Pitching by the Numbers: K's with control

Michael Salfino
Yahoo! SportsApril 29, 2011

You can find more from Michael Salfino at SNYWhyGuys.com

This week we'll take a look at one the most important April pitching stat – K/BB ratio. We pounce on it early because it's proven to be less prone to dramatic volatility as the data gets more reliable.

I do appreciate the kind words most of you have for this feature. You get what we're trying to do and for that I'm grateful. But I'd be remiss if I did not address those intermittent viewer missives focused generally on two main points. I understand that K/BB ratio, in the case of this week's piece, is not a category in your leagues. But this is not a valid criticism for the simple reason that K/BB ratio greatly impacts the categories that are scored. Remedial players worry about the fantasy categories while the savvy players look deeper to the foundational stats. The other criticism is much more valid: it is early. These sample sizes are small. However, small is all we have now and you can't sit April and even May out while you wait for bankable numbers. You have to settle for merely bettable.

Here are the current K/BB leaders sorted by Yahoo! availability. The K/BB rank is of the current 110 qualifying starters. Thanks to Fangraphs.com for their great site. Recommendations and qualifications follow:

Player Team K/BB rank K/9 BB/9 K/BB Y! % WHIP LOB% ERA
Jason Marquis(notes) Was 27 6.04 1.78 3.4 3% 1.38 74% 3.55
Jeff Francis(notes) KC 14 4.5 1.06 4.25 5% 1.47 66% 5.03
Brandon McCarthy(notes) Oak 4 5.86 1.02 5.75 17% 1.27 69% 3.57
Bartolo Colon(notes) NYY 13 9 2.08 4.33 18% 1.12 77% 2.77
Bud Norris(notes) Hou 22 10.29 2.89 3.56 18% 1.39 72% 3.86
Brandon Beachy(notes) Atl 25 9.51 2.76 3.44 27% 1.09 77% 3.68
Travis Wood(notes) Cin 26 7.62 2.22 3.43 27% 1.38 61% 5.4
Jeremy Guthrie(notes) Bal 10 5.34 1.13 4.75 32% 1.09 85% 2.53
Randy Wolf(notes) Mil 20 8.51 2.35 3.63 41% 1.17 80% 2.64
Gavin Floyd(notes) CWS 15 8.49 2.06 4.13 56% 1.09 76% 3.6
Ian Kennedy(notes) Ari 35 7.47 2.3 3.25 56% 1.09 63% 4.02
Bronson Arroyo(notes) Cin 7 8.19 1.52 5.4 59% 1.31 76% 3.64

Y! % denotes ownership percentage in Yahoo! leagues

All of these guys should be owned in every AL- or NL-only league. And all except Marquis and Francis should be owned in standard 12-team mixed leagues without onerous innings limits. Marquis is a play in weekly leagues during two-start weeks. Francis, though, I would avoid in most formats because the Royals are a bad team in the tougher league and because his K-rate just doesn't play. I tip my cap to anyone who walks about 1/9 innings. For now, just put Francis on a watch list.

Colon is just ridiculous. His fastball is back to about his post-2002 average. In another era, he'd be a prime steroid suspect. But MLB testing seems more than half serious now. And I'm not moralizing here. If I was Barry Bonds, greatest player in the world, and saw the likes of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire getting calls from the president when everyone knew what they were doing, I probably would have responded similarly and so would you. "I can cheat, too, boys. There's 73 homers. Now beat that." But a suspension would wipe out a good part of his season and I learned losing Tout Wars due to Manny Ramirez(notes) suspension that you can't be too dismissive of rumors.

Guthrie is the only other close call here. His ERA going forward, even if that K/BB holds, is going to be 3.50-4.00 because his strand rate is not going to stay at 85 percent. The division and park and league are negative factors. Except for Francis, grab all these other guys first. Marquis vs. Guthrie is a toss up. But note that walking so few really limits your downside.

Norris should be gobbled up. When you see 10.29 K/9, that's automatic. And a walk rate under 3/9? Norris's ownership rate is a joke. And, yes, I do like Wood because his strand rate is coming down and over 7 K/9 with a BB/9 under 3 is automatic in 95 percent of leagues, too.

Michael Salfino writes and edits the SNYWhyGuys blog that projects player and team performance for New Yorkers. He's also a quantative sports analyst whose writing regularly appears in the Wall Street Journal. .