For the fifth year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. So far we’ve looked at batting average, WHIP, home run, strikeout, ERA, stolen base, saves, and RBI sleepers. In the ninth installment of the series we’ll be reviewing starting pitchers who can be sleepers for wins. Over 10 weeks, I will be providing a list of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV). After looking at categories that were more based on player skill over the first five weeks, we shift to categories that are more dependent on opportunity, supporting cast, and batting order spot.
Before reading any further, it’s important to note the definition of a sleeper. In this case, it’s a player who will exceed draft day ADP AND projections in a particular category. The players are broken down by mixed league sleepers and single league sleepers.
For year-to-year individual performance, Bill Petti of Beyond the Boxscore did an outstanding job of running down the year-to-year correlation of most of the stats we’re concerned with and wins have an extremely weak correlation.
However, when we look at stats that correlate with the teams that accumulate the most starting pitcher wins, there are a few numbers that stand out based on past analysis of 2013-2016 numbers.
Team Starting Pitcher Wins Correlations
|Year||Runs Against||Team Wins||Quality Starts||Innings per Game Start|
Numbers closest to 1 or -1 show the strongest correlation. The correlations with quality starts as well as innings per game start haven’t been consistently strong over a four-year period, but the correlation is still strong enough to be worth mentioning. Runs against have had a more consistent correlation, which seems fairly obvious since we expect the most effective pitchers to be winners. Other stats evaluated that had extremely weak correlations include run support per nine innings, run support per game start, pitches per game start, and bullpen ERA.
It must be stated that this strong correlation doesn’t necessarily imply good teams cause individual starting pitcher wins, but still it’s clear that the best teams undoubtedly have the most starting pitcher wins. When we break down individual results from 2014, among the 25 pitchers with at least 15 wins, only four of those were on teams that finished below .500. In 2015, only 13 pitchers notched 15 wins, and only one (Felix Hernandez) was on a team that finished below .500. In 2016, only two pitchers (Chris Sale and Jose Fernandez) out of the 23 15-game winnings were on a team below .500.
More recently, fantasy owners have to contend with managers’ quicker hooks and the “opener,” which more teams are expected to employ based on the success of the Rays last season. There were still 19 pitchers with 15-plus wins in 2018, and among that group, only Aaron Nola was on a team that finished below .500.
Keeping in mind the correlation between team wins and starting pitcher wins, one exercise for finding possible discounted wins from starting pitchers is to evaluate baseball’s best teams.
Below are the current teams with the highest team win over/unders. Like average draft position in fantasy baseball, we can use these odds as a guide to predicting baseball’s best teams in 2019.
Red Sox 95.5
Odds from betonline.ag as of February 14, 2019.
While I still stick to the starting pitching mantra of paying for the skillset and hoping that the wins follow, taking a pitcher from a good team can certainly be used as a tiebreaker as you search for profit from the wins category. Below is a breakdown of some possible “wins sleepers” from these top eight teams.
Unlike last season, the Astros don’t have a set starting five heading into spring training. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are the aces, but behind them there are some cheaper values like Collin McHugh, Wade Miley, Josh James, Brad Peacock, and Forrest Whitley. At the very least, the fifth spot in Houston’s rotation looks up for grabs, and James, Peacock, and Whitley all show significant potential if they manage to win a rotation spot. All three are outside the top 200 picks in NFBC ADP currently, and could make for decent calculated gambles.
Boston Red Sox
The defending World Champs enter the year with their starting five set in stone. It’s tough to find much “sleeper” value with all five starters within the top 170 picks in ADP, but perhaps their depth behind the starting five could be useful in AL-only leagues. Brian Johnson and Steven Wright would be the next men up.
New York Yankees
Like the Red Sox, New York doesn’t have much cheap value in their starting five. CC Sabathia is clearly the cheapest of the bunch at an ADP of 412, but that’s partially because he’s seen limited innings recently. He did manage 14 wins in only 27 starts during 2017 but has tallied single-digit wins in four of the last five seasons. At least until Jordan Montgomery returns from Tommy John surgery, young Jonathan Loaisiga is likely the next starter to get an opportunity, and he showed flashes in four starts last season.
Los Angeles Dodgers
For better or worse, the Dodgers have been employing the disabled list to give their starters additional rest over the last two seasons, and that’s likely to continue given the significant injury histories of their starters. They also have great depth, with Ross Stripling and Julio Urias likely to see stretches in the rotation this year behind the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Rich Hill, and Kenta Maeda. It’s difficult to find a sleeper for wins here because of what’s effectively an innings cap for many of the Dodgers starters as they’re shuttled between the rotation and bullpen, but perhaps a minor leaguer like Dustin May or Dennis Santana could emerge if there are enough injuries.
Fantasy owners are onto the Cleveland quartet of aces in Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Mike Clevinger. The fifth starter is slated to be Shane Bieber, who seems to be on everyone’s sleeper list (including yours truly) after posting a K/BB ratio of 5.13 in his rookie campaign. With Danny Salazar still rehabbing from shoulder issues, the Indians don’t have clear pitchers to step in should something happen to their core starters, but some combo of Adam Plutko, Jefry Rodriguez, and Cody Anderson will likely figure into the equation. It wouldn’t be a shock if someone from that group is a viable in-season addition for fantasy owners.
St. Louis Cardinals
Beyond Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas, last year’s Cardinals rotation was extremely frustrating for fantasy owners. Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and Adam Wainwright round out the starting five, but that trio failed to stay healthy last season. Wacha did notch wins in eight of his 15 starts, and perhaps he will be in better condition during his walk year. His ADP of 282 does seem reasonable. Alex Reyes could be the next man up, though the Cardinals will likely handle him with kid gloves after Tommy John surgery and a torn lat in consecutive years. Austin Gomber and Daniel Poncedeleon are other options that could be NL-only considerations if the Cardinals have more injuries.
The Cubs made the playoffs last year despite forgettable seasons from Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish, and Tyler Chatwood. Chatwood is currently on the outside looking in on a rotation spot, but could be worth a flier in deep leagues if he’s actually throwing strikes in spring training. Cole Hamels is an interesting case as a five time 14-plus game winner coming off a 9-12 season between the Rangers and Cubs. He could be a nice wins value if the pitcher we saw in Chicago (2.36 ERA, 3.42 FIP in 12 starts) continues. However, he’s also just one year removed from a 6.4 K/9 and 4.20 ERA in Texas.
It’s been a quietly busy offseason for the Nats rotation. They added a big-time third starter by giving Patrick Corbin $140 million, and also signed Anibal Sanchez and brought back Jeremy Hellickson. Corbin only won 11 games in Arizona last season despite a 3.15 ERA in 33 starts, so maybe he will have better luck in his new digs. Sanchez similarly had only seven wins despite a 2.83 ERA in 25 appearances. His durability issues, along with the recent injury histories of Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson, could create an opportunity for Ross. Tyson Ross’ younger brother went 12-10 with a 3.52 ERA in 35 appearances during his first two seasons in the bigs before having arm trouble that resulted in Tommy John surgery in 2017.