Pitching by the Numbers: Taking the lead

Getting the leadoff hitter out every inning is the most important box on the pitching checklist. In innings when they do it, pitchers' ERA this year is 2.15. In innings when they fail, it's 7.75.
Put another way, when you let the leadoff hitter on, the opposing team is more than three times as likely to score.
But, of course, pitchers face far more hitters overall than they do to leadoff innings. When he's great at both, there's no action step for us fantasy owners. He's great, period. When he's bad at both, conversely, he should be swept from every roster.
But one very neat way I think to isolate pitchers who may be unlucky in ERA especially is to see where he's good overall but poor against leadoff hitters. There's a pretty good chance that's due to chance. I stipulate that it's possible that certain pitchers just lack the focus to deal with leadoff hitters, who are arguably more intent than usual to get on. But that's complicated and speculative. The simplest answer is that it's just a product of the smaller numbers.
So let's start with the pitchers who are among the leaders in limiting leadoff (LO) OBP and see if we can perhaps just isolate some bad luck. We're looking to sell only pitchers who are below average overall in OBP, making their extreme goodness against leadoff hitters seem fluky. And we may want to buy/believe in pitchers who I suspect the market is suspecting a correction on. In other words, that correction ain't coming. When there's nothing in the action column, there is no related explanation. All these are top 20 guys in leadoff OBP allowed:
OA-OBP stands for Overall OBP

Player

Team

LO-OBP

OA-OBP

Diff.

Action

Jake Westbrook

StL

.232

.338

-.106

SELL

Randall Delgado

Atl

.242

.330

-.088

SELL

Derek Lowe

Cle

.257

.345

-.088

SELL

Homer Bailey

Cin

.235

.319

-.084

Tommy Hanson

Atl

.254

.337

-.083

SELL

Kevin Correia

Pit

.230

.304

-.074

Johnny Cueto

Cin

.247

.315

-.068

Roy Halladay

Phi

.233

.289

-.056

Jeremy Hellickson

TB

.247

.290

-.043

Carlos Zambrano

Mia

.253

.292

-.039

Matt Garza

ChC

.258

.296

-.038

Shaun Marcum

Mil

.261

.292

-.031

Johan Santana

NYM

.239

.262

-.023

Edwin Jackson

Was

.247

.266

-.019

BUY

Wade Miley

Ari

.261

.275

-.014

Clayton Kershaw

LAD

.253

.265

-.012

Brandon Beachy

Atl

.237

.247

-.010

BUY

Gio Gonzalez

Was

.254

.261

-.007

BUY

James McDonald

Pit

.260

.256

.004

BUY

Chris Sale

CWS

.261

.252

.009

BUY


Westbrook's numbers aren't even that good and he probably should be awful. Either way, he's not viable in most Yahoo! formats. So that's only for NL-only leaguers. Same goes for Delgado. Lowe is being faded by all the sharps, but we've finally hit on the precise reason why he's been so lucky. A big ERA correction also seems to be coming for Hanson, so if you've got him, trade him now.
What's most interesting about this list is how kind it is to a bunch of early surprises who the market thinks will regress or who (Jackson) they still do not believe in.
I heard an expert this week say to take Bud Norris over Jackson for the rest of the season. If Norris outperforms Jackson for the rest of this year irrespective of injury, I will (insert something embarrassing here). And James McDonald is for real, too, which I would not have bought before crunching this data.
Now the buy guys because they've been uncharacteristically horrid versus leadoff hitters and thus likely have ERAs that are badly over-inflated. (They are all bottom 25 in OBP allowed to leadoff hitters.)

Player

Team

LO-OBP

OA-OBP

Diff.

Action

Hiroki Kuroda

NYY

.452

.327

.125

Dillon Gee

NYM

.438

.320

.118

BUY

Aaron Harang

LAD

.412

.326

.086

Ricky Romero

Tor

.398

.313

.085

BUY

Wei-Yin Chen

Bal

.386

.310

.076

BUY

Tommy Milone

Oak

.361

.292

.069

BUY

Jonathon Niese

NYM

.375

.310

.065

BUY

Wandy Rodriguez

Hou

.367

.302

.065

Gavin Floyd

CWS

.386

.330

.056

Yu Darvish

Tex

.394

.339

.055

Brian Matusz

Bal

.382

.331

.051

Felix Hernandez

Sea

.361

.321

.040

Ivan Nova

NYY

.392

.355

.037

Trevor Cahill

Ari

.365

.329

.036

Jaime Garcia

StL

.391

.356

.035

Bud Norris

Hou

.366

.331

.035

Tommy Hunter

Bal

.371

.345

.026

Mike Leake

Cin

.362

.339

.023

Randy Wolf

Mil

.381

.380

.001

Luke Hochevar

KC

.361

.371

-0.01


Clearly we're talking guys in deeper formats mostly. Gee is sort of on the bubble. You can skim him though for sure, especially if you don't buy the bad home splits (you shouldn't because it makes zero sense).
Probably the most disrespected guy here relative to how I view his potential is Niese. I know he has badly faded in the past. But we're talking a 25-year-old lefty who can dial it up to 93 with a bunch of good pitches and overall success in limiting OBP. One who also has an elite K/9. I told a waiter today to trade Lance Lynn for Matt Holliday (that was his trade) and just pick up Niese on waivers to replace Lynn. Good chance he loses little or nothing on the pitching side (wins, I know, but who knows).
Chen has been good and probably should be very good, but I steer clear of the AL East when possible. Ditto Milone, but his K/9 doesn't play for many.

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