For the seventh year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. So far we’ve looked at batting average, WHIP, home run, strikeout, ERA, stolen base, saves, and RBI sleepers. In the ninth installment of the series we’ll be reviewing starting pitchers who can be sleepers for wins. Over 10 weeks, I will be providing a list of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV). After looking at categories that were more based on player skill over the first five weeks, we shift to categories that are more dependent on opportunity, supporting cast, and batting order spot.
Before reading any further, it’s important to note the definition of a sleeper. In this case, it’s a player who will exceed draft day ADP AND projections in a particular category. The players are broken down by mixed league sleepers and single league sleepers.
For year-to-year individual performance, Bill Petti of Beyond the Boxscore did an outstanding job back in 2012 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 based on past analysis of 2013-2016 numbers.
Team Starting Pitcher Wins Correlations
|Year||Runs Against||Team Wins||Quality Starts||Innings per Game Start|
Numbers closest to 1 or -1 show the strongest correlation. The correlations with quality starts as well as innings per game start haven’t been consistently strong over a four-year period, but the correlation is still strong enough to be worth mentioning. Runs against have had a more consistent correlation, which seems fairly obvious 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.
It must be stated that this strong correlation doesn’t necessarily imply good teams <i>cause</i> 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. In 2015, only 13 pitchers notched 15 wins, and only one (Felix Hernandez) was on a team that finished below .500. In 2016, only two pitchers (Chris Sale and Jose Fernandez) out of the 23 15-game winnings were on a team below .500.
More recently, fantasy managers have to contend with managers’ quicker hooks and the “opener.” There were still 17 pitchers with 15-plus wins in 2019, and among that group, only Lance Lynn, Marco Gonzales, and Luis Castillo were on teams that finished below .500.
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 teams with the best odds to win the 2021 World Series. Like average draft position in fantasy baseball, we can use these odds as a guide to predicting baseball’s best teams in 2021.
White Sox +900
Odds from PointsBet Sportsbook as of February 13, 2021.
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 eight teams.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers go into spring training with another Dream Team roster, recently spurred by the addition of Trevor Bauer. The team’s top three of Bauer, Clayton Kershaw, and Walker Buehler are rightfully near the top of starting pitcher rankings, but some win value can be found with Julio Urias (ADP 114 in NFBC), David Price (178), and eventually Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin as their prices drop as secondary rotation options.
New York Yankees
There’s been significant turnover in the Yankees rotation this year behind Gerrit Cole, creating some profit opportunities. Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon are returning from injuries, and could be nice buys with ADPs of 222 and 226, respectively, if you have any confidence in bounceback seasons. Similarly, Jordan Montgomery returned from injury last year, and could also be a nice wins buy at 221 ADP. Domingo German is hoping to regain a rotation spot after being suspended for all of 2020, and is a flier in mixed leagues with a 317 ADP. Later in the year, Luis Severino, Clarke Schmidt, and Deivi Garcia could be rotation options, so stashing them could be profitable if you have a deep bench.
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San Diego Padres
The revamped Padres rotation doesn’t bring much in the way of value buys after adding Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove to Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack. Though, it’s worth noting that multiple pitchers in that group have injury histories, so there are certainly some investments for wins worth stashing. Among them are top pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore and young lefty Adrian Morejon, who should both find starts at some point in 2021.
Chicago White Sox
Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn are stalwarts who are going in the top 60 picks this winter, while former AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel has also proven capable in the past. The back of Chicago’s rotation is less reliable but still packs upside, with Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, and Carlos Rodon fighting for two spots. No one in that trio will make you break the bank, though there’s also reason to believe they’ll all be on an innings cap this season, between their youth and recent injuries.
Atlanta’s starting rotation has a nice combo of youth of experience heading into spring training. Max Fried and Charlie Morton look like reliable options, albeit on opposite ends of their career trajectories. From there, Atlanta has more questions with 2020 upstart Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka, and free agent addition Drew Smyly. Anderson is pricey with a 96 ADP after the success we saw last season, though his control issues could be a concern. Soroka is working his way back from a torn Achilles but won 13 of 29 starts in 2019. Smyly got $11 million after showing an uptick in velocity last season, but the last time he threw more than 114 innings was 2016. His ADP of 223 still won’t break the bank, but backup rotation options like Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson could be the real wins sleepers here as potential reserve stashes.
New York Mets
The Mets are ready to win, adding Carlos Carrasco in the offseason. Jacob deGrom is the top pitcher drafted in some leagues, and Marcus Stroman returns after opting out of 2020. Stroman’s 221 ADP is reasonable, though his upside is somewhat lacking due to his mediocre strikeout rate. The back of the rotation currently includes David Peterson and Joey Lucchesi, both pitchers well outside the top 300 picks, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Mets add another significant rotation candidate after striking out on Trevor Bauer. It’s difficult to see Peterson or Lucchesi as more than fliers at this point, for that reason.
Editor's Note: The Mets have reportedly agreed to a two-year contract with right-hander Taijuan Walker, likely completing their offseason shopping.
You probably aren’t going to find much win profit with top 100 picks Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios, but the rest of the Twins rotation can be had much cheaper. Michael Pineda is 13-5 with a 3.91 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 31 starts over the last two seasons, and his 232 ADP makes him a reasonable middle of the rotation fantasy starter. Newcomer J.A. Happ has an ADP of just 405, and posted a sub-4.00 ERA for the fourth time in five years last season. He should also benefit from getting out of Yankee Stadium. Groundball pitcher Randy Dobnak was inconsistent last year but still finished with a viable 4.05 ERA while winning six of 10 starts, and he’s set to compete for the fifth starter job with oft-injured veteran Matt Shoemaker. Assuming the team sticks with a five-man rotation, the winner of that competition could be a nice wins addition.
Oakland enters 2021 with another under-to-radar roster that could lead to nice win totals for its starting pitchers. Jesus Luzardo would seem to have the most upside if he can stay healthy, posting a 4.12 ERA and one strikeout per inning in 59 frames last year. Chris Bassitt has a career 3.59 ERA in six seasons and won five of 11 starts last year. Frankie Montas had a forgettable 2020 after returning from a PEDs suspension, but he won nine of 16 starts in 2019 and had a dominant 10.2 K/9 last year. Sean Manaea has had some trouble staying healthy during his career, but he’s shown elite control over the last three seasons and displayed peripherals that were better than his final 4.50 ERA. Mike Fiers re-upped with the A’s recently, and while his poor peripherals don’t make him a particularly interesting play, he’s the prime example of a pitcher who has tallied wins with the help of his supporting cast. He recorded double-digit wins three times from 2016-2019, playing most of that time with Houston or Oakland.