Pitching by the Numbers: Cold call

Michael Salfino
Yahoo! Sports

Looking at performance over the last month is a way to increase the likelihood of finding some very hot, healthy cheap assets in place of some higher-named players who are destroying pitching categories.

Last week we examined the hottest pitchers and their availability in Yahoo! leagues. This week, let's look at some pitchers they could replace. Not all of the cold pitchers on this list are guys who owners in standard mixed leagues should be kicking to the curb. Perhaps there is some solid foundational numbers that remove most of the doubt concerning health and that also highlight that there is some bad luck in the admittedly small sample size.
Here are the coldest big-name hurlers of late:

Lester, Jon   BOS  28.2 5 0 23 12 8.79 1.57
Jimenez, Ubaldo CLE   25.2 5 0 21 18 8.42 2.03
Nova, Ivan NYY   28 5 0 24 10 8.36 1.82
McDonald, James PIT   26.2 5 1 22 20 7.76 2.06
Darvish, Yu  TEX  31.1 5 1 37 21 7.76 1.76
Hanson, Tommy ATL 19.1 4 2 21 16 7.45 2.17
Beckett, Josh   BOS   26.2 5 1 21 11 6.75 1.65
Romero, Ricky TOR  26.1 5 0 21 16 6.49 1.86
Wilson, C.J.  LAA    36.2 6 0 38 19 6.14 1.75
Greinke, Zack     LAA 31 5 0 26 10 5.23 1.39
Parker, Jarrod OAK   31.2 5 2 25 6 5.12 1.42

Normally, we would look at strikeout rate but the problem with high WHIP guys is that they are facing so many extra base runners that K/9 is overstated. Think of the extremes: you face eight batters an inning and strike out one. Big deal, right? But that's nine Ks per nine innings – normally great.
While we're sorting by ERA because it's the most destructive to our teams typically, there is a larger element of randomness to that. WHIP is the better predictive tool. So I think it's safe to say that the lower WHIP guys on this list can still be recommended as "holds" as long as their K/9 is okay. We'll draw the WHIP line at 1.50 even though that's still terrible but still within the possible realm of really bad luck. So Greinke and Parker get a pass – hold 'em.
As for the rest, let's start at the top with Lester, who leads the league in earned runs allowed. His WHIP is significantly higher than his career rate (which was just okay; Yahoo!'s Scott Pianowski has noted that a bad sign for Lester even prior to this year was never having a WHIP below 1.20). But even with more opportunities to strikeout batters every inning, Lester's strikeout rate is well below his career rate, too. If you still own Lester, you are probably far out of contention. But otherwise you are doing yourself and your team a real disservice.
Jimenez's velocity is at a career low. His walk rate is still terrible. He's had just one great year at age 28. No reason to own him now or ever again unless he proves otherwise for an extended period.
I chased wins with Nova in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League for a while before finally cutting the chord. Nova has better peripherals this year but far worse stats. Last year, bad peripherals and pretty good stats. We can assume that Nova is no fan of sabermetrics. He also leads the league in extra-base hits allowed, which is a great way to inflate your ERA and is pretty hard to ascribe to bad luck. Nova is yielding hard hit balls, so broom him.
McDonald at least had seven Ks and one walk against the Reds in his last start. But the Reds are a poor hitting team, terrible actually without Joey Votto. I'm worried McDonald's hiding an injury. His decline has been so steep. And he seems to have lost faith in his fastball, which suggests that his arm is at least tired. Most McDonald owners are doing really well but I'd churn him now for a hotter hurler. His upside for the rest of season is best set at his not-useful career averages.
I thought Darvish was a sucker play all year and said prior to the season that Chris Sale (among many, many others) would out-earn him easily. They say expertise is having made all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field. I've made the mistake with Japanese imports before and have sworn off them, experience I was eager to impart to all who would listen.
Hanson is about to come off the DL, but forget him.
Beckett is the new A.J. Burnett, who will go back to being Burnett next year when everyone buys in, I will wager. Will Beckett go back to being the old Beckett next year or sooner? I'd say that's unlikely. He's at the stage of his career when things are far more likely to get worse than better.
Romero has two quality starts in a row but that doesn't come close to erasing the season-long misery he's foisted on anyone who's had the displeasure of owning him. Maintain a safe distance.
Wilson had a terrible start in his last outing at Texas. He walks too many to be truly elite, but he's not droppable despite his recent struggles. Even adjusting for the higher ratio, his K-rate in the period is top shelf.