Pitch count. Workload. Innings limit.
These phrases never existed prior to 1988 but are now commonplace in Major League baseball.
Last time we explored how innings are down for starting pitchers across baseball and complete games and shutouts are quickly becoming endangered.
Today I want to incorporate pitch count, the age of the pitcher, and how this impacts your fantasy baseball strategy. Let’s dig in!
Strict Pitch Counts
In today’s pitch count-conscious game, starting pitchers are more likely to be pulled in the 4th inning than they are to finish a game. Since pitch count was officially recorded in 1988, here are the numbers on average pitches per start at 5-year increments.
“Top Pit/GS” is the leader in pitches per start for that year.
|Year||Avg Pitches per Start||Top Pit/GS|
Pitchers are not even throwing 90 pitches any more. The biggest workhorse in 2018, Max Scherzer, was barely allowed to throw 100.
We have no pitch count data prior to 1988, but based on the insane number of complete games thrown, we can assume that pitch counts were quite high back in the day.
Youngsters Can Really Forget About Complete Games
You know who gets babied the most on the mound? Young pitchers.
If a team has a budding pitching prospect, they are not going to throw him very much at all to avoid injury. I began wondering if young pitchers’ innings have always been restricted or if this is a new phenomenon.
Since we only have pitch count data until 1988, I thought I would look at complete game data instead. I looked up the number of complete games thrown by pitchers of age 24 or less throughout the years.
In parentheses are the percentage of CGs that those younger pitchers accounted for in a given year.
|Year||Complete Games (%)|
In the 1950s through the 1980s, a very good chunk of complete games were thrown by pitchers of age 24 or less. They were treated like “normal pitchers”.
There has been a steady decline in complete games by young pitchers since the 1990s. 2018 is the only season on that table in which less than 10% of the complete games in the league were thrown by young guys.
The Impact on Fantasy Baseball
I am currently in a head-to-head fantasy baseball league on CBSSports. Here are the point values we assign for each pitching stat. You will find these values are very standard across most leagues.
Just as a frame of reference, here is a hypothetical start. Let’s say your pitcher throws 5 innings, strikes out 6, and gets the win. That’s 15 points for the innings, 3 for the Ks, and 7 for the win – 25 points.
But … he allowed some damage along the way. Your pitcher surrendered 3 runs on 4 hits while walking 2. Subtract 3 for the runs, 2 for the hits, and 1 for the walks – 6 points.
This leaves us with a grand total of 19 points – a very respectable start.
In points leagues like this one lately, the top-fantasy points earner for a season is almost always a pitcher. In fact, the top several scorers are normally pitchers.
Because there are so many good pitching options, the prevailing wisdom in fantasy baseball has been to prioritize hitting and then come back for pitchers. As pitch count, workload, and innings limit destroy pitching stats, we may need to reevaluate this strategy.
Starting pitching is not nearly as deep as it was 10 or even 5 years ago. I went onto CBS and found the following data. These are the cumulative scores for the top pitcher and the top hitter in fantasy each year since 2008.
The “Pitchers on Top” column is simply how many pitchers that season accumulated more fantasy points than the top hitter.
|Year||Top Pitcher||Top Hitter||Pitchers on Top|
Pitcher scores are slowly trending downward. To better visualize this, I created a line graph. Here are the top pitchers’ scores from each season since 2008.
Since I began playing online fantasy baseball in 2008, innings pitched have always been worth 3 points. The reason we are seeing lower scores from pitchers is obvious. They are not throwing as many innings as they used to.
Some leagues may compensate for the lack of innings pitched by awarding more than 3 points for one inning of work. If your league does this, ignore my next piece of advice.
5 years ago we could prioritize hitting in fantasy baseball and be alright. Today, there are very few true aces and we must attempt to scoop them up quickly if we want one.
Because of innings limits, a waiver wire position player will outperform a waiver wire pitcher.
Keep this in mind when constructing your fantasy baseball teams. See you on top!