March 03, 2009

For readers who are in leagues with owners who know about some of the more advanced statistics, it might be difficult to get top value on a pitcher simply because he was unlucky with his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) last year. Here at THT Fantasy, though, we have access to stats (CAPS) that will tell us whether a pitcher got unlucky with his peripheral skills (K/9, BB/9, GB%), something your competitors surely don't have access to.

As an example, most people know that Javier Vazquez has been unlucky for the past few years, but as we now know, he could actually be one of the top pitchers in baseball this year -- not just a good one. While you won't be able to reap all of the value from his unlucky BABIPs and LOB percentages, you will surely be able to reap the additional value from his unlucky peripherals. The same can be said for a number of other pitchers, a few of which I'd like to highlight today.

To qualify for the "Double-Unlucky Rotation," a pitcher's 2008 ERA must have been higher than his QERA (QuikERA, a figure that indicates what a pitcher's ERA would be if calcualted only on strikeout rate, walk rate and GB/FB ratio), which must have been higher than his CAPS QERA. This indicates that not only was he unlucky with one or more of his luck indicators (BABIP, HR/FB, LOB%), but he was also unlucky with one or more of his peripheral stats (K/9, BB/9, GB%).

If you're unfamiliar with CAPS (Context Adjusted Pitching Statistics), it's a stat I invented and then improved upon earlier this offseason. It's a stat that can't be found anywhere else and can give us a much better picture of a pitcher's true talent than unadjusted number. CAPS adjusts each of a pitcher's component stats based on the following factors:

* Past home ballpark* 2009 home ballpark* Past road ballparks* 2009 road ballparks* Past quality of opponents (neutralized)* League switch adjustments

To qualify for the unlucky rotation, a pitcher also must have thrown at least 100 innings in '08, have a chance at a starting role in '09, have a final CAPS QERA under 5.00 (to assure relevance to fantasy leaguers), and be selected by my subjective means (since there are more than five guys who fit this criteria).

Without further ado, the "Double-Unlucky Starting Rotation":

1. Josh Beckett, Red Sox2. Brett Myers, Phillies3. Pedro Martinez, Free agent4. Brian Bannister, Royals5. Nate Robertson, Tigers

Note: All average draft position (ADP) data comes from Mock Draft Central and ESPN.

Josh Beckett

Beckett's bad luck isn't very noticeable in the underlying numbers, but as you can see, his CAPS QERA of 3.05 is a full point better than his actual ERA of 4.03. The original bad luck comes a little bit from BABIP, a little from HR/FB, and a little from LOB%. Put it all together and you get his QERA of 3.23. From there, the drop to 3.05 can mostly be attributed to his GB% being three percent lower than it should be, as well as a pinch of bad luck with his strikeouts and walks.

In '07, his CAPS QERA was 2.99, so Beckett could very well be the best pitcher in the AL in '09.For those who bought Rotoworld's Draft Guide, you'll notice that Beckett was actually my pick for AL Cy Young.

According to MDC, he's currently the 11th pitcher selected on average, the fifth from the AL, and is being taken at the beginning of the sixth round. This is later than is deserved, and he's even further down on ESPN's list as the 16th starter (although he's also going in the sixth round here). He makes a great pick if you decide to take pitchers early. A rotation topped by Beckett, Dan Haren and Javier Vazquez would probably be the best in your league and could be acquired after round five.

Brett Myers

Unlike Beckett, Myers' bad luck is pretty easy to pick out. He had an 18 percent HR/FB rate, making up a large portion of the gap between his 4.55 ERA and his 4.04 QERA. The gap between that QERA and 3.86 CAPS QERA can be explained mostly by his BB/9 (3.1 to 2.8) but also a bit by his K/9 (7.7 to 7.85).

Myers has a very strong history, so don't let his '08 season deter you. From '05 to '08, his CAPS ERA was 3.46, 3.58, 3.16 and 3.86. Last year was his worst, but at 27 years old and with a history like he has, I'm not worried at all. His CAPS HR/FB trend is a bit worrisome, though: 17.6, 14.2, 13.6, 16.3. Part of that is Citizens Bank Park, but part can also be attributed to Myers, and after four years I think it's safe to say he won't regress to league average. Even if he posts a 14 HR/FB, though, he should still be able to post an ERA under 4.00.

He's currently the 31st starter being taken on Mock Draft Central, toward the end of Round 11, and has lasted as long as Round 15. On ESPN, he's the 51st starter taken, in Round 16.

Pedro Martinez

Note: As Pedro is still a free agent, his '08 home and road park factors are assumed to be neutral. This will change based upon the team he signs with.

Martinez is getting up there in age, but he's not nearly as bad as that 5.61 ERA would indicate. He's still capable of fanning nearly 7.5 batters per game and maintaining respectable walk and groundball rates. He was extremely unlucky with his BABIP (0.329) and HR/FB (16.5 percent), making up a large portion of the ERA-CAPS QERA gap. Going from his QERA to his CAPS QERA, we see that he was aided by a combination of more strikeouts, fewer walks, and more ground balls.

From '04 to '07, Pedro's CAPS QERAs were 3.13, 3.22, 3.49, and 3.21. While '08 was significantly higher, there is some potential upside here because of that terrific past.

Pedro doesn't make the top 71 pitchers listed on the ESPN ADP sheet, and he's the 99th pitcher on Mock Draft Central. That would put him toward the end of the 27th round, drafted only in deep mixed leagues. He's a guy who you could consider at the end of a moderate-depth mixed league and makes a solid sleeper pick in NL (or AL)-only leagues.

Brian Bannister

Everyone's favorite sabermetrician was thought by many to have taken a big step backwards this year after posting a 3.87 ERA in '07. While we all knew that he was lucky and that he would regress, in '08 he went too far the other way. His CAPS QERA is nearly a full point lower than his actual ERA as he suffered from an absurd 64 percent LOB%. CAPS also thought his strikeouts, walks, and ground balls should have been better. With a 4.85 ERA, Bannister would be plenty good enough to own in an AL-only league.

Bannister's CAPS QERA has been on the rise for the past three years, moving from 6.67 to 5.09 to 4.85. If he sees anymore improvement, he could become noteworthy in deep mixed leagues.

Bannister is not listed on ESPN's ADP sheet or MDC's mixed league sheet. He is being drafted as the 46th starter in MDC NL-only leagues, at the end of round 16. He could probably stand to be taken a little earlier, ahead of guys like Fausto Carmona, Glen Perkins and Anthony Reyes.

Nate Robertson

Robertson was so "bad" in '08 that he lost his rotation spot toward the end of the season, making his final four appearances out of the bullpen. He got incredibly unlucky, though, with his BABIP (0.350), LOB% (64 percent), and HR/FB (14 percent), leading to a 4.97 QERA that was much better than his 6.35 actual ERA. CAPS also sees his strikeout and walk skills to be better than they were as well, resulting in a final 4.70 CAPS QERA.

Since '05, Robertson has posted CAPS QERAs of 4.61, 4.46, and 4.67, putting his '08 figure right in line with the rest. I'd expect some big-time improvement for Robertson's surface numbers in '08, although he'll need to impress the Tigers in spring training to get a spot in the rotation. He has Zach Miner, Dontrelle Willis, and prospect Rick Porcello to worry about.

He's currently the 66th pitcher off the board in MDC AL-only leagues, being drafted in round 21 on average. He makes a great speculative pick here and has a lot of profit potential if he manages to make the Tigers' rotation. Continue to monitor the situation throughout spring training.

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