Whenever I find it difficult to come up with an idea to write about, I listen to a podcast and hear a talking head scream out dogmatic overtones and pollute the airwaves. As it happens, the same reason that I don’t listen to as many podcasts as I used to happens to be the same reason I listen to podcasts for article ideas: bad information.
Mainstream media members convey specious statements that sound like they would have some validity, but rarely do. But these moments allow me to come in and provide the answer from an analytic perspective, so I can’t complain.
This particular analyst asserted that because starting pitching depth is better than ever this year, and that the offensive run environment has trended towards starting pitchers over several years, you have to draft pitchers early.
His counterpart argued in opposition and said that because starting pitching is so deep this year, you can wait longer than usual on pitching.
Examining Starting Pitcher Depth
The truth of the matter is that they are both full of hot air and shouldn’t be allowed to fill the minds of people who have the best intentions. Their listeners want to learn as much as they can about Fantasy Baseball to win their league, and these guys spew out false information.
But hey, it’s not their fault. They’re paid to be entertainers, not thinkers. The problem occurs when entertainers start to think they’re intellectuals.
But to get back to the reality of the topic at hand — the environment that players inhabit does not matter because they all live within that environment.
What really matters is how good a player is relative to the distribution of the players in their environment.
Let’s take this example:
In a hypothetical world where we can pinpoint exactly how good a player is at baseball (i.e. their true talent level) on a scale of 0 to 6, Player 5 in the graph below is the best player in this environment/population (i.e. he has the highest true talent), but the distribution of talent in this population is focused around a narrow point (i.e. Player 5 is first, but not by much), and the average differential of the players is very low.
This is the same reason why running backs are so valuable in Fantasy Football. Running backs, except for very few, don’t produce the most points overall, but compared to other positions, the distribution of running backs is relatively spread out (i.e. DeMarco Murray was the best running back this year, but still finished seventh in scoring behind six quarterbacks).
Even though he’s the highest rated kicker every year, this also why Stephen Gostkowski doesn’t go earlier than the second-to-last round, or shouldn’t at least. He’s the best kicker, but there’s relatively little difference — 29 points to be exact — between him and the 10th-best kicker.
A couple years ago, I wrote an article about position depth in Fantasy Football. I took the top 15 quarterbacks, 30 running backs, 30 wide receivers, 15 tight ends, 15 D/STs, and 10 kickers from the 2013 NFL season and calculated the standard deviation for their position based on the 2013 season’s scoring — Fantasy points were determined by ESPN’s standard scoring for 2013.
Once I calculated the standard deviation, I plotted the standard deviations on a distribution curve so we could visually see how spread out some position’s talent was relative to other positions.
Here was the result (next to each position is the standard deviation for that group):
Back to baseball.
Now that we’ve established that starting pitcher depth, or any position for that matter, is based on the standard deviation of that position, lets look at the standard deviation of the pitching population over the last few years.
Since the SCFE’s original conversation centered around points leagues, these numbers were calculated from the top 108 pitchers — nine starting pitchers for each team in a 12-team league — for each season since 2014 for points leagues.
As you can see, the standard deviation for starting pitching has trended down, which means, as a generalization, it has become less necessary than ever to draft a starting pitcher.
Below are Steamer projections translated into Fantasy points for the top 108 players in 2015. All the way to the left you have Carlos Martinez, and to your deepest right you have Clayton Kershaw.
To figure out the true value of a starting pitcher, you have to figure out how much better or worse he/she is than league average, relative to the distribution of the other players in their league (i.e. 108 pitchers for 12-team leagues with nine starting pitchers on each roster). And you do that with zScores based off of the 2015 Steamer projections,, which I produced for you here:
|Jorge de la Rosa||374||-0.706856084|
What we can see from these zScores, and the graph that corresponds to it, is that our population has a unique shape; the 54th-ranked pitcher — the median pitcher of the population (405 projected points) — is worse than league average (416 points).
Clayton Kershaw isn’t drafted as high as he is because he is the No. 1 pitcher; he’s taken in the first round because of how much better he is than everyone else.
In the end, if starting pitching depth continues on the trend it has been on over the last several years, you don’t need to draft starting pitching at a rate different than you have in recent seasons. Be happy that you know this, and hopefully the people in your league listen to the SCFE that started this conversation to begin with.
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