Stacking Pitching To Flip Midseason

Recently, reader Pat left a comment on an article, asking:

“Can’t alot of pitchers HR/FB rates be expected to increase in the second half just due to the weather? … [T]herefore it would seem like a good strategy in a points league to stack pitching in the first half (and then look to make moves around the allstar break to acquire hitters).”

The reasoning here is that since bats tend to heat up as the weather gets warmer, hoard pitching early and then pick up hitters when the season is in full swing and 80 and 90 degree days are the norm.

Seems like a reasonable strategy, but would it work?

Since we would hoard pitchers early, let’s look at the top 20 starting pitchers, as determined by the final dollar values from the RotoTimes Player Rater, and check out their monthly HR and HR/FB data.

Pitcher HR HR/FB HR HR/FB HR HR/FB HR HR/FB HR HR/FB HR HR/FB
Zack Greinke 0 0.0 0 0.0 3 7.3 3 8.8 5 10.2 0 0.0
Tim Lincecum 1 4.0 0 0.0 3 6.7 2 8.3 2 5.3 2 8.3
Felix Hernandez 1 3.7 5 12.8 1 3.2 3 8.6 4 12.9 1 2.7
Javy Vazquez 1 4.2 5 13.5 4 12.9 2 7.4 5 12.8 3 7.5
Justin Verlander 3 8.1 1 2.5 3 9.4 5 10.0 5 8.5 3 5.7
Adam Wainwright 1 2.9 6 14.3 5 17.9 1 3.3 2 5.7 2 5.9
Roy Halladay 4 14.8 2 5.7 1 8.3 4 9.5 8 18.2 3 6.3
Dan Haren 3 9.4 5 12.2 3 8.1 3 8.3 8 17.4 5 12.8
Chris Carpenter 0 0.0 0 0.0 3 7.3 1 3.7 3 7.5 0 0.0
CC Sabathia 2 6.9 2 3.5 5 11.9 3 7.0 5 13.2 1 2.9
Josh Johnson 2 8.0 2 6.5 2 5.7 3 9.7 3 9.4 2 6.3
Jon Lester 5 16.7 6 16.7 2 7.1 0 0.0 3 11.5 4 12.9
Matt Cain 2 5.1 4 8.9 5 11.1 1 2.3 7 14.6 3 7.1
Josh Beckett 3 10.0 3 13.0 1 3.8 3 8.1 12 27.3 3 8.6
Wandy Rodriguez 0 0.0 1 2.4 11 29.7 2 6.1 5 11.9 2 6.7
Jair Jurrjens 0 0.0 4 9.3 2 7.1 2 4.9 5 11.6 2 4.2
Ubaldo Jimenez 0 0.0 2 6.5 2 7.1 3 10.7 3 7.9 3 13.6
Ted Lilly 5 11.9 6 11.1 5 8.6 3 12.5 2 8.0 1 2.0
Cliff Lee 2 5.4 2 4.1 4 10.8 2 3.3 3 7.5 4 10.5
Randy Wolf 2 4.9 6 12.5 7 15.9 2 4.9 3 5.5 4 12.1

If HR prevention is the goal of this strategy, 16 of our 20 top pitchers had a HR/FB rate less than 11 percent in the final month of the season. Even August, the month last year where more HR by far were hit than any other, saw eight of our 20 pitchers have a HR/FB rate beneath 11 percent.

And this does not even take into account that the pitchers who were ranked top 20 at the beginning of the year often are nowhere to be found near the top of the leaderboard at the conclusion of the year. Using my friend Troy Patterson’s 2009 Starting Pitcher Rankings, here are the ones that did not make the top 20 at the end of the year:

Johan Santana (1), Brandon Webb (4), Jake Peavy (5), Cole Hamels (8), James Shields (10), Roy Oswalt (11), Ervin Santana (13), John Lackey (14), AJ Burnett (15), Edinson Volquez (16), Scott Kazmir (17), Carlos Zambrano (18), Chad Billingsley (19) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (20).

If you went into your draft convinced to load up on pitching, you could have wound up with a staff of Santana, Webb, Peavy, Hamels, Oswalt, Lackey and Burnett and at the All-Star break found other owners willing to offer you very little hitting in return.

Now, let us look at how pitchers as a whole fared in 2009. Here are the first and second half splits for all of the pitchers in MLB in 2009:

1st half – 4.32 ERA, 1.389 WHIP
2nd half – 4.33 ERA, 1.391 WHIP

It does not always work out this close, but this is yet another example of how easy this strategy could go awry.

Finally, you also have to consider how your league will handle trading with you when you have such an obvious need for hitters. Will your league-mates be willing to help you out and offer fair or even somewhat reasonable trades given how needy you are for offense? In friendly leagues that might not be a problem but it would likely be a bigger issue the more competitive your league is.

The best pitchers can dominate (or like Rodriguez in June – get lit up) at any point in the season. Stacking up on pitching only to turn around and deal it for hitting at the All-Star break seems like the fantasy baseball equivalent of market timing and not the best way to ensure long-term success.




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8 Responses to “Stacking Pitching To Flip Midseason”

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  1. Jimbo says:

    One of my past championship teams followed this course, but it required all three of my top pitchers to perform well (and thus be marketable). There does seem to be less interest in dealing for elite pitchers anymore. Many owners feel they can sift through free agents for pitching support and now tend to hoard studs on offense.

    I was able to trade Josh Hamilton for some value mid-season. No way I get much value from a pitcher in an equivalent slump. Drafted Greinke, Verlander, Josh Johnson all after the 10th round. Yet after trading all three I still didn’t get the offensive push I needed.

    Perhaps I didn’t trade wisely, but it seems pitching isn’t the asset it used to be. This year teams were bunched together in stolen bases, so nobody wanted to give them up. Year to year I see shifts in the “hot commodity” and trying to predict that at draft time is dangerous in my experience.

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  2. MDS says:

    streaming would be the better option as opposed to stacking SP and trying to trade em away after some time. of course, in the beginning of the season we’re still figuring out which pitchers are going to reliable. its an idea but thats it. its not a reliable strategy in deep (real) leagues

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  3. Adam W. says:

    This strategy would probably work best in head-to-head leagues rather than roto, where elite SPs are more valuable due to the variability inherent in the format (wins in particular).

    I do think there’s merit to this approach, but you’d need to be a relentlessly crafty trader to make it work. Also, it would probably work better if you know the other players are more prone to stock up on hitting – that way, you’d increase the value of your mid-round picks (e.g. picking up Haren and Vasquez in rounds 7 and 9 instead of forcing yourself to draft Santana and Peavy in rounds 2 and 4).

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  4. Jimbo says:

    MDS, if you don’t mind I’m curious what “streaming” is.

    Thanks.

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  5. Brian Joura says:

    Streaming is when you add and drop pitchers daily to maximize starts.

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  6. Pat says:

    I got published… woooo

    I still think this strategy would work but i would advise not to do it with the top 20 pitchers as good pitching (ie quality pitches) usually trumps good hitting.

    But instead you look for value of pitchers who are preforming above expectations… though not wildly cause then you tend to be looking to sell high… idk maybe its harder in practice but i think you get the drift.

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  7. Marc H says:

    One other wild-card is the development over the years of the middle reliever.
    Role pitchers seem to diminish the top tier concrete value of a starting pitcher and make them a tad value less attractive. With the ‘Hold’ now an official category in most fantasy leagues, stocking up on 7th and 8th inning studs with solid WHIP/K numbers makes trading a starting pitcher for a stud reliver and a hitter more realistic. Some leagues allow minors to be drafted or picked up through waivers. Sending Johan Santana for Heyward and Marmol would make great sense to me in a keeper format. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

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