March 17, 2010

Behind the Numbers: 3rd Round Starters

Think back to a draft you've done this year. Whether it be a quick mock, a draft with your buddies, or the $100,000 money league you play in every year. Now, think of the first 3 pitchers off the board. Lincecum, of course, followed somewhat closely by the new and improved NL version of Doc Halladay. Now who was third? This is where the consensus will stray. Was it the hat tilting, CC Sabathia? The diamond stuck in the Kansas City rough, Zack Greinke? Or was it the man who has been dubbed a king by middle-aged white men everywhere, Felix Hernandez? Each of these 3 pitchers has their own pitch as to why they should be the 3rd starter off the board in each and every league, and I am going to try and make sense of who the best of this trio actually is.

According to Mock Draft Central, the average order that these three go off the board is: CC at 30, Greinke at 31 and King Felix at 32. Now, my personal rankings look more like: Greinke, Felix and CC. The fine people at ESPN projected it to come out: Felix, CC and then Greinke. The combinations for how to rank these guys are endless. (Well actually there's only 6, but it seems like there's a bunch). So let's break down each aspect of their games, and see who should be at the top (or at least in third place) of your SP rankings.

For guys in the offensively loaded American League, the only guy who put up a "normal" ERA number was Sabathia at 3.37. Meanwhile, Greinke and Hernandez were off the charts at 2.16 and 2.49 respectively. Sabathia's ERA should hover around that same number, since his career average is 3.62. Even Hernandez's figure seems somewhat repeatable, since the top aces in the league over the past few years has been around the 2.5-2.6 range, and Hernandez definitely has the stuff of an ace. Greinke is where the ERA department becomes dangerous. Last year, the Royals' star went out and hung a number so wicked that only steroid-era Clemens and vintage Pedro could compare with. What makes this even more amazing was that it was in the offensively charged AL, as well as a division that hosts 3 of the top 10 offensive ballparks, with his home at Kauffman coming in at number 5. Move him to Petco and we might have seen a sub-2.00 ERA. That's what makes him the most interesting in this group, in terms of ERA. While I think Greinke is a stud who will dominate, the odds of him repeating seem a lot lower to me. I decided to favor the repeatability of Hernandez's ERA over Greinke's, but only by a small margin. With that, the way they rank in terms of ERA looks like:
Hernandez (2.4), Greinke(2.40001)... Sabathia(3.25)

While CC might fall far behind the other two starters in terms of ERA, this is where he separates himself. The Mariners have so much unknown within their lineup, that I can't tell whether they will put up enough runs to win games for Felix. There is no unknown, just losing, out in Kansas City, so this is where Greinke's major downfall is. That leaves Sabathia and his silver spoon, as he gets to go out and make all sorts of mistakes, only to have A-Rod or Teixeira make up for it. That's one of the perks you get when you trade in your soul for the New York bucks. Even though wins are the hardest stat to anticipate; with these guys they are fairly easy to predict how they will come out:
Sabathia(19), Hernandez(18/17), Greinke(16)

Very similar to the ERA category, all three of these guys will help to put up nasty WHIP figures. I really didn't see anything that stood out to make me think it would differ any this year. So, they rank something like this in 2010:
Greinke(1.10), Hernandez(1.11), Sabathia(1.16)

Most people think that when you pick starters, this is the stat you should focus on, since most of the other categories vary from year to year. I am one of those that adhere to that doctrine. I like pitchers like Verlander and Lester because as long as they get a little more lucky, or a bit of extra defense, all of the other numbers will go down, where as a pitcher has to adopt a whole different pitch or motion to increase their K totals. Greinke ranked 3rd in the majors with his 242 Ks, but what was more impressive was his 9.5 K/9 ratio. Both Felix and CC put up great K numbers in similar innings, and should both get around 200-210 punchouts, which is a very respectable number. As a disclaimer, don't look at CC's 250 Ks in 08 and think that last year was a fluke. He logged 250 innings that year as the Brewers rode his hot streak and had him pitch just about every day, it seemed. The Yankees have no reason to ever wear him like that, so the 197 he put up last year seems a lot more reasonable. These three guys should finish out with numbers like these:
Greinke(240), Hernandez(210), Sabathia(199)

So with that said, looking at those numbers, I stand by the rankings I put in my intro. I like Greinke the best, since he will guarantee you Ks, and while his win numbers might be subpar, they are so unreliable that who knows, maybe he will win every start he makes. Of course the scores will all be 1-0, but whatever works. Along that same logic, I like Felix as my 4th ranked SP, since he is a young stud with great stuff. Of course, CC's no slouch, and if you want guaranteed Wins, you can't go wrong with a Bankee. I guess the best advice I can give is to wait. With these three guys being so comparable, and all having their own stud categories, I would sit and let my leaguemates make the tough decision and take the remaining player of this trio.