Choose Your Championship Starters Wisely

Two weeks. That’s it. After (another) long, chaotic offseason, and five and a half months of action, two weeks is all that is left for those looking to secure gold. This isn’t June anymore and we can’t just casually shake off a blowup start from a starting pitcher, whether stud or streamer, consoling ourselves with thoughts of there being plenty of time to balance things back out. No, no, no – this is championship season, Indy baby, and one false step can send you plummeting out of contention like a grail-hunting nazi stepping on the wrong tile.

If you want to stack fantasy chips, you better stack your advantages as high as possible. Baseball is still going to occasionally baseball but all we can do is set ourselves up for success as much as we can.

Let’s get some trophies.

It’s always good to start with the basics, so let’s start at the beginning, and take a look at how teams rank in wOBA and xwOBA, overall, as well as against each hand of pitchers. Clicking on this image (and the others) will bring up an enlarged version and we’ll be using the same team order throughout, for consistency’s sake.


Alright, alright, that’s a good start and we already have some actionable information. We have some teams that have been very good, regardless of hand, and some that have been very bad. We also have some teams whose performance against one hand is far different than against the other, information that can be even more key.

Considering a start against the Brewers, White Sox, or Guardians? What about the Rangers, Royals, or Reds? Best check those splits first, my (fantasy) playas,  lest you get more burnt up, than turnt up*.

This still doesn’t tell the whole story, though, because those ranks involve a whole season’s worth of performance, and numbers put up in April can be far different from those later in the season. Injuries, trades, slumps, and heaters; oh my.

So, let’s also look at the year-long ranks, juxtaposed with those since August 1. Why that arbitrary end-point? A nice, round date is always nice but looking at numbers since the start of August not only gives us a snapshot of a team’s recent performances (with a good-sized sample) but also accounts for any deadline deals that were made, giving us the best picture of how post-deadline rosters have performed.

Ok, now we’re getting even further. We can see who’s been hot, who is not, and everything in between. But we can also glean good information from the things that haven’t changed dramatically, with consistency helping to confirm overall evaluations.

Take the Royals, for example, who we know from our first chart have been a bottom-tier offense by overall wOBA (25th) but are also significantly better vs LHP (13th), than vs RHP (27th). That already might feel contrary to our general assumptions (wait, the Royals aren’t terrible at something?) but looking at their numbers since August, the tale stays the same; still bad against righties, still above average against lefties. That’s useful information to know but we can go even further by adding in what we learned in last week’s piece on park factors. If you recall, Kauffman Stadium (often regarded as a “pitcher’s park”), is a total homer sink but has overall park factors in the top five because they rank so highly in overall hits and singles.

Putting it all together, we can better anticipate which types of pitchers (whether starters or streamers) will be set up for success, depending on your desired outcomes. All else being equal, who would you rather stream against the Royals in Kansas City? A right-handed flyball pitcher or a left-handed groundballer?

Considering the Royals’ struggles against RHP and Kauffman’s excellent home run suppression, I’m taking the former all day.  And going further, what if your goals are to bank good ratios but what you really need is some hot WHIP? Then the choice is even clearer because while groundballs are generally good, the BABIP gods have a better chance of making you rue the day you started someone whose WHIP might get nickeled and dimed to death by a mess of slappies at The K.

But you, my dear readers, know we can’t just stop at team ranks for wOBA, even when splitting them by hand. We also need to check in on team ranks by xwOBA, among other things. We’ve talked before about my feeling on the usefulness of expected stats, as well as why you should be considering them. For me, xwOBA (overall, as well as just on contact) speaks a lot of truth to the power (or lack of it) of how a team, or individual, is generally handling their at-bat business, regardless of results. Expected stats may have their flaws but all we can do is work with the best available tools, and I’m going to feel a lot more confident in evaluating hitting quality by including a look at how exit velocities and launch angles compare to how they’ve fared before.

With that said, let’s add in a look at the team ranks by xwOBA, again for the entire year, as well as since August 1, to see what we can see.

Continuing our Kansas City shuffle example, the Royals ranks in xwOBA bring a little more sunshine to the ranks in wOBA. Not only can we gain more confidence in their better-than-expected numbers vs LHP but their xwOBA ranks vs RHP don’t seem nearly as bad. Now, this is all relative, so let’s not get carried away but xwOBA ranks in the middle of the pack (both season-long and since August 1) are a lot better than ones near the bottom of the pile. And something that should be kept in mind when you’re considering a stream against the Royals with a shaky right-hander.

Alright, wOBA and xwOBA? Check. But we can still do better, right? While those will give us a good starting point for the overall quality of team offenses, September is not the time for simple generalities and we’ve talked over, and over, the past month, about how we can best ninja-focus in on the categories we need most to carry home fantasy gold. What if you don’t care about ratios and just need as many strikeouts as humanly possible? Low ranks in wOBA and xwOBA won’t mean much in that situation if the team in question is also great at limiting whiffs. And if you’re trying to keep your ERA and WHIP pristine, it might not be wise to stream against a team with high ranks on BB% and wOBA on contact.

With that in mind, let’s add the team ranks in wOBAcon/xwOBAcon, K%, SwStr%, Whiff%, BB%, and GB%, once again splitting things by handedness, starting with the right-handers:

And continuing with the wrong-handers:

We are getting spicy now, yah? But before we go further, previous readers know that we’re still missing one pound for the house, baby. That’s all we need, just one for the house…You know we’re talkin’ ’bout those pitch types, hooo, oooh, hoo.

Here’s how each team has ranked in wOBA, xwOBA, SwStr%, and Whiff% against each pitch type by hand, starting with right-handers:

And again for left-handers but do note that I’m not including ranks for split-fingers, given how absurdly small the sample size is:

Ok, we have our gear. Let’s now pause for a strikeout haven identification.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox whiff a lot regardless of hand but take it to another level vs LHP – 23rd in K% for the year and 27th since Aug 1, bottom-five in SwStr% and next-to-last in Whiff%. Boston be whiffin’. But like some other teams with high rates of K’s, you might have to pay for them with runs, as the Red Sox are top-10 by wOBA and xwOBA but are top-five on contact. However, this goes back to late-season strategies, as sometimes your categorical focus is narrowed and doesn’t always require good ratios. There are plenty of people right now who are throwing their ratios to the wind because they need bulk counting stats and might just need to ride the lightning against Boston’s damage-heavy offense.

Week 23 Opponents

CIN: Nick Lodolo (L), Chase Anderson

NYY: Nestor Cortes (L), Frankie Montas, Jameson Taillon, Gerrit Cole

The Red Sox have a four-game set with a Yankees staff bereft of streamers and if you’re considering Chase Anderson, I may question your sanity. However, Anderson has turned in back-to-back quality starts, and against good offenses in St. Louis and Milwaukee. But also, a total of 3 ER over 9 IP came on the back of a .138 BABIP, so let’s not get too excited. And don’t get fooled by the 8 K, seeing that they came with a 7.3% SwStr% that is the same old Chase.

But you know we’re going to talk about one of our most frequent guests this past month, my brother in name, Nick Lodolo. After back-to-back 11 K games that followed a 9 K outing, you’d think Lodolo would be universally rostered. However, while he’s at 75% on CBS, he’s only 53% rostered on Yahoo and 34% on ESPN. But hey, that also kind of makes sense because even with this recent high-K run, a matchup with Boston’s offense might be a little too scary for those focused on ratios, and/or wins.

Let’s go deeper and check in on Lodolo’s pitch mix and how Boston has fared against it.

Lodolo’s pitch mix has stayed fairly steady but has been trading sinkers and changeups for more four-seamers and curveballs. Looking at his pitch values, this appears to be the wisest move, particularly regarding the curveball that has always been his moneymaker. And more four-seamers and curveballs would appear to be the move against Boston, who’s struggled the most against the two, and with some of their highest whiff rates.

We were already bullish on Lodolo’s strikeout chances but checking in on the pitch types seems to mute the danger of how Boston has performed overall against left-handers. Given the opposing firepower and venue, we shouldn’t go too crazy with our high hopes but closer examination makes me favor Lodolo quite a bit more. Even if pulling off a win is never guaranteed given his supporting cast.

Plus, this isn’t his only start of the week, as a matchup with Milwaukee completes the two-step. As in, the same Milwaukee team that he recently dominated for eight innings, allowing two earned runs, and striking out 11? After we identified his pitch mix as matching up excellently with a Brewers team that struggles against left-handers? That team?

On paper, Lodolo’s two-step looks super risky but I like how the dice are shaking up to be weighted in his favor. But please, try to be kind when this all blows up in my face.

Going Forward For the Championship Stretch

Lodolo is just one guy, though, and unfortunately, none of us have the time to sort through every single starter. But that’s what the charts are for! You know, teach a person to fish, and all that? Things won’t be laid as nice as we did above but you should still be able to run through the same evaluation processes for anyone your fluttering heart desires.

But Nicklaus, how we can do that without the individual pitch mix charts you used above? Are you some vile trickster? Well, yes, but not here…

You just have to use the buh, buh, buh:

**Bonus Charts**

Do remember that scheduled starts can quickly shift but here are all of the starters for next week, as of Friday morning, starting with the left-handers (ordered by Razzball player rater):

And the right-handers:

Have a great weekend!

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2 months ago

Excellent as always!