Paydirt: Playing Duncanball With Starting Pitchers


So say the posters at Viva El Birdos, playfully mocking the philosophy of curmudgeonly pitching coach Dave Duncan. His success with transforming hapless fireballers into dirt devils makes for many decent but relatively unappetizing fantasy starters. Pair groundballs as a side dish to a strikeout souffle, however, and you’ve got fantasy gourmet.

At least, so said this guy. Warning Track Power, a well-spoken but defunct fantasy blog of old, gained my trust with the hypothesis that a pitcher sporting at least 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings and a groundball rate of at least 45% has the makeup of an ace. It’s hard to argue with the names from last year, too. With a minimum of 150 IP, here is the list of 26 pitchers to achieve roughly WTP’s criteria in 2009:

Chris Carpenter
Felix Hernandez
Ubaldo Jimenez
Brett Anderson

Adam Wainwright
Ricky Romero

Josh Johnson
Roy Halladay
Clayton Richard
Jon Lester
Tim Lincecum
Ryan Dempster
Josh Beckett
Jason Hammel
Chad Billingsley
Yovani Gallardo
Wandy Rodriguez

John Lackey
Kevin Correia
Jorge de la Rosa
Carlos Zambrano
Gavin Floyd
John Danks
Carl Pavano
Roy Oswalt

Not too shabby, eh?

Before we go further, let’s make a few observations: Like any other snake-oil peripherals we think will take us to fantasy Eldorado, this rough projection is ripe to be shot to pieces. For one, a month into the ’07 season, our blogger was touting Sergio Mitre as The New Hope based on these numbers alone. Additionally, if your reverse WTP’s position to couple the 6.5 K/9 with instead a high flyball rate of, say, 40% or more, 2009 will present you Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Randy Wolf, Matt Cain, Edwin Jackson, Matt Garza, Justin Verlander, John Danks, Jered Weaver, Johan Santana, Jonathan Sanchez, Scott Baker and Ted Lilly. So this post is bogus, right? I should just go back to figuring out how to make Brad Penny‘s neck into a hearty summer entree, right?

Not exactly (though a sprig of rosemary might do my recipe some good). As SABR philosophy goes, a pitcher has less control over what happens to a fly ball when it hits the bat. Induce weak groundball contact and you’re less prone to the whims of the jetstream. And with a tight infield defense, a game of just strikeouts and grounders won’t yield many boo-boos. Let’s continue.

I’ve slantified (so as not to offend Italican readers) some other names of interest in the list above. These guys might present buy low opportunities or potential studs in your waiver wire stable.

After a few eye-opening starts, chances are Ricky Romero and Kevin Correia are owned in your league.  They should be — both of them have continued to exhibit pinpoint control, solid K ratios and a dirtball fetish. I took a gamble and flipped Ryan Ludwick for Romero in a 12-team mixed league. That’s not a huge discount, but if you can pry either of these two for a spare part it’d be well worth the gamble this early.

Clayton Richard is no secret by now in most leagues, either (only 22% ownership in Yahoo leagues) but I like his chances to take a significant leap forward this season. He’s never exhibited eye-popping strikeout numbers in his career, but neither did Chris Young before his banner years of ’06-’07 at the cavernous Petco Park. I’d snag him and hold tight in any league.

Ownership levels continue to trend upward for Carl Pavano (42% Yahoo) as he picks up where he left off from ’09. He’ll never whiff 200, but he’s in the ideal scenario for a groundball pitcher — the fortified Twins infield has committed just one error this season and may already be the best in all of baseball. There’s no reason why he can’t keep up his early success all year. Pavano should be owned in 12-team mixed leagues.

As for Jason Hammel?  He prematurely yanked his groin on what was supposed to be a dry run, which left him with quite the mess on his hands. Only Charlie Morton and this kid have had it worse so far this season. I gotta admit, though — I love me some Hambone. I even wasted a high waiver priority on him early on, digging his ’09 second half and his newfound groundball wizardry. But when you pitch to contact in Coors Field, things don’t tend to go as you plan from the get-go. I still say monitor his return, as his K-rate and velocity stand unchanged from his promising campaign last year.

This marks the beginning of a series I’ll call Paydirt, where I’ll pan for waiver-wire gold with this formula and the help of FanGraphs.


4 responses to “Paydirt: Playing Duncanball With Starting Pitchers

  1. I’m still holding out hope for Mitre. If only they’d give him another chance!

    Not a bad start you’ve got for yourself here though. I dig your writing style.

  2. I always kept Mitre in my back pocket hoping for that big break.

    Thanks for the kind words. When are we gonna see a WTP revival?

  3. Pingback: Paydirt: Pick Up Justin Masterson « Edgeball

  4. Can’t say I have any plans for a revival of my own site. I just didn’t have the juice to keep WTP going myself day-in/day-out. I didn’t even know the original wordpress blog was still up until I got a trackback email about this post.

    Sometimes I get the itch still, so who knows? Good luck with your writing. I’ll be back here again.

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