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.
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.