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By the Numbers: Specialists for hire

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Whether you pick pitchers for your Fantasy roster primarily by ERA or WHIP, chances are slim that you will go wrong. Not surprisingly, they correlate strongly with each other, as more than two-thirds of the variation in ERA from pitcher-to-pitcher can be explained by the variation in their WHIPs.

Yet if you ranked starting pitchers according to ERA, you would see some different names near the top than you would if your were ranking them by WHIP. Some pitchers have a proven ability to prevent runs, even though they are not among the best at keeping baserunners to a minimum. These hurlers may pitch to contact or hand out free passes with regularity, but if they keep extra-base hits to a minimum, their ERAs won't suffer much. There are also those who excel at keeping the runners off the basepaths, but because they give up too many homers or have trouble with stranding runners, their ERAs fall short of their WHIPs.

If we took a poll, probably 10 out of 10 owners surveyed would prefer pitchers who could help with both ERA and WHIP. The likes of Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw don't come cheaply, though, and neither do solid second-tier starters like Daniel Hudson or Matt Cain. Someone like Jair Jurrjens (86 percent ownership rate) can come as a relative bargain, yet he has posted similar ERAs to those of Hudson (97 percent) and Cain (98 percent). Jurrjens is affordable, because he has been a liability in the WHIP category.

Just as Billy Beane's Moneyball A's replaced Jason Giambi with an hodgepodge of players with good on-base skills, you can create a solid staff on the cheap by mixing and matching ERA and WHIP specialists. In standard mixed Rotisserie leagues, a starter who represents a 50-point upgrade in ERA will more than compensate for another starter's 10-point uptick in WHIP, all other things being equal. That's how a pitcher like Jaime Garcia can come close to Matt Garza in value on a per-start basis, even though Garza gets more strikeouts and has compiled substantially lower WHIPs. Garcia's strong ground ball tendencies and pitcher-friendly home park have helped him to keep his ERA well below Garza's over the last two seasons, even though he allows batters more frequent contact than Garza does.

ERA and WHIP for Low-ERA Pitchers, 2009-2012
Pitcher ERA WHIP
Tim Lincecum, Giants 2.99 1.19
Jaime Garcia, Cardinals 3.20 1.33
Jair Jurrjens, Braves 3.23 1.27
Clay Buchholz, Red Sox 3.24 1.29
R.A. Dickey, Mets 3.30 1.27
Wandy Rodriguez, Astros 3.34 1.28
Johnny Cueto, Reds 3.46 1.24
Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies 3.59 1.32

Below are lists of starting pitchers who have been much better in one of the two categories than the other. Because of their lopsided statistical profile, they may not fully get their due, but if you need to upgrade your rotation or fill a hole left by an injury, these are pitchers who can help your squad without bankrupting it.

Help with ERA

The pitchers on the first list can lower your staff's ERA, though it could come at the expense of WHIP. With diminished velocity and poor performances in his first two starts, Tim Lincecum is a risky pick-up right now, but he may also present a good buy-low opportunity. For those looking for encouragement, Lincecum is still getting batters to whiff (13.5 swinging strike percentage), and he has 10 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. Line drive base hits have been a problem -- at least in his most recent start -- and if that persists, he won't be much help with ERA going forward. Over his career, Lincecum has managed to avoid extra-base hits, which has allowed him to get away with high walk rates.

As mentioned above, Garcia has used low home run rates to bolster his ERA, as have Jurrjens, R.A. Dickey and Johnny Cueto. Of this group, Garcia is the best target, as he may not be a risk to WHIP for much longer. Last season, he decreased his walk rate, but a .327 BABIP kept his WHIP above the league average. With a little more help from his defense, Garcia could see improvements in both ERA and WHIP this year.

Clay Buchholz, Wandy Rodriguez and Jhoulys Chacin have allowed their fair share of homers, but each has still been a good source of low ERA. Buchholz doesn't allow many line drives, and as a result, he hasn't allowed opposing batters to slug any higher than .404 in any of the three previous seasons. Rodriguez and Chacin have demonstrated a consistent pattern of stranding baserunners, so they have been able to work out of jams. Jeremy Hellickson (96 percent ownership rate) and Vance Worley (92 percent) are likely to wind up with lower WHIPs, and maybe that's why they are more popular, but Rodriguez (89 percent) and Chacin (81 percent) have just as much value thanks to their skill in stranding runners.

ERA and WHIP for Low-WHIP Pitchers, 2009-2012
Pitcher ERA WHIP
Michael Pineda, Yankees 3.74 1.10
Ted Lilly, Dodgers 3.58 1.10
Josh Tomlin, Indians 4.40 1.14
Shaun Marcum, Brewers 3.60 1.15
Mat Latos, Reds 3.42 1.16
Colby Lewis, Rangers 3.98 1.20
Jake Peavy, White Sox 4.36 1.21
Gavin Floyd, White Sox 4.19 1.25

Help with WHIP

On this second list, you will find pitchers who don't allow many batters to reach base, but once they get there, they have a decent chance of scoring. The common link among most of this group's members is strong flyball tendencies and -- as a by-product -- high home run rates. Colby Lewis, Shaun Marcum and Josh Tomlin are threats to get blown up, especially when they're in good home run venues, but if you're trying to move up in WHIP, they're reliable yet likely to come at a relatively affordable price. Lewis provides the bonus of being an above-average strikeout pitcher.

Ted Lilly should be back in the Dodgers' rotation this weekend, but currently he is available in nearly half of the leagues on CBSSports.com. Any mixed or NL-only league owners looking for WHIP help just may find it on the waiver wire in the form of the Dodgers' lefty. Michael Pineda is available in just a handful of leagues, but he could be a good trade target for owners looking for long-term WHIP improvement. Some of his owners may be frustrated by his shoulder issues and mediocre spring, but he could start contributing in Ks and WHIP by next month.

The flyball tendencies for Mat Latos, Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd are more moderate than those of the others in this group, but their ERAs have suffered nonetheless. Peavy and Floyd have to overcome poor strand rates, but even if they don't, owners can count on both to be better than average in WHIP. With the move from PETCO Park to the Great American Ball Park, Latos' ERA probably won't get better, but his strikeout-per-inning stuff and low WHIP make him as valuable as Dan Haren or Madison Bumgarner, even though both are strong bets to have ERAs in the low 3.00s.

I wouldn't argue that any of the pitchers featured on either list, with the exception of Lincecum, is an elite Fantasy starter, and that is underscored by the fact that each has a substantial flaw. However, the fact that all of them excel in a category makes them worth an extra look when considering how to bolster your staff. If you can afford a slight decline in either ERA or WHIP, it makes sense to pursue one of the specialists featured here to give you a bump in the other category.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

Glossary
xFIP: Also known as Expected Fielding Independent Pitching. It is an estimate of what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based on factors that a pitcher can control, such as strikeouts, walks and flyballs. xFIP is a derivative of FIP, which was developed by Tom Tango.
Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27) -- An estimate of how many runs a lineup would produce per 27 outs if a particular player occupied each spot in the order; ex. the RC/27 for Miguel Cabrera would predict the productivity of a lineup where Cabrera (or his statistical equal) batted in all nine spots; created by Bill James
Component ERA (ERC) -- An estimate of a what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based solely on actual pitching performance; created by Bill James
GO/AO -- Ground out-fly out ratio
GB/FB -- Ground ball-fly ball ratio
Batting Average per Balls in Play (BABIP) -- The percentage of balls in play (at bats minus strikeouts and home runs) that are base hits; research by Voros McCracken and others has established that this rate is largely random and has a norm of approximately 30%
Isolated Power -- The difference between slugging percentage and batting average; created by Branch Rickey and Allan Roth
Walk Rate -- Walks / (at bats + walks)
Whiff Rate -- Strikeouts / at bats

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Player News
Rockies pitcher Rex Brothers working to fix command issues
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:25 am ET) Rockies pitcher Rex Brothers gave up four runs on four hits in Thursday's game, his first rough patch of spring training. Brothers thinks his command faded when he got batters down in the count, reports the Denver Post.

"It was like an out-of-body experience," he said Friday. "Just one of those oddity nights. I was sharp until I got into put-away counts, then it was brutal. Absolutely brutal."

Manager Walt Weiss isn't concerned about his appearance and thinks it was more of an aberration.

"There's been enough positive signs in spring to feel good about where he is," Weiss said. "But fact of the matter is, that stuff is always right around the corner. Not just him, but anybody."


Seven no-hit innings for Royals' Yordano Ventura
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:56 am ET) Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura threw seven no-hit innings in Friday's start. 

Ventura walked two and struck out four, while throwing 49 of his 88 pitches for strikes. He lowered his spring ERA to 5.14.

The Royals took Ventura from the game after the seventh, as reliever Jason Frasor made it one out further before giving up a hit. 

The bullpen completed the one-hitter. 


Brewers pitcher Will Smith holds key to success out of the bullpen
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:49 am ET) Brewers pitcher Will Smith could be the best cog in Milwaukee's bullpen this season. Manager Ron Roenicke sure hopes so, reports MLB.com.

"I think coming into it, we're counting on him to pitch some high-leverage innings," Roenicke said Friday. "He's going to be a huge part of that bullpen and what we do and how I match up the seventh and eighth inning. He's going to be important."

Smith has a 0.87 ERA in eight appearances this spring and posted a 3.70 ERA in 78 games last season.

"My last two outings I felt really good out there, really strong," Smith said on Friday. "Me and the catchers are on the same page for everything now. I think I'm good to go now."


Still no decision between Mariners' Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:43 am ET) Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon still hasn't named a winner in the battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. 

RHP Taijuan Walker and LHP Roenis Elias are in the running for the spot. Walker has a 0.00 ERA in 18 innings this spring, while Elias' ERA is 6.75. 

McClendon said he wouldn't announce his fifth starter until the final week of spring. Saturday marks the start of the final week, and McClendon said he'd "be close" to making the call, per MLB.com's Greg Johns.


Brewers to decide leadoff hitter Monday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:36 am ET) Brewers manager Ron Roenicke plans to decide between Scooter Gennett and Carlos Gomez for the leadoff spot in the lineup by Monday, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Gennett hit .289 with 54 RBI and 55 runs scored in 440 plate appearances last season while Gomez hit.284 with 23 home runs and 73 RBI in 574 plate appearances.


Phillies' Jake Diekman historically bad in loss
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:33 am ET) Phillies pitcher Jake Diekman declared his Friday appearance, "the worst outing in the history of the world." 

Diekman entered a scoreless game in the fifth inning and promptly gave up a double and four singles before recording an out. He ended up allowing seven runs in one third of an inning.

"I fell behind in counts and every strike I threw they took a good swing at," Diekman said, per CSN Philly. "It’s embarrassing. ... It's unbelievable." 

Despite his 12.27 ERA, Diekman got a vote of confidence from manager Ryne Sandberg. "There’s no concern," he said. 


Brewers' Jonathan Lucroy gets first start at first base Friday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:30 am ET) Brewers regular catcher Jonathan Lucroy drew his first start at first base after being cleared from a strained right hamstring injury. Manager Ron Roenicke wanted to be able to see Lucroy's versatility.

"Thought we needed to do it, so hopefully we can do it at least once more,” said Roenicke to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "But as much as he gets out there, it will help. There’s some pitchers that we still want him to catch and if we can get through those then maybe some other days we can get him over there again."

Lucroy was happy to finally be back on the field.

"I've been doing a little bit out there every day," Lucroy said. "Taking some grounders and stuff to stay sharp over there."


Cardinals' John Lackey ready for the regular season
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:25 am ET) John Lackey pitched seven innings, the longest of any Cardinals starter so far this season. 

Lackey allowed one run on six hits and didn't walk a batter, throwing 84 pitches. 

"Throwing seven innings, that was probably a little bit further than I thought I'd go today with the pitch count," said Lackey, per MLB.com's Jennifer Langosch. "But they were pretty aggressive, and I was throwing a lot of strikes. It worked out pretty good."

Lackey had his catcher call the game as if it were a regular season game, and his performance indicates that he's ready for the season to begin.

"That's what it looked like," coach David Bell said. "It looked like he was making all his pitches. The velocity was there. He probably had a little more in the tank, which is a good thing."


Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez not worried about role on staff
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:21 am ET) Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez gave up just one run on five hits in five innings of work Friday against the Nationals. Martinez, who is competing for the final spot in St. Louis' starting rotation, has allowed just seven runs in 16 innings of work.

"I've been working hard," Martinez said through an interpreter to MLB.com. "Some of the outings haven't gone as good as I've wanted to, but I'm just trying to learn from that and get better every day."

Martinez is still focused on earning a starting spot.

"Right now I'm fighting to be a starter," Martinez said. "But if they call me into the bullpen I'm going to be ready for the team. I just want to help the team win, and I'm going to be ready when my name gets called."


Rays pitcher Everett Teaford making push for spot on pitching staff
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:16 am ET) Rays pitcher Everett Teaford tossed two scoreless innings Friday, sending all six batters down in order. The 31-year-old is making management give him an extra look before deciding on the final pitching staff, reports MLB.com.

"I thought he threw the ball well. First pitch, Reimold was ready to go, but after that I thought Teaf did a nice job of mixing pitches just like he always does," manager Kevin Cash said.

Cash likes that Teaford can get out of nearly any situation that arises.

"He's been around enough that he's probably given up enough home runs and big hits so he knows how to handle it when he does deal with some adversity," said Cash. "I wouldn't have expected anything other than that from him. Just getting right back into the strike zone again."

Teaford has spent most of spring training working on his command and effectiveness.

"That's really been the biggest thing I wanted to do this spring is not walk anybody. If I'm going to get beat, make them beat me and up to this point, I really have," said Teaford.


 
 
 
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