For the sixth 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|
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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 <i>cause</i> 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.” There were still 17 pitchers with 15-plus wins in 2019, and among that group, only Lance Lynn, Marco Gonzales, and Luis Castillo were on teams 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 2020.
Odds from Fanball Sportsbook as of February 27, 2020.
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.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Despite the Dodgers creative use of the 10-day IL last year, four starters saw at least 26 starts. That should provide a bit more confidence that Julio Urias, expected to pitch in the rotation to begin the season, will remain there for the bulk of the season. Of course, the 23-year-old has never started more than 22 games in a season. Alex Wood returned to the Dodgers late this winter, and could also be a bargain for wins. The last spot in the starting rotation looks like his to lose with top prospect Dustin May behind early in spring due to a side injury. Ross Stripling remains in LA after the trade involving him and Joc Pederson to the Angels was canceled a few weeks ago, and he’s made at least 14 starts for the team in three of the last four seasons. He enters the season as a potential swingman, but could still be worthy of an end-of-roster stash.
New York Yankees
The Yankees couldn’t stay healthy last year, and their rotation looks like a mess again. Luis Severino will miss 2020 due to Tommy John surgery, and James Paxton will probably miss at least the first month after back surgery. That means Jordan Montgomery, fully recovered from Tommy John surgery himself, will get a chance to stick around. He went 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA in 29 starts during 2017, and can still be had for cheap. Based on track record, Jonathan Loaisiga could be the frontrunner to open the year as the fifth starter if he’s healthy, but we also shouldn’t sleep on prospects Deivi Garcia and Mike King. Domingo German is also a stash option, but he must serve a 63-game suspension for domestic violence.
The Astros have been the story of early spring training due to their sign stealing scandal, but Vegas still likes them to be an elite team in the AL. Jose Urquidy is set to be the fourth starter after shining late last year, and he can be had at a reasonable cost at 227 ADP in NFBC leagues. The fifth starter spot is up for grabs between Josh James, Austin Pruitt, and Framber Valdez, with minor leaguers Cristian Javier and Forrest Whitley also on the radar. James has impressed thus far, and could see some helium in drafts this spring if that continues given his 13.8 K/9 in 84.1 career innings.
The Twins have a deep rotation after re-signing Michael Pineda and bringing in Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. Unfortunately, Hill will miss a large chunk of the season due to an elbow injury, and Pineda will miss the first month due to a PEDs suspension. That likely opens up the door for Randy Dobnak at the start of the year, and the groundball specialist impressed as a starter during September with a 1.86 ERA in five starts. Bailey can also be had for cheap (486 ADP) and fared well late last season in Oakland with a 4.30 ERA and 4.53 K/BB ratio.
Cole Hamels was Atlanta’s big offseason starting pitcher addition, but he will open the year on the IL with a shoulder injury. Currently, Mike Foltynewicz looks like the third starter to open the year despite his struggles last year, and the final two spots in the rotation will be some combination of Sean Newcomb, Felix Hernandez, Bryse Wilson, and Kyle Wright. This is certainly a situation worth watching if you’re looking for cheap early-season wins.
Tampa Bay Rays
The starting rotation is one of the strengths of a very deep Rays team this season, led by the big three of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow. Yonny Chirinos (ADP 289) and Ryan Yarbrough (ADP 263) are control artists who have proven they can perform in the majors, and they’re also both reasonably priced. Brendan McKay had a 5.14 ERA during his much anticipated rookie debut, but his 4.03 FIP and 3.50 K/BB ratio show great upside for when he gets another shot in the rotation. He also looks like a decent stash with an ADP of 279, and that price could drop due to shoulder stiffness that’s he’s nursing early this spring.
The prices of Frankie Montas (ADP 120), Jesus Luzardo (126), and Sean Manaea (174) don’t leave much wiggle room for win profit, but the rest of the rotation could have some options with Mike Fiers (340) and the fifth spot filled by either Chris Bassitt (350) or hot prospect A.J. Puk (249).
Washington sports three elite starting pitchers again with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. Anibal Sanchez won 11 games in 30 starts for the team last year, and is flier in mixed leagues at ADP 381. The fifth spot in the rotation looks like an interesting battle between Austin Voth and Joe Ross. Both pitchers finished strong last season, with Voth showing increased velocity and Ross getting comfortable in the rotation after Tommy John surgery. The backend starters are both 500-plus ADP options.