July 13, 2010

To succeed at fantasy baseball, you have to learn the value of statistics. You have to know the flaws of elementary stats like batting average, earned-run average and win-loss records, and dig deeper for more complicated ones like on-base percentage plus slugging (OPS) and walks plus hits per innings pitched (WHIP). It also helps to get your PHD in Advanced Statistics like one owner in my league did (Denise, we never had a chance).

But no matter your expertise, there will come a time during the season when you ask yourself: is winning a product of my skills or dumb luck? If anybody has the answer, it would be the omniscient sabermetricians, the statistics gurus who believe everything in baseball is quantifiable, even luck. After searching through my favorite stat-heavy websites such as Fangraphs.com and BaseballProspectus.com, and despite feeling of a lesser mind, I uncovered my four-leaf clovers.

Expected Wins-Expected Losses -- E(W)-E(L)

A traditional win-loss record favors pitchers fortunate enough to play for a team with strong run support and a decent bullpen to protect the lead. A more telling stat is expected wins and expected losses, which uses historical performances to calculate what a pitcher's record should be during their starts.

Who's been lucky?

Phil Hughes, SP, Yankees -- The first-time All-Star has pitched admirably this season with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.178 WHIP. But his 11-2 record is a little inflated, as we should expect 6.5 wins and 4.9 losses. Like most Yankees starters, he has benefited from a great offense, which is second overall in runs scored. Hughes has pitched into the eighth inning once this season and future Hall-of-Fame closer Mariano Rivera has only blown one save during his starts.

Who's been unlucky?

Roy Oswalt, SP, Astros -- It can't be fun to pitch for a team that is 12 1/2 games out of first place at the break and 28th overall in runs scored, but such is life for the former 20-game winner. Oswalt is 6-10 but we should expect 8.1 wins and 5.9 losses with stats like his (3.08 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP).

Batting Average on Balls in Play -- BABIP

In this stat, every ball put into play is analyzed, excluding home runs. If a ball is lined on a trajectory that would typically send it past an average fielder, it counts as a hit, thus eliminating the impact of defenses. A batter with a BABIP that is much higher than .300 is fortunate while anything below .300 means he's not so favored. The opposite is true for pitchers.

Who's been lucky?

Austin Jackson, OF, Tigers -- Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that he's hitting .300 in his rookie season as he did exactly the same thing at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in '09. Yet he's been luckier than any other player in the majors, hitting .415 BABIP.

To be fair, the speedster has created his own luck with 12 infield hits though not nearly as much as the industrious Ichiro Suzuki (24).

Trevor Cahill, SP, Athletics -- Another first-time All-Star, Cahill is looking great at 9-3 with a 2.94 ERA and 1.032 WHIP. A bit of caution: he doesn't dominate batters with a 5.97 K/9 rate and he has benefited from opponents only hitting .227 BABIP.

Who's been unlucky?

Aaron Hill, OF, Blue Jays -- Can somebody buy this guy a hit? After a career season in '09 (.286, 36 HR, 108 RBI), Hill looks lost this season hitting below the Mendoza line (.189) with just 12 HR and 33 RBI. Hopefully, his luck will change in the second half as he's only hitting .180 BABIP.

Francisco Liriano, SP, Twins -- The good news is the lefty fireballer in no way resembles his '09 disastrous self (5-13, 5.80 ERA), as he already has more wins (6) and his ERA is two points lower (3.86). Unfortunately, he's giving up a major-league leading .360 BABIP. He's still very attractive with a K/9 rate among the best in the majors (9.81) and the Twins should stay in the playoff hunt until the very end.

Component Earned-Run Average -- ERC

This stat calculates what a pitcher's ERA should be based on the number of hits and walks they allow per nine innings, rather than just earned runs.

Who's been lucky?

Wade LeBlanc, SP, Padres -- Here's a guy who has a 3.30 ERA, yet if you factor all the walks and hit he gives up, he's got a 4.70 ERC. Sure, LeBlanc has been a bit unlucky with a 4-7 record (we expect 7.0 wins and 3.6 losses), but he can't complain about pitching in spacious Petco Park on a first-place team with baseball's top bullpen.

Who's been unlucky?

Jamie Moyer, SP, Phillies -- The 47-year old keeps on trucking in his 24th major-league season, relying on deception and control to retire batters with a fastball that tops out in the low-80s. He's 9-8 with a 4.51 ERA as compared to a 3.20 ERC, which makes sense considering he's allowed only 20 walks in 107.2 innings. Moyer isn't completely ill-fated as batters are hitting just .235 BABIP.

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