Wins is usually the most hotly contested category in fantasy play. There are typically just a few wins separating teams in the standings, and the category is always in play on the final weekend. Even three wins can have a huge impact in most leagues.
With about 40% of the season gone, most owners are eager for a way to add a few extra wins to their roster. The major problem, of course, is the ever-present risk that the wins you earn will be ugly ones, damaging your ERA and WHIP. Here are some of the ways you can look for wins without exposing yourself to an ERA/WHIP meltdown.
Every individual player statistic is affected in different ways by four factors: the player's own skills and abilities, the skills and abilities of the player's teammates, the skills and abilities of the player's opponent, and the choices of the player's manager. Strikeouts, BA, and HR are strongly influenced by the first and third factors, whereas Runs and RBI are strongly influenced by the first and second. Steals are influenced by the first and fourth factors. Saves are most strongly influenced by the fourth factor.
Wins are influenced strongly by all four of these factors. That is why wins are often hard to predict and hard to come by. When you are evaluating pitchers with an eye toward wins, you need to consider all four factors.
The player's own skills. It's an HQ axiom that good skills lead to good results. By now you are familiar with the analytic indicators that denote pitching skill, including BPV, Cmd, bb/9, k/9, xERA, and so forth. You've likely already decided which ones you like best for identifying good pitchers. Use these tools to identify good candidates for acquisition.
HQ writer Gerald Holmes posted a study in the Strategy Forum showing that PQS scores are strongly correlated with wins. In other words, when pitchers post dominant PQS results, they win 54% of their games and 74% of their decisions. This important analysis confirms the common-sense theory that pitchers with good skills tend to win games.
The player's teammates' skills. For the purpose of seeking wins, this means you should look for pitchers on winning teams. Someone is collecting wins on all the first place clubs right now, and you have a better shot picking a name off those rosters than the cellar-dwellers. Obviously, the worst pitcher on the 1st place team is usually not as good as the best pitcher on the last place team, but if everything else is equal, or close to it, then go with the contender.
You should also take a second look at pitchers on teams that score many runs. Again assuming that the pitchers in your free agent pool are roughly comparable in skill, there is a better chance that a pitcher will pick up a win if his teammates are adept at scoring runs.
The player's opponent. Obviously it will be easier for a pitcher to win games against weak opponents than strong ones. If you can move pitchers in and out of the lineup, or if you are seeking free agent pickups, you may be able to make the schedule your ally. This is especially true as you try to make midcourse corrections.
The choices of the manager. There are two major decisions that the manager makes that affects the win. The first is the choice of starting pitcher; about two-thirds of all wins are collected by starting pitchers. The second is the choice of relief pitchers. Often relievers will collect "vulture" wins, when they get credit for a team win because they happen to be the pitcher of record when the team rallies from behind.
HQ has shown that, on most teams, the bulk of relief wins are collected by one or two pitchers. Most managers identify short relievers who are good enough to keep the team in the game when the score is close. These pitchers benefit when the team stages a late-inning rally. Many of these pitchers are available in the free agent pool because they don't keep these roles from year to year. Vultures are also available because they tend to fly under the fantasy radar of those focusing on relievers who are closers and closer wannabes.
Talent is still the most important factor in minimizing risk and maximizing the opportunity for wins. But the other factors can help you find pitchers with the extra advantages that just might result in those three extra wins.
Ron Shandler began publishing statistical reports for baseball analysts and fantasy leaguers in 1986. Since then, his enterprise has grown into one of the largest information providers in the industry, producing quality products continuously and over a longer period than any other fantasy baseball company.
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