Pitchers fantasy owners should buy or sell on trade market

Since Ks and BBs have stabilized for pitchers, let’s get a full accounting of the ones who are radically under- and over-performing their peripherals. This means that their ERAs are way out of whack given their ranking of (Ks-BBs) divided by innings pitched.

There of course is not guarantee that pitchers are going to continue to post similar K and BB rates going forward, though our Stat Stabilization Chart (courtesy of our friends at Fangraphs) says that is at least even money (and an even more likely as the season wears on). And we’re only picking the extreme outliers, meaning guys who are top 15 in Ks and BBs but way worse in ERA and vice versa.

We hear all the time how “sell high, buy low” is a myth. I vehemently disagree. You can definitely deal Dylan Bundy right now for Jeff Samardzija, for example. But there are dumb ways to try to do this. In other words, if you offer that straight up, your trading partner is likely going to see how you’re thinking. But if you get Samardzija for Bundy AND the better hitter for the worse hitter, you are masking your true intentions AND doubling your investment upside because you seem to be losing on the pitching side of that deal despite being at least even money to win it.

But I fear that trading is a lost art.

Note for the recommendations below that the league average is 0.54 Ks minus walks per inning. So basically if you pitch six innings and have less than three more Ks than walks, you’re pitching poorly.

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ERAs Should Be Way Better

Samardzija is fourth in the stat entering Tuesday with exactly one more K per inning than walks, yet his ERA of 5.26 is 80th among qualifying pitchers. I would bet on Samardzija being at least top 20 in ERA going forward while also being helpful in Ks. Samardzija is unowned in only 27% of leagues but should be easy to pick up in a trade in a manner like I stated above.

Jake Arrieta is not as good as he was but should not be nearly this bad. His 5.44 ERA is way inflated given his (Ks-BB)/IP is ranked 14th (0.806). If these aligned closely, as they tend to do, his ERA would be around 3.00 (the 14th ERA now is 2.60). Do not trade Arrieta because you are likely only locking in bad stats that should get much better (as long as the Ks and BBs remain the same or better).

Nate Karns is seemingly struggling with a non-helpful 4.46 ERA but is 11th in the stat. We don’t have a lot of data on Karns but he’s available right now in 73% of Yahoo leagues. He should be owned in all 12-team formats on the basis of 48 Ks in 40.1 innings alone.

John Lackey is seemingly heading for the exits in his career given a 4.29 ERA but he’s 12th in the statistic. You can’t leverage this easily however since he’s so highly owned. But he’s an inviting trade target. The same can be said for Rick Porcello (10th in the stat at 0.872) and Luis Severino (8th, 0.881), both owned in over 85% of leagues.

But if you want another easy pickup, look to Charlie Morton, who is 15th in the stat (0.794) despite ranking 50th in ERA (3.97). Morton is not owned in 53% of leagues.

ERAs Should Be Way Worse

Here’s where I get hate in the comments, but blame the model. Maybe these guys will defy gravity. But as my buddy Scott Pianowski says channeling Radiohead: Gravity always wins.

Ervin Santana is a joke right now, ranking second in ERA (1.50) while sitting 71st in the K and BB stat (0.370). Maybe he’s found the secret to pitching to contact but we say that about every pitcher who does and most of them end up on the side of the road with their ERAs in pieces. Santana is a top-20 most volatile pitcher in baseball history but more on that another day.

Gio Gonzalez isn’t even that extreme a ground-ball pitcher anymore. And he’s giving up homers at a high rate. So ranking 11th in ERA (2.47) while sitting 78th in the stat (0.314) make zero sense.

Derek Holland is 11th in ERA and 65th in the stat but owners are buying giving he’s 60% owned. I will bet a lot of money that Morton will out-earn Holland for the balance of this season.

Dylan Bundy was supposed to be a fireballing strikeout artist and his ERA suggests that he’s arrived (2.26). But he ranks 60th in the stat (0.464). Thus Bundy’s ERA is likely to be at best league average going forward while hurting you in Ks. Yes, he could develop an out-pitch but what’s he waiting for? His fastball velocity is also down.

Mike Leake is pitching to contact as always but has a 1.94 ERA despite ranking 57th in the stat. Leake and Bundy are owned in over 85% of leagues so if you have them make sure you trade them. I bet you can get Lackey or Samardzija for either one in the manner I advised earlier. But shoot for Arrieta first.

Finally, while we’re back to the hitters next week, be sure to read my Wall Street Journal piece on Freddie Freeman and the simple reason he’s so good: the vast majority of the pitches he takes are balls. The strikes, he swings at. I wish we had easily accessible data on this and am trying behind the scenes to make this happen. It’s very important for power hitters to not take more than 25% strikes when they choose not to swing and taking a much higher percentage of strikes than league average (about 30%) is a sign of passivity that typically leads to poor hitting outcomes.