Limited sample sizes are scary territory for pitching results and analysis. In this year’s upcoming 60-game season, starting pitchers are going to be maxing out with around 12 starts, meaning that just one or two blowup games could cause a pitcher’s season-long numbers to look quite ugly.
So how do fantasy managers adjust? The key is centering in on stats that are less wavering and less reliant on a full season’s worth of data. We want to instead focus on the stats you can be more confident in every time a pitcher takes the mound.
These are the stats that fantasy owners should be putting more weight in entering the shortened 2020 season…Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off. Get access to our exclusive articles, rankings, projections, prospects coverage, 15 in-season lineup tools, daily expert DFS research, powerful Research Station, Lineup Optimizer and much more! Sign Up Now!
Strikeouts and K/9
Pitchers who yield high strikeout numbers should continue to deliver consistently regardless of what their other stats look like. Even during a blowup outing, high strikeout pitchers should still be providing at least adequate support in the strikeout category – call it “blowing up in style” in Buzz Lightyear terms.
Strikeout kings like Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, and Justin Verlander obviously stand out with this in mind, but if you look a bit deeper amongst the pack of starting pitchers, you can find more bang for your buck.
Robbie Ray, always reliable in the strikeout department, tied with Verlander for third in the league with 12.1 K/9 last year. Over his first six starts last year, despite posting an ERA north of 4.00, he struck out a sturdy 37 batters in 32.1 innings.
Lucas Giolito and Matthew Boyd tied for fifth in K/9 last year with 11.6. Giolito had a season defined by splits in 2019. He had a picturesque May where he won all six of his starts and posted a 1.74 ERA, but his strikeout rate for the month (46 strikeouts over 41.1 innings, 10.1 K/9) was actually slightly worse than his strikeout rate in his worst month of the season, July, when he went 1-4 with a 5.65 ERA but struck out 35 batters over 28.2 innings (11.2 K/9).
Boyd recorded eight or more strikeouts in 17 of his 32 starts last year – including all five of his starts in July, despite going 1-4 in the month. While Boyd will suffer in the wins department and could be middling or worse in ERA, he’s a sure thing for strikeout help.
Last, but certainly not least, we have the poster child for the #ChaseStrikeoutsIn2020 movement. Yu Darvish had an abysmal start to the 2019 campaign, with just three quality starts in his first 12 appearances. However, during that same stretch, he also struck out 73 batters over 61 innings, good for 10.8 K/9.
While ERA figures to be a dangerously fickle metric in 2020, WHIP offers more stability due to its ability to normalize quicker when pitchers settle in. Starting pitchers who are known to regularly limit base runners should have somewhere around 50 or 60 innings at least, and around 180 or 200 individual batters faced, to make their marks in the category.
Despite having his worst MLB season by most metrics last year, Madison Bumgarner still posted a solid 1.13 WHIP, good for seventeenth best in the league. The move from San Francisco to Arizona should hurt his ERA more than his WHIP. Bumgarner walked just 43 batters over his 207.2 innings last year.
Mike Soroka showed excellent WHIP potential in his first full MLB season in 2019. He posted a 1.11 WHIP, walking just 41 batters in 174.2 innings. His minor league numbers back up his ability to limit baserunners even further as he posted a 1.09 WHIP over 153.2 innings in Double-A in 2017.
Mike Fiers has been a WHIP extraordinaire since joining the Athletics in mid-2018. He posted a 1.08 WHIP over 10 games with the A’s in 2018, followed by a 1.19 WHIP over 33 starts the team last year. His low strikeouts (126 over 184.2 innings in 2019) are something to be wary of, but he has an ADP north of 300 right now, so hopefully, you can make up for his strikeout deficiencies with other draft picks along the way.
Over 32 starts with a 2.43 ERA in 2019, Jacob deGrom still managed only 11 wins on the season. In the shortened 2020 season, it could be tough for deGrom to muster even four or five wins. That’s a tough nugget to swallow given the high draft capital you need to spend on the Mets ace.
Targeting pitchers who figure to have the most run support, and thus the higher win potential, could give you a big boost in the category for the shortened season. The Yankees, Twins, Astros, and Red Sox were the highest-scoring offenses in 2019, followed by the Dodgers, Nationals, and Braves.
Some good values in the middle and late rounds from those teams include Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, Kenta Maeda Jake Odorizzi, Rich Hill, Lance McCullers, Josh James, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, Julio Urias, Alex Wood, Anibal Sanchez, Mike Foltynewicz and Cole Hamels.
Okay, so this one probably sticks out as a surprise given the fact that saves are clearly one of the most fickle of all fantasy sports stats on a year-to-year basis. However, most of that fickle behavior comes from the middle tier, or even the top-middle tier, of relief pitchers.
It should always be a general rule of thumb to avoid the one-season wonders like Blake Treinen who converted 38 saves in 2018 despite a mediocre half-decade in the league preceding the season. Treinen was one of the first closers off the board in 2019, only to struggle mightily and lose his job to Liam Hendriks – who should be considered just as much of a risk this year as Treinen was last year.
Less-proven closers will be given an even shorter leash in a shorter season, which means that extra value should be given to the proven, experienced closers at the top.
Don’t be afraid to reach a bit higher than normal for Josh Hader, Kirby Yates, Roberto Osuna, or Aroldis Chapman. The picture gets a lot fuzzier after that and other owners without one of these four might be scrambling for saves on a weekly basis or punting the category altogether. If you lock down one of these top four and then throw a few “closer darts” later on in the draft, you could find yourself in a good position to regularly come out ahead in the saves category.
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