Pitching by the Numbers: Month at a glance

Michael Salfino
Yahoo! Sports

Sometimes it's the simple things that pay big dividends. There are so many resources at our disposal that we can forget to see which pitchers available in most leagues are pitching the best over the past month.

This doesn't mean that they'll pitch well the next 30 days. But it's enough of a sample to be bettable if not bankable. We sort by strikeouts for a couple of reasons. The main one is that it's the most meaningful (i.e., has the most predictive value) of our fantasy stats when you're looking at about six starts. It's important to not just look at the total but to also eyeball the K/IP because many Yahoo! leagues have innings caps and sometimes they are quite severe relative to standard formats where quantity can sometimes trump quality in the counting stats.

We took out pitches who have been rocked in ERA and WHIP. Again, WHIP is the more bettable stat when extrapolating a sample of this size. ERA can be greatly moved by one rocking where perhaps inherited runners scored or there was just really bad (i.e., random) luck in batting average on balls in play/left on base percentage. But I scrubbed pitchers with ERAs over 5.00 of late from the list.

Here are our candidates who are available in most Yahoo! leagues. Recommendations follow:

(Note: statistics through Thursday, June 2)

Name K/IP ERA WHIP Y! Owned %
Jake Arrieta(notes) 34/31 4.94 1.42 22%
Edwin Jackson(notes) 25/24.2 4.01 1.50 42%
Dillon Gee(notes) 25/32 3.66 1.12 12%
Scott Baker(notes) 40/36.1 4.46 1.40 32%
Bud Norris(notes) 36/37.1 4.82 1.42 46%
James McDonald(notes) 30/28.2 2.83 1.29 9%
Tim Stauffer(notes) 30/35.1 4.84 1.53 36%
Bartolo Colon(notes) 29/33.1 3.51 1.11 43%
Jonathon Niese(notes) 26/30.1 2.97 1.42 13%
Jeremy Guthrie(notes) 26/36 3.50 1.14 22%
Paul Maholm(notes) 25/39.1 3.20 1.14 6%

We start with Arrieta. Tough division. Wrong league. He's still learning how to pitch. But look at those Ks. For the year he's 8.4/9 vs. 4.7 in '10 (100.1 innings). He's only halfway there for most mixed leaguers. The reason &ndash: that walk rate is sitting at 4.4/9. That's at least one per nine innings too high. If he's ever going to break through, he very likely needs to get it closer to or under 3.0. I'm not so worried about the high homer rate. That very well could be a fluke since hitters generally are mostly responsible for the outcome of an at bat (it's about 60 percent hitter, 40 percent pitcher).

I do think Jackson has the chops to be mixed-league worthy. I don't like his WHIP, of course. That's a losing number that will torpedo you in the standings. But could Jackson be a top 30 MLB starter going forward in 2011? Absolutely. I'm not saying it's likely, but there's about a one in three chance and how many guys on waivers can you say that about?

I wrote about Dillon Gee on my SNYWhyGuys blog that mostly deals with New York sports questions. I would bet on him now as a borderline mixed league starter. In that park, given his minor league peripherals and his MLB swinging strike rate, I'd stack him in the tier of pitchers about 50 or so deep.

Baker … I've sworn him off. But you can make a case for him as he's generally not going to hurt himself with walks and he's a good bet to post positive K-rates, though not as high as we've seen from him of late. The Twins can't score. Wins will be scarce. But I can see him being a very useful freebee for a competitor even if I can't see him on my roster.

We go through Norris every week. I'm sick of talking about him. Again, he should be owned just about everywhere.

McDonald is one of the most interesting guys out there. He was a big-time pitching prospect. Sort of Edwin Jackson-like. He could be a late bloomer. There's little to criticize about his recent stretch. His park is pitcher friendly. What John Lennon saw after crawling up the ladder in Yoko Ono's Soho studio to read what looked like a tiny dot on the white ceiling: "Yes."

I'd pass on Stauffer in favor of McDonald, easily, given that Stauffer is only 13 innings away from his major-league high. And it's not like he's pitching well anyway, adjusting for league and park.

Colon is someone I wrote about in Friday's Wall Street Journal. I cannot recommend him highly enough. He's gained the most velocity of any starting pitcher, year to year, since velocity has been tracked.

Niese is underrated. He is a better bet than Gee to continue to post good strikeout numbers. He'll be somewhere in that 30-to-60 range among starters, prospectively. On the back of the napkin, let's say a 25 percent chance he's about 30, the same chance he's 60th with the 50 percent chance he's right in the middle. Lefties come fast and, like Cliff Lee(notes), often after most of us have given up on them.

I cannot recommend Guthrie and Maholm in most Yahoo! formats though I really respect Guthrie. Still, like Maholm, just not a good enough K/IP bet.

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.