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Draft Strategy

2015 Category Sleepers: Wins

by Seth Trachtman
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

You’re bound to see numerous strategy articles leading up to 2015 that tell you not to pay for starting pitcher wins because they are unpredictable.  I think that’s oversimplifying the category, but I generally agree with the statement.  I would adjust the statement by saying that you shouldn’t make wins the primary, or even secondary, category that you pay for when drafting a starting pitcher.  However, pitcher wins certainly aren’t completely unpredictable.

 

For year-to-year individual performance, Bill Petti of Beyond the Boxscore did an outstanding job of running down the year-to-year correlation of most of the stats we’re concerned with and wins have an extremely weak correlation.

 

However, when we look at stats that correlate with the teams that accumulate the most starting pitcher wins, there are a few numbers that stand out.

 

Team Starting Pitcher Wins Correlations

 

 

Runs Against

Team Wins

Quality Starts

Innings per Game Start

2014

-0.69

0.86

0.58

0.45

2013

-0.69

0.89

0.49

0.54

2012

-0.82

0.90

0.75

0.76

 

 

Numbers closest to 1 or -1 show the strongest correlation.  The correlations with quality starts as well as innings per game start are weak, but the correlation is still strong enough to be worth mentioning.  Runs against have a stronger correlation, and a fairly obvious one since we expect the most effective pitchers to be winners.  Other stats evaluated that had extremely weak correlations include run support per nine innings, run support per game start, pitches per game start, and bullpen ERA.

 

Most obvious and telling is the strong correlation between team wins and starting pitcher wins.  It must be stated that this strong correlation doesn’t necessarily imply good teams cause individual starting pitcher wins, but still it’s clear that the best teams undoubtedly have the most starting pitcher wins.  When we break down individual results from 2014, among the 25 pitchers with at least 15 wins last season, only four of those pitchers (Johnny Cueto, Phil Hughes, Bartolo Colon, Alfredo Simon) were on teams that finished below .500. On the other hand, 11 of the 25 pitchers had never won 15 games prior to last season (Corey Kluber, Wily Peralta, Wei-Yin Chen, Doug Fister, Matt Shoemaker, Scott Kazmir, Alfredo Simon, Rick Porcello, Bud Norris, Hisashi Iwakuma, Tanner Roark).  It’s not surprising that most of those pitchers were also on playoff teams.

 

Keeping in mind the correlation between team wins and starting pitcher wins, one exercise for finding possible discounted wins from starting pitchers is to evaluate baseball’s best teams.

 

Below are the current top 10 teams according to Las Vegas over/under win lines.  Like average draft position in fantasy baseball, we can use these lines as a guide predicting baseball’s best teams in 2015.

 

  1. Dodgers
  2. Red Sox
  3. Tigers
  4. Angels
  5. Nationals
  6. Cubs
  7. Giants
  8. Cardinals
  9. Blue Jays
  10. White Sox

 

While I still stick to the starting pitching mantra of paying for the skillset and hoping that the wins follow, taking a pitcher from a good team can certainly be used as a tiebreaker as you search for profit from the wins category. Below is a breakdown of some possible “wins sleepers” from these top 10 teams.

 

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

 

I mentioned Brandon McCarthy previously as an ERA sleeper, and the move to the Dodgers also makes him a prominent wins sleeper after winning just 10 games between the Diamondbacks and Yankees last season.  Keep in mind you are buying high on McCarthy’s health after his first 200 inning season, but all of the peripherals and the strong supporting cast show huge upside.

 

 

Boston Red Sox

 

It’s likely that the Red Sox high win line is buoyed by the thought of another starting pitcher addition, such as James Shields or Cole Hamels.  The team is currently lacking an ace, but hoping that new additions Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson are able to emerge.  Porcello doesn’t get much of a boost for his win chances after spending previous seasons with Detroit, though Miley and Masterson certainly show some upside.

 

 

Detroit Tigers

 

Assuming the Tigers don’t make a starting pitcher addition this offseason or re-sign Max Scherzer, Shane Greene is penciled into the rotation.  Greene proved quietly capable for the Yankees last season, posting a 3.78 ERA in 78.2 innings and fanning more than one batter per inning.  The move from Yankee Stadium and Comerica Park could help his ERA, and the Tigers still have a very capable roster otherwise.

 

 

Los Angeles Angels

 

Hoping Garrett Richards is available by May, the Angels could use some help from Hector Santiago to pick up the slack.  He started 24 games last season, but finished the year just 4-9 as a starter.  With a fair 4.05 ERA, that record is especially surprising for the team with the most wins in the American League.  One would think Santiago is due for some better luck, especially after posting a sub-3.00 ERA during the second half.

 

 

Washington Nationals

 

Washington’s rotation is unchanged, so aside from hoping for 20 win seasons from Stephen Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann, the only major candidate with the hope of significant wins improvement is Gio Gonzalez.  The southpaw won only 10 games last season, but showing the true volatility of the category, he’s only two years removed from a 21 win season.  Despite his declining wins, Gonzalez’s ERA indicators show a 2014 season that really wasn’t far off his 2012 performance.

 

 

Chicago Cubs

 

Not to be cruel to abused Cubs fans, but you have to believe some Chicago optimism (and money) weighs into the team’s lofty win line.  Even so, the team’s roster certainly looks far better than it did going into 2014.  It’s notable that Jason Hammel won eight games in 17 starts with the team last season, and there should be some profit to be had in the backend of the rotation.  Entering the season, candidates include Travis Wood, Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, Jacob Turner, and Felix Doubront.

 

 

San Francisco Giants

 

Jake Peavy went just 1-9 in 20 starts with the Red Sox last season, but rebounded to win half of his starts with the Giants.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that Peavy had a 2.17 ERA with San Francisco, but it still shows his potential for a rebound this season.  However, if San Francisco’s recent pattern continues, they could have a tough time making the playoffs following their third World Series win in five years.

 

 

St. Louis Cardinals

 

The fifth starter competition between Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales will be one to watch in spring training.  Both pitchers bring an intriguing skillset regardless of their potential wins, but the Cardinals strong supporting cast makes them even more interesting.

 

 

Toronto Blue Jays

 

After fanning nearly one batter per inning last season, I’d expect Drew Hutchison to show up on sleeper lists this season.  He went 11-13 in 32 starts last season for the Jays, and the addition of Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin makes Toronto’s roster that much more enticing.  Marcus Stroman won 10 of his 20 starts last season, showing huge potential now that he’s in the rotation full-time.  The fifth starter spot looks like a competition between Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, and Marco Estrada, with some interesting potential among that group.

 

 

Chicago White Sox

 

I’m surprised that the White Sox aren’t more highly thought of in Vegas, not that I’m providing betting advice.  The team had only 50 starting pitcher wins last season, which was better than only six teams.  That included 12 wins from Chris Sale.  One would hope Jeff Samardzija is due for some better luck after winning only seven games last season with an ERA below 3.00.  Jose Quintana is also due some better luck after going 9-11 with a 3.32 ERA in 32 starts.