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March 29, 2007

Cracking the WHIP another year

This is a great time of the year. Spring is under way, and baseball is about to begin. I haven't followed spring training very closely this year, but I do read MetsBlog nearly every day, which is almost like following it.

The only thing that comes close to this level of excitement is the start of the fantasy baseball season. So I'm here to make the following public service announcement: Don't listen to anything I'm about to say if you have a team in my league.

Last spring, I wrote why I choose my fantasy baseball teams by focusing heavily on WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched). WHIP is only one of the 10 basic statistics for so-called 5X5 leagues, but it correlates well with other pitching statistics in the sense that a good WHIP typically means a good ERA, often but less so a high number of strikeouts, and also a good number of wins. It doesn't work the other way around. For example, you can be a major strikeout stud and have a crappy WHIP. (Exhibit A: As I mentioned last year, Scott Kazmir. In 2005, he had 174 Ks in 186 IP, along with a WHIP of 1.46. In his defense, he improved in 2006, and I even picked him up for a while.)

A second reason I focus on WHIP is that by the end of the season, the teams in a fantasy league will often be very close in that stat. There could be 6 or 8 teams in a 12-team league in the 1.19 to 1.25 range. Since the variation in WHIP is relatively modest, a slight lowering of your team's WHIP can grab you several points in the standings.

I posted one update last spring, about a month into the season, when my team was doing pretty well. I never reported what happened later. My hitting completely fell apart. I guess my guys were batting way above their ability in April. My pitching was wiped out by injuries (Pedro Martinez and Ben Sheets, two classic great WHIP pitchers). And I made a few mistakes. I ended up 6th out of 10 teams.

We held our 2007 draft last night with 12 teams in the league. Having 12 teams in the league is a challenge. That's the highest number in the 5 years I've been playing. What it means is that by the fifth round or so, there are really slim pickins. So fortunately, I drew the second overall pick. The first pick was Albert Pujols, no surprise. I chose Johan Santana. Normally, I would have chosen a slugger in the number two slot, but excellent pitching is very hard to find this year, and Santana is totally in a class by himself.

Using the four out of five stat categories applicable to starting pitchers in our league, Santana's line from last year was this: 19 wins, 245 strikeouts (in only 233.2 innings, or 9.44 strikeouts per 9 innings), 2.77 ERA, and 1.00 WHIP.

For my other starters, I ruled out anyone with a WHIP from last year over 1.25, even relatively well known starters. At least until the lower rounds, when I started stockpiling starters and chose Kenny Rogers in the 19th round, a guy with a WHIP of 1.26, who's now on the disabled list, anyway.

Now, obviously, players' stats and their success generally tend to vary from year to year. (That's not so true of the big stars, but you run out of those after only a few rounds.) Still, I'm very comfortable going into the season with a rotation headed by Johan Santana.

Only time will tell, of course. But I'm totally ready to starting cracking the WHIP.