I'd rank them Darvish, Wainwright, Dickey, Greinke.
Will Darvish squeeze back?
I'd gladly have any of the four as my ace especially because in straight drafts, I won't take a starting pitcher early enough for Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Davis Price, Felix Hernandez, etc.
Some feel the industry's Darvish love is based solely on September, but it's the entire season that has me sold. He pitched almost exactly as I expected (except with even more Ks) and while there were bumps, the stretches of dominance told me plenty. Wainwright's skills were intact in year one after Tommy John surgery - look out NL, you're in trouble.
I know there was plenty of talk that Rogers Centre, a controlled weather environment, would actually be a better spot for RA's knuckleball. Not sure if there is any definitive proof as I haven't had time to read much/any of the analysis. Of course any dome advantage is probably mitigated by the SP --> DH transition. That said, at least those two can possibly cancel out instead of the transition being all a negative.
My ranking would be - Darvish, Wainwright, Greinke and Dickey.
I would be OK having any of the four as my mixed league anchor, but personally have more faith in Darvish and Wainwright to deliver better counting stats. With Greinke and Dickey, I will be more likely to move more quickly on my SP2.
While Wainwright's return from TJS was very impressive, and he seemed like he was all the way back by season's end, I still give Darvish the edge thanks to better K numbers. If I was near a turn, and I wanted both, I may go Wainwright first, since I think many are still undervaluing Darvish due to the shaky control he displayed last year, and of the two he'd be the one most likely to slide around. But if I am going for just one, then I want the guy who can deliver the most K's, and who we haven't seen the best of yet. Darvish has last year under his belt, and hopefully his September, where he more than cut his BB% in half to 5.2%, signals that he finally had figured out how work the strike zone. If that's the case, he could lead the majors in K's and significantly lower those ratios.
I agree with Perry's and Ryan's ranking. One potential factor not yet mentioned is Wainwright's impending free agency. I know different players react differently to being in their "contract year," but with Chris Carpenter out of the picture, Wainwright steps into the stopper role for the Cardinals. I think he will be up for it. On the other end of the contract spectrum are Grienke and Dickey, in the first years of their new contracts with new teams. There could be an adjustment period as they change leagues this season, though it may not be major as they both have extensive histories in their new (old) leagues.
Darvish, Wainwright, Greinke, Dickey
Yu's potential with a year of experience under his belt made him an easy #1.
Pre-ASB: 117 K/53 BB
Post-ASB: 104 K/36 BB
Last 7 starts: 59K/10 BB
Darvish's walks were a product of not trusting his stuff, not an inability to command the strike zone. He slowly gained confidence as the year wore on. He had 221 K's in just 29 starts. What happens if he starts 30+ and pounds the strike zone like he's capable of?
Greinke is such a tease with his FIP/ERA differentials, but there's no guarantee that his big inning disease will ever go away. The risk of a slight TJS hangover looms with Wainwright, but his Post-ASB 1.14 WHIP and K/B ratio should assuage such fears.
Dickey's trip to the AL East places him firmly behind these three aces.
My inclination in mixed leagues is always to favor the NL starters, so my ranking is significantly different than most:
Wainwright, Greinke, Darvish, Dickey
The top three are very close and any one of them would provide an excellent cornerstone for a staff. Dickey isn't in the same category due to changing leagues and ballparks.
A question for Paul mainly, but anyone can chime in. I remember last year, there was plenty of grumbling that Darvish was regularly getting squeezed by umpires, especially early in the year. Do you have any evidence to back that up and if so do you think he'll get a better shake in his second season?
Thank you Greg, Finally someone else recognizes Greinke's issue and doesn't just say "Oh FIP/ERA split, he's so unlucky."
Darvish was in fact squeezed, Ryan.
Looking at pitches in the strike zone that were called balls, Darvish was squeezed especially tight early on - presumably as umpires learned what he was all about and how his many pitches moved - and tapered off as the season went on, but still ended up with the 13th-most such pitches.
Apr - 33 (3rd in MLB)
May - 37 (2nd)
Jun - 15 (84th)
Jul - 15 (77th)
Aug - 19 (51st)
Sep - 13 (115th)
62 vs. LHB (14th)
70 vs. RHB (38th)
Will Greinke go Hollywood?
Who was most-squeezed by this methodology? Perhaps surprisingly, C.J. Wilson was with 189 pitches, easily out-pacing Justin Masterson's 164 in 2nd place.
(Interesting side note: Masterson's 93 vs. LHB was an MLB high by 16 over 2nd place ... as if LHB need extra help vs. Masterson, sheesh!)
I agree with Perry that I probably would not want any of the quartet as a #1, however, I would love a rotation with more than one of the four and could easily go in that direction rather than draft a true #1.
In other words, I am happy these days to draft without what is considered a true #1 as long as the supporting cast is strong enough. Furthermore, being last on this list is not a slight: I like all of these guys.
That said, my order would be:
Wainwright: looks to be fully TJ recovered, and really posted #1 numbers before he got hurt.
Grienke: going into his 10th season, with a "real" team for the first time, and still shy of 30. Kapow.
Dickey: there is no reason to expect Dickey to turn into Steve Blass. The worst thing he has going for him is how iffy his team could be.
Darvish: I like Darvish and his whiffs, and I like his team and manager. And, I expect a few lumps his second year as hitters have some kind of book and the sophomore adjustments occur. Mind you, that means maybe 13-10, 3.53, with 174 whiffs. Good, but I think overall the other three will do even better.
To me these guys are all interchangeable. In single league play you are talking about a $20 pitcher. So I'm more focused on my need of the moment and really the phase of the draft meaning when I can get one at or a few bucks shy of full value. So I would rank them differently and target the one with the least buzz. That probably would end up in landing me Dickey rather than chase Darvish, who some might be chasing into the mid 20s.
Forced to answer the question and actually value rank them:
Greinke - most likely to post a sub 3.25 ERA given overall skill set, park conditions, and not having to regularly face the DH
Wainwright - NL; fully recovered
Darvish - could find his Japan pinpoint control and win the Cy Young but still pitches in Texas; not going to go for a sub 3.5 BB/9 till he shows it here
Dickey could be the safest and cheapest option. K/9 may be an outlier and will regress no matter what.
I'd go Wainwright, Greinke, Darvish, Dickey. Greinke vs. Darvish is close but I'll give the edge to Greinke based on home ballpark, division and track record. Wainwright pitched exceptionally well in the second half last year and he already has a pair of Cy Young worthy seasons on his resume. I'm really liking him as a legit ace who you won't have to pay a true ace-level price to draft. Dickey is the only guy who I wouldn't feel comfortable with as my ace. There are just too many question marks surrounding him. You've got the new league, the new division, the new home park, and the chance that he loses some of the effectiveness of that knuckleball to the point where he becomes Tim Wakefield, a good pitcher but not a great pitcher.
Willing to mess with Dickey?
My rank goes Wainwright, Darvish, Greinke and Dickey, but all four of these fall in the tier where I start considering SPs in a mixed league, so there's a smidge of a difference between them.
As raised several times already in this discussion, the Darvish-Greinke quandary was my biggest. I concur with Paul's point that Darvish grew plenty in his strike zone aggressiveness down the stretch. His weaning off a nibbling approach after coming stateside should do wonders and, all things equal, gives him more to gain than Greinke, and I don't fear the Texas environment with the import. Small sample size alert, but Greinke wasn't exactly a gem in pitcher-friendly Anaheim, and despite his favorable home digs and move back to the NL, there are still some flaws in his game, including the fact he relies heavily on high LOB% to succeed. And in his case, you almost wish he gave up more flies to take advantage of Chavez Ravine; he's given up a lot of liners over the last few years and has fluctuated in his empty-hack inducement.
And are we so certain the Dodgers will pad his run support? I like him as, say, a top-20 dual-universe arm, but I think the Cy Young talk is a tad overblown.
The Dickey move-to-AL hate is too strong, as well, and just because he's last in these ranks doesn't mean I'd avoid him. The regression factor doesn't mean he'll fall far below SP2 numbers - it's just that he has the least upward mobility in this quartet.
My broken record looks like Tim's and a few others' (as well as KFFL's rankings): Wainwright (by a nice distance), Darvish, Greinke, Dickey.
I think you all have highlighted the reasons I'd rank them this way. I wouldn't be surprised to see Darvish compete with Waino for the top spot on this list and for them both to be in the top five in mixed-league rankings at the end of the season. I'd be more comfortable with Wainwright as my mixed-league ace than Darvish.
Regarding Rob's comments, will I pay what any of them are going to cost in an auction? I suppose it depends on the source fueling my opposition's optimism. Not everyone is so high on Darvish and/or Wainwright. I don't envision myself owning Dickey unless the bidding starts to stall relatively early - mid-teens, perhaps? Greinke's ill habits concern me, too, and I'm not as certain as others are that being in NL Hollywood is so great for him. The Dodgers reek of potential disaster. I'm curious about how the righty would hold up if it began to fall apart in Chavez Ravine. Just thoughts off the top my head, though.
In some defense of Greinke, I would hardly call Greinke's LOB% high. His career left on base numbers are below 73% and he has not produced a number higher than that since 2009. So overall we're talking about someone pretty average. Glancing at his other numbers (BABIP, HR/FB, etc) they're all pretty close to average too so we're not talking about someone who has been pitching much under or over his head who is going to significantly regress. I do concede that as a ground ball pitcher, Greinke won't benefit from LA as much as a pure fly-baller would.
Overall, the reason I named Greinke my primary choice is for his consistency of skills since 2008 and because he at 29 does not appear ready to fall suddenly off a cliff.
At auction, for me, it's about my budget which is typically to the dollar (though flexible) by roster slot. So if I have a pitcher slot at a certain price, I have several pitchers who fit that bill. So I'd probably be "in" on all of them, landing one depending on the timing of the draft/the interest on others of spending that amount on that slot at that particular phase of the draft.
Lord Zola's Wrap-Up
Here are a few of general comments while I procrastinate sharing my own ranking -- dang it's tough.
There were a couple of references to NL versus AL. While I admit I may be more based in projections than some, the easy way to address this is to come up with an expectation within league context and then compare. To further dock an AL pitcher is double dipping. His expectation should already account for the AL aspect.
The disconnect between Greinke's real ERA and FIP/xFIP is interesting. Greg and Paul cited Greinke's penchant for big innings. I personally believe he is a much better pitcher out of the wind-up, as are most starters, but the difference between Greinke from the wind-up and Greinke from the stretch exceeds that of the average. In fact, I hypothesize this could explain the difference between ERA and expected ERA in general. The better pitchers are better from the stretch.
I got a kick out of Ryan suggesting he would take Wainwright then Darvish on the wheel if he wanted both. In the recent Fantasy Sports Trade Association draft, Lawr and I selected that very pair but we chose Darvish first as he is a huge favorite of our industry brethren. That said, taking Darvish that high is a bit of betting on the come.
OK, my rankings, I'm putting Wainwright first with Darvish second, but for the very reason just discussed; I'd take Darvish first if I wanted to team then up at the turn. Greinke is third with Dickey actually a distant fourth. I know he throws his knuckler harder and I don't care about the fact he is indoors, I just don't think Dickey can continue his success, especially the strikeouts and limiting home runs. Not that it is apropos to this discussion, but I am concerned about the Blue Jays' rotation in general and would not be so quick to hand them the AL East, let alone put them in the World Series.
Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.
Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.