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Pitching by the Numbers: The Dominators

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

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Phil Hughes has shown flashes of his ace stuff. (USAT)

Consistency often comes late with pitchers. But first we see the ability to dominate games, even intermittently.

One of the ways to identify sleepers is to look at dominant starts, which is different than quality starts, forgetting everything else. Just a raw super-quality-start count. By my book, that means at least six innings with no more than two earned runs, at least six Ks and no more than eight baserunners. But we can quibble in the comments.

The pitchers with the most 2013 starts that fit these criteria are listed below. I’ve also included their won-loss record in these starts to illustrate how ridiculous a category wins can be. And I’ve included their bombings, too; by that I mean starts where they gave up at least five runs.

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I received a lot of push-back in last week’s column over stating that Harvey is the best pitcher in baseball. This has nothing to do with me being a New Yorker and, full disclosure (as everyone who follows me on Twitter knows), a Mets fan. But Mets fans right now can’t stand the team. You’re certainly not going to see me being biased in their favor. Remember, New Yorkers have a love-hate relationship with their teams: We love to hate them. But there are just too many ways to quantify that Harvey is the game’s best pitcher right now. And here’s another one – 10 starts by my super-quality standard and zero rockings. That’s plus-10. Wainwright is next at plus-8. It’s not crazy to defer to Kershaw (plus-6), either. But it’s hard to deny that Harvey is having a better season. And notice that Justin Verlander isn’t even on this list (he has four super-quality starts). Of course, the full sample of Verlander’s career should be considered but I can’t state confidently that he warrants a nod over Harvey in a hypothetical must-win game right now, can you?

The one major takeaway from the above list is to roster Phil Hughes, who, as we all know, has been maddeningly inconsistent for his whole career. He’s available in 68 percent of Yahoo! leagues. If you’re struggling and need an ace, you know at least that Hughes is capable of pitching like one. And he’s free. I think the high-ceiling players are more interesting than the high-floor ones the longer we get into the season when you are looking to gain dramatically in the standings. When you are looking to hold your advantage, always defer to the guy with the higher floor.

What if we expand our list to pitchers with four super-quality starts, which, after all, is as many as Verlander has. Mixed in with Jeff Samardzija and Jordan Zimmermann are more readily available pitchers Ricky Nolasco, Ublado Jimenez and Jason Vargas. And Hector Santiago has three, which is even more impressive when you consider he only has eight starts. And one that didn’t qualify was his last one: 8-3-1-1-5 (the five Ks knocked it out).

Another pitcher who isn’t even on the list but who showed me enough last year and in the minors this year to demand being rostered in every format is Mariners righty Erasmo Ramirez, who will be promoted to the majors as soon as front office gets an ounce of sense (could be a while). Upon that promotion, my order here would be Ramirez, Santiago, Hughes, Jimenez, Nolasco, Vargas. But all are potentially good and currently cheap.

I don’t know what to do about wins. I hate the conventional definition of quality starts to replace wins in mixed leagues because a 4.50 ERA can be a last place number in mixers. We could just make it two runs or less in six-plus innings and forget the other numbers, since we’re credited for those anyway. I like that. Look at Shields who is 1-3 in six starts of this caliber for reasons that clearly have nothing to do with Shields. Pitchers are often just passengers on the wins bus. The team is driving.
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