I love starting pitching. In my numerous points leagues, I tend to acquire an elite pitching rotation over an elite offense, and I’m in the top third every season. Two of these leagues do weigh pitching more heavily, but the others do not. As good as elite hitters are, I find I can often acquire top-15 pitchers far easier than top-15 hitters, and I do so. Having a rotation of Bumgarner, Wainwright, Alex Wood, Alex Cobb, and Quintana, plus Fister and Anibal Sanchez on my bench, does wonders for my weekly point totals. I’ll be the first to tell you to spend strongly on solid aces to anchor your staff, especially in today’s pitching-heavy MLB.
However, I’ve been taking a look at the top starters in preparation for our rankings, and though I ranked Felix Hernandez as my #2 SP in dynasty leagues, I had to wonder whether his value was so high in redraft leagues. I remember his less stellar years in recent memory, and in today’s pitching golden age, a WHIP over 1.10 and an ERA over 3.00 doesn’t scream elite to me. Let’s take a look at his SP ranks in two points leagues and one standard roto league.
|Year||Points 1||Points 2||Roto|
He had two down years where he wasn’t a top-10 SP, but even then, he was always within the top-20. It’s clear that he had two great back-to-back years in 2009-10, but since then he’s alternated between elite and just very good, with 2014 being an up year. Looking over that same period and comparing Felix to other elite SP, he’s a bit less reliable than a select few but on par with most. Kershaw has been in the top-5 of all three leagues for the last four years, and Verlander was in the top-10 every season from 2009 to 2012, though obviously he’s struggled in 2013-14. Wainwright had a season lost to injury (2011), and then he had his comeback year (2012), but in the two years before and after those he was a top-10 SP, so he’s comparable to Felix with four out of six years. Price has been pretty similar, with three out of six years in the top-10. It stands to reason that Felix really can’t be crowned the king in any given year, because he’s not as consistent as Kershaw now or Verlander in his prime. However, the starting pitching market is generally variable, with random pitchers having amazing years only to fall back to earth a bit, so putting up four top-10 seasons in the last six years does qualify him as an elite pitcher.
You’ll note that he often scores better in points than in roto leagues. Although sometimes Felix’s ERA and WHIP are not top-15 in the league, which hurts his roto value, those ratios are less important in points leagues, where every inning pitched and strikeout simply gives you more points.
Now let’s look at his trends in skills over the last few seasons. The general notion is that the last three seasons should be taken into consideration when forecasting the future, with the previous year having the most weight. I’ve included four seasons here.
You’ve gotta love those strikeout and walk trends. He’s clearly improved his control, his K% is on a four-year rise, and in 2014 his swinging strike rate jumped to a career high of 13%. However, you’ll note that his great ERA from 2014 was at least partly due to a very low BABIP. In fact, every year that his ERA has been under 3.00, he’s had a BABIP below .280, whereas his career BABIP is .295. He may be able to repeat that low BABIP if he retains his high GB%, which was his best in the last seven years. He does have a four-year downward trend in FIP, and a three-year trend in xFIP, but 2014 was the only year where his ERA outperformed FIP and xFIP, so a little bit of regression seems likely.
I started off thinking Felix may not quite be an elite option for 2015 redraft. However, when you look at the injured SP like Darvish and Tanaka, and even the guys who had less major surgery this offseason (Cain, Wainwright), it’s clear that a healthy SP who consistently gives you well over 200 IP and 200 K is a gem. Yes, it’s true that elite pitchers are often great until they’re not — see Verlander’s fall from grace — but you can’t worry about every potential breakdown. If you wouldn’t pass on Kershaw’s elite ability, then you shouldn’t worry about Felix, either. The “downside” to Hernandez is that he doesn’t always post top-5 ERA and WHIP, but he certainly did so in 2014, and I’ll bet on him in 2015 as well.