Posted on: May 13, 2010 2:01 am

Why Penalize A Batter's Strikeouts?

I see this question asked so often on the fantasy player message boards of such hitters as Ryan Howard, Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn, Justin Upton, Adam Lind, etc. "Why penalize a batter's strikeouts?" I've heard several mediocre-at-best arguments supporting both sides of this discussion (ranging from "because it's one more facet of control the owner possesses," to, "because we reward pitchers' strikeouts the same amount and they should offset," up to the ridiculous, "there's no difference between a fly ball out, a ground ball out, and a strikeout; an out is an out." Let me refute the most inane of these claims and draw some easy-to-see parallels to other examples. Hopefully in doing so, I will have provided enough fact and insight in order to address why the fantasy reward for a pitcher's strikeout should have a different absolute value than the penalty assessed for a strikeout by the batter.

Most importantly, there actually does exist a difference between a line drive out (LO), a fly ball out (FO), a ground ball out (GO), and a strikeout (KO), from a purely out standpoint. Let us first examine the difference of a typical sequence of events for each outcome of a non-walk, non-HBP, non-line drive*, non-2 out** AB for a hitter, and I will use math in order to help assess the usefulness of these outs.
When a ball is put into play, runners whom are already on base assess whether the result is a ground ball or fly ball, and react accordingly. If a runner is on third base and the infield is not in, he will be running on contact in the event of a ground ball and trying to tag up in the even of a fly. With-runner-on-third ABs are the most productive outs because the geometry of the baseball diamond allows the runner coming home to run in a direction away from the ball and never towards it, thus increasing the amount of time the ball spends in the air and by transference, the amount of time the runner has in order to reach the next base, and also provides an RBI for each runner that successfully advances (barring a forced double-play with one-out already recorded, of course). If a runner is on second base, he will not automatically be advancing on contact, but again will use geometry to figure out whether to advance: a ground ball or deep fly ball hit to the right side of the playing field will again allow the runner to be running directly away from the direction from which the ball is thrown, thus increasing the likelihood that a runner will be able to advance a base, even on an out. If a runner is on first base, he will be forced to run in the event of a ground ball, but that doesn't mean geometry still can't help the hapless Hermes if the grounder is struck between the first baseman and second baseman: in this case the runner still has a good chance of moving to second; however, the chances of advancing on a fly ball are almost nil.

I point to the traditional average Batting Average - which I will forwardly refer to as ABA - of the non-walk & non-HBP possible outcomes of the AB for a player:
ABA(Line Drive) > ABA(Ground Ball) > ABA(Fly Ball) > ABA(KO)***

of course, with the ABA(KO) being equal to a goose-egg laden 0.00. So now we know that no matter where runners on base are stationed, a strikeout is not only the least likely of plate appearances to produce a hit but also that it will zero percent of the time be put into play, thus giving it a zero percent chance of advancing a runner and / or getting an RBI. This makes the KO the only guaranteed unproductive out for a hitter in baseball. It makes me wonder why those who complain about the penalties imposed on high power / high strikeout players chose to draft or acquire these players in the first place?

With so much of a baseball story being in the details, the world described by fantasy baseball leagues tends to both reward and penalize the acts that are guaranteed (both the good and the bad, respectfully), which is why batters strikeouts have come to be penalized. However, why should strikeouts be rewarded more heavily to pitchers (+1 in standard H2H leagues) than penalized for batters (-0.5 in those same leagues)? Again, probabilities and geometry tell the story. The probability that a batter will have an unproductive at-bat when he does not strike out lies in the direction in which the ball leaves the bat, or the trajectory. From an overhead view, if the ball leaves the bat to the left side of the second base bag, he is more likely to have an unproductive at-bat because the situations when a runner can advance on a ball played to the left side of the field are fewer than situations when a runner can advance on a ball played to the right. Conversely, a pitcher that can induce an out without requiring the ball to be put into play has the distinct advantage of depressing their ERAs, especially in situations with RISP. That is why pitchers deserve more of a reward for strikeouts than batters deserve to be dinged for the same act.

*Line drive outs are specifically ignored in the body of the text because the BABIP produced by line drives is so overwhelmingly high when compared to the BABIP produced by Fly Balls and Ground Balls that it would disrupt the flow of the argument; however:
When a ball is rocketed off of the hitter's bat, baserunners typically go in motion looking to advance to the next base at least. The reason for this is two-fold: 1. the high BABIP produced by line drives gives reason for the runners to believe that they should be trying to gain as much ground on the basepaths as possible, especially for runners stationed on first base; 2. because the ball is hit so hard, traditional though is that (barring a HR result), a line drive will reach a defending player sooner rather than later, giving the defender the opportunity to make a play on the ball sooner. The result of a line drive thus produces a high percentage of hits per line drive, and a high percentage of runners advancing on line drives hit, with only a small percentage of outs produced and additional outs produced per line drive hit. It should be fairly obvious to the lay baseball fan why producing a line drive means that the hitter had a good at-bat.

**Only non-2 out at-bats are addressed because there is almost always no difference in productivity to the type of third out produced in an inning, with maybe the rare exception being thrown out while trying to extend a hit by an extra base.

***where ABA(Line Drive), ABA(Ground Ball), and ABA(Fly Ball) are commonly referred to as BABIP of their respective delineations; however, BABIP is an inappropriate statistic to point to because a strikeout does not result in a "Ball In Play"
Category: Fantasy Baseball
Posted on: May 18, 2009 7:40 pm

Waiver Wire: Brett Cecil

I wanted to take a minute to sit down and discuss the recent emergence of (my 23rd round fantasy pick this season) Brett Cecil. Though he's owned in just 36% of leagues, you should consider yourself lucky because he's probably still available in yours.

True, his debut in the major leagues and subsequent emergence as a successful (fantasy) pitcher has a lot to do with the fact that Toronto's rotation is so full of holes that you could almost play a round of golf with it; however, in the pack of replacements that all seem to be having instant success, Cecil is not only the one with the most upside but the one who is most likely for real. If you look at the various pedigrees - Scott Richmond: an undrafted, 29 y/o rookie pitcher with that kind of success is pitching WAY over his head; Robert Ray: a 7th round pick who, despite being 25, has already spent four full seasons between A & Double-A Ball, doesn't have elite strikeout numbers, and has not looked servicable until he played the lowly Chicago White Sox; Brian Tallet: a formerly-promising 2nd Round draft pick whose career has been somewhat derailed by the necessity of Tommy John surgery in August 2003, he is currently an inconsistent and marginal Pitch-22 option that has periodic-but-prolonged bouts of wildness which results in too many walks and, further, in outings where he gets absolutely shelled.

With just four spots and three injured starters (Litsch, McGowan, Marcum) approaching the end of their respective DL stints, the last man standing should be Cecil. His pedigree (a supplemental 1st round -38th overall- draft pick in the 2007 Entry Draft), rapid promotions through the Jay's minor league system, and his age (22) suggests that he is the future ace of the team's pitching staff and "franchise player." A three-time minor league All-Star, Cecil put up great numbers in 2008 when he went from throwing A-Ball to pitching Triple A-Ball, posting a combined 2.88 ERA and .225 BAA over 118+2/3 IP, while racking up 129 SO and only allowing 6 HR. What's particularly impressive is his control, especially for a strikeout pitcher. He recorded a 2.28 GO/AO ratio and a stellar 3.15 KO/BBI ratio and was consistently effective at all three levels which suggests that he knows how to pitch intelligently, strike out batters, use ground balls effectively to his advantage, minimize walks issued, and stay away from the long ball.

All of these factors bode exceedingly well for the budding ace, and 36% ownership is far too low of a number for such an elite talent; so buy now. His stock is still cheap, but it is climbing quickly.

Posted on: March 26, 2009 1:49 am
Edited on: March 26, 2009 1:58 am

Price vs Kershaw

I've heard so much hype on both of these guys and I'm sure everyone has at least heard of these two talented lefties even if they haven't already penciled them in as potential KO Kings in their own wings of Cooperstown already. Yes they're good, but I don't think most people even know what kind of pitches they throw, let alone why Kershaw is playing MLB ball and Price just punched his ticket back to 3A Durham.

The Reports:

Clayton Kershaw is a 21 year old southpaw starting pitcher, drafted out of HS in 2006 and currently plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers. At the beginning of the 2009 season, he is penciled into the #2 spot of their rotation behind only fellow fantasy stud, Chad Billingsley . The Dodgers definitely know how to nurture a young, talented pitching arm (see Chad Billingsley ), and are teaching this kid all of the tools that he not only needs to be successful and dominate major league hitters.

Repertoire: 93-94 mph Fastball, 71-77 mph (11-5) Curveball, (still developing) Fading Circle Change Up

Analysis: CK has great mechanics and all of the upside in the world, features a rated "plus" fastball and a "plus-plus" big, breaking curveball. The speed of his fastball is enough that even major league hitters will have to protect against it, forcing batters to "open up" early. This will leave many a bewildered batter susceptible to his unbelievable curveball - made famous in a game versus Sean Casey where Clayton started the pitch behind Sean, only to have it break late and hard into the strike zone, which resulted in a backwards "K" in your scorecard. With the addition of a (rated "plus" potential) circle change that fades down in the zone developing during this 2008/2009 off-season, Kershaw will have yet another great weapon in his arsenal and could easily utilize it as an out pitch (a la Johan Santana ) against right-handed hitters, especially if he can consistently throw the off-speed pitch with the same arm motion and arm speed as his fastball.

David Price is a 23 year old southpaw starting pitcher, drafted first out of HS in 2004 by (none other than) the Los Angeles Dodgers and again out of Vanderbilt University as the #1 overall pick of the 2007 draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He is currently en-route back to 3A after being reassigned today to the Rays' minor league Durham affiliate to work on the "command of his fastball" after losing a fierce spring competition to himself and his location issues. In his first major league appearance against the New York Yankees, he hit the first batter he faced and proceeded to strike out the next three, making him much like a Sandy Koufax when Koufax was young.

Repertoire: 94-98 mph Fastball, 86-89 mph Slider, (developing) Straight Change Up

Analysis: DP has the pedigree to be a dominant power pitcher from the left side, which seems to be a good build considering the modern successes of MLB superstar pitchers Johan Santana , CC Sabathia , and Scott Kazmir . His fastball is rated just a shade shy of "plus-plus" and features 5.5 inches of horizontal movement (away from right-handed hitters) on average, while his hard slider is very easily a "plus-plus" pitch that simply destroys opposing batters because of its late-break of both horizontal and vertical movement; in essence, it "drops off the table." As of right now, his change up is clearly far behind as his third best pitch, but look for fellow lefty and teammate Scott Kazmir to offer veteran experience and insight as far as the development of David's change up, since Scott throws such a devastating change himself (at a 13mph speed differential to his fastball!). The biggest problems Price faces right now are his lack of control, which the club clearly wants him to refine, and consistency with his arm angle when delivering his change up so he does not tip off the pitch to major league hitters, whom will notice and destroy the offering when he makes such a mistake.


My synopsis of these two southpaws is that they are their own biggest obstacles right now. The bane of pitchers everywhere but especially typical among young left-handed hurlers, hitting (or not) their spots and cutting down on free passes should be the focus for these young, talented arms. Both organizations know exactly what they are doing developmentally - LA having Kershaw in the majors while Tampa Bay has Price toiling away in 3A; just look at their contemporaries Billingsley, Kazmir, Shields - and both clubs should consider themselves fortunate to have such talent in their organization.

I own both of these players in my 12 Team, H2H Mixed Keeper League and strongly urge you to do the same. In fact, my only curiosity is this: What if Price had signed in 2004 with the Dodgers? Who would be #2 and who would be #3 behind Billingsley?




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