High IP/GS Pitchers to Target in Ottoneu H2H Leagues

In a previous post, we looked at Ottoneu head-to-head (H2H) leagues and how starting pitching values shift due to different rules. Because season-long points leagues use an innings-pitched cap, innings pitched are the scarce resource you expend (and need to maximize) during the season, putting a premium on SP who post high points per IP. But because H2H leagues use a games-started-per-week cap instead of IP, IP are no longer a scarce resource and the premium is on pitchers who score a high number of points per start, regardless of their points per IP. Today, we’ll see if we can identify pitchers to target or avoid based on that.

As a reminder, last time we found that, looking backwards, some pitchers may have seen their 2019-2020 values moved by as much as $10 by the different rules. While this is at the extremes – most pitchers see very little difference – identifying and capitalizing on those pitchers can be a difference-maker in close matchups.

Pitchers can maximize points per game started in two ways – 1) score a lot of points in each inning and 2) throw a lot of innings in each start. Between the Surplus Calculator, Auction Calculator, and multiple projection systems, there are a number of ways to identify how a pitcher will perform on a per-inning basis, so the question we need to explore is how to identify pitchers who will throw lots of innings in each start.

The obvious place to start is pitchers who threw a lot of innings per start in previous seasons – it stands to reason that if a pitcher regularly went 7 strong in 2019 and 2020, they will probably do so again in 2021. And that does, mostly, play out. Using data from 2014-2019, for pitchers with 50+ IP as a starter in back-to-back seasons, the correlation between IP/GS in one year and IP/GS in the previous year is 0.56 – that’s far from a perfect relationship, but there is good reason to think that a pitcher who goes deep into games in one season will do so again in the next one.

That wasn’t the only interesting correlation. Looking within a season (i.e., the correlation between IP/GS in one season with other stats in the same season), a few stats stood out.

IP/GS Factors
Stat Correlation to IP/GS
K/9 0.15
BB/9 -0.54
ERA -0.66
FIP -0.62
xFIP -0.58

Some of this is pretty straight-forward – pitchers who are good (low ERA, low FIP, high Ks, limited BB and HR) are going to go deeper into games. But the relative values are interesting.

First, while the gap is small, FIP and xFIP have smaller correlations to IP/GS than ERA. This makes sense – pitchers are more likely to get pulled from a game after giving up a few runs, whether or not those runs were deserved based on FIP, than if they have avoided giving up those runs. It does suggest that if you have a pitcher who is suffering from a gap between their FIP and ERA, they may see some correction in their IP/GS if their ERA moves closer to their FIP.

Second, the values on strikeouts vs. walks are intriguing. There are a lot of ways to get the same FIP. In 2019, Zack Wheeler and Patrick Corbin had near-identical FIP (3.48 and 3.49 respectively), but not the same strikeouts and walks.

Wheeler vs. Corbin, 2019
Pitcher FIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 IP GS IP/GS
Zack Wheeler 3.48 8.98 2.30 1.01 195.1 31 6.30
Patrick Corbin 3.49 10.60 3.12 1.07 202 33 6.12

The correlations above suggest that the increased walks from Corbin should hurt his IP/GS more than the increased Ks help, and sure enough, despite near matching FIPs, Wheeler went slightly deeper into games. An extra third of an inning every start or two may not seem like a lot, but Wheeler posted about 1.55 points per out recorded in 2019. If they both went 6 innings every start, Corbin would have outscored Wheeler by 2.28 points per start – that extra 0.18 inning per start cuts that down by more than a third.

That leaves me with two things to focus on to find pitchers who might outperform their points/IP in H2H leagues thanks to a high IP/GS: 1) guys who threw a lot of IP per start last year and 2) guys who avoid walks.

With that in mind, here are four SP I am targeting in H2H leagues and four I am fading.

Marco Gonzales – Gonzales has limited ceiling, especially in FanGraphs Points leagues, unless he finds another gear with his strikeouts, but in the spreadsheet from the last article over 2019-20 he was 21st among SP in IP/GS and had the 32nd lowest BB/9. He’s been a workhorse for the Mariners and nothing has changed to suggest he won’t be a workhorse again. The default projections in Surplus Calculator have Gonzales as a $1 SP but he finished 34 spots higher in Pts/GS (46th) vs. Pts/IP (80th) over 2019-20. In leagues with a games-started cap, I would go up to $4-$5 on Gonzales pretty easily, and might even creep over that mark if you are in need of pitching.

Kyle Hendricks – A $5 pitcher per the Surplus Calculator default values, Hendricks is another guy who, like Gonzales, is limited in this format because he doesn’t pile up Ks. But among those with 50+ IP as a starter in 2019-20, only Zack Greinke and Mike Leake had a lower BB/9 and Hendricks was 12th in IP/GS. Again, I see no reason to think he won’t continue on that path, and that might be enough to bump him up to $10-$12 in leagues with a games-started cap.

Sandy Alcantara – While Hendricks and Gonzales limit walks, Alcantara does not. He was 188th in our dataset in BB/9. But, despite all those walks, he finished tied for 14th in IP/GS at 6.13 over 2019-20. While his 3.21 BB/9 in 2020 wasn’t great, it was an improvement over 3.69 in 2019 and a huge leap from 6.09 in 2018. Alcantara shouldn’t cost you much more than a couple bucks at auction, maybe $4-$5, but if he just repeats what he did over the combined 2019-20, he’ll be replacement-level in season-long leagues but a solid back-of-the-rotation guy in leagues with a games-started cap. If he can bring the walks down even a little bit more and extend his starts a bit longer, he could prove to be a lot more than that.

Brad Keller – Like Alcantara, Keller pops in IP/GS (25th at 5.95 over 2019-20) despite a weak BB/9 (181st, 3.56). And like Alcantara, Keller’s 2020 BB/9 (2.80) is a nice improvement over his 2019 (3.81). And like Alcantara, his depth chart projection puts him as a below replacement level starter in FanGraphs Points. And like Alcantara, even based on his 2020 improvement, he is more than that in leagues with a games-started cap. I’d go $3-$4 for Keller in these leagues, maybe even ticking up to $5. He is in the same tier as Alcantara, but I would take Alcantara given the choice, as he has shown more strikeout stuff.

Alex Wood – Wood is gaining popularity as a late add because of added velocity, a nice new home park in San Francisco, and projections suggesting he can recapture some of his old form. But he averaged barely over 5 IP per start in 2019 and made only two starts of 5 total innings in 2020. Given his health history, and the less than 50 total innings pitched over the last two years, I doubt he’ll provide enough innings per start (even if he is good on a per inning basis) to provide value in leagues with a games-started cap.

Corey Kluber – Kluber in a bit of a conundrum for fantasy owners at the moment. He had a workout at which his fastball velocity was down, but teams came away impressed. He has barely pitched over the last two seasons, but before that he was one of the best in the game. But in 2019, he just barely crossed 5 innings per start, and that wasn’t just because he got pulled early the game he got hurt – he went 4.2 that day. Now he’s in an unforgiving park, on a team with a deep bullpen, and trying to work his way back from a 1 inning 2020 season. There’s a litany of reasons to be concerned about Kluber, but in leagues with a games-started cap, his ability to go deep into games is another.

Blake Snell – In 2018, Blake Snell threw 180.2 innings over 31 starts for 5.83 innings per start. Since then, he has 157 IP over 34 starts (4.62 per start). He’s headed to a new team, which might be enough to get him back to his 2018 heights, but I suspect that won’t be the case. The Padres have a ton of pitching – plenty of starters and a deep pen. They have plenty of reason to go easy with Snell. And I suspect they will. In the data linked above, he was the 33rd best pitcher by points per inning pitched over 2019-20, but 68th by points per start. I like Snell to have a great season overall, but I suspect he’ll underperform if you need a high number of innings per start.

Lance McCullers Jr. – I am a McCullers fan, and I suspect I’ll end up with him on multiple rosters this year, but it won’t be in my H2H leagues. Over 2019-20, he was 29th in points per inning pitched as a starter, but just 47th in points per start, thanks to exactly 5 innings per start over his 11 starts in 2020. I think it is fair to wonder if McCullers, now a full season removed from missing all of 2019, might be able to go longer in 2021, but McCullers also walks more than 3 per 9 innings pitched and was pushing up towards 100 pitches in a number of those shorter outings. So I suspect he’ll continue to fall short on innings per start in 2021, making him a less valuable play in leagues with a games-started cap.

A long-time fantasy baseball veteran and one of the creators of ottoneu, Chad Young's writes for RotoGraphs and PitcherList, and can be heard on the ottobot podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

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2 years ago

Not a fan of leagues that put a cap on starts or innings. If I have 12 pitchers on my roster, I expect to be able to put them in for every time they are playing