Using LOB-WAR for Fantasy Baseball

Yesterday, Fielding Dependent Pitching was release here at FanGraphs which is used to compare FIP-WAR and R/9-WAR. While WAR and its components sometimes have little affect on fantasy baseball, I have found the LOB-WAR to be useful for finding pitchers who may consistently have their ERA out perform their FIP value.

To get an idea of what traits these pitchers have in common, I looked at the top 10 pitchers (*) in LOB-Wins for 2012. Each of these pitchers had an ERA less than their FIP with the average difference being -0.70. Initial reaction may be that the pitchers crank it up a notch and get more strikeouts, which is not the case. Here are the average strikeout and walk numbers for the group.

Split K/9 BB/9 K/BB K% BB%
Bases Empty 7.4 2.0 3.9 19% 5%
Men on Base 5.9 2.9 2.2 17% 8%
Men In Scoring 6.4 3.8 1.9 18% 10%

Strikeouts drop with runners on base, but do come up a bit once runners are in scoring position. The walk rate increases with runners on base and it is even worse with runners in scoring position.

The pitchers, who allow less base runners to score, don’t dominate with strikeouts, they instead give the hitters worse pitches to swing at. Here are the batted ball averages for the group.

Bases Empty 0.284 0.92 3.57
Men on Base 0.262 0.67 3.84
Men In Scoring 0.253 0.64 4.01

Both BABIP and HR/9 values dropped for the pitchers as runners got closer to home. These numbers agree with the K decrease and BB increase (less strikes thrown overall).

The reason behind the LOB skill is easy to locate, but it is not a common, repeatable skill.

Looking from 1990 to present (min 1000 IP), the LOB-Wins leader board is headed up by the King of the Solo Home Run, Tom Glavine. Glavine didn’t care if he walked a batter with runners on base, as long as he didn’t give up a home run.

After Glavine, the leader board drops off quickly with Paul Maholm tied at 28th with 4 WAR (1.1 from 2012). LOB ability and its positive effects on ERA are rare. Some current pitchers in the top 30 are Aaron Harang, Mark Buehrle, Mariano Rivera, Randy Wolf and Andy Pettitte.

The method I will use to find possible LOB outliers among current pitchers is to use a 3 year leader board starting with the previous season. Then, I look to see if any of the current pitchers are on the list. I like looking at 3 years back to see if it a noticeable trait of the pitcher. Fantasy owners may want to set the filter more or less stringent. Of the top 10 LOB-WAR pitchers in 2012, none of them had a LOB-WAR of 1.5 or higher from 2009 to 2011. It is would be tough to say that these pitchers have a LOB skill at this point in their careers.

This method of looking for ERA out performers can also be used to find ERA under performers.

While WAR is not an ideal method for deteriming fantasy value, the new LOB-WAR stat is a nice way to help find players who may consistently over or under perform there ERA compared to their FIPS. Just be careful to use several years worth of data to draw your conclusions.

* David Price, Johnny Cueto, Matt Harrison, Jordan Zimmermann, Jose Quintana, Jeremy Hellickson, Ryan Vogelsong, Paul Maholm, Felix Hernandez, and Hiroki Kuroda. The list may have change a bit from the current list because I collected the data on Wednesday.

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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 two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Detroit Michael
Detroit Michael

Excellent post. However, let’s not overstate your conclusions. Given the length of Tom Glavine’s career, I definitely agree that he showed a skill at lowering BABIP with runners on base but being willing to have more walks as a consequence. I’d be much more hesitant to conclude the same based on splitting 3-years’ worth of plate appearences into the bases empty versus runners on base buckets. One can suspect that these pitchers have a skill, but some judgment will be required because BABIP stabilizes so slowly.