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Pitching by the Numbers: Super/bad

The purpose of these columns is never to replace the conventional ways we rank pitchers (based on performance in common fantasy categories) but rather to supplement them. We seek simple but meaningful ways to shuffle the deck a little in order to find greater value than is commonly perceived.

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The numbers support Cole Hamels' case for elite status. (Getty)

There's no worse fake sports feeling than seeing your pitcher give up five or more earned runs. And a super-quality outing of seven-plus innings of two runs or less ease whatever other pain your team caused you that night. So what if we simply ranked the pitchers by their ratio of super starts to rockings? We go back to 2011 and consider all starts through Wednesday. There are some interesting surprises, meaning pitchers who – judging by this statistic at least – are undervalued and thus smart buys.

First, though, I want to clarify some sloppy writing from last week's column. Hat tip to commenter El Grande Culo for catching it. I wrote: "Also, if we accept that hitters controlling outcomes is the exception and not the rule, we should have a relatively big list of pitchers who happen to run into good hitting one year and bad hitting in the other." But I meant to write "rule and not the exception," as it's hitters who are shown to control the majority of the outcome (roughly two thirds) of an at bat.

Now, on to the list of the best pitchers in Super Starts-to-Rockings Ratio (minimum 14 Super Starts since 2011, which was top 30; Super Start = seven-plus innings of two-earned runs or less, and Rockings = 5-plus earned runs):

Player Super Rocked Super/Rock
Justin Verlander 22 2 11
Roy Halladay 21 2 10.5
Cole Hamels 20 2 10
Johnny Cueto 17 2 8.5
Jered Weaver 22 4 5.5
Gio Gonzalez 15 3 5
Cliff Lee 19 4 4.8
Doug Fister 14 3 4.7
Clayton Kershaw 22 5 4.4
C.J. Wilson 16 4 4
Ian Kennedy 16 4 4
James Shields 23 6 3.8
Madison Bumgarner 19 5 3.8
David Price 15 4 3.8
R.A. Dickey 14 4 3.5
CC Sabathia 17 5 3.4
Daniel Hudson 16 5 3.2
Ricky Romero 19 6 3.2
Felix Hernandez 21 7 3
Justin Masterson 15 5 3
Tim Hudson 15 5 3
Matt Cain 17 6 2.8
Chris Carpenter 15 6 2.5
Dan Haren 17 7 2.4
Joe Saunders 16 7 2.3
Tim Lincecum 18 8 2.3
Yovani Gallardo 18 8 2.3
Ricky Nolasco 15 7 2.1
Trevor Cahill 14 7 2
Gavin Floyd 14 8 1.8

This was a lot of data to go through. Since just the start of last year, there were over 1,000 games in each of these categories. But we wanted to have similarly sized groups so that the ratio generally was about 1:1.

Verlander and Halladay are givens. But who thinks Cole Hamels is the third best pitcher in baseball? He's averaging 8.4 K/9 since 2010. And he leads the league this year in K/BB ratio. So I do think Hamels has separated himself enough to be included in this top tier as this list suggests.

Cueto is really interesting. I got him this year in a 20-team industry dynasty league for Michael Brantley. Cueto became the pitcher that only the dumb guys liked because his ERA in 2011 was supposedly so lucky. But say it should have been 3.10. That's so terrible? Wanting Cueto in the winter signaled that you are a sucker for ERA and trading him signaled that you were stat savvy. Sometimes it's smart to play dumb. But is he as good as this list suggests? In Yahoo! formats, the K-rate is so light that he hurts you there. And it's gone down now four years in a row. Plus his velocity is way down, but still good at 91.8 on average for his fastball. I'd point these all out to the Cueto owner in my league and grab him for anything less than a top 30-pitcher price. The man is an elite run preventer with a ratio to match. These averages really matter.

Walks are down and Ks are up for Gonzalez. Yes, I'd pay a premium price. Think of what you'd pay but get rejected on from the Verlander or Halladay owner and just pay that for Gonzalez. Tell his owner he's shrewdly selling high (he isn't).

Fister is like Cueto. But unlike Cueto we have only one really top-notch year. He's also been hurt this year, with a torso injury that has nothing to do with his arm. If you need ERA and WHIP and can afford the middling K rate, here's your man. I also think that R.A. Dickey is a smart buy in deeper formats because knuckleballers have a reputation for being highly volatile that Dickey has proven he doesn't deserve.

This week in that dynasty league, I made equally big offers for Shields and Haren and pulled the one for Haren after putting this chart together (plus Haren has a bad back). Even though Haren has the easier sledding in the AL West, Shields has proven to be more consistently dominant with a MLB-high 23 super starts since 2011.

We all know how volatile Nolasco is. But Hernandez, Lincecum, Cain, Haren and Gallardo also fit into that category according to this chart. If you're buying them, note that you are buying this volatility, too. When you acquire a pitcher in season, you want low volatility because if he concentrates his rockings with you, your averages will unduly suffer.

One final note for a pitcher who many like, but who didn't make this list because he didn't have enough Super Starts. Brandon Morrow has pitched well of late and teased again. But note that he has more rockings – 9-to-8 – since 2011. So resist the temptation.
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