Predicting pitchers’ walks using xBB%

The other day, I discussed predicting pitchers’ strikeout rates using xK%. I will conduct the same exercise today in regard to predicting walks. Using my best intuition, I want to see how well a pitcher’s walk rate (BB%) actually correlates with what his walk rate should be (expected BB%, henceforth “xBB%”). Similarly to xK%, I used my intuition to best identify reliable indicators of a pitcher’s true walk rate using readily available data.

An xBB% metric, like xK%, would not only if a pitcher perennially over-performs (or under-performs) his walk rate but also if he happened to do so on a given year. This article will conclude by looking at how the difference in actual and expected walk rates (BB – xBB%) varied between 2014 and career numbers, lending some insight into the (un)luckiness of each pitcher.

Courtesy of FanGraphs, I constructed another set of pitching data spanning 2010 through 2014. This time, I focused primarily on what I thought would correlate with walk rate: inability to pitch in the zone and inability to incur swings on pitches out of the zone. I also throw in first-pitch strike rate: I predict that counts that start with a ball are more likely to end in a walk than those that start with a strike. Because FanGraphs’ data measures ability rather than inability — “Zone%” measures how often a pitcher hits the zone; “O-Swing%” measures how often batters swing at pitches out of the zone; “F-Strike%” measures the rate of first-pitch strikes — each variable should have a negative coefficient attached to it.

I specify a handful of variations before deciding on a final version. Instead of using split-season data (that is, each pitcher’s individual seasons from 2010 to 2014) for qualified pitchers, I use aggregated statistics because the results better fit the data by a sizable margin. This surprised me because there were about half as many observations, but it’s also not surprising because each observation is, itself, a larger sample size than before.

At one point, I tried creating my own variable: looks (non-swings) at pitches out of the zone. I created a variable by finding the percentage of pitches out of the zone (1 – Zone%) and multiplied it by how often a batter refused to swing at them (1 – O-Swing%). This version of the model predicted a nice fit, but it was slightly worse than leaving the variables separated. Also, I ran separate-but-equal regressions for PITCHf/x data and FanGraphs’ own data. The PITCHf/x data appeared to be slightly more accurate, so I proceeded using them.

The graph plots actual walk rates versus expected walk rates. The regression yielded the following equation:

xBB% = .3766176 – .2103522*O-Swing%(pfx) – .1105723*Zone%(pfx) – .3062822*F-Strike%
R-squared = .6433

Again, R-squared indicates how well the model fits the data. An R-squared of .64 is not as exciting as the R-squared I got for xK%; it means the model predicts about 64 percent of the fit, and 36 percent is explained by things I haven’t included in the model. Certainly, more variables could help explain xBB%. I am already considering combining FanGraphs’ PITCHf/x data with some of Baseball Reference‘s data, which does a great job of keeping track of the number of 3-0 counts, four-pitch walks and so on.

And again, for the reader to use the equation above to his or her benefit, one would plug in the appropriate values for a player in a given season or time frame and determine his xBB%. Then one could compare the xBB% to single-season or career BB% to derive some kind of meaningful results. And (one more) again, I have already taken the liberty of doing this for you.

Instead of including every pitcher from the sample, I narrowed it down to only pitchers with at least three years’ worth of data in order to yield some kind of statistically significant results. (Note: a three-year sample is a small sample, but three individual samples of 160+ innings is large enough to produce some arguably robust results.) “Avg BB% – xBB%” (or “diff%”) takes the average of a pitcher’s difference between actual and expected walk rates from 2010 to 2014. It indicates how well (or poorly) he performs compared to his xBB%: the lower a number, the better. This time, I included “t-score”, which measures how reliable diff% is. The key value here is 1.96; anything greater than that means his diff% is reliable. (1.00 to 1.96 is somewhat reliable; anything less than 1.00 is very unreliable.) Again, this is slightly problematic because there are five observations (years) at most, but it’s the best and simplest usable indicator of simplicity.

Thus, Mark Buehrle, Mike Leake, Hiroki Kuroda, Doug Fister, Tim Hudson, Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Bartolo Colon can all reasonably be expected to consistently out-perform their xBB% in any given year. Likewise, Aaron Harang, Colby Lewis, Ervin Santana and Mat Latos can all reasonably be expected to under-perform their xBB%. For everyone else, their diff% values don’t mean a whole lot. For example, R.A. Dickey‘s diff% of +0.03% doesn’t mean he’s more likely than someone else to pitch exactly as good as his xBB% predicts him to; in fact, his standard deviation (StdDev) of 0.93% indicates he’s less likely than just about anyone to do so. (What it really means is there is only a two-thirds chance his diff% will be between -0.90% and +0.96%.)

As with xK%, I compiled a list of fantasy-relevant starters with only two years’ worth of data that see sizable fluctuations between 2013 and 2014. Their data, at this point, is impossible (nay, ill-advised) to interpret now, but it is worth monitoring.

Name: [2013 diff%, 2014 diff%]

Miller is an interesting case: he was atrociously bad about gifting free passes in 2014, but his diff% was only marginally worse than it was in 2013. It’s possible that he was a smart buy-low for the braves — but it’s also possible that Miller not only perennially under-performs his xBB% but is also trending in the wrong direction.

Here are fantasy-relevant players with a) only 2014 data, and b) outlier diff% values:

I’m not gonna lie, I have no idea why Cobb, Corey Kluber and others show up as only having one year of data when they have two in the xK% dataset. This is something I noticed now. Their exclusion doesn’t fundamentally change the model’s fit whatsoever because it did not rely on split-season data; I’m just curious why it didn’t show up in FanGraphs’ leaderboards. Oh well.

Implications: Richards and Roark perhaps over-performed. Meanwhile, it’s possible that Odorizzi, Ross  and Ventura will improve (or regress) compared to last year. I’m excited about all of that. Richards will probably be pretty over-valued on draft day.

Pitchers to sell high, buy low or cut bait

All right. It’s April. It’s horrifying, unless you’re doing well, and then it’s not. But, full disclosure, I’m not. Chicago White Sox staff ace Chris Sale just hit the 15-day disabled list yesterday, joining the Philadelphia Phillies’ Cole Hamels, Seattle Mariners’ James Paxton, Tampa Bay Rays’ Alex Cobb, Cincinnati Reds’ Mat Latos, New York Yankees’ David Robertson and the Detroit Tigers’ Doug Fister on my teams’ DLs. It’s killing me, really. It’s incredibly painful.

What I’m saying is I’ve spent more time than I’d care to admit frolicking in free agency, trying to figure out which early-season studs are legit or not. I’ve been pondering various buy-low situations as well. So I jumped into a pool of peripherals and PITCHf/x data to look for answers.

The list below is not remotely exhaustive. It’s mostly players I am watching or already using as replacements for my teams. Here they are, in no particular order.

Jake Peavy, BOS | 0-0, 3.33 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 9.25 K/9
Peavy’s prime came and went about five years ago, so, full disclosure, I don’t know as much about him off the top of my head as I should. But I do know one thing: he doesn’t strike out a batter per inning anymore. In his defense, batters’ contact rate against him is the best it has been since 2009, his last truly good year. So maybe he will strike out a few more batters than last year, but I think it’ll be closer to 2012’s 7.97 K/9, not 2009’s 9.74 K/9. The WHIP is atrocious;  the walk rate is through the roof. If there’s a guy in your league who will pay for what will end up being the illusion of ERA and strikeouts, by all means, trade him. He’s owned in 100 percent of leagues but doesn’t deserve to be.
Verdict: Sell high

John Lackey, BOS | 2-2, 5.25 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 8.63 K/9
Another Boston pitcher, another bad start to the season. I like Lackey a lot more, though, for a variety of reasons. One, last year’s renaissance was legitimate. Two, he’s not walking many batters right now, so his unspectacular ratios are more a result of an unlucky batting average on balls in play (.333 BABIP) than incompetence. Three, his swinging strike and contact rates are currently career bests. Again, we’re working with small sample sizes here, and this could easily regress. But considering his velocity is also at a career high, I don’t find it improbable that Lackey actually does better than he did last season. If an owner in your league has already dropped him, put in your waiver claim now.

Jesse Chavez, OAK | 1-0, 1.38 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 9.69 K/9
Talk about unexpected. Chavez, who has been relevant about zero times, is making for an intriguing play in all leagues. It’s a given he will regress, especially considering the .242 BABIP, but his improved walk rate could be here to stay, as he is pounding the zone more than he ever has in his career. The strikeouts are somewhat of a mirage, but it looks like he can be a low-WHIP, moderate-strikeout guy, and that’s still valuable.
Verdict: Sell really high, or just ride the hot hand

Nathan Eovaldi, MIA | 1-1, 3.55 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.17 K/9
I wouldn’t call Eovaldi a trendy sleeper, but he certainly was a sleeper coming into 2014. It was all about whether he could command his pitchers better — and, like magic, it appears he has, walking only 1.07 batters per nine innings as opposed to 3.39-per-nine last year. The swinging strike and contact rates are concerning, as they are the lowest of his career, so it’s hard to see his strikeout rate going anywhere but down. However, he’s throwing 65 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, highest of all qualified pitchers. So there are two ways to look at this. His control has probably legitimate improved. Unfortunately, even the masterful Cliff Lee only threw 53.3 percent of pitches in the zone last year, and I am hesitant to claim Eovaldi has better control than Lee. This could be a “breakout” year of sorts for Eovaldi, but I’m using that term liberally here. He’s only owned in 20.5 percent of leagues, so this makes him more of a ride-the-hot-hand type, like Mr. Chavez above.
Verdict: Eventually drop, ideally before he does damage to your team

Mark Buehrle, TOR | 4-0, 0.64 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 6.11 K/9
Look, I have had a long-standing man crush on Buehrle, but this is ridiculous. You know better than I that these happy dreams will soon become nightmares, not because Buehrle is awful or anything, but because regression rears its head in occasionally very brutal ways.
Verdict: Sell high

Alfredo Simon, CIN | 0.86 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 5.57 K/9
Something isn’t right here. A 0.81 WHIP and… fewer than six strikeouts per nine innings? As you become more familiar with sabermetrics, you quickly realize certain things don’t mesh. A low WHIP combined with the low strikeout rate is one of those things. I can tell you without looking that his BABIP is impossibly low — and, now looking, I see I’m right: it’s .197. Tristan H. Cockcroft of ESPN is all about Simon, and in his defense, Simon’s PITCHf/x data foreshadows some positive regression coming his way in the strikeout department. But it can only get worse from here for Simon. However, I think he has a bit of a Dan Straily look to him, and that’s certainly serviceable.
Verdict: Sell high, or just ride the hot hand

Yovani Gallardo, MIL | 1.46 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 6.93 K/9
This is a disaster waiting to happen. Like Simon, his strikeout rate is low, but for Gallardo, it is deservedly so: his swinging strike and contact rates are, by far, career worsts. Meanwhile, his ratios are buoyed by a .264 BABIP and 89.8% LOB% (left-on-base percentage), despite his 74.7% career LOB%. The Brewers will fall with him. Sell high, and sell fast.
Verdict: Sell high

Shelby Miller, STL | 3.57 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 8.34 K/9
Miller is the first pitcher on this list in whom owners actually invested a lot. Be patient. The 98.3-percent of owners who didn’t cut bait before his last start were surely rewarded. I imagine he’s leaving his pitches up in the zone, given his increased percentage of pitches thrown in the zone coupled with his home run rate. Speaking of which, he shouldn’t be walking five batters per nine innings when he’s throwing more than 50 percent of his pitches in the zone. He’ll be fine.

Homer Bailey, CIN | 5.75 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, 11.07 K/9
Two words: .421 BABIP. Yowza. Again, owners invested way too much in this guy. Perfect buy-low opportunity here if you know your fellow owner is impatient.

Drew Hutchison, TOR | 3.60 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 10.80 K/9
I’ll be honest, I was surprised to see Hutchison’s xFIP stand at 3.43. It seems like he has been much worse — but has he really? The walks are problematic but not unmanageable (see: Matt Moore), and they’ve actually shored up a bit in his last couple of starts. Moreover, he is still striking out batters at an elite rate, and the PITCHf/x data supports his success, albeit probably not with quite as much success as he’s having now. As for the WHIP? A .365 BABIP sure doesn’t help. Hutchison was once a highly-touted prospect. Your window of opportunity to gamble on this live arm may be closing if he can keep his ERA down.
Verdict: Add via free agency, sooner rather than later

The role of luck in fantasy baseball

I apologize for being that guy that ruins that ooey gooey feeling you get when think about the fantasy league you won last year. As much as you want to think you are a fantasy master — perhaps even a fantasy god — you should acknowledge that you probably benefited from a good deal of luck. Sure, for your sake, I will admit you made a great pick with Max Scherzer in the fifth round. But did you, in all your mastery, predict he would win 21 games?

Don’t say yes. You didn’t. And frankly, you would be crazy to say he’ll do it again.

I focus primarily on pitching in this blog, and let it be known that pitchers are not exempt from luck in the realm of fantasy baseball. If you’re playing in a standard rotisserie league, you probably have a wins category. In a points league, you likely award points for wins.

Wins. Arguably the most arbitrary statistic in baseball. Let’s not have that discussion, though, and instead simply accept the win as it is. The win has the most drastic uncontrollable effect on a fantasy pitcher’s value. (ERA and WHIP experiences similar statistical fluctuations, but at least they aren’t arbitrary.)

I had an idea, but before I proceed, let me interject: if you’re drafting for wins, you’re doing it wrong. But, as I said, you can’t ignore wins.

But let’s say you did, and drafted strictly on talent, or “stuff” (which, here, factors in a pitcher’s durability). How would the top 30 pitchers change? Here’s my “stuff” list, which you can compare with the base projections:

Here are the five players with the biggest positive change and a breakdown of each:

1. Brandon Beachy, up 23 spots
His injury history has weakened his wins column projection. Consequently, the number of innings Beachy is expected to throw is significantly less than a full season. But if he managed to stay healthy for the full year (say, 200 innings)? He’s a top-1o pick based on pure stuff. If you draft with the philosophy that you can always find a viable replacement on waivers, Beachy could be your big sleeper.
2. Marco Estrada, up 22 spots
Estrada’s diminished expected wins is more a function of his terrible team than ability. Estrada has underperformed the past two years, Ricky Nolasco style, but if he can pull it together, he’s a top-30 pitcher based on “stuff.” And hey, maybe he can luck into some extra wins. However, if he can’t pull it together — Ricky Nolasco style — he’ll be relegated to fringe starter.
3. Danny Salazar, up 9 spots
Salazar has immense potential. His injury history led the Indians to cap his per-game pitch count last year, and that has been factored into his projection. But if he’s a full-time, 200-inning starter? He’s a top-25 starter with top-15 upside. Again, this is in terms of “stuff”. But is Ivan Nova better than Felix Hernandez because he can magically win more games? Of course not. Among a slew of young studs, including Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha and so on, Salazar is a diamond in the rough.
4. A.J. Burnett, up 8 spots
His projection is already plenty good. But you saw how many games he won in 2013. Anything can happen.
5. Corey Kluber, up 8 spots
Most people were probably scratching their heads when they saw Kluber’s name listed above. Frankly, I’m in love with him, and it’s because he’s a stud with a great K/BB ratio. I understand why someone may be inclined to dismiss it as an aberration, but his swinging strike and contact rates are truly excellent. Even if they regress, he should be a draft-day target.

Here are the three starting pitchers with the biggest negative change.

1. Anibal Sanchez, down 10 spots
He’s great, but he also plays for a great team. Call it Max Scherzer syndrome. He carries as big a risk as any other player to pitch great but only win five or six games, as do the next two players.
2. Hisashi Iwakuma, down 6 spots
3. Zack Greinke, down 4 spots

Let me be clear that although I created a hypothetical scenario where wins didn’t exist, I don’t advocate for blindly drafting based on “stuff.” It’s important to acknowledge that certain players have a much better chance to win than others. Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox could win 17 games just as easily as he could win seven. It’s about playing the odds — and unless a pitcher truly pitches terribly, don’t blame the so-called experts for your bad luck. He probably put his money where his mouth is, too, and is suffering along with you.

Here is a more comprehensive list of pitchers ranked by “stuff,” if that’s the way you sculpt your strategy:

1. Clayton Kershaw
3. Felix Hernandez
4. Max Scherzer
5. Cliff Lee
6. Yu Darvish
7. Chris Sale
8. Cole Hamels
9. Jose Fernandez
11. Stephen Strasburg
12. David Price
13. Justin Verlander
14. Alex Cobb
15. Homer Bailey
16. Mat Latos
17. Gerrit Cole
18. Michael Wacha
19. Anibal Sanchez
20. James Shields
21. Danny Salazar
23. A.J. Burnett
24. Corey Kluber
25. Brandon Beachy
26. Zack Greinke
27. Matt Cain
28. Sonny Gray
29. Hisashi Iwakuma
30. Gio Gonzalez
31. Doug Fister
32. Jordan Zimmermann
33. Alex Wood
34. Kris Medlen
35. Jeff Samardzija
36. Mike Minor
37. Jake Peavy
38. Kevin Gausman
39. Tyson Ross
40. Patrick Corbin
41. Lance Lynn
42. Francisco Liriano
43. Andrew Cashner
44. Ricky Nolasco
45. CC Sabathia
46. Hiroki Kuroda
47. Tim Lincecum
48. Tim Hudson
49. Jered Weaver
50. Shelby Miller
51. Clay Buchholz
52. Tony Cingrani
53. Matt Garza
54. John Lackey
55. Ubaldo Jimenez
56. Justin Masterson
57. Julio Teheran
58. R.A. Dickey
59. A.J. Griffin
60. Hyun-Jin Ryu
61. Dan Haren
62. Johnny Cueto
63. C.J. Wilson
64. Ian Kennedy
65. Chris Archer
66. Kyle Lohse
67. Scott Kazmir
68. Carlos Martinez
69. Jon Lester
70. Ervin Santana
71. Jose Quintana
72. Derek Holland
73. Garrett Richards
74. Dan Straily
75. Tyler Skaggs

Tigers and Pirates continue to puzzle; Mets gearing up

Nothing looked unusual when the Detroit Tigers traded first baseman Prince Fielder to the Boston Red Sox for second baseman Dustin Pedroia, despite the trade being very high-profile. It appeared as if the Tigers were clearing up salary space to sign starting pitcher and 2013 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to a long-term deal. Instead, they dealt pitcher Doug Fister and signed outfielder Rajai Davis and former Yankee reliever Joba Chamberlain (great last name, by the way) for depth. So… now what? The salary they freed up has been spent, and all the moves made have been lackluster. And, in a latest turn of events, Scherzer is on the market. What the heck is going on?

(Although, honestly, I think Scherzer’s value peaked in 2013. Dude had control issues his whole career until the 2012 All-Star Break, and he’s about to enter the latter half of his career. 0

The Bucs have been worse. The Tigers’ moves have been sensible; the Pirates moves have been indefensible. Charlie Morton for three years? Edinson Volquez for one year? These guys are rotation fillers who expect to not contend. These are not the moves a contending team makes. Unfortunately, it appears they’re sold on Morton’s illusory 2013, and unless Volquez is merely for depth (beyond a No. 5 starter), this is money wasted.

Meanwhile, the New York Mets may fancy themselves contenders.

NYM sign OF Curtis Granderson
I didn’t realize the Grandy Man was so divisive. I guess Yankees fans are bitter or something. Maybe I’m overexposed to a microcosm of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry. Regardless, four years, \$50 million for a proven power hitter and decent defensive outfielder ain’t bad. I like it a whole lot more than the Jacoby Ellsbury signing, based mostly on the length. The Mets think they’ll contend, and while I think they won’t realistically do it until 2015 or later, they plan to make a 2013-Kansas-City-Royals-type of splash next season. Either that, or it’ll be a Blue Jays-caliber flop, but without the hype, so it won’t be as bad.

Winner: Mets
Preseason rank: Top-50 OF

NYM sign SP Big Fat Bartolo Colon
BFB revived his career, got caught with steroids, then continued to impress afterward. I have no idea how he does it, because metrics all point to some sort of regression, but his excellent command of his fastball must keep him afloat. (Other than, well, all his fat. OK, that was mean. Sorry!) Two years isn’t bad, especially if the Mets think they’ll contend this year… But I really don’t. But 2015? Maybe. World Series team? Probably not. So I don’t know. And, again, I can’t imagine Colon will repeat his 2012 and 2013. But who knows? He could be even better. Baseball is a funny sport. As far as fantasy baseball implications go, he’s going to arguably a worse team, and his strikeout rate is, well, pretty miserable. He’s a three-category contributor at best, but if he regresses, it could be more like zero categories.

Winner: Colon
Preseason rank: 69th

Hot Stove: Wow, I have a lot of catching up to do

Sorry. SORRY. I apologized last time. (Or maybe I didn’t. I don’t know.) School has hoarded my time… Until now. I took my two incredibly difficult finals and turned in my final paper (“Risk assessment by Major League Teams when signing international professional agents” — I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s in the Nobel Prize running this year) and now I am ready to devote approximate 18 percent of my waking moments to Need a Streamer.

So, let’s see. What has happened since I last posted? I don’t know, EVERYTHING?

I’ll write about signings and trades that occurred recently over several installment so I don’t overwhelm anyone. (“Anyone” = “myself”. Because reading this will take about two minutes but writing it will take 30.)

OK! Let’s get down to bidness.

Phillies sign OF Marlon Byrd
I don’t know, man. Byrd’s 2013 stats are wacky. Like, don’t-put-any–stock-in-his-2013-performance wacky. Outrageous HR/FB? Check. Career-high strikeout rate? Check. Career low percentage of balls put into play? Check. He’s good for a .280 average but I would be elated if he chalked up 15 homers next year. In his defense, he did hit a lot of line drives, so he obviously had some kind of power stroke going on last year. For the annual price, it’s pretty low-risk for Philadelphia, but two years is pushing it.

Winner: Byrd
Preseason rank: Not a top-50 OF

Dodgers sign SP Dan Haren
As much as I hate Haren for the putrid outings I endured in April, his seasons stats weren’t that bad. I mean, he had a 1.23 WHIP. That’s Zack Greinke‘s career WHIP. So it was mostly the long ball that plagued him, and guess what? He gets to pitch in the friendly confines of Dodger Stadium. It’s pretty much a best-case scenario for both sides, especially considering Haren will likely pitch in lower-leverage situations as the No.-4 or 5 starter for a great team. I’ll go on the record now and say he bounces back! Contingent on if he gives up a home run in his first start. Because if he does, I swear …

Winner: Both
Preseason rank: 64th, with upside

DET SP Doug Fister traded for WSN OF Steve Lombardozzi, others
You know it’s a bad trade when the marquee name you get in return is Lombardozzi. The Nationals worked their magic and replaced Dan Haren with an above-average pitcher while letting go of a backup outfielder and lackluster prospects. Lombardozzi will back Jose Iglesias at shortstop, but even when arguing for bench depth, I’m still not a big fan. Also, I’m guessing the Tigers were looking for some salary relief in order to make more moves and/or sign starting pitcher Max Scherzer to a long-term contract.

Winner: Washington Nationals
Fister’s preseason rank:
35th

Athletics sign SP Scott Kazmir
Honest question: Was Kazmir ever that good? He struck out a buttload of batters from 2004 to 2008, yeah. But he has pitched more than 200 innings only once in his entire career — which spans 10 years, by the way — and topped out at single-season bests of 13 wins, a 3.24 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. He’s a back-end rotation guy at the very best, and while his strikeout potential is enticing in I don’t know what kind of league in which the only category is strikeouts, he’s not worth your time. What’s the A’s rotation now… Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, Sonny Gray, Kazmir? I would say his spot in the rotation is fair game, but with two years and \$22 million spent on the guy, I would say the A’s will be too proud to bench him in June, kind of like the Dodgers wouldn’t let Kenley Jansen usurp Brandon League‘s right to the closer throne.

Winner: Kazmir
Preseason rank: 79th

Alright, fools. Tune in tomorrow for more hot stove action! (Disclaimer: I may not actually write something tomorrow. I accept your apologies in advance.)

Early SP rankings for 2014

I wouldn’t say pitching is deep, but I’m surprised by the pitchers who didn’t make my top 60.

Note: I have deemed players highlighted in pink undervalued and worthy of re-rank. Do not be alarmed just yet by what you may perceive to be a low ranking.

Steamers for Sept. 24 and 25

SEPT. 24 MARQUEE STREAM: Tyson Ross (SD) vs. ARI
Ross, owned in only 10.2 percent of ESPN leagues after his dismal outing in Philadelphia (2/3 IP, 6 ER), returned to form in his next start, allowing only three hits and striking out seven across seven innings. I get why he’s not owned in more leagues — he’s 3-8 in 14 starts, which will turn away just about any fantasy owner — but let that bias help you. Ross has a 3.42 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 8.5 K/9. Know who that trumps in all three categories? Derek Holland, Jorge De La Rosa, Kyle Lohse, Ricky Nolasco, Justin Verlander, Chris Tillman… and that’s just the beginning. Look, if you chase wins, then you’re going to live and die by that sword. But wins are hard to predict, and it’s safe to say Ross has gotten unlucky based on how well he has pitched and how the team for which he plays isn’t that bad at 72-83, good for third in the NL West (ahead of the Giants, no less). So, whatever. If you ignore him in this last week, you ignore him. But remember the name Tyson Ross as the final rounds of next year’s draft approach.

If I don’t go Ross, I may gamble on the St. Louis Cardinals’ Michael Wacha at home versus the Nationals. If you’re looking for strikeouts, Wacha (22.9 percent ESPN ownership) has ’em. People have been on and off the Wacha bandwagon after alternating good and bad starts, the most recent of which ended after 4-2/3 innings and 12 hits at Colorado. But he still struck out seven, and he still has a 3.21 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, and he still has massive upside. He’s not today’s best option, but I’d take him over Jason Vargas, Dan Straily or Doug Fister.

SEPT. 25 MARQUEE STREAM: Danny Salazar (CLE) vs. CHW
He’s 1-3 through nine starts, but it’s only by design. Salazar (14.2 percent ESPN ownership) had his pitch count lifted and he’s ready to humiliate more White Sox — last time he faced them, he struck out nine of them. Through 3-2/3 innings. THAT’S NINE STRIKEOUTS IN 11 TOTAL OUTS, PEOPLE. By the way, his line for the season stands at 3.09 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 11.0 K/9 (with a 4.0 K/BB). If you need more proof as to why he’s so great, you can search for the love poems I’ve written him in the archives. (Disclaimer: There aren’t any Danny Salazar love poems in the archives. Yet.)

Otherwise, I honestly wouldn’t touch anyone else. The fringe streamers (i.e. Jake Arrieta, even Ervin Santana in some leagues) face stiff competition.