Projectable Dominance

In a 5x5 league, what is a pitcher like Kurt Rueter or Paul Abbott really worth?  Neither guy posts particularly good ERAs or WHIPs.  Nor do they strike out many hitters.  Almost all of their fantasy value comes from their teammatesĎ ability to score enough runs for them so they donít lose.  Maybe they have a unique skill that inspires their hitters to do an extra good job on the days they are pitching.  Or maybe itís just luck.  The problem for fantasy projections is that this ďluckĒ figures significantly in how highly they are valued.  Most projections give Rueter 12-15 wins a season because thatís what heís done recently.  But supposing Bonds and Kent get injured and his run support dries up.  Then he only wins 7 or 8 games.  Heís still the same mediocre pitcher with the same mediocre ERA and WHIP and few Ks, but because of a factor that Rueter had nothing to do with, heís worth significantly less.

Projections are incredibly useful, but the values they offer are often dependent on things that the pitchers have little control over.  Wins, saves and ERA are in many ways as much tied to the performance of the team as they are to that of the pitcher.  I am in no way suggesting that projections arenít worthwhile to look at. Quite the contrary.  The more numbers you look at, the better chance you have of understanding the talent you are buying.  There just needs to be a way to eliminate, or perhaps limit the influence of factors outside the pitcherís control in the process of evaluation

Iíd like to submit a possible solution for review and discussion.  Itís called projectable dominance.  Itís a formula that shows the likely value of a pitcher in a standard 5x5 league, based largely on the things that the pitcher controls.  Itís relatively simple: K/(H+BB) * IP + W + saves, also expressed as K/IP divided by WHIP times innings pitched plus wins and saves.

The theory is pretty basic. A pitcherís ability to limit baserunners is directly related to his ability to limit the opposition from scoring and thus help his team win. The more he can limit baserunners by himself with strikeouts, the less he has to rely on his teammates. The innings pitched part of the equation shows us how often he gets an opportunity to limit baserunners.

WHIP and ERA are closely tied stats; guys who post low WHIPs generally have low ERAs.  However, WHIP is the more reliable stat because it is not as influenced by luck.  Anyone who ever watched Mitch Williams get himself into jam after jam yet inexplicably escape unscathed understands what Iím saying.  Since we are trying to eliminate the luck factor as much as possible and since WHIP and ERA mirror each other quite often, thereís no real need for ERA in the equation.

Wins and Saves are included, but not as a multiplier. We canít simply ignore the pitcherís context Ė his teamís ability to score runs, to play solid defense, etc Ė but we can limit itís ability to influence our evaluation of his ability.
Standard projections are usually within 6 or 7 wins of the eventual total.  In standard dollar value evaluations, 6 or 7 wins can make a big difference in the price.  In PD, that many wins alters the pitcherís value only by a few points on a scale of a couple hundred points.  PD rewards quality pitchers, yet puts their team situation in perspective.

It also puts relievers in perspective. In standard 5x5 roto-evaluation, closers still commonly go for more than starters. This is an artificial boost in value because they are the only pitchers getting saves. However, their actual contribution to the success of the staff is less than the top starters because they put in far fewer innings. High strikeout closers can attain values comparable to mid-level starters.  Their influence on team Ks, ERA and WHIP is limited due to the limited innings exposure, but their contributions in saves boosts their value by 30-50 points.

For example, Mariano Rivera is usually valued around $25-27 in 5x5 projections. This is more than most of the best starters in the AL. However, his effect on Ks, ERA and WHIP is not nearly as significant as that of guys like Mike Mussina or Pedro Martinez, even though his ERA and WHIP are significantly superior. PD puts top starters in the high 180/low 190 point range. Rivera tops out at around 115. In a standard 5x5 projection, his value fluctuates 20-30% depending on the number of saves he gets.  Heís gone from 36 to 45 back to 36 up to 50 saves over the last 4 years and his dollar value has fluctuated almost as wildly. The degree of fluctuation in PD would only be about 10-15% and you have a more accurate view of how much he is influencing the other pitching categories.

In the end, PD offers a method of evaluating a pitcher on his own merits, while reducing the fluctuation in value due to outside influences.  It is not intended to replace dollar value projections; just give us a better idea where the value is coming from..

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