NBA free-agency tracker:

Pitching by the Numbers: Worst things first

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

Let's turn last week's 30-day split numbers on their head and this week look only at the most-owned pitchers who have pitched the worst over the last month.

We're looking only at ownership rates over 80 percent. And we're sorting by ERA not because it's the most meaning stat for projection purposes – far from it – but because it's the number that makes us most sick when we're stealing away some time from our wives or girlfriends (almost stuck an "and" in there) to check the in-progress action on our smart phones.

Analysis/recommendations will follow. Take your complaints to the comment boards. I understand that when you even suggest anything negative about guys who are over 80 percent owned, you are going to make readers more angry than soccer moms whose kids are stuck watching on the sidelines. Reason and objectivity rarely apply.

(Note: statistics through Thursday, June 9)

Name IP K ERA WHIP Y! Owned %
Max Scherzer(notes) 26.1 21 7.52 1.67 93%
Jonathan Papelbon(notes) 11.1 17 7.15 1.59 97%
Tim Hudson(notes) 20.2 17 6.97 1.55 85%
Joakim Soria(notes) 14.1 12 6.28 1.53 88%
Drew Storen(notes) 11.2 12 6.17 1.2 88%
Jon Lester(notes) 29.2 28 5.76 1.62 98%
Trevor Cahill(notes) 35.1 22 5.35 1.67 91%
Jaime Garcia(notes) 36.1 28 4.71 1.43 92%

With a power arm like Scherzer, first step is to make sure the velocity is okay. He's down relative to his 2010, post-recall averages but up from his 2010 beginning. I'm mildly concerned here. His walk rate has been good/okay even in this bad stretch. But he hasn't had a double-digit strikeout game, which is surprising. Last year, he K'ed 23 percent of batters, this year it's 21 percent. His pitch movement is less than last year's averages. He's good. But he was drafted to be dominant and I do not see any dominance even simmering below the surface when I dig down to the foundational pitching stats. I'd hold him, but he's not going to be a foundation to some dramatic finish for his stat-strapped owners.

Papelbon's K-rate is encouraging. But of course, you have a lot more chances to get Ks when you are facing more hitters. The better stat is percentage of batters you strike out. Last year, his rate was 26.4 percent. This year, 32.1 percent. That's significant. Yet he's given up a run or more in five of his last seven appearances. But average fastball velocity is up of late. Don't see any reason to worry here.

The ironic thing about Hudson is that he was terrible with the Ks when he was pitching great – at least measured in WHIP – and now the Ks have picked up but the averages have gone south. Again, though, the K-rate hasn't jumped as much as it appears because you have to focus on batters faced. It's 17.7 percent during the past month and 13.2 percent prior. No matter how you slice it, Hudson has marginal stuff. So it's never a shocker when his results are marginal or even below.

Is Soria's velocity now a problem? I think fantasy observers, even astute ones, track velocity only when a pitcher is struggling or complaining of some arm soreness. Call it the Shaun Marcum(notes) effect. He is averaging 90.7 mph now, down from 91.9 last year – but right in line with 90.9 in 2008 when he had probably his best season. The walks are up and Ks are down, but the sample sizes for relievers are so small that it's almost a joke. The idea that a guy can lose his job after what amounts to one full bad game for a starter is silly. But that's the dark side for closers, whose jobs generally are much easier than fans and GMs think.

Storen throws gas, so the glass is half full for me. The WHIP is encouraging. Hold.

Lester is interesting. His velocity is down from last year but up from early in 2011 and it pretty much mirrors, start-for-start, his 2009. Lester has an ERA of 4.50 or more in five of his last six starts. He's walked four or more in three of his last six starts. But we know he's pitched poorly. His homer rate seems really high (13.3%). Given that he's extreme ground ball, that's not crippling. He's getting destroyed with his curveball (minus-8.5 runs per 100 curves). I hate curveball-dominant pitchers for reasons I'll get into in a future column. Last year, he had three pitches working and this year it's really only the cutter. The fastball hasn't been effective either year. He's good. But I think most observers overvalue him slightly. He's a top 20 pitcher, not a top 10.

Cahill and Garcia are similar to Hudson in that they have marginal velocity. Cahill fails to meet two important criteria for pitchers we target – a K/9 of at least 7.00 and a K/BB of at least 2/1. I'm not saying that Cahill should be cut, Cahill owners. Just saying that he's more fungible than many thought early in the year – at least in typical mixed leagues.

Conversely, Garcia meets our two targets rather easily. Plus he's pitching in the right league and in a pitching-friendly park and since he's a lefty, we don't care as much about the radar gun. Garcia also has plus movement, at least measuring not just Ks but also swinging strike percentage. So he's more definitely a hold.

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.

View Comments