Getting the leadoff hitter out every inning is the most important box on the pitching checklist. In innings when they do it, pitchers' ERA this year is 2.15. In innings when they fail, it's 7.75.
Put another way, when you let the leadoff hitter on, the opposing team is more than three times as likely to score.
But, of course, pitchers face far more hitters overall than they do to leadoff innings. When he's great at both, there's no action step for us fantasy owners. He's great, period. When he's bad at both, conversely, he should be swept from every roster.
But one very neat way I think to isolate pitchers who may be unlucky in ERA especially is to see where he's good overall but poor against leadoff hitters. There's a pretty good chance that's due to chance. I stipulate that it's possible that certain pitchers just lack the focus to deal with leadoff hitters, who are arguably more intent than usual to get on. But that's complicated and speculative. The simplest answer is that it's just a product of the smaller numbers.
So let's start with the pitchers who are among the leaders in limiting leadoff (LO) OBP and see if we can perhaps just isolate some bad luck. We're looking to sell only pitchers who are below average overall in OBP, making their extreme goodness against leadoff hitters seem fluky. And we may want to buy/believe in pitchers who I suspect the market is suspecting a correction on. In other words, that correction ain't coming. When there's nothing in the action column, there is no related explanation. All these are top 20 guys in leadoff OBP allowed:
OA-OBP stands for Overall OBP
Westbrook's numbers aren't even that good and he probably should be awful. Either way, he's not viable in most Yahoo! formats. So that's only for NL-only leaguers. Same goes for Delgado. Lowe is being faded by all the sharps, but we've finally hit on the precise reason why he's been so lucky. A big ERA correction also seems to be coming for Hanson, so if you've got him, trade him now.
What's most interesting about this list is how kind it is to a bunch of early surprises who the market thinks will regress or who (Jackson) they still do not believe in.
I heard an expert this week say to take Bud Norris over Jackson for the rest of the season. If Norris outperforms Jackson for the rest of this year irrespective of injury, I will (insert something embarrassing here). And James McDonald is for real, too, which I would not have bought before crunching this data.
Now the buy guys because they've been uncharacteristically horrid versus leadoff hitters and thus likely have ERAs that are badly over-inflated. (They are all bottom 25 in OBP allowed to leadoff hitters.)
Clearly we're talking guys in deeper formats mostly. Gee is sort of on the bubble. You can skim him though for sure, especially if you don't buy the bad home splits (you shouldn't because it makes zero sense).
Probably the most disrespected guy here relative to how I view his potential is Niese. I know he has badly faded in the past. But we're talking a 25-year-old lefty who can dial it up to 93 with a bunch of good pitches and overall success in limiting OBP. One who also has an elite K/9. I told a waiter today to trade Lance Lynn for Matt Holliday (that was his trade) and just pick up Niese on waivers to replace Lynn. Good chance he loses little or nothing on the pitching side (wins, I know, but who knows).
Chen has been good and probably should be very good, but I steer clear of the AL East when possible. Ditto Milone, but his K/9 doesn't play for many.