Projecting Strasburg

Stephen Strasburg is possibly the best starting pitcher so far this season. Here is a quick sampling of his stats:

11.6 K/9, 32% K%
2.6 BB/9, 7% BB%
2.82 ERA, 2.42 FIP, 2.60 xFIP, 2.60 SIERA

These numbers are good enough that I have him ranked as the best fantasy starting pitcher without taking the number of innings he pitches into account. The only knock against him is that he is not a ground ball pitcher with has led to a career BABIP 0.308. When he is on the mound, he is arguably the best fantasy pitcher in the in the game.

The problem Strasburg owners face this season is that he has a 160 IP limit placed on him by the Nationals. Once he has reached the limit, they plan on shutting him down for the rest of the season.

With this limit being used, he will have another 55 innings pitched in the majors this season. He is currently averaging just over 5 2/3 innings per start. The limit would then put him at 9 or 10 more starts. He looks to be shutdown once he is around 28 starts, so a replacement level pitcher would be needed for the last 5 to 6 starts of the season.

To find a pitcher he can be replaced with once shut down, I looked at ESPN for pitchers owned in around 30% of all leagues. Three starting pitchers with 30% ownership rates are:

Derek Holland (#62 my SP ranking)
Felix Doubront (#111)
Jake Westbrook (#135)

Not exactly the cream of the crop for starting pitchers. In a 20 team league I am in, the top SP available on the waiver wire are:

Jerome Williams (#133)
Chris Young (#145)
Brett Cecil (#134)

For argument sake, say Jake Westbrook is the pitcher who replaces Strasburg to end the season. Here is the composite pitcher created from the two using the 55 IP for Strasburg and 6 starts for Westbrook.

Name IP K/9 K BB/9 BB
Stephen Strasburg 55.0 10.4 63 2.6 16
Jake Westbrook 37.7 5.6 24 2.5 11
Composite 92.7 8.4 87 2.6 27

The eventual pitcher ends with a K/9 of 8.4 and BB/9 of 2.6. Here are 4 pitchers with similar stats through the 2012 season.

Name K/9 BB/9 SP Rank
Mat Latos 8.5 2.7 #8
James Shields 8.3 2.7 #12
Matt Garza 8.3 2.7 #21
Adam Wainwright 8.4 2.6 #25

The new composite pitcher is probably going to be near #20 in my rankings. This pitcher is still pretty decent. When I originally calculated the numbers to get the rankings, I ran the composite with a replacement pitcher worse than Westbrook and had Strasburg at #43. That composite pitcher was closer to Dempster or Peavy in the the rankings. This confusion shows the problem with trying guess where to rank Strasburg. Another possible wrinkle is that the Nationals could go back on their word and decide to throw the innings limit out the window and continue to start him. I would not count on it though

The rankings we create are for a shallow, roto, redraft league. His ranking is actually the highest it could probably be in that league type compared to any other league type. The ranking of Strasburg changes depending on the type of league (shallow vs. deep, roto vs. head-to-head, keeper vs re-draft).

Shallow vs. Deep League: In any shallow leagues, Strasburg is more valuable than in deeper leagues. The pitcher who will be used to replace Strasburg will be better than the one available in deeper leagues

Roto vs. Head-to-Head: Strasburg is going to be basically useless in a H2H redraft league. He won’t be there for the finals and no one will want him. Even in a H2H keeper league, I would look at trading him if I end up in the playoffs for a comparable pitcher with no IP limit. Banners fly forever.

Keeper vs Redraft: In redraft leagues, his value drops after every start he makes. Maybe he can be traded off to a team who thinks the Nats will not follow the IP limit. In a keeper league, teams who are out of the running for 1st place or money could look at trying to pick him up for next season. Strasburg’s owner may want a another decent pitcher for the 5-6 starts Strasburg looks to miss.

It will be interesting to see how the whole Strasburg situation plays out if the Nationals are still in the playoff hunt as the season winds down. For fantasy owners, they should assume that the IP limit will be used. When I valued him for the rankings, he took quite a hit for the time he will miss. Depending on the league setup, his value could be quite high (shallow, roto, keeper league) or really low (deep, H2H, re-draft league). It is time for owners to determine his value in their own league so if the right situation comes up, he can be moved or acquired.

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Jeff writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first season in Tout Wars, he won the H2H league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Dave Cameron
Dave Cameron

I still prefer Ackley.