# Perfect Pitch

Hopefully the All Star Break rejuvenated you and you're ready for your league(s)' pennant run. On the plus side, there's only 10 weeks left. On the minus side, well, there's only ten weeks left. So how are my teams doing? Have you seen The Dark Knight yet? Let's just say Jo-Jo Reyes' WHIP is doing to my team what the Joker's pencil did to that thug. It's not pretty, but you have to laugh.

Hmm, I suppose that heading could have many meanings. The one I'm going to explore is determining which starting rotations in the NL and AL are in the best positions for fantasy success the rest of the way. We've talked a lot about wins being a function of a pitcher's team, so I won't belabor the point. However, let's look at four issues that are a combination of a pitcher's team and his own skill:

1. Bullpen ERA vs. Rotation ERA [d(ERA)] -- Remember my mantra: Blown saves mean blown wins. Let's compare the ERA's of the starting rotations against those of their bullpens. What we want is the best bullpens compared to their rotations, so the best fantasy teams will be those with the largest delta between their bullpen ERA and their starting rotation ERA.

2. Base Runners vs. Outs [d(OB)] -- When a starter faces a batter, he's either going to put him on base or create an out (yes, a fielder's choice does both and there is another alternative, an error, but let's just shelve those for now). So we'll subtract walks, hits and hit batters from the total number of outs that the starting rotations have created. Yes, it is mathematically similar to WHIP, but there is a slight difference. The best fantasy teams will have a lot more outs than men on base.

3. Strikeout Percentage [K%] -- Getting outs is good, but getting strikeouts is better. Yes, in real baseball you could argue the merits of a double play versus a strikeout, but we're talking fantasy ball here, and strikeouts are a category, which make them important. Teams whose outs are made up of a larger percentage of strikeouts (or put another way, a higher quality of outs) are more attractive to us.

4. Home Run Percentage [HR%] -- Okay, so if we look at the quality of the outs, let's also look at the quality of the hits. The teams that have fewer home runs as a percentage of their starters' hits given up are the better fantasy teams.

Got all that? I was striving for easy to calculate and understand. This analysis isn't exhaustive, but it is geared to fantasy teams. To measure all these, we'll use simple rotisserie scoring and give the best team in a category in the AL a 14 and the best team in the NL a 16. We'll number the rest of the teams in their respective leagues accordingly. Want to see how they came out?

American League

While Toronto is easily the top of the heap it has two things going against it: (1) an average bullpen and (2) three great teams ahead of them in their division. You'll have to bring you're A-game, Blue Jays, if you're going to have success in the AL East. Having said that, their pitchers will help you in all categories, except wins. The White Sox and A's are staying close by relying on their starters, but look at the Yankees. Sure they let runners on base, but they also kill rallies with strikeouts and aren't prone to the gopher ball. Expect a strong second half out of them.

Minnesota makes a surprising low showing on our list, but even though they're average about keeping men off base, they're well below it in giving up home runs and strike outs. This doesn't bode well for a stretch run. Baltimore made a huge investment in its bullpen, and it paid off. But considering how bad its starters are (Adam Loewen is now trying a Rick Ankiel-like conversion to the outfield), it's like putting a new bell on the Titanic. We know Cleveland's bullpen has been bad, but it looks like their starters haven't been much better (minus Cliff Lee, of course). This is a lost year for the Tribe. Texas is up to its usual tricks, but oddly enough, they're doing well at keeping the ball in the park. If you're looking for an innings eater that won't hurt you, think Vicente Padilla.

National League

I wouldn't have guessed that the top three NL teams would be from the west, but there they are. If Randy Johnson is truly back to form (he REALLY wants 300 wins, doesn't he?), that gives the Diamondbacks perhaps the best top three in any rotation this season. Behind them are the Dodgers that look balanced enough to make this year's race last until the final day. If you're wondering how the Giants got up there, think about Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, who strikeout everyone. If the Giants can make the right personnel moves over the winter, this could be a tough young team to play in '09. And while the Mets, Cubs, and Phillies were no surprises, Atlanta could be one starter away from getting back into the race (if they so choose).

You knew to stay away form Washington's rotation and the Astros are about to cave in on themselves (another fine night for Jose Valverde on Monday). Pittsburgh hasn't been able to figure things out in the first five innings (note their fourth place rating in bullpen ERA differential), and perhaps their offense should merge with Toronto's pitching. But the real surprise here is Florida (surprise for some, but not us Pitcher Perfect readers). I pointed out a month ago that the team's success was not sustainable as this was a low strikeout pitching staff backed up by a mediocre defense. But notice how many men they put on base and how well their bullpen bails them out. That spells vulture wins from their bullpen and makes for an interesting two months in the NL East.

The only other thing to point out is how awful St. Louis has been with strikeouts. The team's success makes their pitchers attractive on the waiver wire, but just keep in mind that without the K's, they have to win to help you (and that bullpen is killing them -- I would love to see one of the Cards' young outfielders and Anthony Reyes go to Colorado for Brian Fuentes).

In my last column I said Justin Duchscherer should have given me a sign to let me know he would be this good. One reader essentially responded that his ratios should have given me a clue (and incidentally may have implied that I needed one). I thought the response I gave was instructive enough to share with the rest of the class. Yes, his numbers as a reliever showed he had good command, but reliever numbers don't always extrapolate directly into starter numbers. The two are different animals even though they're both pitchers.

A reliever usually comes in an inning at a time, amasses somewhere between 60 and 80 innings in a season, and sees individual batters 1-5 times a season. So the reliever worries less about adjustment and fatigue and more about just blowing away or fooling the guy he's facing. A starter sees a batter 3-5 times a game, and must adjust based on the last at-bat where the batter invariably learned something about him and his tendencies. So a reliever can have wonderful success facing different batters all the time (I think of him as the protagonist in Memento), but he has to adjust his thinking and his pitching to make it translate to starting.

As for Justin (I'm avoiding spelling his last name again), he's done well to continue to fool batters as a starter, but another issue I was concerned about last March was his innings. He's been hurt the past couple of years, and I was unsure if he could get 30 starts this year. He may, but we're still on the good side of the dog days of August and we'll have to see if his arm holds up. So yes, Justin is continuing the success he had as a reliever, but there's no guarantee that will happen every time (or even continue this time).

Wow, the D-backs like to poke me in the eye sometimes. Johnson had a good thing going with Robby Hammock as his catcher, so for a very important matchup with the Cubs ... they started Chris Snyder. I have no problem with that working if it supports my call a couple of weeks ago to pick Randy up for a strong second half. And those worried about the D-backs bullpen, realize that Brandon Lyon was pitching for the third straight game when he imploded on Sunday. They'll be at least average.

So far Rich Harden has done what he was brought in to do, but he's been let down by his offense and his teammates. When Alfonso Soriano returns all will be right with the former. With Kerry Wood likely going to the DL, we'll have to see what happens with the latter. Either way, Harden's other numbers will be incredible, especially strikeouts.

When you're spotted an 11-0 lead after three innings and you can't get the win, it's time to bail on you. Bye-bye, Eric Stults (and those very large ears).

Okay, the Phillies now have Joe Blanton ... now what? We know he's not good for strikeouts, which lowers his fantasy value. But he is going to a pennant race team with a great bullpen. However, the Phillies play in a homer-friendly stadium. But on the other hand, Blanton has had nice ground ball to fly ball ratios. So what we have are opposing forces. Blanton's problem this year have been threefold: (1) heavy mileage on his arm the past three seasons; (2) heightened expectations of being the ace, which he couldn't meet; and (3) an increase in home runs and walks (at 55% of last year's innings he already has 75% of last year's home runs and 88% of the walks). Issue one can't be changed and issue two is now mitigated by going to Philly. Issue three is the one that will determine his success for the rest of the season. If he can bring the walks down we can actually live with the home runs as his new team has a formidable offense. I say he sees seven more wins this year, with a WHIP around 1.30 and an ERA around 4.20. That makes him worth the pickup in NL-only, but not a huge investment. Incidentally, I put in a low bid for him in my league's FAAB (\$6) and won. I still have no idea how that happened.

Speaking of Oakland, the A's are left with an opening in their rotation. Trading away Harden and Blanton were good moves, especially considering the value they got for them. This team hasn't thrown in the towel, but they are realistic and know that the wild card will likely come from the tough AL East, or perhaps the jumbled AL Central. There will only be one team from the West, and it's likely the Angels. So getting back to that opening, for now the A's will go with Dallas Braden, but the long-term fix is to bring up Gio Gonzalez. Last year Gonzalez was on the verge of a job with the White Sox but is now in a better situation with the A's. AL-only leagues should gobble him up and mixed should keep an eye out for his callup.

Remember my caveat about CC Sabathia going to Milwaukee: they're a better team and will give him better run support, but the bullpen is almost as bad as Cleveland's. So in other words, he'll pitch well, but some of those wins will be lost by the relievers. Well, so far the calculus has worked. Sabathia has pitched well in all three of his Milwaukee games, and is 3-0. However, in two of those games he went the distance. This may work in the short term, but he can't go nine strong every time. Keep an eye on those innings.

Until next week, keep taking the bump.

David Young is a fantasy baseball expert who has written weekly columns for, among others, ESPN and Sports Illustrated's Web sites. He also won KFFL's Expert League in 2007. Send him a comment or question at davebaseball29@yahoo.com.