Saturday, March 20, 2010

Drafting For Wins

Fantasy baseball is a funny thing. I'm in a competitive, 12-team keeper league that's been running since 2004, and I've got one championship and another season in which I finished in second place. But for the life of me, I can't figure out how to get wins. In six years, only once have I finished any better than 9th in wins, and that year I finished 6th, the year I took home the title. I've never eked into the top five in wins, making it seem less like an anomaly and more like a problem.

So, naturally, I came up with a list of ways to try to fix this problem. Six ways, in fact, which I've sorted from most important to least important, and which I've tried to take into account during my off-season and draft. Now that the draft has concluded, I'll share with you my logic, and give some examples of players that suit the examples (players on my roster will be bolded).
  1. Talent
    (examples: Tim Lincecum, Zack Greinke, Roy Halladay)
    First and foremost, the best pitchers are the most likely to get wins. The reason being, of course, that they tend to give up the fewest runs, and put their offenses in a position to be able to score enough runs to win. Moreover, drafting pitchers who aren't the best available is a surefire way to get yourself into trouble quickly. I generally used talent as the main determining factor, and went to the subsequent factors when talent was very close.
  2. Winning Teams
    (examples: Jon Lester, Javier Vazquez, Scott Kazmir)
    Teams that are perennially successful will put their pitchers into positions to win more games. The logic is simple, but it's something that I've let slip my mind in the past. This year, I traded for Jon Lester and drafted Scott Kazmir, hoping that their teams' successes would continue to provide winning opportunities for starting pitchers.
  3. Frequent Favorable Opponents (aka the Central divisions)
    (examples: Adam Wainwright, Jake Peavy, Max Scherzer)
    Sort of a partner to #2, if you draft a starter who pitches against below average teams often, he's more likely to win games. The AL Central boasted two 65-win teams (Cleveland and Kansas City), and four of the six teams in the NL Central finished below .500. The logic here also follows with spot-starters. If Jeff Francis has a start against the Padres coming up, maybe grab him for that game. Of course, I've used that logic in past seasons, and it's blown up in my face as often as not, but something to keep in mind at least.
  4. Innings Eaters
    (examples: Cliff Lee, James Shields, Bronson Arroyo)
    This concept is based on the idea that the more innings you pitch, the greater your opportunity for wins, as per the rules of baseball. And, generally, if your pitcher pitches a lot of innings, he's pitching well enough to win most of the time. I didn't end up taking a specific "innings eater," but I've got plenty of guys who pitch enough.
  5. Great Bullpens
    (examples: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Brett Anderson, A.J. Burnett)
    Through similar logic to the innings eaters, drafting players on teams with great bullpens also should increase your chances at your starter getting a win. You'd like for your starter to be able to hand a lead over to the bullpen and have it hold up for the win. Our two local teams, the Nationals and Orioles, had utterly dismal bullpens last year, and that was part of the reason their pitchers were mostly un-ownable (another part was that they mostly weren't any good).
  6. Pitchers' Parks
    (examples: Jonathan Sanchez, Kevin Correia, Rick Porcello)
    Getting a guy who spends his home games in a pitcher's park is always favorable. The problem, though, is that it favors the pitchers for both teams. This can put your pitcher's supporting offense in just as undesirable a situation as your opponent's. Going with a pitcher's park is much more conducive to finding low ERA and WHIP numbers for your pitching staff, rather than wins.
So how did my pitching staff shape up after trying to revitalize my approach towards acquiring some wins? Well, I think it's pretty good, actually. Below is my full list of starting pitchers, along with the round they were taken in (adding our 8 keeper rounds to get a more usable number for all of you who aren't in our league; K for keeper), and ESPN's projected statistics for them.
  • Zack Greinke (K) - 15 wins, 223 Ks, 3.00/1.19
  • Jon Lester (K) - 18 wins, 209 Ks, 3.23/1.22
  • Clayton Kershaw (K) - 8 wins, 211 Ks, 3.31/1.22
  • Max Scherzer (12) - 10 wins, 177 Ks, 3.78/1.31
  • Scott Kazmir (13) - 12 wins, 142 Ks, 3.95/1.31
  • Jonathan Sanchez (15) -12 wins, 210 Ks, 4.18/1.41
  • Phil Hughes (18) - 13 wins, 146 Ks, 3.74/1.29
First off, I'm not sure how you can project Kershaw to pitch well enough to put up all those other numbers playing for the Dodgers and only get eight wins. Eleven or twelve I could see, but eight just seems silly; last year's performance had to be an aberration...right?

Scherzer is kind of a question mark, though I like the fact that he'll play Cleveland and Kansas City several times this season. I'm expecting a bounce back season from Kazmir, who pitched lights out in his brief stint in Anaheim at the end of 2009. Sanchez basically just seemed like a guy who had far too much strikeout potential to leave on the board any longer. Plus he's got San Francisco as a home ballpark, not too shabby.

Phil Hughes could be the linchpin. If he can make the rotation and pitch effectively, he'll be in one of the better situations out there, with a very solid bullpen and of course an elite offense backing him up.

Two things I didn't take into account but I'm going to watch this year, and consider incorporating next year:

Defense
For the most part, I'll be looking at Seattle, since they're lauded as having made several defense-first moves in the offseason. But I'll also look at the whole league and find the best defenses and see how their starters fared.

Rotation Spot
Obviously the very elite pitchers are aces, and you'll find some very good #2 pitchers out there. But theoretically, a high caliber pitcher who's slotted as the #3 or #4 starter will frequently have favorable pitching matchups, giving his offense more chances to give him run support. Jonathan Sanchez could be a beneficiary of a favorable rotation spot this season. Again, it's something I'll look at as the season goes on.

This was a fun mental exercise, and I feel pretty good about its potential to help my team. I've got a couple of other ideas for next year, too, to chase other statistics. Keep tuning in.

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