Easy-Peasy Ranking System for Starting Pitchers: Follow-Up

Last March, I had an article posted here that looked at a very simple ranking system for starting pitchers in fantasy baseball. This system is so simple, it involves just two statistics: strikeouts and walks. You take a pitcher’s projected strikeouts and subtract his projected walks, then sort all pitchers by this result. Boom! There’s your ranking. Forget the pitcher’s projected wins or ERA or the team he plays on, the defense behind him, the hitters supporting him. Just strikeouts and walks, that’s all you need.

Of course, these are the two things a pitcher has the most control over, so there’s some rationale behind it. To create rankings for starting pitchers for fantasy purposes, I used a combination of sources found at Fantasy411 to create a projection for each pitcher. This is the “wisdom of the crowds” approach. Throw a bunch of projections together to create one ultimate super-projection. I then ranked the starting pitchers by strikeouts minus walks (K-BB) and compared this K-BB rankings list to the consensus rankings of the RotoGraphs pre-season Top 300 (composed of rankings from Jeff, Dan, Mike, Paul, and Zach). If you’re interested in the pre-season article, click on the link above.

Rather than throw it out there and forget about it forever, I decided it would be a good time to look back and see how the K-BB ranking system fared against the RotoGraphs writers. There were 87 starting pitchers in the consensus RotoGraphs Top 300 before the 2015 season, so I found the top 87 starting pitchers ranked by K-BB according to their preseason projection. I then compared these lists with the End of Season Fantasy Values for Starting Pitchers created by Zach Sanders. Now we get to find out how the simple K-BB system fared against the RotoGraphs writers.

For starters, here is a long chart of the top 87 pitchers sorted by their end-of-season dollar value. I’ve included their end of season dollar value, their end-of-season rank (EoS), their pre-season consensus RotoGraphs ranking (Roto), and their pre-season K-BB ranking. The blank spots are pitchers who did not appear among the top 87 pitchers on either list. An example from the list: Jake Arrieta was the top-valued starting pitcher in 2015. The pre-season consensus of the RotoGraphs writers had Arrieta as the 20th most-valuable pitcher and his K-BB ranking was 28. Another example is Marco Estrada, who was the 19th most-valuable pitcher in 2015. Estrada did not appear on either list, so there are two blank spots next to his name. Hopefully, you get the idea.

Yes, that’s a long list. Let’s break it down a bit. There were 53 pitchers in the consensus RotoGraphs top 87 who finished in the top 87 at the end of the season (61%). The K-BB rankings had slightly more pitchers who finished in the top 87, with 56 (64%). Fifty-two of the eighty-seven starting pitchers appeared on both lists.

The pitchers who made one list but not the other are an interesting group. Jose Fernandez was ranked 79th by the RotoGraphs writers in the pre-season and finished 70th in end-of-season value. He was not in the K-BB top 87, most likely because his projected innings (and therefore strikeouts and walks) were low because he was coming back from an injury. There were four pitchers who finished in the K-BB top 87 who did not appear on the RotoGraphs list: Bartolo Colon (ranked 74th by K-BB, finished 58th in end-of-season value), Colby Lewis (ranked 87th by K-BB, finished 62nd in value), Yovani Gallardo (ranked 79th, finished 71st), and Trevor Bauer (ranked 86th, finished 82nd). Overall, the K-BB list correctly identified more pitchers who would finish in the top 87 in value and these four pitchers were the reason why. Colon, Lewis, Gallardo, and Bauer are not exactly the most-exciting pitchers in the world. Check that, Bartolo Colon is awesome and incredibly exciting, but more for his hitting than his pitching.

Is this good? Is this what you would expect? I don’t know, since I’ve never really thought about it before. The combined knowledge of five fantasy baseball writers correctly predicted 60% of the starting pitchers who would finish in the top 87 in value. A simple ranking using strikeouts minus walks was about the same. With no other years to compare this to, I can’t say if it’s good, bad, or average.

What if we narrow it down to the top 50 starting pitchers of 2015? The consensus RotoGraphs rankings correctly predicted 29 of the 50 starting pitchers to finish in the top 50 in value. The K-BB rankings had 30. Again, roughly 60%.

Narrowing it down one final time to the best 20 pitchers of 2015, we find that the consensus RotoGraphs rankings correctly predicted 11 of these pitchers to be in the top 20 (55%), while the K-BB rankings had just 9 of 20 (45%).

More than anything, I believe this shows how difficult it is to predict what major league pitchers will do. Dallas Keuchel was ranked 53rd by the RotoGraphs group and 77th by projected K-BB. He finished 5th in value. Chris Archer was ranked 51st by the RotoGraphs group and 55th by K-BB and finished 13th in value. Marco Estrada was not on either pre-season Top 87, but finished 19th in value. At least with Kuechel and Archer you could see significant improvements in their peripherals that explain why the outperformed expectations. They had improved strikeout rates. They also both improved their walk rates and their FIP, xFIP, and SIERA suggested they actually were more effective pitchers in 2015 than they had been previously. Marco Estrada, on the other hand, seemed to do it with smoke and mirrors (and a .216 BABIP). He struck out fewer batters than he had previously, walked more, and his FIP (4.40), xFIP (4.93), and SIERA (4.64) did not at all match his actual ERA (3.13). His 2015 season didn’t make any sense at all. He was the epitome of unpredictable.

Another way to look at these lists is to compare how far off each rankings list was, on average, for each pitcher. The result slightly favored the RotoGraphs consensus list. The 53 pitchers on the RotoGraphs list were off by an absolute average of 19.5 spots, while the 56 pitchers on the K-BB list showed an absolute average difference of 20.9 spots. Again, they were close.

To wrap this up, here are the top 40 pitchers according to both pre-season lists, with their end-of-season dollar values included. They are separated into tiers of 10 pitchers each and the average dollar value per pitcher within each tier is included. The pitchers highlighted in orange did not finish among the top 87 starting pitchers in 2015 value. I assigned them a value of $0 in determining the average value per pitcher for each tier.

You can see that many of the same pitchers appear on both lists. The RotoGraphs writers had a pre-season top five of Kershaw, King Felix, Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg, and Max Scherzer. The K-BB list had Kershaw, Scherzer, King Felix, Chris Sale, and David Price. The actual top five was Arrieta, Kershaw, Greinke, Scherzer, and Keuchel.

The consensus RotoGraphs list has the edge in the first three tiers of pitchers, but the K-BB list makes up some ground in the 31-40 range. Looking at the top-40 pitchers for each list reveals that 29 of the top 40 on the RotoGraphs list finished with positive value, with an average value of $16 per pitcher. The K-BB list had 30 of the top 40 pitchers finish with positive value and also had an average value of $16 per pitcher.

Overall, I believe the simple ranking system using strikeouts minus walks held it’s own pretty well.

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Bobby Mueller has been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan as far back as the 1979 World Series Championship team ("We R Fam-A-Lee!"). He suffered through the 1980s, then got a reprieve in the early 1990s, only to be crushed by Francisco Cabrera in 1992. After a 20-year stretch of losing seasons, things are looking up for Bobby’s Pirates. His blog can be found at www.baseballonthebrain.com and he tweets at www.twitter.com/bballonthebrain.

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not as easy peasy, but I am thinking of going SIERRA with a little common sense for value of K’s, and consider younger chances with a little upside later in the draft.
(and of course drop out health not starting this year…if coming back…then discount them if they have elite skill…re Tanaka)
which, I would guess would come pretty close to rotographs.

btw, I am interested if you know which writers did best in their rankings.



hey, thank you, that is very interesting…easy peasey is very cool too