For the fourth year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. So far we’ve looked at batting average, WHIP, home run, strikeout, ERA, stolen base, saves, and RBI sleepers. In the ninth installment of the series we’ll be reviewing hitters who can be sleepers for RBI. Over 10 weeks, I will be providing a list of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV). After looking at categories that were more based on player skill over the first five weeks, we shift to categories that are more dependent on opportunity, supporting cast, and batting order spot.
Before reading any further, it’s important to note the definition of a sleeper. In this case, it’s a player who will exceed draft day ADP AND projections in a particular category. The players are broken down by mixed league sleepers and single league sleepers.
For year-to-year individual performance, Bill Petti of Beyond the Boxscore http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2012/1/9/2690405/what-starting-pitcher-metrics-correlate-year-to-year did an outstanding job of running down the year-to-year correlation of most of the stats we’re concerned with and wins have an extremely weak correlation.
However, when we look at stats that correlate with the teams that accumulate the most starting pitcher wins, there are a few numbers that stand out.
Team Starting Pitcher Wins Correlations
Innings per Game Start
Numbers closest to 1 or -1 show the strongest correlation. The correlations with quality starts as well as innings per game start haven’t been consistently strong over a four-year period, but the correlation is still strong enough to be worth mentioning. Runs against have had a more consistent correlation, and a fairly obvious one since we expect the most effective pitchers to be winners. Other stats evaluated that had extremely weak correlations include run support per nine innings, run support per game start, pitches per game start, and bullpen ERA.
Most obvious and telling is the strong correlation between team wins and starting pitcher wins. It must be stated that this strong correlation doesn’t necessarily imply good teams cause individual starting pitcher wins, but still it’s clear that the best teams undoubtedly have the most starting pitcher wins. When we break down individual results from 2014, among the 25 pitchers with at least 15 wins, only four of those were on teams that finished below .500. In 2015, only 13 pitchers notched 15 wins, and only one (Felix Hernandez) was on a team that finished below .500. In 2016, only two pitchers (Chris Sale and Jose Fernandez) out of the 23 15-game winnings were on a team below .500.
Keeping in mind the correlation between team wins and starting pitcher wins, one exercise for finding possible discounted wins from starting pitchers is to evaluate baseball’s best teams.
Below are the current teams with the best futures odds to win the World Series, according to Bovada.lv. Like average draft position in fantasy baseball, we can use these odds as a guide to predicting baseball’s best teams in 2018.
Red Sox +1200
All other teams are +2000 or worse.
While I still stick to the starting pitching mantra of paying for the skillset and hoping that the wins follow, taking a pitcher from a good team can certainly be used as a tiebreaker as you search for profit from the wins category. Below is a breakdown of some possible “wins sleepers” from these top eight teams.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers astutely used the 10-day DL last season to frequently give their pitchers extra rest. That contributed, at least in part, to none of their starters accumulating more than 27 starts last season. Obviously, that’s a concern if you’re looking to mine wins, though there’s not much room for Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Rich Hill, or Kenta Maeda to improve in the category over last season. However, the Dodgers conservative approach could create opportunities during the season for less experienced pitchers like Walker Buehler and Brock Stewart.
New York Yankees
Following the addition of Giancarlo Stanton, not to mention the second half additions of David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle in the bullpen, the Yankees roster seems loaded. If anything, their starting rotation could be their biggest weakness. New York did finish second in the AL in runs scored last season, and Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia benefitted with 13-plus wins. The Yankees have been mentioned in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, but for now, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery round out the rotation. Despite the challenges Yankee Stadium adds for pitchers, both pitchers could have an easier time tallying wins this season. Fantasy owners in deeper leagues will also be tracking top prospects Chance Adams, Domingo German, and Domingo Acevedo, each of which could turn out to be profitable fliers.
What do you get the team that has everything? The World Series Champs added Justin Verlander during the second half last season, and their big splash this offseason was the acquisition of former Pirates ace Gerrit Cole. With a starting five that includes Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Gerrit Cole, McCullers, and Charlie Morton, it’s difficult to find real sleeper value. Perhaps Collin McHugh, who was limited due to injury for most of last season, is a buy-low if he’s still on the roster entering the season.
The Indians had three starters with 17 or more wins last season in Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer. There isn’t much more those three can do for wins, and some would argue Mike Clevinger is in the same boat after winning 11 of his 21 starts with a 2.84 ERA in the process. Still, Danny Salazar could be a decent buy-low pitcher with only five wins and 103 innings pitched last year. Josh Tomlin can be effective when he’s keeping the ball down, and Cody Anderson is expected to return from Tommy John surgery early this season.
The defending NL East champs had four pitchers with 13 or more wins last season, and each is on solid ground heading into 2018. At the moment, the fifth starter spot looks like a competition between A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde, though it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the team went outside the organization to find a more experienced fifth starter.
The Cubs haven’t done anything about bringing back Jake Arrieta, meaning that Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Kyle Hendricks lead the way in the rotation. There isn’t much value to be found, with each coming off double-digit win seasons. However, the addition of Tyler Chatwood (also listed in ERA Sleepers) does provide an intriguing wins sleeper. Chatwood is coming off a 15-loss season in Colorado, but he won 12 games in 2016 and will almost certainly benefit from getting out of Coors Field. Elsewhere, Mike Montgomery is penciled in as the No. 5 starter if the Cubs don’t make another move, and could also be a nice, cheap addition.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have some interesting values behind Chris Sale, to say the least. Former Cy Young winners David Price and Rick Porcello are coming off of sub-par seasons, so each can be had for a discount if you’re willing to swallow the risk. The same can’t be said for Drew Pomeranz, who won 17 games last season and will come at a high cost in most leagues. Eduardo Rodriguez is coming off knee surgery and hoping to return in late April, so his ADP of 343 in NFBC looks very reasonable. While Rodriguez is out, it’s likely that either Steven Wright or Brian Johnson will get opportunities.
San Francisco Giants
Everything went wrong for the Giants last season in a 98-loss season, but the team’s core remains intact. That core includes three high-priced rotation members in Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija, each coming off poor seasons. All could be profitable for wins at the right price. With Matt Moore and Matt Cain gone, the other rotation options currently include Chris Stratton, Ty Blach, and Tyler Beede. Adding another starter or two seems possible, if not likely, but that trio could bring some wins value as fliers.