August 26, 2008

Following last week's idea that we're close enough to the end of the season so that pitchers like CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee are neither available nor questionable starts, let's create a strategy plan for September based on what might be available on the waiver wire. Today we're going to look at strikeouts, so for you 4x4 league people skip down to the Quick Pitches section.

For the rest of you, we'll talk about some strategery (the preferred spelling of the current administration) and how to determine if you're still in the race in strikeouts. Then we'll look at the schedules of the easiest and hardest teams to strike out and see who's playing them the last month of the season.

Before we create our roadmap for September, let me just throw out this strategy nugget for you. If you are in a league with a maximum number of innings or starts (all leagues should have maximum innings, but don't), when you compare your pitching staff to others this late in the season, make sure to look at your opponents' innings (or starts, if applicable). That guy killing you in strikeouts may be there because he has 150 more innings pitched than you, and his pitching stats may stop in early September.

For example, let's say at the end of August the leader in strikeouts in your league has 1,050 and you have 900, and your league has a maximum innings of 1,350 (my favorite value for maximum IP). OK, so that means he's been averaging 210 strikeouts a month compared to your 180. There's no way you can make up that 150-strikeout difference as you'd need your average 180 plus 150 to make up the gap, and then another 31 to make up for his 210 in September. That means you'd have to get 361 in September. With six starters, that comes out to about 12 per game per starter, EVERY SINGLE START. When's the last time you got 12 strikeouts from any one of your guys in just one start? So time to concentrate on ratios and wins, right? Wrong, oh Shea Stadium Soothsayer.

A quick peek at your opponent's innings pitched shows that he is at 1,300, or 50 away from being done for the year. That means if he stays on current pace, he will have a total of 1,090 strikeouts (1,050 * 1,350/1,300). That's only 190 more than your have now, or about 10 more than your average. Suddenly, it's worth your while to get that extra starter and concentrate on strikeouts (as long as you haven't burned through your own IP, of course). And after you've done this analysis for strikeouts, do the same for wins. Then drop and give me 20! Wait, I'm getting too much into this. Anyway, you'd be surprised at how many people don't budget their IP, and end up on the wrong side of this rule.

Oh, and one more thing. For those of you in Yahoo! leagues, here's a nice little loophole that they never close. On the last day that you use up your innings pitched, rather than cut you off when you hit the maximum some time during that day, Yahoo includes all pitching stats acquired for the entire day. For example, if your league has a maximum 1,350 IP, and you're at 1347.1, rather than cutting you off after the next 2.2 IP, you get the stats from every pitcher you have active that pitches the day you do achieve those 2.2 IP.

So keep a close eye on your IP budget and figure out when you're going to hit the maximum. Then be careful to monitor how many guys you start (don't forget relievers) and get close to the maximum. Then drop everyone who wouldn't pitch again anyway and pick up every starter you can. Of course, be judicious. If you're in a tight race in ratios, don't go get Daniel Cabrera (if he still has a job then). Good luck.

Remember the discussion above that even if the strikeout race looks over, it might not be. Here are the teams that are the easiest and hardest to strike out (measured in batter strikeouts per game played):

Easiest to strike out

AL: OAK (7.65); CLE (7.46); TEX (7.41); TB (7.33)NL: FLA (8.66): ARI (7.90); SD (7.75); MIL (7.55)

Hardest to strike out

AL: SEA (5.30); TOR (5.84); MIN (5.96); LAA (6.09)NL: NYM (6.08); STL (6.15); ATL (6.28); PIT (6.33)

I attended the Marlins-Diamondbacks game last Sunday and I can confirm it was, in fact, Strikeoutapalooza. There were 22 in all, which is more than enough for all us greedy fantasy players. Obviously, their pitching is keeping both of them in playoff race. And I double checked those Pittsburgh numbers (thanks, Jon). They've actually been creating less strikeouts as the season has progressed. Go Buccos!

So now let's look at who is playing these teams in September ...

Most games against easiest teams to strike out (number of games scheduled in parentheses):

BOS (13), BAL (11), SEA (11), DET (10), KC (10)

Most games against hardest teams to strike out:

TEX (11), CWS (10), KC (10), BAL (9), NYY (9), OAK (9)

OK, so I don't need to waste my breath and tell you to pitch your Red Sox and sit your Rangers. However, as good as the Orioles have been playing against teams not in Boston or the Bronx, they are a candidate for pickups. Seattle does not have a lot to offer in terms of strikeout artists (do you want to take a chance on Miguel Batista?), but if Brandon Morrow gets called up, give him a shot. Detroit and Kansas City, however, are good candidates. If you look on the waiver wire you'll likely find a Tiger starter or two dropped by someone frustrated that the Motor City Meltdown Crew (i.e., the bullpen) can't preserve a lead. As for the Royals, avoid Kyle Davies (I'd say the same for Luke Hochevar, but he's done for the year, on the 60-day DL), but take a chance on any others.

But having said this about the Royals, notice that they appear on both lists (as do the Orioles), and you should take care not to let your team go into auto-pilot if you're following this strategy. As the numbers show, avoid pitchers from the A's, White Sox, and yes, the Yankees. We keep waiting for the Yankees to make that big push, but they're becoming irrelevant with each passing day.

And in the NL ...

Most games against easiest teams to strike out:

LAD (12), CIN (11), SF (11), PHI (10), STL (10)

Most games against hardest teams to strike out:

CHC (10), HOU (10), WAS (10), CIN (9), FLA (9), PHI (9)

The Dodgers are a good source of pitching strikeouts. The Reds' rotation is a mess right now due to injuries and general crappiness, with Edinson Volquez and, gulp, Bronson Arroyo being the two steadiest options. As for San Francisco, the good pitchers are taken and you shouldn't mess with the back end of that rotation. Philly has the chance of having the best starters in September along with Arizona, and you should pick up any Phillies starters that are available. Just notice they're on the next list as well. Hmmm, the problem with picking up a Cardinals pitcher for strikeouts, is well, they don't strike out batters. You could try Todd Wellemeyer or pick up Chris Carpenter if he somehow was dropped.

You'll start your Cubs starters no matter what, and Houston has been hot enough that you should consider using them even without the strikeouts. News flash: your Nationals starters won't help you in September, no matter how you look at it. Since Cincy is on the most games against list too, it relieves you of any obligation to consider using them. Florida has been getting better in the strikeout department, but it won't be easy for them.

Johnny Cueto is likely headed to the DL with an elbow strain (if he doesn't go to the DL, definitely stay away from him). Since he'll miss his next start the Reds will use Homer Bailey ... wait, he's now hurt as well. They have AAA options such as Adam Pettyjohn, Matthew Maloney and Ramon Ramirez (note that only Ramirez is on the 40-day roster), but Louisville won the International League West Division and are about to start the playoffs. The Reds may try to avoid a callup until after that.

John Maine is going to the 15-day DL with a bone spur in his shoulder and Orlando Hernandez is done for the season (and perhaps forever) after bunion surgery. On the plus side the rest of the staff looks healthy, but that bullpen is still awful (Luis Ayala is looking good in the closer's role, though). My first thought was that they'd give Claudio Vargas another try (his AAA numbers are decent), but he's on the DL down there. Perhaps Olympian Brandon Knight might get the call. Or more likely the Mets make a Greg Maddux-type post-waiver period trade. Regardless, whomever they use will suddenly have good fantasy value.

After two years of hitting the 200 IP mark (plus the 30.0 IP he had in the playoffs, something we talked about earlier in the year), Josh Beckett is feeling the effects of those innings and is missing his next start because of tingling in his hand caused by elbow inflammation. The Sox are trying to avoid a DL stint, and will have Tim Wakefield (just back from the DL himself) starting in his place. While you should start Beckett as often as possible (works for the Red Sox), realize he may not be able to give you those strikeouts you've grown accustomed to this September.

Anthony Reyes 1, Dave Duncan 0: Reyes could easily be 4-0 with the Indians if he had any run support. As it is, he's 2-1 and looking sharp. His control hasn't been great (11 K vs. 10 BB), but he's been keeping the runs down (6 ER in 4 starts). But keep in mind only the Blue Jays were above .500 when he faced them and tougher competition is coming soon. He'll keep his spot even with Matt Ginter returning, but don't pick him up thinking he'll give you a quality start every time (and if you ask me, my money's still on Duncan being right about the best course of action for Reyes).

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