Using Game Scores to Identify Inconsistent Pitchers

The term “consistency” is thrown around a lot in fantasy sports, though it lacks a set definition and is often just a nebulous idea rife with recency bias. A few memorable meltdowns? Horribly inconsistent and can’t be trusted! Can’t recall any truly awful starts? So consistent! My impetus for diving into this was a self-check on someone I’ve deemed rather inconsistent this year, Nick Pivetta. Was I just remembering the week-ruining disasters he dropped on my H2H team or is he truly a volatile arm?

I’m looking at starts with a Game Score of 40 or lower as the threshold for inconsistency. The baseline is 50 and there is no way to truly salvage a 40 GS outing. Jon Gray had one with 10 Ks, which is the closest thing to a salvaged 40, but the 6 earned runs and 11 base runners in five and a third all but canceled out the whiffs.

Here are the 27 starters from our Top 100 in the Auction Calculator with at least five of these meltdown starts:

SPs w/5+ Meltdown Starts
Name Team GS <=40 Starts Rate
Jose Berrios Twins 9 25 36%
Jon Gray Rockies 9 23 39%
Jhoulys Chacin Brewers 8 27 30%
Jon Lester Cubs 7 25 28%
Chase Anderson Brewers 7 25 28%
German Marquez Rockies 7 25 28%
Jake Arrieta Phillies 7 24 29%
Sean Newcomb Braves 7 24 29%
Luis Severino Yankees 6 26 23%
Dallas Keuchel Astros 6 26 23%
Rick Porcello Red Sox 6 26 23%
Nick Pivetta Phillies 6 25 24%
Cole Hamels Cubs 6 24 25%
Trevor Williams Pirates 6 24 25%
Marco Gonzales Mariners 6 24 25%
Andrew Heaney Angels 6 23 26%
Sean Manaea Athletics 5 26 19%
Julio Teheran Braves 5 24 21%
Tanner Roark Nationals 5 24 21%
Mike Fiers Athletics 5 24 21%
Carlos Carrasco Indians 5 23 22%
Vince Velasquez Phillies 5 23 22%
Kenta Maeda Dodgers 5 20 25%
Wade LeBlanc Mariners 5 20 25%
Carlos Martinez Cardinals 5 18 28%
Brent Suter Brewers 5 18 28%
Blaine Hardy Tigers 5 13 38%

Berrios is the most inconsistent good starter this year. He had the four-start run of sub-40s from April 24th-May 10th before a brilliant run of eight starts that saw seven register a 60 or better Game Score. His inconsistency has been front and center again since mid-July with a run of 69, 38, 77, 37, 62, 37, and 35 over his last seven.

Gray was a nightmare through June with a 5.77 ERA despite strong base skills and was even demoted for a spell. Since his recall, he has just one of his nine duds mixed in with five other starts of 63 or better (2.55 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 18% K-BB).

Lester had two of his seven duds three starts into the season before a 13-start run where he dipped below 54 twice (48 and 46 bookending his May). Five of his last nine starts have been sub-40s, including a hot 9 on July 20th (3 IP/8 ER).

There’s a case to be made that Chacin has actually been rather consistent for those rostering him based on the flow of his season. He opened the season with Game Scores of 29, 40, and 40, but how many leagues were really rostering him? He probably wasn’t getting picked up until somewhere around mid-May when he put up back-to-back gems in Colorado and Arizona. Since then, just four of his 19 starts have been sub-40s, yielding a 3.40 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 111.3 innings.

Outside of a couple names, I wasn’t too surprised with who popped up on this list. While I wasn’t locked in on his Game Score breakdown in my mind, I’ve faded Arrieta all year based on perceived inconsistency (and his paltry 18% K rate).

Carrasco always has a few memorable meltdowns during the year (21 since 2015), but also seems to drop a few deep no-hit bids every year to offset them.

Severino had just one sub-40 through his first 19 starts with a brilliant 2.12 ERA before reeling off four straight and five of his last seven (7.25 ERA, 1.75 ERA in the 36 IP).

And the guy who spurred my interest to look at this checked out as expected. I think I expected a little higher number for Pivetta, but he was definitely saved by my arbitrary cutoff of 40 or lower for the Game Score because he has five other outings in the 41-49 range, putting nearly half of his starts (11 of 25) under the 50 starting point. He has been maddeningly inconsistent and the gems haven’t been able to overpower the duds as his ERA has been north of 4.50 since June 29th.

What about the other end? 41 starters (well, 42, but Ryne Stanek doesn’t really count) with at least 10 starts this year have logged three or fewer outings of a 40 or lower Game Score:

SPs w/0-3 Meltdown Starts
Name Team GS <=40 Starts Rate
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 0 19 0%
Jacob deGrom Mets 0 25 0%
Max Scherzer Nationals 0 26 0%
Edwin Jackson Athletics 1 10 10%
Carlos Rodon White Sox 1 12 8%
Dereck Rodriguez Giants 1 12 8%
Clay Buchholz Diamondbacks 1 12 8%
John Gant Cardinals 1 12 8%
Madison Bumgarner Giants 1 14 7%
Noah Syndergaard Mets 1 17 6%
Chris Sale Red Sox 1 23 4%
Aaron Nola Phillies 1 25 4%
Mike Clevinger Indians 1 25 4%
Patrick Corbin Diamondbacks 1 25 4%
Miles Mikolas Cardinals 1 25 4%
Gerrit Cole Astros 1 26 4%
Anthony DeSclafani Reds 2 13 15%
Stephen Strasburg Nationals 2 14 14%
Joe Musgrove Pirates 2 14 14%
Nathan Eovaldi Red Sox 2 14 14%
Michael Wacha Cardinals 2 15 13%
Rich Hill Dodgers 2 17 12%
Anibal Sanchez Braves 2 17 12%
Jaime Barria Angels 2 19 11%
Charlie Morton Astros 2 24 8%
Mike Foltynewicz Braves 2 24 8%
Trevor Bauer Indians 2 25 8%
Kyle Freeland Rockies 2 25 8%
Corey Kluber Indians 2 26 8%
Zack Greinke Diamondbacks 2 26 8%
Justin Verlander Astros 2 27 7%
Freddy Peralta Brewers 3 12 25%
Walker Buehler Dodgers 3 15 20%
Trevor Cahill Athletics 3 15 20%
Ross Stripling Dodgers 3 17 18%
Zach Eflin Phillies 3 17 18%
Jeremy Hellickson Nationals 3 18 17%
Eduardo Rodriguez Red Sox 3 19 16%
Jack Flaherty Cardinals 3 20 15%
Blake Snell Rays 3 23 13%
J.A. Happ Yankees 3 24 13%

Scherzer, deGrom, and Kershaw being the three guys with zero shouldn’t surprise anyone. Nor is it a shock to see Sale, Thor, Bumgarner, Nola, and Cole with one apiece.

They’ve only made 10-12 starts each, but seeing Jackson, Rodon, Rodriguez, Buchholz, and Gant with one apiece was really surprising. Avoiding the blowups has allowed them all to be major fantasy contributors in a difficult streaming landscape. Unfortunately, we lost Rodriguez to a stupid injury suffered during the Puig-Hundley fracas, but the other four will likely be leaned on down the stretch as mid-rotation assets in many leagues.

Other surprises here include DeSclafani, Musgrove, Eovaldi (he was Pivetta before Pivetta), Sanchez, Barria, Freeland (especially with 25 total starts and half his games in Coors), Eflin, Stripling, Flaherty, and Hellickson.

Start count matters here because while Peralta only has three, they’ve come in 12 starts so his 25% rate is still pretty high thus he should probably be on the inconsistent list instead. I don’t know what the perfect rate is to decide between consistent and inconsistent, but roughly I’d think that anything 20% or lower is pretty good.

Manaea was the only one on the inconsistent list to fall below that mark at 19%, but like Pivetta he was saved a bit by the 40 GS cutoff. He has four other starts at 45 or worse giving him nine pretty uninspiring starts out of his 26 (35%).

My foray into a really competitive H2H league this year brought the notion of inconsistency front and center for me. In roto, I’m actually fine with the guy who drops a sub-40 bomb every once in a while as long as it’s surrounded by a bunch of 60+ outings as opposed to the guy who lives in the 45-55 range. That said, I don’t necessarily prefer the latter in H2H, either, but those duds from your studs inflict a lot more damage on your team, especially when they come on the weekend of a close battle.

How do you assess inconsistency when judging starters?

Do you prefer a more volatile arm like Berrios who looks like a bona fide ace for a month (13 starts of 60+ GS) before looking damn-near unrosterable for stretches (9 sub-40s) or someone like Jameson Taillon, who tends to live more in the middle (8 at 60+, but only 4 sub-40s)?

Obviously if they get to the same bottom line, it doesn’t really matter in roto, but how does their consistency profile play into your future projections and do you lean one way or another? I tend to prefer the guy who flashes frontline stuff more often because I think curbing the dud starts is something a guy is more likely to figure out as opposed to jumping a level or two skills-wise and throwing a bunch of gems.

We hoped you liked reading Using Game Scores to Identify Inconsistent Pitchers by Paul Sporer!

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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 wonder if this should be drilled down into “expected blow-ups” and “unexpected blow-ups”. Pivetta getting killed by the Mets and Padres hurt owners worse than the Nationals.