Pitching by the Numbers: Monthly movers

David Price, MLB man of mystery. (Getty)
David Price, MLB man of mystery. (Getty)

Let’s isolate performance in the last month in the statistic that best predicts ERA and WHIP — (strikeouts minus walks)/innings pitched.

We’re looking for reasons to believe in pitchers who are performing well in the averages, i.e., they are also performing well in the statistic. But we’re especially looking for pitchers who are doing well in the statistic while having an inflated ERA because these ERAs can make them cheap or even free (because they've been cut).

I’d never isolate a month of performance with a hitter. And I hate chopping up samples, period. But pitchers can undergo significant changes in season due to fatigue/injury, the elimination of a nagging injury, a mechanical change, an adjustment in pitch usage or even in the development of a pitch. The possibilities are many, if not quite endless. And you know a stat is working when the reaction to most of the high achievers is, “Well, duh, we know those guys are great.” Again, we’re looking for outliers. Here’s the top 25 in the stat from May 16 through June 16:

Sale, when healthy, is the best pitcher in baseball. But Kershaw is more valuable to us because he plays in the friendlier league and park and is on the better team.

Price has been a mystery all year but he’s remained elite in this stat. Does he throw too many strikes? Scott Pianowski and I were talking about how Price needs to hit a couple batters early in a game or at least dust them. No stupid head hunting, but part of the game is not letting hitters feel so relaxed about seeing a pitch in the zone. Those six homers in the period are just unacceptable. Something needs to be done, but clearly the stuff is there.

Odorizzi’s walks are high but we’re adjusting for this, remember. Wheeler is also a get if he’s available, especially on the waiver wire. I’d believe in Arrieta, who has always had stuff. Tanaka has regressed but is still very good. No worries there. Cobb is a guy people believe in but if you can get him cheap, do so. Tomlin is a shocker. He’s a sneaky get at 8 percent owned in Yahoo leagues.

Yes, I have to say something about Teheran, whose performance in this category has caught up with his fantasy performance to a large degree, though his ERA is still too low. Teheran owners have been trolling me all year like I hate the guy when all I said was to sell him high to the many believers. If you listened to me, big deal. You got top value anyway. The reasonable criticism of these models is when they cause you to sell a big name (say Verlander, who this stat has hated all year) low and then he turns it around. Teheran is no harm, no foul.

Now let’s see if there are big names among the trailers, instead of pasting the entire list, which is available here.

Out of 120 qualifying pitchers, here is the ranking in the statistic and ERA among some name brand types:

Justin Verlander (116, 7.88), Michael Wacha (115, 3.00), Ervin Santana (110, 6.44), A.J. Burnett (105, 5.58), Hiroki Kuroda (103, 3.89), Tim Lincecum (99, 4.86)….

Now Lincecum is a guy you can rip me for because the model said he’d be good in the stat because he was good at it, and since he’s been bad at it. If that causes you to throw out this stat, though, you are being dumb. You can’t reasonably hold any model to such high a standard. The trick to using models is to believe only that they optimize your chances for finding the ultimate truth, not that they represent the truth itself. This is hard, even for me, because the shorthand is so seductive and a model like this is so devilishly simply and sound.

And even the people who mock models are using them. They’re just not writing things down or looking at objective data. Their models are in their heads and are subject to the vagaries of memory, with all of its selectivity and biases.

Continuing with some high ERA achievers in the period whose performance in the stat suggests they are being quite lucky: Jonathon Niese (90, 2.97), Lance Lynn (94, 2.35), Mark Buehrle (88, 2.59), Kyle Gibson (84, 2.37), Tommy Milone (79, 2.61), Scott Kazmir (61, 1.72), Jordan Zimmermann (58, 2.36). To be clear, Kazmir and Zimmermann should continue to be average or better in ERA, too, even if their performance in our stat remains the same.

Here are some top 50 guys (in order) who you should believe will continue to at least help you in ERA or who have recently been quite unlucky:

Josh Beckett (26, 2.61), Ian Kennedy (27, 3.89), Jamie Garcia (28, 3.72), Ryan Vogelsong (29, 3.62), Collin McHugh (30, 3.67), Mike Leake (33, 5.03), Chase Whitley (35, 2.79), Bartolo Colon (38, 1.78), Charlie Morton (45, 2.92), Dallas Keuchel (47, 1.43).

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