HEAD-TO-HEAD: Successful streaming strategies

Introduction

Nothing draws the ire of a league more than an owner who streams starting pitchers. Although there is nothing illegal about streaming, there is a clear stigma associated with the strategy. It is highly aggressive and leaves a wake of dizzying transactions on your league’s waiver wire. The strategy is not recommended for regular use. However, there are times, particularly in the head-to-head playoffs, when it’s necessary to stream.

The Concept

When a team streams its starting pitchers, it means that it adds and drops pitchers on a daily basis in order to accumulate wins and strikeouts. The goal is to accumulate counting statistics, usually at the cost of the team’s ERA and WHIP. If a team has good hitters and sufficient closers, this strategy can be used successfully.

Most head-to-head leagues do not contain innings limits, though some do restrict the number of transactions per team. Obviously in that situation, streaming is not a viable strategy.

In most mixed leagues, the waiver wire lacks multiple viable starting pitching options. In deeper leagues, it is almost impossible to stream without completely ruining your team’s ERA and WHIP. So streaming comes at a cost—though during certain weeks of your season, it may be an appropriate strategy. If your team finds itself in one of the following four situations, you might consider streaming:

  • Your ERA and WHIP have been decimated early in the week by multiple poor pitching performances.
  • Perhaps due to injuries or under-performance, the starting pitching you drafted is significantly under-performing week after week.
  • Your ace(s) are injured or shut down due to innings restrictions.  As a result you are left with a handful of B-level pitchers and relievers.
  • The team you are playing has vastly superior starting pitching and has insulated its ERA and WHIP.

The first scenario is when it is most appropriate to stream. Essentially, you are acknowledging that you cannot win ERA or WHIP in a given week, and are targeting the counting statistics as a result. Keep this in mind particularly during playoff matchups. If your team’s ERA and WHIP are incredibly high with only 3-4 days remaining, it’s time to stream to rack up strikeouts and wins. Similarly, in points leagues, if you have significant ground to make up with the end of the week approaching, target the counting statistics to add to your points total.

Selecting Your Streaming Options

While a streaming strategy throws caution to the wind with a team’s ERA and WHIP categories, it’s still important to try and select starting pitchers that will give you a fighting chance at those two categories just in case your opponent’s pitching implodes. Here is a recommended rubric to follow to select the best options available:

1. Start with BaseballHQ.com's “Probable Pitchers” reports. Select the 8-day view to examine all potential streaming options in a week. As this excellent piece by Bill Macey recently pointed out, the two most important factors to focus on are: (1) a given starting pitcher’s rating (-5 to 5); and (2) the opposing starting pitcher’s rating (as the better the opposing starting pitcher, the less likely your starting pitcher will get the win). Focus on those starter pitchers with a rating of 2 or higher. If there are none available in your league, lower your standard to 1.5. In that case, the other factors below will become even more important. Make a list of all potential streaming options and proceed to the next filter.

2. PQS log analysis. Once you have your universe of potential streaming options, it’s time to examine those pitchers’ PQS logs. Simply type in a pitcher’s name in the playerlink box and click on the “PQS” tab. First, take a look at the pitcher’s DOM%-DIS% splits. If the pitcher’s PQS-DOM% is in the 60s or higher, (assuming at least a 6 game sample size), this pitcher is a strong streaming option. If a pitcher’s PQS-DOM% is in the 50s, then he should also be considered a streaming option. Venture into the high 40s if you must, but note that there is a good chance that the pitcher will not last long enough to tally significant counting statistics. He will also likely adversely affect your ERA and WHIP.

3. Opposing lineup analysis. In addition to the more obvious analysis (are they pitching against the Marlins?), you should also focus on a pitcher’s prior history against a given lineup. On the PQS log tab, there are game logs of a given starting pitcher’s 2013 and 2012 PQS performances against a given team. How has the pitcher previously fared against this team? Is his xERA through the roof? Does he have a string of PQS-4s? Also check the “vs Team” tab for detailed information about a pitcher’s historical performances against a given team. You can even take this analysis one step further by looking at historic batter vs. pitcher matchups.

4. Split stat analysis. Does Pitcher A have a 2.74 ERA at home and a 4.78 ERA on the road? If Jason Vargas (LHP, LAA) is on the road, perhaps he’s an “avoid.” Does Pitcher B have a 3.23 ERA during the day and a 5.02 ERA at night? If Homer Bailey (RHP, CIN) gets the ball for a 1 p.m. start, it’s time to give him a shot. [note: these split statistics are from 2012].

5. Umpire analysis. As Patrick Davitt has explained, some umpires are more favorable than others. This last category should be taken with a grain of salt, and should really be used when you are on the fence about rolling the dice with a given pitcher. If Jeff Kellogg is calling balls and strikes, well then give your man a shot. If Jim Joyce is on the crew, then perhaps you go with a different option. Although umpire schedules are not published in advance, with a little box score research, you should be able to determine which crews are working a series after the first game of that series.

Putting the Streaming Rubric Together

Once you have your list of potential streaming options, you can use the five-category chart below to see how well each option scores on the ten (10) point scale.

If your streaming option scores a six (6) or higher, you can feel pretty good about adding to your counting statistics while doing minimal harm to your ERA and WHIP. Additionally, the benefit of this chart is that it allows you to compare potential streaming options by their respective numeric scores.

Conclusion

If your league rules permit streaming, do not hesitate to apply the strategy in one of the aforementioned scenarios. Successful streaming involves accumulating strikeouts and wins while doing minimal damage to your ERA and WHIP.  After all, you never know when your opponent’s pitching might collapse.


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