The Rosin Bag 4/12: Cold Weather Pitching Woes

This week's mailbag is all about early season pitching strugglers and the headaches that come with it. Gabe Zammit takes a look at what to do with injured pitchers and also how to take advantage of your league setup.

Welcome back to The Rosin Bag, our weekly Pitcher List mailbag!

We are about 13 or so games into the season and the sample size is growing. I can sense panic growing for some owners around the rash of early season injuries or the pure crud that has been the top-tier pitching. The “victory lap” mentality is setting in for others as preseason calls on high risk/reward players are starting to offer validation one way or the other. The 2019 fantasy baseball season sample size is growing, but as always, there are still questions to be asked. So, let’s get to it!

All questions are either submitted via our Discord channel or through email to pitcherlistmailbag@gmail.com.

From Jonathan Metzelaar: Do you believe in “streakiness” as a quality in a baseball player? Is it something we should take into account at all when evaluating hitters? What kinds of stats should we look at when evaluating how streaky a player might be?

Baseball players, like any pro athlete, are prone to streaks. Some might chalk it up to luck or timing. Is there a way to see when a hot or cold streak may be coming to an end?

The reality is, baseball players are human beings just like you and me. There are so many variables at play that we just aren’t aware of which can impact their play. I think back to stories of guys going through an extended slump only to find out a contributing factor was a problem with their family, a change in medication, contract complications, or even an injury no one knew about. These are all examples of things we can’t necessarily know or predict though.

For the sake of this question then, let’s assume a player’s hot or cold streak is simply due to their performance on the field, with no other outside factors or stresses. If this is the case, there are a few statistical categories I look to as indicators of future performance versus what has been displayed so far.

The easiest place to look is at a player’s BABIP, or batting average on balls in play. This is essentially a statistical look at measuring a batter’s average or pitcher’s batting average allowed while considering defense as well. Typically, the league average BABIP is around .300. Let’s say a batter is currently hitting for a lower than projected AVG and is sporting a particularly low BABIP of around .240. The principles around this statistic would point to the batter being unlucky perhaps due to incredible defensive play or hit balls just not dropping in the gap to this point in the season. That low BABIP then would indicate a likely positive regression for the batter. The same principle translates to pitchers for BABIP as well. Pitchers can be aided or hurt by defensive play and BABIP helps point to a likely regression whether positive or negative.

While BABIP is a great metric, the one I really like looking at for hitters and pitchers is hard hit rate. For both sides, this can be a great tool to really see if a player in a slump has been unlucky. You can find this data on a number of baseball metric websites like Fangraphs or Baseball Savant. If you have a guy who is normally a .280 hitter, but for some reason has been batting closer to .230, I love to look at his hard hit rate and see where he stands. Sometimes you will find that a guy is smacking the ever loving crap out of the ball. His poor batting average could be attributed to stellar defensive play, the wind blowing in, or something else entirely. You can take this and even compare it against their BABIP as well.

From Alex Tran: How much do you think this early weather is affecting some early strugglers?

From Joshua “T-Bone” Botelho: Have we seen hitters make another adjustment to counteract the elevated fastball or are pitchers just missing their location and getting shelled more in this cold weather?

I got a couple of questions here pertaining to the cold and miserable weather we get seemingly each year to start the season. I think early season weather definitely has an effect on strugglers. I mean, just think about the type of mechanics it takes for a pitcher to throw well-placed and effective strikes under optimum conditions. Even a tiny alteration to those mechanics can throw a pitcher off and result in a disastrous start. Now imagine attempting to maintain proper mechanics, especially at the beginning of the season, and attempting to do so when it’s so cold you can’t feel your fingers.

Here’s the thing though, it affects hitters as well. The colder and drier it is, the less humidity there is, which all translates to less explosiveness from the ball off of the bat. There is a phenomenal article written by Eno Sarris that details all of this to a greater extent. I’ll include it right here in case you want to dive a little deeper into how cold weather impacts players.

As far as hitters making specific adjustments, I think it’s still too early to tell—there just isn’t enough data yet. We are still catching up to and formulating data points for all the “fly ball revolution” guys. Not to mention, there have been whispers of yet another change to the baseball, which could dramatically be affecting play. I’m sure we will know pretty quickly as pitchers adjust to what hitters do and vice versa. This is something I am very interested to see unfold.

From AndreaPLfan: Any ideas who the best possible SP I could try to get by trading away Paul DeJong? I need someone strong after losing Clevinger.

The back injury to Mike Clevinger this week was no small loss for sure. He is likely out until close to the All-Star Break. Clevinger has looked incredible so far, striking out 22 batter in 12 innings (16.5 K/9!!!) while also not giving up an earned run. So, before we go any further… let’s pour one out for our Clevinger owners…

The question is, what do you do now? I think you will have a hard time replacing the caliber of pitcher you just lost, particularly for a player like DeJong. When it comes to trades like this, most savvy owners will know you are looking to move DeJong based off a potential “sell-high” window. They may also smell blood in the water once they realize you are looking for a Clevinger replacement. If you are set on trading a specific player away due to your own depth at the position, you need to find a team who needs that position, not just a team with a player you want. Remember, the best trades are mutually beneficial. Find the team that needs SS, maybe they even have an underperforming pitcher to this point in the season. With any luck, you have an owner or two fitting that description and you can offer up DeJong for a guy like Mikolas, Wheeler, or Paxton. A guy like Kershaw could also be a good target, albeit a risky one.

From MaryAnk: How many fantasy pitching categories need to be changed in the coming years with so few starters going 6 innings, so few solid closers, and more emphasis on middle relievers? What new stats do you think could best assess this new pitching environment?

This is a tricky question, because there is really so much variance with pitching year to year. So far this year we’ve had our fair share of disappointments and injuries that has only reaffirmed the volatility and probably the helpless feeling some owners feel as they watch their pitching staff fall apart faster than an alliance on Survivor. The potential rise of “the opener,” the implementation of deeper and more varied bullpen usage, and the monitoring of innings is definitely attributing to the shift in pitching strategies across fantasy baseball. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed more and more leagues using custom categories as opposed to the standard 5×5. My own personal home league is one such example.

There are indeed some stats I do pay attention to more than others. The first, largest, and most obvious is innings pitched and the average duration of an outing. If you play in a quality start league this is especially important. A pitcher like Robbie Ray is the prime example of this. In 2018 he only met or exceeded six innings pitched seven times out of 24 and this year he has yet to pitch more than 5.1. Granted, he spent portions of the year hurt, but a 33% rate is still nothing to write home about.

I saw a lot of different pitching strategies employed this year. Some owners went early on pitching in order to secure a couple of 180–200 inning workhorse types, while other owners waited and waited before dipping their toe into the SP pool. Being ahead of the trend has its advantages and can pay off in a huge way. For me, this new landscape has just affirmed that I want to use maybe one more bench spot than usual on pitching. It really does feel like you are just tossing darts sometimes, so I want as many darts to throw as possible.

The thing to keep in mind as we try to sort out what to do with pitching, is that it really affects every owner in your league the same way. The best advice I can give is to know your league settings and deploy league-specific strategies. I play in a head-to-head categories league with 9 P slots that only really has one reliever category (Saves) while having Wins and Quality Starts as separate categories. My strategy has become to punt saves. Instead of rostering any relievers, I use those extra spots on starting pitchers and an extra bench bat to ensure I have optimum lineups. Conversely, I’m in a season-long roto league that utilizes Quality Starts and K/9 as categories rather than Wins and Ks. In this format I place extra value on any starters and relievers with high K upside.

Another week and another mailbag! It’s been my honor to see this community grow. If I didn’t get to your question, feel free to hit me up on twitter: @gabezammit.

Don’t forget to send in questions via our Discord channel. You can also submit questions by sending an email to: pitcherlistmailbag@gmail.com

Good luck in your fantasy leagues and I’ll see you back here next week!

Gabe Zammit

Gabe Zammit has been writing about baseball since 2017. He is a contributor on Pitcher List in addition to Friends with Fantasy Benefits. Outside of the baseball world, Gabe is a music director and producer and loves to chat about anything and everything music.

One response to “The Rosin Bag 4/12: Cold Weather Pitching Woes”

  1. theKraken says:

    You should believe in streakiness, as it is certainly real. Perhaps a more agreeable term is “high variance”. Its one of the most important attributes about a player IMO. Unfortunately, sabermetrics struggle to identify it, but I certainly would not reduce it to BABIP, luck or sample sizes. Its more about the realites that are not captured over a large enough sample. You probably will not find it in rates. Streakiness is when a player accumulates his value over short periods with periods of worthlessness – think many Bryce Harper seasons… or in past seasons Cody Bellinger who is doing a lot better with consistency this year. Bryce Harper is a great example, because everyone can see that he looks a lock for MVP 1/3 of the time and the other 2/3 he finds a way to come all the way back to the pack. Streaky guys are easy to identify if you watch them and/or follow the daily production. I think that streaky players help their team far less than their consistent counterparts even though they put up the same stats. Lets say a guy has several multi-homer games – not really that helpful to hit more than 1 in most instances because you are likely already ahead and the game is probably over and you are now beating up the mop-up crew. Contrast that with a player that shows up every day and provides consistent production and at bats. I think this is an important distinction especially when we consider that players are judged by end of year numbers like WAR. Did the production actually help win games? Its weird that we call the unit of measure “wins” as its anything but that. What is most interesting to me about what constitutes streakiness is that it is very much related to sound fundamentals. Traditional swings and approaches yield consistent results as opposed to the EV, hard-hit rate, max leverage Joey Gallo approach. It’s not luck on a long enough timeline. To pick on Bryce Harper, look at how hard he swings. There is not much room for error with his high variance approach. A minor injury or a small mechanical problem makes the whole thing fall apart. It makes sense on a fundamental level – high risk/high reward. I am awfully skeptical of hard hit rate as any kind of solution. Why couldn’t a player shut his eyes and run into a few balls? If anything EV would be an attribute of streaky players, whereas a Tony Gwynn, Ichiro type (very skilled and consistent) isn’t going to show up in hard rates. Its not like Hard is a measure of consistency, its a measure of approach and physical strength as much as anything.

    I have tried this before, but I find that people are generally not that interested… at least at Fangraphs. If you want to quantify streakiness, you need to pin down average per game production on a per player basis. From there, you can count the number of games above and below 1 or 2 stdv or whatever. You would find that some players spend more and less time inside of that average range. If you want to just use eyes, you can look at monthly splits are see streakiness. Sometimes there is a significant injury that player plays through… some guys are just always complaining… its very hard to sort out.

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