Pitching by the Numbers: Quality is Job 1

Just because a dozen guys sat in a bar 30 years ago and came up with a game doesn't mean we should be stuck with their rules forever. The No. 1 fantasy baseball category that has to go is pitching wins.

Consider this tale of two Indians pitchers – Josh Tomlin(notes) and Justin Masterson(notes). I hear the traditionalists carping right now, "Wins are projectable; you just need to assess overall team strength." But looking at run support leaders and trailers, Tomlin gets the seventh best run support per start (6.49 runs) while Masterson gets the fourth worst (2.73). Tomlin has a 3.86 ERA but has nine wins. Masterson's superior 2.98 ERA has netted him just five. They pitch for the same team. That has zero to do with player picking and everything to do with luck.

The better stat – one that was harder to track back in the days of the New York City's La Rotisserie Française – is quality starts. It's not perfect, but let's not let that be the enemy of the good. It's superior to wins – more fair because it's a pitcher- and not team-reliant stat. And we're in the business of projecting pitchers, ultimately. The multitude of variables associated with the entire team on the day he pitches are largely, if not entirely, random.

Let's illustrate further the unfairness of the win category by looking the top 10 and bottom 10 pitchers in run support per start:

Top 10:

Name

Team

IP

ER

ERA

RS

RSA

Wins

CC Sabathia(notes)

NYY

129.2

44

3.05

108

7.5

11

Jon Lester(notes)

Bos

110.1

42

3.43

90

7.34

10

Mike Leake(notes)

Cin

83.1

36

3.89

66

7.13

7

Jake Arrieta(notes)

Bal

88

44

4.5

68

6.95

9

Max Scherzer(notes)

Det

102.2

51

4.47

77

6.75

9

Yovani Gallardo(notes)

Mil

103.1

45

3.92

76

6.62

9

Josh Tomlin

Cle

102.2

44

3.86

74

6.49

9

Derek Holland(notes)

Tex

100

52

4.68

72

6.48

6

Jaime Garcia(notes)

StL

105.1

39

3.33

70

5.98

7

Jason Marquis(notes)

Was

99.1

40

3.63

66

5.98

7

Bottom 10:

Name

Team

IP

ER

ERA

RS

RSA

Wins

Dustin Moseley(notes)

SD

89

30

3.03

23

2.33

2

Doug Fister(notes)

Sea

110.2

39

3.19

29

2.37

3

Dan Haren(notes)

LAA

116.2

37

2.85

35

2.7

8

Justin Masterson

Cle

105.2

35

2.98

32

2.73

5

Madison Bumgarner(notes)

SF

91.1

39

3.84

29

2.86

4

Jordan Zimmermann(notes)

Was

102.2

30

2.63

33

2.89

5

Derek Lowe(notes)

Atl

101.2

47

4.16

33

2.92

4

James Shields(notes)

TB

128.2

35

2.45

42

2.94

8

Brett Anderson(notes)

Oak

83.1

37

4

28

3.02

3

Mike Pelfrey(notes)

NYM

100.2

55

4.92

34

3.04

4

The guys with the most run support have allowed more runs (3.53 ERA) than the guys with the least (3.36), yet have won (through Thursday) an average of 8.4 games to 4.6 for the run support trailers. Four wins have won/lost many a fantasy leagues. If you are unlucky enough to have Zimmermann versus Marquis, you're down about four wins right there considering that Zimmermann likely would have nine victories with Marquis's support versus the five he has with his own. Again, they're both Nationals, so don't tell me that Zimmermann's owners should have known.

Now let's look at quality start leaders (top 25):

Name

Team

QS

Justin Verlander(notes)

Det

17

Jered Weaver(notes)

LAA

15

Roy Halladay(notes)

Phi

14

Cole Hamels(notes)

Phi

14

Dan Haren

LAA

14

James Shields

TB

14

Matt Cain(notes)

SF

13

Daniel Hudson(notes)

Ari

13

Cliff Lee(notes)

Phi

13

Ricky Romero(notes)

Tor

13

Jordan Zimmermann

Was

13

Felix Hernandez(notes)

Sea

12

Jair Jurrjens(notes)

Atl

12

Clayton Kershaw(notes)

LAD

12

Jon Lester

Bos

12

Justin Masterson

Cle

12

Michael Pineda(notes)

Sea

12

Tim Stauffer(notes)

SD

12

Josh Tomlin

Cle

12

Jake Arrieta

Bal

11

Josh Beckett(notes)

Bos

11

Mark Buehrle(notes)

CWS

11

Madison Bumgarner

SF

11

Trevor Cahill(notes)

Oak

11

Jhoulys Chacin(notes)

Col

11

Maybe it's shocking to have a guy like Verlander with 17 in the category that once was wins. But it's all relative. Teams tend to score pretty close to 4.5 runs per game on average, so pitching at that rate tends to be good enough to win. Ideally, I'd make it three runs or less in seven innings instead of six, but the capabilities of your scoring systems may vary. But again, just plain Jane quality starts is better if we live in a world where fairer equals better.

Think about it – no more sweating out the bullpen. No more crying about the injustice of a lack of run support. No complaining when your leaguemate's pitcher gets a win despite giving up six runs. No more Yankees premiums or Mariners discounts.

What are we waiting for?

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.

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