Fantasy Baseball: 5 Tips for Handling Your Pitching Staff in the Stretch Run
The fantasy season is nearing its end, and you're in a tight race for your league's top spot. The fragile situation that is every MLB pitching rotation has several quirks that could throw your team's staff off course and ruin your season in a matter of days.
Here are some tips, and things to look out for, to ensure that your rotation pitches you all the way to the promised land in 2012.
Go With What You Know
Greats like Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver have carried your staff all season long, and that won't change during the stretch run. Don't get too caught up in the matchups and specifics. Just run your aces out there, and they'll be sure to make you happy to call them yours.
Verlander, Weaver, Clayton Kershaw, R.A. Dickey and Gio Gonzalez all pitched to ERAs under 2.55 (with the exception of Weaver: 3.15) during the final month of last season. Those names have held down the top spots all of 2012, so feel free to throw them out there during the stretch run to close out your season.
Beware of Innings Limits
It's been widely publicized that Nats ace Stephen Strasburg will be shut down at either 160 or 180 innings pitched this season—not a rare move with a young pitcher in today's league. This happens to be the biggest name to fall victim to the innings limit, and no doubt the one that will hurt your fantasy staff the most.
At 139.1 IP thus far, Strasburg projects to complete possibly four to six more starts before being disabled until 2013. This leaves anywhere from the last one to three starts of the fantasy season on the table. Take caution of this now if Strasburg happens to be your ace, and keep an eye on the waiver wire for potential replacements for the final week.
This common practice in baseball could possibly affect other youngsters on your staff, like the Mets' Matt Harvey, who is owned in nearly 30 percent of ESPN leagues. Harvey is closing in on 160 total innings pitched in 2012, but with the Mets switching over to a six-man rotation, the idea is to keep Harvey going all season long.
Play the Percentages
When you're searching for a starter beyond your customary aces, look for whoever is pitching against the Mariners, Marlins, Astros, Cubs and other bottom-feeders of the league. Seriously. They sport some of the lowest batting averages in baseball and are especially prone to stellar pitching performances.
Don't be fooled by Oakland's .232 team average, though, or Tampa Bay's .236. Both are surging through the standings during recent weeks and are on the rise, just in time for the stretch run.
Be on the Lookout for Hot Streaks
Hiroki Kuroda currently boasts a 2.96 ERA. Not too shabby at all.
But when you look closer at his numbers, you'll notice that in the last month he's pitched to an ERA of 1.81, allowing eight runs in six starts, with a dazzling WHIP of 0.85.
Seattle's Jason Vargas has also shined through the second half. In seven starts, he's 5-1 with a 2.16 ERA. He's only surrendered 12 walks in those starts.
Bartolo Colon has played a large role in the A's resurgence to the top of the AL. Despite his 10-9 record and 3.43 ERA, Colon has lost once in the last month and pitched to a 1.57 ERA.
In Tampa Bay's Matt Moore's last six starts, he's allowed just six earned runs and a .197 BAA.
Clay Buchholz, of the Red Sox, right now has an ERA that sits at a slightly bloated 4.13, even despite his 11-3 record. In his last five starts, though, that earned run average is a clean 1.62 with a 0.90 WHIP.
Look a Little Bit Further
Traditional stats like wins, losses and ERA are vital in fantasy judgement. However, some pitchers require a deeper look into their performance. This is where graphs and a bit of sabermetrics come into play.
The site FanGraphs.com offers a wealthy database of diagrams of players' statistics and how they compare to the rest of the league.
There are also more new-fangled statistics to go by.
Each player has a specific WAR (wins above replacement). In other words, how many wins they contribute to the team as opposed to an average MLB player in his place.
It's no surprise that names like Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Johnny Cueto and Gio Gonzalez atop the WAR leaderboards for pitchers.
xFIP is a more in-depth way of measuring a pitcher's ERA. This is one of the best tools to predict a pitcher's future performance, as it takes into account a pitcher's home run and fly-ball percentages, while considering timing and performance on balls in play.
You can find the xFIP leaders here, and you'll find some names you might not have expected, like Joe Blanton and Jon Niese to name a few. If you're part of a keeper league, you would be remiss not to heavily consider a pitcher's xFIP before setting those keepers.
Examine September Call-Ups
Every September 1, MLB rosters expand to 40 players, which causes some tinkering in the rotations of teams out of the race (or in the race, for that matter).
Pitchers on your staff may get bounced around the rotation. They could be getting an extra day of rest here and there, just as easily as they may be pitching on short rest. Be sure to keep an eye on your hurlers' up-to-the-minute next scheduled start dates.
Also, don't be afraid to throw a certain September call-up in for a spot start. Their opponent may very well have some AAAAers in the lineup that day as well, and from there it's anybody's ballgame.