Pitching by the Numbers: Examining dominance of starters

I get accused fairly all the time in this space of being strikeout obsessed. And if you’re going to be obsessed about anything in pitching, it definitely should be that. But this week as we still wait for 2016 numbers to have any weight, let’s look more broadly at dominance with the help of our friends at Major League Baseball stat provider Inside Edge.

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They track three stats relative to league average in their “dominance” category in their individual pitching report cards. Dominance then as a whole receives a numerical grade on a scale of 1-to-100. The stats are: 1) percentage of outs that are strikeouts on four pitches or less, 2) 1-2-3 innings as a percentage of completed innings, 3) swing and miss percentage of strikes.

So let’s pull all starting pitches who threw at least 800 pitches last year and who in these stats pulled an overall dominance grade of at least 88 — meaning they were B-plus or better in dominance. Note there are only 19 pitchers who made the grade, led by four who scored exactly 94 cumulatively: Jacob deGrom, Corey Kluber, Jake Arrieta and Joe Ross.

2016 Dominance Leaders | PointAfter

Typically I get people in the comments complaining about pitchers like Greg Maddux but Maddux for his era I’m certain would have done quite well in these stats. Notice that Hisashi Iwakuma, hardly a dominant strikeout pitcher, does very well in our stats, which also factor the efficiency/ease with which you retire batters. Cody Anderson’s strikeout rate was downright abysmal but there he is at the bottom of the best-of list due largely to a insanely high rate of 47 percentage 1-2-3 innings (MLB average is 38 percentage).

Now, I get that 1-2-3 innings is not a fantasy category (though wouldn’t it be cool if it was). But does that mean that the pitchers stuff is good enough to be bettable and to perhaps predict that a very low rate of Ks in Anderson’s case is a good bet to increase? Probably. Otherwise Anderson showing up here would be the fluke of all time, a possibility for sure but unlikely.

But Anderson is only someone to roster now in deep, AL-only formats. With mixed leagues in mind, given these statistics, who should we target as pitchers who last year were far more dominant than the market perceives?

Topping the list of course Ross, who I note here often. I say this again, Joe Ross is at least as good as his brother Tyson and no one is going to make you pay to find out if I’m right. 

Forget about Noah Syndergaard for close to ADP, not after the Royals’ Ned Yost said there’s “not a man on earth” who could have hit him his last start. That brings us to Iwakuma, who also makes many of my lists. Sure, he failed a physical. But he obviously passed the Mariners’ one and didn’t think he was hurt or he would have just accepted his tender for nearly $16 million.

Travis Wood should not be on this list given how many of those pitches were as a reliever. Ignore him.

I do like Erasmo Ramirez, though I hate the AL East, which you should avoid if you can. Ramirez could be good there and still have a 4.10 ERA. I guess the same could be said about Tanaka but I view him as a rock-solid fantasy No. 2 when healthy and we should probably stop obsessing about his elbow. 

Walker I’m betting will be a fantasy No. 2 or even No. 1 this year. Call it a 1A in the American League. I’d love to own him on any team. Trade Trevor Story for Walker right now. 

The really cheap plays are Pomeranz and Tomlin, who are both in rotations. Tomlin was a force at the end of last season, as some people who won championships know. And (K-BB)/IP loved Tomlin before last season, though I said, “Of course ignore Tomlin.” I was almost embarrassed he showed up on that list. That was stupid of me. Always respect the stats!

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