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Draft Strategy

2016 Category Sleepers: Wins

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

The following is Week 9 of the 10-part series of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV).  For the second year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. We’ve already covered  WHIPhome runs  strikeouts, batting averageERAstolen basessaves, and RBI. This week we’ll review wins sleepers. Now that we are onto the categories that are more playing time and opportunity based, I’ll mention more names for you to stow away as you prepare for your drafts.  With offseason movement still rampant, the opportunity for many of these players is still very much to be determined. 

 

It’s cliché for fantasy baseball analysts to say that wins are unpredictable, and you shouldn’t pay for them on draft day.  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

 

Year

Runs Against

Team Wins

Quality Starts

Innings per Game Start

2015

-0.79

0.91

0.59

0.60

2014

-0.69

0.86

0.58

0.45

2013

-0.69

0.89

0.49

0.54

 

Numbers closest to 1 or -1 show the strongest correlation.  The correlations with quality starts as well as innings per game start aren’t strong, 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, only four of those were on teams that finished below .500. Last season, only 13 pitchers notched 15 wins, and only one (Felix Hernandez) was on a team that finished below .500. In 2014, 11 of the 25 15-game winners had never won 15 games previously. Last season, seven of the 13 pitchers to meet that threshold had never reached 15 wins before.   

 

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 teams with the best futures odds to win the World Series, according to Bovada.lv.  Like average draft position in fantasy baseball, we can use these odds as a guide to predicting baseball’s best teams in 2016.

 

  1. Cubs
  2. Giants
  3. Mets
  4. Red Sox
  5. Nationals
  6. Dodgers
  7. Blue Jays
  8. Royals
  9. Astros

 

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 nine teams.

 

Chicago Cubs

 

You won’t be finding much opportunity for profit with Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and John Lackey after what they accomplished last season, but the backend of the Cubs rotation does have some possibilities. Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel do show room for improvement in the wins category. Hendricks went only 8-7 despite a 3.88 K/BB ratio and 3.36 FIP last season. Hammel won only 10 games with a 3.74 ERA in 31 starts.

 

San Francisco Giants

 

The Giants have a high ceiling after signing Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija during the offseason. Fun fact: All five of their starting rotation members entering the season have been considered the ace of a staff at some point in their careers. Cueto won only 11 games last season, but it’s still difficult to foresee him as a bargain unless you project a full rebound from last season’s struggles. Samardzija actually had a career-high 11 wins last season despite his 4.96 ERA, so there’s reason to expect he can set a new career high in 2016. Jake Peavy and Matt Cain have shown big win tallies in the past, but have struggled to stay healthy recently.

 

New York Mets

 

The expectations are astronomical for New York’s young aces, two of which (Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey) had at least 13 wins last season. Bartolo Colon is expected to open the season as the team’s fifth starter while Zack Wheeler returns from Tommy John surgery, and also had 14 wins in 2015. Noah Syndergaard isn’t being treated like a pitcher with only 24 major league starts under his belt, with an ADP of 46 in the NFBC. That leaves Steven Matz (116), Wheeler (385), and Colon (513) as your sleeper possibilities. Another under the radar possibility is Rafael Montero, who missed most of last season with shoulder trouble but owns a 2.72 ERA in the minors. If an injury strikes the rotation in spring training, Montero could be the next in line.

 

Boston Red Sox

 

Rick Porcello was already mentioned in ERA sleepers, and it’s notable that he had double-digit wins in all six of his major league seasons leading up to his nine-win campaign last year. Eduardo Rodriguez was terrific during his rookie season, winning 10 games in 21 starts with a 3.85 ERA. The lefty is certainly a candidate to help in the win category again if Boston can come anywhere close to Vegas expectations.

 

Washington Nationals

 

Gio Gonzalez has been caught in a wins rut since leading the NL with 21 wins in 2012. His last three years’ win totals have been 11, 10, and 11, even while he’s produced an ERA well below 4.00 in each season. Could some better luck be on the horizon? Tanner Roark will likely return to the rotation after winning 15 games in 2014. His 2.85 ERA that season was a fluke according to his ERA indicators, but he’s still a cheap buy with a 487 ADP. Joe Ross had five wins in 13 starts last season, and shows big upside after producing a 3.29 K/BB and 1.11 WHIP. If you’re looking for a dirt cheap NL-only buy, don’t overlook Bronson Arroyo. He was signed recently, reuniting with former Reds manager Dusty Baker, who has always favored veterans. Arroyo is approaching age 40, but he’s had double-digit wins eight times and could just be in the right place at the right time.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

 

The biggest issue finding wins sleepers on the Dodgers is sorting through their immense pitching depth. Clayton Kershaw, Scott Kazmir, Brett Anderson, and Kenta Maeda would seem to have rotation spots guaranteed as they enter the season, but the options for fifth starter look like Martha Stewart’s grocery list. Hyun-Jin Ryu returns from shoulder surgery, Alex Wood is available, Mike Bolsinger did fine work last year, Brandon McCarthy will eventually return from Tommy John surgery, and the team has two of baseball’s elite pitching prospects nearly ready in Julio Urias and Jose De Leon. This is not to say the Dodgers won’t have several win helpers, but it’s difficult to accurately pinpoint the draft day values until spring training plays out.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

 

You won’t find much more run support for starting pitchers than Toronto. They scored 127 more runs than any other team in 2015, and will be starting the 2016 season with Troy Tulowitzki. That helps explain how Drew Hutchison had 13 wins with a 5.57 ERA last season. David Price certainly benefited in his short stay, winning nine games in 11 starts. J.A. Happ becomes especially intriguing after posting a 1.96 ERA in 11 starts with Pittsburgh late last season, and don’t forget Marcus Stroman won all four of his starts after returning from a torn ACL late in 2015. The fifth rotation spot looks like a battle between Hutchison, Jesse Chavez, and Aaron Sanchez, and a great buying opportunity for fantasy owners.

 

Kansas City Royals

 

The World Champs produced three double-digit winners last season in Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, and Chris Young. Ian Kennedy and Kris Medlen could have opportunities to join the party. Kennedy simply needs to get his home run issues in check, but don’t forget that he’s won 15-plus games twice in his career. Medlen won 15 games during his only full season as a starting pitcher in 2013.

 

Houston Astros

 

Houston surprisingly produced two 15-plus game winners last season in Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh. They should be the poster children for this wins thesis after the team’s surprising 2015 breakout season. Added was Lance McCullers’ 12 wins in 22 starts and Scott Feldman’s 12 wins in 18 starts. Mike Fiers was one of the few Astros starters to see bad luck with wins, but he also had a 3.32 ERA with the team. Recently added Doug Fister shows upside if he’s healthy, winning a combined 30 games in 2013-14.