For Better, For Worse
Last week FBFW looked at how a so-called second half surge can be used as an indicator to predict a breakout performance by a hitter in the following season. We saw it is possible to identify batters whose overall production will increase the following season. This week, we'll use a similar approach to evaluate pitchers, to see if there is a leading indicator for a breakout season around the corner.
While ERA and WHIP ratio improvements can be an indication of improved overall performance, other factors can come into play to skew those statistics. Improved team defense or even a run of good luck can easily lower both stats, rendering those statistics poor assessment tools for fantasy purposes. When considering ERA and WHIP ratios it is always better to look for the underlying reason for their improvement before accepting them as an indication of a pitcher's improvement.
One such underlying skill is the strikeout rate per nine innings pitched (K/9IP), a clear indicator of the dominance of a pitcher. While there may be a little luck involved there, the ability of a pitcher to make batters swing and miss is clearly a desirable attribute. For starting pitchers a good benchmark for strikeouts would be a rate of 6.00 or better. For relief pitchers, I like to see the bar raised a little higher, to 7.00 or better.
Conversely, a lower rate of walks per nine innings pitched (BB/9IP) indicates the pitcher's command of the strike zone. Any starting pitcher who regularly walks more than three batters per nine innings has command issues and needs to be considered carefully by the fantasy manager before addition to the roster.
The ratio of strikeouts to walks is another way to consider the overall command of a pitcher. A good pitcher will have a minimum ratio of three strikeouts for each walk.
The last skill that should be checked is the rate of home runs per nine innings pitched (HR/9IP). You can look at groundball and fly ball rates for pitchers too, as a pitcher who gives up the home run ball too often is someone you want to avoid in the fantasy game.
Using these numbers as our threshold we will compare the statistics from the first and second halves of the 2007 season to see what pitchers "crossed over" into breakout territory. Then we'll look at the first half statistics of this season to see if a breakout actually occurred.
Without a doubt, these improvements set the stage for Baker to have a breakout year in '08. An injury caused Baker to miss the month of May, but he started off hot in April, and I would venture to say that his breakout season is underway. There has been a further improvement to his skill numbers, with his strikeout rate increasing from 6.4 to 7.4, which have further improved his strikeout to walk ratio again, to its current 4.86.
There is a red flag attached to Baker's season though, as he is again giving up the long ball at an unacceptably high rate. So far it has not hurt him, and if he continues to keep the walks down and dominate batters as he has, Baker's breakout should continue to unfold over the second half of the season.
This season he is the ace of the Phillies' staff, with an ERA of 3.15 overall, and at home he is even better at just 2.79, despite the fact that he's given up 12 of his 18 home runs allowed at Citizens Bank Park. The low home ERA despite the home runs speaks to his soaring confidence and shows that he is challenging hitters to swing at his best stuff. Hamels should continue to dominate hitters in the second half of the season and would make a fine trade acquisition for the fantasy manager in need of pitching.