On Good Pitchers Getting Crushed

It was a Monday night just a few weeks ago that I watched the destruction of two high-quality pitchers (one is a bona fide ace) sink my DFS evening yet again and I actually wrote about it at another outlet. Just three weeks later, I saw my DFS night end before it started as another pitcher had his face caved in and this time by baseball’s worst team both by record and wRC+ against righties. Michael Pineda was rocked for eight earned on 11 hits in just 3.3 innings with nary a strikeout to soften the blow.

It’s the second time in three starts that Pineda has been blown up like this and the fourth time this year he’s allowed five or more earned runs. This is the same guy who has a 16-strikeout game on his ledger this year as well as three others of nine strikeouts. This is the same guy who had a 2.72 ERA through his first seven starts of the season.

But the volatility, my god, the volatility.

That 16-K dominance over Baltimore brought him down to that 2.72 ERA, but even including it within his last eight starts only gives him a 5.40 ERA:

It’s not that I expect quality pitchers to be flawless. Every guy has a couple bad ones in their 32 starts over a season, even the aces. But the volatility that we’ve seen from Pineda isn’t all that unique this year. Good arms seem to be getting destroyed with a shocking amount of regularity, and the weather is just now heating up so it could get worse.

I’m not talking about Shane Greene getting ripped here. He has talent and can look really good at times (and yes, I loved him coming into this year), but he wasn’t relied on as a key component to a fantasy team’s pitching success. Thus Greene leading baseball with five outings of 5 or fewer innings and 5 or more earned runs (I call ‘em Shellackings) isn’t some eye-popping surprise. It’s annoying and his 68 innings of 5.82 ERA did a number on your my fantasy teamsssssss, but this kind of stuff is happening to much better arms, too.

More on that in a moment.

First off, let’s update the chart we saw in that previous post outlining Shellackings as a whole across the league with a few additions. I added the raw number and percentage of just 5 ER outings we’re seeing this year, regardless of innings count. Then I added a column identifying the frequency with which a 5 ER outing ends up as a Shellacking:

Year 5+ ER Starts Total Starts 5+ ER% Shellackings Shell% Shell% in 5 ER gms
2011 916 4856 19% 574 12% 63%
2012 939 4855 19% 611 13% 65%
2013 825 4859 17% 561 12% 68%
2014 777 4859 16% 506 10% 65%
2015 374 2105 18% 249 12% 67%

Shellackings are up about two percentage points from last year, same with overall 5+ ER outings and number of those outings that become Shellackings. The first two of those three categories are at three-year highs, though none are the highest we’ve seen in the last five years so I’m not sure it’s at any sort of epidemic status just yet.

But that’s just the overall look. I feel like these Shellackings are coming from good pitchers more often.

I’ve been trying to come up with a way to really see if it’s just anecdotal since they all seem to be on my DFS team the night the night they get obliterated or if better arms really are getting ripped more often. I use Shellackings as the cutoff. There are other combos that can be night-ending on the DFS landscape, but I’ve been using this measure for duds for a while now so we’ll stick with it.

Let me state out front that my mathematical know-how might be Kevin Correia-level compared to the many Clayton Kershaw– and Chris Sale-level mathematicians roaming the virtual halls of Fangraphs. If I could go back and change something about my childhood, it would be to immerse myself in math at a young age instead of avoiding it out of fear. That, or that time I threw up on bus on the way back from a field trip in elementary school.

To start, I looked at how many Shellackings last year’s top 50 SPs suffered. I took the pool of arms from ESPN’s Player Rater since the 2014 numbers are still available. Of course, I removed guys like Zach Britton (12th) who entered the year SP-eligible and thus continued to show in the rankings despite being closers. I think he was the only for 2014, though. It’s usually the other way around where you have to remove RP-eligible starters (Garrett Richards & Tanner Roark from last year, for example) from any sort of study with relievers.

Just five guys in the top 50 made it through the season Shellacking-free last year: Johnny Cueto (2nd among SPs on Player Rater), Felix Hernandez (3rd), Zack Greinke (11th), Tyson Ross (23rd), and James Shields (28th). On the other end, three guys logged at least four Shellackings with Alfredo Simon (43rd) pacing the league at five. Stephen Strasburg (14th) and Hisashi Iwakuma (24th) were the other two guys with at least four.

All told, the top 50 suffered through 83 Shellackings last year. Looking at this year, the top 50 has a total of 39 Shellackings. There are 10 guys with at least two within the top 50 including Chris Heston (43rd) and Bartolo Colon (45th) pacing the group with three apiece. Of the other eight with two, only one (Hernandez) is in the top 30 overall: Hernandez (9th), Chris Young (31st), Carlos Carrasco (36th), Pineda (38th), Miguel Gonzalez (40th), Simon (41st), Colby Lewis (42nd), and Anibal Sanchez (47th).

This year’s top 50 is on pace for 91 Shellackings, but that’s a moving target since guys will come in and out of the top 50 regularly for the remaining three-plus months of the season. Those eight extra Shellackings would actually mark a drop in percentage of Shellackings committed by top 50 arms, from 16.4% to 15.7%… in other words, it’s static at 16%. That’s due in part to the fact that the league is on pace for 86 more Shellackings than last year.

Obviously, if you have a shit-ton of Shellackings, you simply won’t make it into the top 50 in the first place. This is probably why so many of the Shellacking “leaders” within the top 50 so far this year are at the backend of it. So maybe there is some selection bias in play. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top 50 arms drafted this year by average draft position (ADP) using the FantasyPros database and see how they have performed in Shellackings.

I removed those guys who are toast for the season or likely will be (I’m skeptical on the Drew Smyly return talk) so I had to pull in six guys just outside of the top 50 to get enough arms. Here are the guys who got removed along with both their overall pick and their pick among SPs.

SP Pick Overall Pick Pitcher
13 46 Adam Wainwright (STL – SP) DL60
24 87 Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA – SP) DL15
28 101 Alex Cobb (TB – SP) DL60
37 146 Yu Darvish (TEX – SP) DL60
46 169 Hyun-Jin Ryu (LAD – SP) DL60
49 182 Homer Bailey (CIN – SP) DL60
54 196 Jose Fernandez (MIA – SP) DL60
56 200 Cliff Lee (PHI – SP) DL60
57 201 Drew Smyly (TB – SP) DL60

With those omissions, we get our group of 50:

SP Pick Overall Pick Pitcher 2015 Shellackings
1 3 Clayton Kershaw (LAD – SP) 0
2 10 Felix Hernandez (SEA – SP) 2
3 14 Max Scherzer (WSH – SP) 0
4 20 Chris Sale (CWS – SP) 1
5 21 Stephen Strasburg (WSH – SP) DL15 2
6 22 Madison Bumgarner (SF – SP) 1
7 24 David Price (DET – SP) 1
8 31 Corey Kluber (CLE – SP) 0
9 34 Johnny Cueto (CIN – SP) 0
10 37 Zack Greinke (LAD – SP) 0
11 41 Jordan Zimmermann (WSH – SP) 2
12 42 Jon Lester (CHC – SP) 2
14 49 Matt Harvey (NYM – SP) 1
15 53 Cole Hamels (PHI – SP) 0
16 64 Jeff Samardzija (CWS – SP) 2
17 68 Julio Teheran (ATL – SP) 3
18 72 James Shields (SD – SP) 0
19 73 Gerrit Cole (PIT – SP) 0
20 76 Sonny Gray (OAK – SP) 0
21 82 Jake Arrieta (CHC – SP) 0
22 83 Jacob DeGrom (NYM – SP) 1
23 86 Masahiro Tanaka (NYY – SP) 1
25 89 Tyson Ross (SD – SP) 0
26 93 Alex Wood (ATL – SP,RP) 1
27 96 Carlos Carrasco (CLE – SP,RP) 2
29 103 Gio Gonzalez (WSH – SP) 4
30 119 Garrett Richards (LAA – SP) 1
31 125 Lance Lynn (STL – SP) DL15 1
32 126 Michael Wacha (STL – SP) 1
33 131 Phil Hughes (MIN – SP) 1
34 138 Yordano Ventura (KC – SP) DL15 1
35 140 Doug Fister (WSH – SP) 1
36 145 Jered Weaver (LAA – SP) DL15 2
38 147 Anibal Sanchez (DET – SP) 2
39 148 Andrew Cashner (SD – SP) 3
40 150 Ian Kennedy (SD – SP) 4
41 156 Justin Verlander (DET – SP) 0
42 158 Michael Pineda (NYY – SP) 2
43 159 Chris Archer (TB – SP) 1
44 162 Mat Latos (MIA – SP) 2
45 166 Collin McHugh (HOU – SP) 2
47 173 Jose Quintana (CWS – SP) 2
48 179 Francisco Liriano (PIT – SP) 1
50 183 Mike Fiers (MIL – SP) 3
51 185 Matt Shoemaker (LAA – SP,RP) 3
52 189 Scott Kazmir (OAK – SP) 0
53 194 Dallas Keuchel (HOU – SP) 0
55 199 Taijuan Walker (SEA – SP) 3
58 206 Jake Odorizzi (TB – SP) DL15 0
63 226 Chris Tillman (BAL – SP) 4

A bit of a different story now, huh? Remember how the current top 50 doesn’t include anyone with even four Shellackings. The top 50 drafted has three such guys (Gio Gonzalez, Ian Kennedy, and Chris Tillman) plus five others with three and 12 others with a pair. With a total of 66 already, this year’s top 50 drafted pitchers are pacing toward 153 Shellackings among them.

This might be why it feels like these Shellackings are coming from better arms more frequently. The top 10 finishers from last year had just 11 total Shellackings. The top 10 drafted this year already have seven despite half of them not even having one yet. Or maybe it’s just the nature of DFS that these events stand out more since they’re having such a profound impact on that contest.

A particularly horrific Shellacking like that 2/3rds of an inning nightmare from Garrett Richards in the Bronx will sting your season-long team without a doubt, but it can’t tank your season unless it happens on the final day of the season or something. You might remember it as a signature event for that pitcher in a season, but it doesn’t ever have the impact that they do in DFS.

I think DFS does impact our remembrance of these events, but we are seeing increased frequency in Shellackings from better pitchers, at least compared to last year. I guess the next question I’d have is why? Why does someone like Pineda suffer such volatility? That’s probably its own article altogether with Pineda. I really don’t think his talent in question at this point. Is it just experience? Maybe with some like Pineda, but Felix has two Shellackings already and he’ll eclipse 2200 innings later this year.

Maybe it’s just a sign that offense is returning? Last year’s 506 were a 23-(non-strike)-year low when the league had just 417 in 1992. Runs were at 4.12 per game that season, an 11-year low. Surprisingly*, the juiced era started the very next season when runs per game jumped to 4.6 and held there or higher until 2010 (4.38). Maybe 2014 wasn’t the signal of a burgeoning pitcher’s era, but rather the high point of it and now we’ll slowly see offense start to creep back up?

Or maybe I’m just really tired of -17 point totals from my top starters on DraftKings.

*not surprising

Tuesday night was a field day for Shellackings with seven, though only one came from a stud: Danny Salazar. The other six were from pitchers you’d expect or aren’t surprised to see deliver one: Sean O’Sullivan and CC Sabathia in the same game as well as Jesse ChavezJoe KellyC.J. Wilson, and Chase Anderson.

Chavez is the biggest surprise because of how he was pitching, but Texas is raking. Anderson has been pitching well, but it’s Coors. Wilson almost had me tricked that he was awesome again. I don’t think this completely invalidates what he’s done so far, but he’s not back at 2010-2013 levels when he posted a 3.37 ERA in 842 IP with Texas and LA. 

Chi-Chi Gonzalez was just two outs shy of one, allowing 6 ER in 5.7 IP. Collin McHugh, Jeremy Guthrie, Mike Montgomery, Odrisamer Despagine, and Madison Bumgarner could all still get one as of this writing… unless I have time to update it before leaving for my mini-vacation. But if you’re reading it’s too late. 

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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I was fortunate to have Pineda in a 50/50 the other day. Good news is, 4 out of 5 contestants picked him so It had minimal impact on the contest. The bats compensated nicely.

I have had terrible luck with pitchers this year. Seems every time I pick a high-priced pitcher they get completely destroyed. Felix last week, taking 31 pitches to get one out and Pineda the other night, who got a little deeper but started going all slow-pitch softball in the 3rd and 4th innings, being the most recent examples.

What are the odds of consecutive shellackings from healthy top starters? I suppose unless there’s an injury, not very high right?