2014 Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball

2014 Fantasy Baseball: First Tier AL Starting Pitchers

Scott Kazmir Fantasy Baseball

Last week, we took a look at three tiers of starting pitchers in the National League. The primary thrust of the week was to see how the three groups were separated in terms of secondary numbers. This week, we are doing the same thing in the American League. For those that did not look in last week, the general idea was to take the pitchers that hurled more than 100 innings in 2013 and compare them based on their fair run average (FRA). FRA is a Baseball Prospectus statistic that attempts to gauge what a pitcher would have done with an average home ballpark and average fielding behind them.

Pitchers were split into three groups (called tiers) based on their FRA. Pitchers with a FRA below 4.00 were placed into the first group. Pitchers with a FRA between 4.00 and 4.50 were placed into the second tier. Finally, pitchers with a FRA above 4.50 fell in the last tier. First, we want to see if there is anything that would explain the differences between the three groups. Last time, we found that the strikeout rate was the primary point of division. Walk rate would have been the second most important factor followed by groundball rate. Actually, groundball rate had virtually no effect.

We want to see if the same is true with the American League hurlers. Beyond that, there will be surprises in each group. We want to highlight those because those are the cases that are particularly relevant for fantasy players. In this edition, we want to look solely at the top tier of American League pitchers. Before we look at the surprises, let’s take a look at how the three tiers fared when compared with each other.

Pitchers

GS

INN

FRA

GB%

SO/9

BB/9

Tier One

14

28.8

187.9

3.61

45.1

8.8

2.6

Tier Two

23

26.5

165.5

4.21

45.2

7.4

3.0

Tier Three

16

28.0

177.1

4.94

45.3

6.2

2.7

 

It should be noted that these numbers are even more pronounced than the National League version. There is virtually no difference in the groundball rates where in the National League we saw some difference but no correlative difference. Furthermore, the differences in the strikeout rates are much more pronounced. So, when you are searching for someone and you want them to fit the first tier profile, you are better off looking at the strikeout and walk rates than you are the batted ball statistics.

Be that as it may, there were several names that appeared on the tier one list that were a bit of a surprise. We always want to look deeper in those cases, because those pitchers are sometimes there by mistake or random luck. As we did before, we will identify five such pitchers to see if they are guys you should keep an eye on during the season.

Bud Norris—Baltimore Orioles

ERA: 4.18                                                                             SO/9: 7.5

FRA: 3.78                                                                             BB/9: 3.4

INN: 176.7                                                                           BABIP: .333                                                                                        

GB%: 40%                                                                            LOB%: 73.3%

We must remember that all of the tier data is in the aggregate, but Bud Norris’ numbers look like those of a tier two pitcher. Even still, you would think that he would have been drafted more often than what he was. His strikeout rate is still above the league average and he has four straight seasons of 150 or more innings. Still, pitching a majority of your games in the AL East is not exactly the best way to make a living. Add to that the fact that the Orioles’ defensive strength lies in their infield, but Norris has a groundball rate below the league average. That can help explain the .333 BABIP he “enjoyed” last season.

Jose Quintana—Chicago White Sox

ERA: 3.51                                                                             SO/9: 7.4

FRA: 3.93                                                                             BB/9: 2.5

INN: 200.0                                                                          BABIP: .283

GB%: 43%                                                                            LOB%: 76.6%

Sometimes it’s easy to see why people avoid certain guys on draft day. Quintana was drafted, but he was drafted a lot later than most people would have thought. Sometimes, fantasy players do show a bit of sophistication and that can be seen in his BABIP and left on base percentage (LOB%). Both point to a regression that will make him look rather ordinary. Still, we are talking a pitcher with a three to one strikeout to walk ratio and someone that is at least average at keeping fly balls in the ballpark. So, if he happens to be available in your league (on waivers or via trade) I would take a good look.

Corey Kluber—Cleveland Indians

ERA: 3.85                                                                             SO/9: 8.3

FRA: 3.97                                                                             BB/9: 2.0

INN: 147.3                                                                           BABIP: .329

GB%: 46%                                                                            LOB: 72.9%

We discussed this last week, but it bears repeating. The league average rates for BABIP and LOB% are .300 and 70 percent respectively. So, we have a mixed bag with Kluber. His BABIP is a little high, but he did a good job of not allowing runners to score. We usually see a regression in both of those areas. Therefore, we would expect the luck factors to cancel each other out. Kluber had his first taste as a full-time starter and it seemed to agree with him. I wouldn’t put him in the upper echelon of starters, but he seems to be a good middle of the pack guy.

Ricky Nolasco—Minnesota Twins

ERA: 3.70                                                                             SO/9: 7.4

FRA: 3.92                                                                             BB/9: 2.1

INN: 198.3                                                                           BABIP: .299

GB%: 43%                                                                            LOB%: 70.9

Sometimes, it pays to look at things from another angle. We can look at averages, but averages get skewed. Of the 14 pitchers in the first tier, ten had strikeout rates of eight per nine innings are higher. So, Nolasco definitely falls into the bottom of the grouping. He has the look of a tier two pitcher and he certainly has had a rough go in the early going of 2014. If someone owns him, they may end up releasing him and you can grab him for free. I certainly wouldn’t have pegged him as a tier one guy, but he definitely is a lot better than people give him credit for.

Scott Kazmir—Oakland Athletics

ERA: 4.04                                                                             SO/9: 9.2

FRA: 3.83                                                                             BB/9: 2.7

INN: 158.0                                                                           BABIP: .324

GB%: 41%                                                                            LOB%: 73.4

Kazmir certainly is a remarkable story. He has always been talented, but something (lack of command) has always held him back. His career walk rate (3.9 per nine innings) has always been scary enough, but he always seemed like one of those guys that needed 20-25 pitches to even get through a clean inning. Sure enough, he averaged only 5.4 innings per start a year ago. The Athletics rolled the dice and signed him to big money. If his walk rate stays low then he is a very intriguing fantasy prospect, but I’m just not sold.

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