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Throughout the 2016 season there have been many analysts, including myself, that have been screaming from the rooftops that there is no good pitching available in fantasy baseball. We came in to this season with our lists of “aces” and had an idea as to what we thought our team ERA would be based on the pitchers we drafted. Each week we look at the available pitchers out there and among all the stats one we analyze more often than others is the ERA. We see pitchers with a high three ERA and say he stinks I would never want to add him, but he is the best pitcher available.
Our problem is not that these high three ERA pitchers stink, it’s that our perception of what a good ERA is might be skewed. To verify this I took a look at the league average ERA for the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons. Then I compared those numbers to the league average ERA for 2016. I was surprised at what I found.
Starting in 2012 and ending in 2014 the league wide average ERA decreased from 4.01 to 3.74. During those years we were getting use to pitchers with better and better ERAs. Then in 2015 the trend began to reverse, going from 3.74 in 2014 to 3.95 in 2015.
But why didn’t we complain about pitching being worse last year then? Probably because the increase was fairly small. Now we look at the increase from 2015 to 2016, where ERAs jumped from an average of 3.95 to 4.18 so far in 2016. That’s not a significant difference when you look at it compared to the jump from 2014 to 2015, but it is a major shift if we look at from 2014 to 2016. League average ERA is at its highest point that it has been in five years.
Pitching in general is lousy compared to 2014 ERA numbers and therefore when we look at one individual pitcher on the waiver wire who has a high three ERA we say no thanks, but when you realize that is well below what the league average ERA is that pitcher becomes a whole lot more usable in fantasy baseball. Key point to remember her is that there are still players out there like Danny Duffy, Clayton Kershaw or Jake Arrieta who will blow you away with their ERA, but that guy on waivers with a 3.60 ERA is actually a pretty good add relative to the league.
Even more important in regards to this conversation is that when you draft your team next year remember to keep these new norms in mind when setting expectations.
Coming in to the 2016 season Chris Archer was a ranked by most as a top 20 starting pitcher. He finished 2015 with a 3.23 ERA, 252 strikeouts in 212 innings, and a 1.13 WHIP. Archer had a 10.7 K/9 and a 0.8 HR/9, all of which just further confirmed his dominance in 2015. Little did we know that the downward momentum he was showing at the end of 2015, a 4.61 ERA over the last two months of the season with 7 home runs given up in 12 games, would carry over to 2016.
As 2016 started it was evident, if we wanted to see it, that things were not what we had hoped they would be for Archer. His ERA at the end of April was 5.01 and he has already given up 7 home runs in only 6 starts. At that point the narrative was that he had not worked on his pitches in Spring the way he had in the past because he was working on developing a new pitch. Sounded good at the time and we gave him a pass for April. In May his ERA was 4.18 and June 4.97, and still we were letting him slide. Through his first 20 games of the season, ending on July 15th, Archer had a 4.68 ERA and had given up an average of one home run per game. By this point many had said Archer was broken and not the same guy we expected coming in to the season.
However, something changed after that start on July 15th. Since Archer’s start on July 20th through his last start on August 23rd he has been a different pitcher. Archer has been nothing short of dominant with a 2.62 ERA, 56 strikeouts in 44.2 innings and only 3 home runs in that 7 games span. You may think, yea but who was he facing in those starts, well two of his more dominant performances came at Colorado on July 20th where he had 11 strikeouts in 6 innings and his last start against Boston where he only went 5 innings but only gave up one earned run and six strikeouts.
Here is what changed. In April through September of 2015 Chris Archer threw his changeup less than 8.5% of the time, then in October he began throwing it 13.89% of the time. Archer’s changeup is the pitch he was working to improve in the offseason and the reason he focused less time on getting his slider and fastball right in spring training. To start 2016, he continued to throw the changeup at a rate of no less than 11.26% of the time and did that for all of April, May and June. In July however he cut his changeup down to 6.87% of the pitches he threw. In his best start since getting right, July 20th at Colorado he only threw the pitch 1.92% of the time. It appears there is a direct correlation between his changeup usage and his outcomes.
It remains to be seen which Archer we will see the rest of the season, but if I was a betting man (and I am) I would put my money on the guy who has been stellar recently and belief he will continue that performance going forward.
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