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Drafting Strategy

"Invest in hitters, speculate on pitchers" has been a strategy that has enabled me to finish at least in the first division virtually every year I have drafted. Whether I am in the running to actually win the league usually depends on how well I have done with my speculative pitcher buys.

Competing in saves is a relatively straightforward process of choosing closer(s) and/or set-up men that you feel comfortable with. It's what you do with the other three categories that can decide your season. The challenge here, as always, is to get the best performance with the least amount of money possible.

Other than having some degree of confidence that the starter is healthy and is in fact likely to be in the rotation, I give relatively little thought to the wins category when assessing starters. If the pitcher can deliver good ERA and WHIP, all else being equal, wins should take care of themselves.

Which brings us to the ERA and WHIP categories and the Full Count Rating. A few years ago, I needed a better means of determining which pitchers, particularly starting pitchers, to go after in the all-important draft. I wanted to concentrate on low-priced values, but how to discriminate between low-priced starters who would emerge as quality pitchers and those who would forever drag down ERA and WHIP?

I developed the Full Count Rating to consolidate ERA and WHIP into a single number. Then I grouped starters whose ratings had improved from Year 1 to Year 2 against those who did not improve. Finally, I looked at a wide variety of statistics from Year 1 performance levels to see what might distinguish those who would improve from those who did not.

There were three ratios I now use as my primary criteria for evaluating pitchers:

  1. Hits per inning pitched. In the NL, I look for pitchers who give up no more than 1.00 H/IP. In the AL this ratio is 1.07.
  2. Strikeouts to walk ratio. In the NL this should be 2.0 or better; in the AL 1.7 or higher. This ratio is an indication of a pitcher's command of the strike zone. Pitchers who can meet both of these criteria are like gold. They can put the ball near the plate and remain tough to hit.
  3. Home runs per inning pitched. A ratio of .10 or below is preferable in the NL, .12 or under in the AL. I do not give this ratio quite the emphasis of the other two, but it should be kept in mind. Pitchers with high HR rates tend to have higher ERAs than their WHIP would suggest they should have, and they have a distressing tendency to lose games they should win because they give up the ill-timed 3-run HR. Sid Fernandez was a case study in this phenomenon.

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