HEAD-TO-HEAD: Ratio Insulation

Introduction

On a week-to-week basis, inequities are inherent in the head-to-head game. Your opposition may have thirty more at-bats than your team. It may have a dozen pitchers starting versus your seven. It may have four closers in comparison to your tag-team of two. One way to eliminate your competitor’s advantage in the pure numbers game is through ratio insulation. By applying certain metrics, you can build a team that excels in the ratio categories (i.e. ERA, WHIP, BA, OBP, etc.). This insulates your team during those weeks when the numbers are in the competition’s favor.

Target insulation categories

If you have applied the necessary metrics to build a homogenous lineup, then the hitters you drafted should provide an edge in the batting average or on-base percentage categories. In a standard 5x5 league, ERA and WHIP are the target “insulation” pitching categories. A pitcher’s ERA is largely a function of his Dom and Cmd:

Earned Run Average

Cmd       -5.6 Dom    5.6+ Dom
0.0-0.9   5.36        5.99
1.0-1.4   4.94        5.03
1.5-1.9   4.67        4.47
2.0-2.4   4.32        4.08
2.5-2.9   4.21        3.88
3.0-3.9   4.04        3.46
4.0+      4.12        2.96

[From the 2013 Baseball Forecaster]

This chart shows that while a pitcher’s ERA improves with increased Cmd, a concomitant increase in Dom will work to significantly lower a pitcher’s ERA. WHIP is obviously a function of walks and hits, which in turn are derivatives of Cmd and Dom. As a pitcher’s Cmd rises, either his walks are decreasing or his strikeouts are increasing. In either situation, WHIP is decreasing.

When to insulate during the draft

Generally speaking, you should insulate towards the end of your draft. If you have applied a LIMA approach, you will have drafted your hitters early. With your mid-round draft picks, you will have selected “quality-controlled” LIMA starting pitchers (“LIMA-QC”), which at some point simply run out. At the time when you are faced with drafting a starting pitcher with sub-standard skills and a relief pitcher with better skills (although perhaps not a defined role), it’s time to insulate by drafting the better skilled reliever.

In reviewing the last ten rounds of BaseballHQ.com’s 2012 straight draft guide, there were 34 starting pitchers and 28 relief pitchers marked for those rounds.  The starting pitchers selected in those rounds (which included N.L. Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey) averaged the following statistics in 2012:

ERA    4.13
WHIP   1.31
Cmd    2.76
Dom    7.2

In comparison, the relief pitchers selected in those rounds averaged the following:

ERA    3.05
WHIP   1.20
Cmd    3.13
Dom    9.4

The relievers slotted in these later rounds have much better peripherals than the starting pitchers available. Not surprisingly, their ERA and WHIP ratios are also better. Moreover, the above numbers do not contemplate applying metric filters to determine the “best of the best” of the relievers available in those rounds. 

Potential 2013 insulators

The bar has been set high for potential 2013 ratio insulators, applying the following filters:

Cmd > 3.0
Dom > 7.5
xERA < 3.30

Lastname   Firstname   TM    ERA   WHIP   K/9   CMD   BPV
========   =========   ===   ===   ====   ===   ====  ====
Kimbrel    Craig      ATL    1.97  0.86   14.8  5.2   214
Nathan     Joe        TEX    3.18  1.08   10.4  4.4   144
Motte      Jason      STL    2.64  1.00   10.1  4.3   138
Papelbon   Jonathan   PHI    2.71  1.05   11.5  4.9   161
Putz       J.J.       ARI    3.10  1.05   10.6  4.5   150
Janssen    Casey      TOR    2.95  1.07   8.7   4.3   124
Romo       Sergio     SF     2.33  0.84   10.9  7.0   173
Street     Huston     SD     3.00  0.94   9.7   4.6   135
Jansen     Kenley     LA     2.95  1.09   13.2  3.5   145
Robertson  David      NYY    2.48  1.21   12.3  3.3   142
Melancon   Mark       PIT    3.26  1.17   8.1   3.2   112
Uehara     Koji       BOS    2.79  0.91   9.6   7.8   148
Marshall   Sean       CIN    2.63  1.15   10.1  4.1   147
Herrera    Kelvin     KC     2.81  1.11   8.1   3.8   121
Hoover     J.J.       CIN    2.17  0.95   9.8   3.3   138
Mcgee      Jake       TAM    2.79  1.09   10.2  4.1   139
Thornton   Matt       CHW    3.60  1.20   8.9   3.4   116
Tazawa     Junichi    BOS    3.57  1.28   8.8   3.8   125
Geltz      Steve      LAA    3.27  1.14   8.6   3.0   112
Burns      Cory       TEX    3.86  1.14   7.7   3.0   118

Many of baseball’s elite closers make the list of potential 2013 insulators. However, the majority of these closers will not be available in the later, “insulation rounds” of the draft. [Side note: It is okay to include your closers' statistics as among those insulating your team's ERA and WHIP.] The set-up men on this list will likely be available in the later rounds. In leagues which use holds as a category, many of these insulators are just as valuable as closers. However, even in a league where holds is not a category, these insulators should still be viewed as valuable commodities because they will lower your ERA and WHIP on a weekly basis.

Insulation at work

As mentioned, at some point during the draft, you may be faced with choosing between a starting pitcher whose peripherals are below LIMA-QC thresholds, and a better-skilled reliever. Choosing the reliever from the above list of insulators could net Kenley Jansen (RHP, LA) in eighteenth round, David Robertson (RHP, NYY) in the twenty-second round, Sean Marshall in the twenty-sixth round and Jake McGee in the thirty-first round based on current average draft positions (ADPs) from mockdraftcetral.com.

Insulator    ERA    WHIP  Dom    Cmd    Ks
=========    ====   ====  ====   ===    ===
K. Jansen    2.95   1.09  13.2   3.5    85
S. Marshall  2.63   1.15  9.6    4.1    73
D. Robertson 2.48   1.21  12.3   3.3    79
J. McGee     2.79   1.09  10.2   4.1    66
Average      2.71   1.13  11.3   3.75   75.75

BaseballHQ.com’s projected average metrics of these insulators are impressive—a 11.3 Dom and a 3.75 Cmd, as are their average ERA (2.71) and WHIP (1.13). But what if you were to instead draft a starting pitcher in those same rounds; how would that affect your team’s ERA and WHIP?

SP Avg.       ERA    WHIP  Dom    Cmd    Ks
======        ====   ====  ====   ====   ===
SP Avg. 18    3.69   1.26  7.42   3.02   144.4
SP Avg. 22    3.98   1.26  8.02   3.07   151.2
SP Avg. 26    3.83   1.29  6.85   2.42   130.7
SP Avg. 31    4.27   1.35  7.13   2.26   125.5
SP Avg. - All 3.94   1.29  7.3    2.69   137.97

[note: at least four starting pitchers' statistics were averaged in a given round]

While the BHQ projections for these starting pitchers are not awful in light of their draft position, the insulators clearly have the edge in the ratio categories:

Pitcher    ERA   WHIP    Dom    Cmd     Ks
=======    ====  ====   ====   ====   ======
Insulators 2.71  1.13   11.3   3.75    75.75
Avg. SPs   3.94  1.29    7.3   2.69   137.97
Insulator Edge
==============
ERA:  + 1.23
WHIP: +  .16
Dom:  + 4.0
Cmd:  + 1.06

As seen above, if you opt for the insulation route, your team's ERA and WHIP will improve. Now, consider the downside to drafting these insulators—the loss of strikeouts. The difference in total team strikeouts between the four insulators and the four average starting pitchers is approximately 249 strikeouts. Over the course of a twenty-six week season, this means the insulators will generate approximately 9.5 strikeouts less per week. Simply put, a properly insulated team will still be competitive in strikeouts.

Adopting this strategy may also result in the loss of wins during the course of the season. However, as is clear from the straight draft guide data above, these wins will come at a cost to your ERA and WHIP. You must ask yourself whether the cost of these wins is worth pursuing.

Conclusion

During certain weeks of the season, your head-to-head competitor will have an advantage on day one going into your matchup. Whether the opposition has more pitchers starting, more save opportunities, or more at-bats, your team should be constructed to weather this statistical storm. One strategy to minimize this advantage is to build your team's foundation around the ratio categories. ERA and WHIP should be valued like any other head-to-head statistical category. Roster space permitting, adding two to four insulators to your team will improve your team’s weekly ERA and WHIP. During those weeks when your opponent has the advantage in the pure numbers game, your insulated team will be more than competitive. 


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.