July 07, 2009

"That one burned down, fell over, and then sank into the swamp..."--Michael Palin, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Part of the "fun" of writing a weekly fantasy baseball column is that it can quickly become stale because it's based on a moving target: baseball statistics. Wanting to hit the ground running after returning from my two-week vacation in Costa Rica -- the only Latin country that hates baseball -- I composed a clever two-paragraph intro about watching the Wimbledon men's final (I referred to it as a "hate crime") followed by a brilliant segue into a discussion of the All-Star game and the pitching rotations.

After about six paragraphs I finally got to my main purpose: throwing cold water on the All-Star pitching rotations and offering my own suggestions. With writing full of wit sharper than a serpent's tooth, historical allusions so obscure Dennis Miller started crying, and just a touch of Obama-Biden sexual tension, I kicked Jason Marquis off the squad and canonized Johnny Cueto and Kevin Millwood. But against my protests, more baseball games were played Monday and Marquis was unhittable while Millwood got hit hard. But as awful as that was, Cueto got knocked around like ... well, that was the real hate crime.

So with three hours to go before my deadline I had to scrap everything and re-write the column. But then I realized my inherent laziness was stronger than my command of Microsoft Word, so I recycled my column and made some minor changes. And that's what I present to you now, a classic Dave Young column from the near past, printed for the first time.


The All-Star game is next week and the pitching staffs have been announced. Even though there's no Fantasy Baseball All-Star Game (we should get the guys at Industrial Light and Magic working on that), let's look at the selections and see if they were the right ones (note: I will only make a passing reference to any games played on July 5, as the rotations were announced before those games were played, and all stats are through July 5).


The starting rotation for the NL All-Stars is: Chad Billingsley (LAD), Matt Cain (SF), Dan Haren (ARI), Josh Johnson (FLA), Ted Lilly (CHC), Tim Lincecum (SF), Jason Marquis (COL) and Johan Santana (NYM).

While we like to think the All-Star rotation is selected after painstaking effort and many sleepless nights, it appears wins were the major factor. All NL pitchers with 9 or more wins made it (Marquis, Billingsley, Cain, Lincecum and Santana), as did two of the eight-win SP (Haren, Lilly), and Josh Johnson was thrown a bone because he was 7-1 for a middling team.

I won't say any of these pitchers were undeserving, but my Spidey senses say more deserving starters were left out. Why? Wins are an awful way to judge the performance of starting pitchers. Wins are a function of giving up less runs (something dependent on team defense) than your team can score in the first five innings or so. And it's a lot easier to notch a win if you pitch for a strong team. For example, Billingsley's 9 wins are impressive, until you realize they only account for 17.3% of the Dodgers' wins, compared with non-All Star Zach Duke's 7 wins, which are 21.6% of the Pirates' wins (but oddly both account for 31% of their respective rotations' wins).

So we can't just look at wins alone. Stats we commonly use in fantasy baseball range from mostly team-dependent to mostly pitcher-dependent: wins, ERA, WHIP, K, and K/BB, respectively (I added the last to judge a pitcher's control). So keeping that scale in mind, I've listed the league leaders in those categories. Note that I've omitted players that weren't worth discussing such as Doug Davis (3.15 ERA), not because they're not pitching well, but because there isn't a strong overall argument to be made for them.

WINS (All-Stars in italics, percent of team's wins included after total wins): Marquis (10, 23.8%), Billingsley (9, 17.3%), Cain (9, 20.5%), Lincecum (9, 20.5%), Santana (9, 23.1%), Bronson Arroyo (8, 20.0%), Aaron Cook (8, 19.0%), Cueto (8, 20.0%), Zach Duke (8, 21.6%), Yovani Gallardo (8, 18.6%), Haren (8, 24.2%), Randy Johnson (8, 18.2%), Lilly (8, 20.0%), Adam Wainwright (8, 17.8%)

ERA: Haren (2.16), Lincecum (2.23), Chris Carpenter (2.32), Randy Wells (2.43), Cain (2.48), Cueto (2.69), Jair Jurrjens (2.73), Gallardo (2.75), J Johnson (2.76), Javier Vazquez (3.05), Wandy Rodriguez (3.21), Duke (3.28), Wainwright (3.32)

WHIP: Carpenter (0.82), Haren (0.83), Lincecum (1.05), Vazquez (1.07), Wells (1.08), Cueto (1.12), J Johnson (1.13), Lilly (1.14), Gallardo (1.15), Randy Wolf (1.15), Joel Pineiro (1.18), Jake Peavy (1.19)

Ks: Lincecum (141), Vazquez (130), Haren (119), Billingsley (115), Gallardo (114), Santana (107), Wainwright (101), J Johnson (97), Lilly (97), W Rodriguez (95)

K/BB: Haren (7.90), Vazquez (5.70), Carpenter (5.30), Lincecum (4.70)

To start, I'll take Haren, Lincecum and Cain off the board as all are All Star-worthy no matter how you look at it. And yes, even though he's not in the top ten in any other category, I have to give Marquis immunity because he leads the Majors in wins. That means we have four spots to re-evaluate.

Carpenter has been dominant, and despite missing one quarter of the season, he's only two wins off pace of being discussed. He's won half of his starts, which is the same as most of these guys. Someone who hasn't been dominant is Johan Santana, who has a WHIP of 1.23, and his worst GO/AO ratio (0.68) since 2003. That likely means his rent-an-infield is letting him down, but sorry Johan, you're out. Chris, you're in.

Johnny Cueto is killing righties with a 1.02 WHIP against them. Okay, he got killed by the Phillies in Philly (and his ERA moved up almost a full run), but that was going to happen against someone, and hey, he gave up less runs than his bullpen. But watching eight straight batters including the pitcher reach with two outs was enough to make my remaining hair fall out. With Cincinnati, he has 8 wins. With the Dodgers, he'd have 11. And speaking of Los Angeles, Billingsley is pitching well, but his WHIP has been creeping up, and was 1.33 in June. Nine wins are nice, but to be a Dodgers All Star he should have 11 or 12. So good-bye, Chad. Here's Johnny! Of course, another outing like Monday's and Chad sends Johnny back home.

Two of Atlanta's starters have pitched well -- Jurrjens and Vazquez -- but neither have more than six wins to show for it. Both have been the victims of an awful bullpen and spotty run support (6.33 RS9 for Jurrjens, 5.71 for Vazquez). Looking at their Junes, Jurrjens had a 3.38 ERA and a 3-0 record while Vazquez had a 1.98 ERA, but only went 1-3. Javier, you had us at "Hola." Vazquez (5-7) has five no-decisions: the first when his bullpen blew a 10-3 lead, and the other four when his team scored three or less runs. And two of his losses came when his team couldn't score a single run. He could easily have 8 wins. Since I now can't remove Marquis I'm going to have to remove a closer. Jonathan Broxton, the strikeouts are great, but you're the only reliever on the team with an ERA over 2.00, and I saw what you did against the Padres last week. Vazquez in, Broxton out.

Speaking of hard luck, the Cubs' Wells has had ten starts, and all but one have been Quality Starts. However, he is only 3-3 (after Monday, 4-3). He could easily be 8-2. And when compared to his rotation-mate, Ted Lilly, his numbers are better in every category except strikeouts. They're not far from each other in run support (Lilly, 5.92 RS9 vs.Wells' 5.57), but they are miles apart in luck. I'll give Wells the nod over Lilly because he needs it.

Lastly, Gallardo has given up three or less runs in all but two of his starts. Like Wells and Vazquez he has had some hard luck. He has also been a strikeout beast with a 9.80 K9 and a 3.67 K/BB. He has amassed 8 wins, but should be at 10. He deserves to be on the team, but does he deserve to knock Josh Johnson out? No, we'll need another closer to walk the plank. How about Francisco Cordero? Gallardo gets a new jersey while Cordero stays in Ohio.

So our new NL All-Star Starters are: Haren, Lincecum, Carpenter, Cain, Marquis, Gallardo, Cueto, Vazquez, Wells, and J Johnson. On the outside looking in are Duke, Wainwright, Pineiro, and Cook. Sorry guys, not this year, but in the words of Will Smith's Hancock, "Good job." And if you catch me in a more giving mood, I'd likely sneak Lilly back onto the squad somehow.


The starting rotation for the AL All Stars is: Josh Beckett (BOS), Mark Buehrle (CWS), Zack Greinke (KC), Roy Halladay (TOR), Felix Hernandez (SEA), Edwin Jackson (DET), Justin Verlander (DET), and Tim Wakefield (BOS).

The same discussion of wins applies here except for the inclusion of Jackson, who only has six. Also, Kevin Slowey is injured, so he's not under consideration. Let's take a look at the stats and see where everyone falls.

WINS: Greinke (10, 28.6%), Halladay (10, 23.3%), Slowey (10, 23.3%), Wakefield (10, 20.4%), Beckett (9, 18.4%), Buehrle (8, 19.0%), Hernandez (8, 19.0%), Millwood (8, 17.8%), Andy Pettitte (8, 16.7%), Rick Porcello (8, 18.2%), Joe Saunders (8, 17.8%), Jered Weaver (8, 17.8%)

ERA: Grienke (2.00), Jackson (2.59), Hernandez (2.62), Millwood (2.80), Nick Blackburn (2.94), Buehrle (3.09), Jered Weaver (3.10), Dallas Braden (3.13), Jerrod Washburn (3.36), Cliff Lee (3.45), James Shields (3.50), Brad Bergesen (3.53), Verlander (3.54), Beckett (3.67)

WHIP: Greinke (1.05), Jackson (1.07), Halladay (1.09), Scott Feldman (1.10), Buehrle (1.12), Jered Weaver (1.13), CC Sabathia (1.15), Erik Bedard (1.16), Bergesen (1.16), Hernandez (1.17), Josh Outman (1.18), Scott Richmond (1.19), Washburn (1.19), Verlander (1.20)

Ks: Verlander (130), Jon Lester (123), Greinke (120), Hernandez (114), Beckett (99), A.J. Burnett (99), Halladay (98), Matt Garza (95), Jackson (93)

K/BB: Greinke (6.3), Halladay (5.80), Slowey (5.00), Lester (3.70), Verlander (3.70)

Okay, this one is much easier than the NL as we have a core group of pitchers who are dominating. Off the table are Greinke, Halladay, Verlander, Jackson, Hernandez and Buehrle. That last one is a nod to the "strikeouts aren't everything" club. And for those of you Boston fans out there, I'm not taking a closer look at Beckett and Wakefield because I like the Yankees (I don't), I just think there may be more worthy candidates out there. That and there's some serious East Coast bias in that selection, with only two coming from west of the Mississippi.

Jered Weaver has been steady for a team that has had more than its share of adversity and injury. In fact, he's their only healthy true starter with an ERA under 4.00, and his is flirting with dipping under 3.00. While we're talking about the Angels, keep an eye out for the team calling Sean O'Sullivan up when it realizes how little options it has with its rotation. He pitched well against three tough teams in his four starts (although 10.65 RS9 helps). So who gets the boot for Weaver? Wakefield (Timmy!) went 4-2 in May with a 6.82 ERA and his team scores 8.85 runs per game for him. I applaud his success, but try getting ten wins in Cleveland with those numbers and then call me.

Mike Maddux is making a claim for the AL's best pitching coach and has the Rangers pitching like, well, pitchers. Feldman has been a great asset and may even continue his success in the Texas heat. But the real surprise has been Millwood who is 6-1 with a 2.49 ERA at home. Millwood is only getting 6.58 runs per game in support which sounds like a lot, but in the AL, it's nothing special. But to add him to the team, we have to launch Josh Beckett (my column, my rules). They have similar numbers, but let's look at their best months: in June Millwood was 4-1, with a 1.30 ERA; in June Beckett was 4-1, with a 1.51 ERA. That's a dead heat. Looking at their worst months: in May, Millwood was 2-2 with a 4.28 ERA; in April, Beckett was 2-2 with a 7.22 ERA. Yeesh. So I say, Millwood over Beckett, despite Monday's drubbing by the Angels. But don't test me, Kevin.

So the new AL All-Star starting rotation is: Greinke, Halladay, Verlander, Jackson, Hernandez, Jered Weaver, Buehrle, and Millwood. On the outside looking in are Washburn, Blackburn and Bergesen. What about Porcello? Rookie of the Year probably, but not All-Star. And the biggest snub of all was in the AL with the exclusion of closer David Aardsma.

Enjoy the All-Star game, and don't watch any more baseball before then in case it changes my arguments.

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