And now let’s begin our annual foray into Fantasy Baseball theology—a consultation of the Holy Quadrinity. For those of you who are new to our world: Back in the day, Bret Sayre of Baseball Prospectus posited that “the three skills that are most important to the art of pitching [are] getting strikeouts, reducing walks, and keeping the ball on the ground,” and that pitchers who can do all three of those things, as betokened by their above-average stats in those categories, are or can be something special. He called this approach The Holy Trinity.
The Quadrinity is our contribution to the ongoing dialectic. We look for pitchers who are in the upper half of two categories (strikeout percentage and soft-hit percentage) and the lower half—in other words, the upper half—of two other categories (walk percentage and hard-hit percentage). You can see why both the Trinity and the Quadrinity would work, insofar as they identify really good pitchers. But you don’t need them to tell you that Jacob deGrom and Chris Sale are really good pitchers. What we found surprising is that the Quadrinity often identifies pitchers who are in fact really good, but aren’t recognized as such by the Fantasy market.
You can see why this might be the case. The stats in question are somewhat granular, in that they mostly exist at a more microscopic level than the typical directly fantasy-relevant numbers. At the same time, they obviously signify pitching competence, and they’re readily accessible and processible to anyone who takes the trouble to look. Can this approach also be taken with yet more granular stats? Is there, say, a Trinity consisting of pitchers with good Spin Rate, Perceived Velocity, and Pitch Tunneling? We’re curious, but we’ve never been curious enough to find out, and if anyone has been, as far as we know she’s keeping it to herself.
So we’re looking for guys who qualify for the Trinity or the Quadrinity, preferably both. (You can call those dual qualifiers the Quintinity if you like; we’ll borrow a term from the racetrack and call them Super High-Fives.) But we don’t want these guys to be the obvious blue-chip pitchers that you’re certain to pay big money for. We want them, at a minimum, to be mid-priced, and the cheaper they get, the happier we are.
This approach worked okay in 2018, though not as well as it did in 2017. We wound up recommending twelve relatively inexpensive High-Fivers. In ascending order of success, they were Nate Karns, Felix Hernandez, Luke Weaver, Jon Gray, Jake Arrieta, Lance McCullers, Jon Lester, Masahiro Tanaka, Kyle Hendricks, J.A. Happ, Jameson Taillon, and Patrick Corbin. Overall, that group would have cost about $95 at auction and returned about $110. Not spectacular, perhaps, but if you did that for your whole roster you’d have $301 of value, which likely puts you in the money. And if you had Taillon and Corbin you had nothing to complain about.
So what about 2019? We’ll list everyone who makes the various cuts at the end of this article, but let’s concentrate on Super High-Fivers who might be bargains. Interestingly, all the relatively inexpensive Quadrinitarians also qualify for the Super High-Five. And they (along with their NFBC Average Auction Values) are: Nick Pivetta ($10), Rick Porcello ($10), Hyun-Jin Ryu ($7), Nathan Eovaldi ($6), Joe Musgrove ($5), Anibal Sanchez ($2), and CC Sabathia ($1). We know they’re all pretty high risk. Pivetta, two seasons into his career, hasn’t been consistently effective. Porcello alternates good and bad seasons, and he’s due for a bad one. Ryu, Eovaldi, and Musgrove have injury issues. Sanchez is coming off his first good season since 2014. Sabathia is 38 and coming off heart surgery. What of it? If they weren’t risky, they’d be pricey.
If that list is too narrow for you, we can recommend a couple of other guys. First of all, there are the cheap Trinitarians, all of whom (except perhaps Shoemaker) we like for other reasons as well: Joey Lucchesi ($6), Ross Stripling ($4), Tyler Skaggs ($3), Marco Gonzales ($2) (although we like him a lot less if Kyle Seager isn’t playing third base behind him), and Matt Shoemaker ($1). And then there are two pitchers whom we also like and who made the relief pitcher Quadrinity, but who look like they will be starters: Collin McHugh ($5) and Brad Peacock ($2, though his price will go up as the season approaches if it becomes clearer that he’ll start).
As for relief pitchers: Most of them you won’t want, because they have no chance of closing. Among pitchers who will, only Edwin Diaz ($21) makes the Super High-Five. Kenley Jansen ($18) and Sean Doolittle ($13) make the Quadrinity; Blake Treinen ($19) and Alex Colome ($5) make the Trinity. Among guys who aren’t closers yet, we like Chaz Roe (Super High-Five, $1), who we think might take over from Jose Alvarado as Tampa Bay’s closer if in fact they use one; Tyler Clippard (Quadrinity, $1), who we speculate might be next in line to close for the Indians if, Heaven forfend, anything wicked befalls Brad Hand; and Craig Stammen ($1), who we think might be a better pitcher than incumbent Padres closer Tyler Yates.
So you could take the nine Super High-Fivers we’ve mentioned and spend $64 on a pitching staff that includes the best closer in baseball. Or you could substitute Doolittle for Sabathia, spend $76, and have two solid closers. Or Treinen for Eovaldi and spend…you get the idea. Roll your own.
Starting Pitchers Super High Five: Kershaw, Buehler, Musgrove, Ryu, Porcello, Eovaldi, Strasburg, Pivetta, Taillon, Sabathia, Sanchez, deGrom, Sale, Nola, Syndergaard. Quadrinity: Scherzer, Verlander, Happ, Berrios, Price. Trinity: Bauer, Lucchesi, Archer, Shoemaker, Skaggs, J. Gray, Wheeler, Marquez, Wood, Corbin, Tanaka, Carrasco, Greinke, Gonzales, Bieber, Kluber, Stripling.
Relief Pitchers Super High Five: Diaz, Roe, Loup, Drake. Quadrinity: Devenski, Jansen, VerHagen, McHugh, Clippard, Doolittle, Peacock. Trinity: Pressly, Treinen, Ferguson, Rondon, Jeffress, N. Ramirez, Harris, Stammen, Rogers, Colome, Bradley, Cole.
The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.