Some pitchers get better run support than others. It separates the fantasy studs from the fantasy duds, turns nobodies into somebodies and sometimes silences ace pitchers. Remember Cliff Lee‘s dismal 6-9 record last year despite his 3.05 ERA?
I won’t call them luckiest, for all these pitchers are plenty talented. So let’s say… run supportiest. Take a look at the run supportiest pitchers this year, followed by their average run support per game:
- Max Scherzer, 7.64
- Jeremy Hellickson, 6.70
- Justin Verlander, 6.64
- Anibal Sanchez, 6.57
- Ryan Dempster, 6.38
- Bartolo Colon, 6.22
- Chris Tillman, 6.18
- Matt Moore, 6.16
- Lance Lynn, 6.00
- Mike Minor, 6.00
Well, look at that. Mr. 15-game winner Max Scherzer is at the top of the list, and by no small margin. Without digging further, it’s important to make some distinctions. The average team scores approximately 4.20 runs per game, but no team is the average team. Although the Boston Red Sox lead the majors in scoring, it’s Scherzer’s own Detroit Tigers who lead in runs scored per game at 5.18 runs. It probably comes as no surprise that the Miami Marlins are last in runs scored at 3.19 per game, almost a full two runs fewer than the Tigers.
Part of the strategy in fantasy baseball is finding not necessarily the best pitchers but the above-average pitchers on good teams who will naturally get a lot of run support. Ryan Dempster isn’t having a great season by measure of his 4.54 ERA, but playing for the Red Sox certain bolsters his chances of collecting wins without having lights-out stuff. (Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way for Dempster, notching only six wins.)
Instead of looking at the top 10 run supportiest pitchers in nominal terms, we ought to normalize the list by taking the difference between the pitchers’ run support and the average runs scored by their teams. The new list looks like this:
- Max Scherzer, 2.46
- Jeremy Hellickson, 2.09
- Bartolo Colon, 1.77
- Yovani Gallardo, 1.61
- Matt Moore, 1.51
- Hyun-Jin Ryu, 1.54
- Chris Tillman, 1.50
- Mike Minor, 1.47
- Yu Darvish, 1.46
- Justin Verlander, 1.46
The number following each name is the difference between the pitcher’s run support and his team’s average runs scored per game. Scherzer and Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson lead the list again, but some new names popped up: Yovani Gallardo, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Yu Darvish. The 10 pitchers above have combined for 115 wins, or 11.5 wins on average. Even Gallardo has eight wins despite having the eighth worst ERA of all qualified starters.
This list serves two purposes, although both aren’t immediately valuable: 1) although most of these pitchers are pitching well, don’t be surprised if they win less often as their run support regresses toward the mean; 2) if you’re in a dynasty league. don’t bank on a potential 20-game winner to do it again next year, especially if he’s the beneficiary of randomly elevated run support.
In contrast, here are the 10 least run-supportiest pitchers (relative to average team run support like the previous list):
- Chris Sale, -1.22
- Homer Bailey, -1.19
- Kris Medlen, -1.00
- Eric Stults, -0.99
- A.J. Burnett, -0.88
- Joe Blanton, -0.82
- Roberto Hernandez, -0.78
- Julio Teheran, -0.75
- John Lackey, -0.75
- Travis Wood, -0.74
The above pitchers have combined for only 61 wins, or 6.1 wins on average, a far cry from 115 wins (11.5 average) posted by the top 10 run supportiest pitchers. These pitchers don’t throw for terrible teams, either — six of them play for contenders, or call it seven if you’re a hopeless Angels fan.
(Interjecting some notes: Red Sox starter John Lackey is having a renaissance season, and it looks like he has nobody but himself to thank for his seven wins; Chicago Cubs starter Travis Wood is having a breakout year despite a lack of run support; I just want a reason to say “the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona”; if I’m in a dynasty league, I’m gunning for Cincinnati Reds starter Homer Bailey, who would be having a breakout season ,piggybacking on his very solid second half of 2012, if it were not for his miserable run support… he ought to have better stats to go with his 1.14 WHIP.)
My takeaway from all of this, again, is as much predictive as it is descriptive. If I had to offer bits of advice based on what I’ve presented some of it would be the following:
- Buy low on A.J. Burnett, who is 4-7 with a sub-3.00 ERA playing for the NL Central-leading Pittsburgh Pirates…
- Do the same for Lackey, who shows no signs of slowing down…
- Sell high on Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, who is sporting a career-worst ERA and is being buoyed by his win total…
- I’d even venture to say sell high on Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu and Baltimore Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman, who are both benefiting from high strand rates even amid seasons I would classify as underwhelming…
- And I’d even sell high on Big Fat Bartolo Colon, who simply won’t keep winning every game and has a lackluster strikeout rate…
- Remember these names during your draft next year! Run support can fluctuate randomly and wildly year to year. Just ask Cliff Lee.