Deep Thoughts with CheeseIsGood: Cash Game Pitching

For years, I have been preaching paying up for ace pitchers in cash games. Not by any means always or on every slate, and never on the basis of salary. But elite strikeout pitchers in good matchups have always been my go-to. This has been a winning strategy for me personally for a long time. However, as we’ve all seen and discussed here many times recently, the league appears to be shifting heavily towards offense, with more and more players hitting more and more home runs and the league average ERA climbing to 4.45 after a 4.15 mark in 2018. I have been steadfast in my opinion that despite that, the top pitchers are still worth paying for in cash games, given that we are still comparing them to the rest of the pitchers, we’re not comparing them to the pitchers of last year.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the top pitchers and how they have continued to score the most DFS points this season. And as we discussed in that article, it is very easy to identify the best pitchers simply on the basis of strikeouts, followed by innings and walks. But I wanted to take a deeper look to make sure I haven’t missed something, and that most importantly, the consistency of the top pitchers is still better than that of the top hitters. That really is the crux of the matter for me in cash games- consistency and predictability.

I have been seeing more and more people upset with the perceived inconsistency of pitchers, and wondering aloud if we are really supposed to be paying up for aces in this current MLB environment where home runs are up everywhere, and the top pitchers are not immune. So rather than just sticking with the status quo out of stubbornness and my own results, I spent some time this weekend looking at the actual results from the first three months of this season to try and get a rough look at the consistency of pitchers vs hitters.

There are a variety of ways we could go about looking at this issue, but I wanted to start with an analysis of the consistency of the very top hitters vs the top pitchers. My contention for why we should still be paying for ace pitchers in cash games is that these are still the most predictable points we have anywhere in DFS. It’s not that the top pitchers are always going to give you 2x or 3x their salary, and rarely will the most expensive pitchers end up as the highest points per dollar plays on any slate, but they are the most likely to score the most points, both in terms of floor and ceiling.

I understand the frustration when you spend up for an ace and they disappoint. But I don’t understand why we don’t have the same level of anguish over expensive bats being inconsistent. It just feels to me like the easy answer when upset about an ace pitcher’s bad night is to say, “We don’t need to pay up for pitchers anymore; they are all giving up runs.” But I want to remind you that the game is still about scoring the most DFS points. It is not just a game of seeing who can spend the most salary on their bats while getting the highest points per dollar return from their pitchers. That is just my opinion. I am always open to being wrong.

So while this is far from scientific, I simply looked at the 10 highest scoring batters and the 10 highest scoring pitchers so far this season. The only thing I changed about the batters list is not including Arenado and Story due to the inherent variance of Rockies batters home/road splits. So here are the lists of the top 10 scorers using DraftKings points (as of Friday):

Top 10 Pitchers: DK Total Points

1) Justin Verlander – 429
2) Max Scherzer – 422
3) Gerrit Cole – 401
4) Chris Sale – 368
5) Charlie Morton – 360
6) Hyun-Jin Ryu – 348
7) Stephen Strasburg – 347
8) Lucas Giolito – 343
9) Mike Minor – 340
10) Walker Buehler – 332

Top 10 Batters: DK Total Points:

1) Christian Yelich – 934
2) Cody Bellinger – 875
3) Mike Trout – 841
4) Freddie Freeman – 791
5) Josh Bell – 779
6) Ketel Marte – 753
7) Pete Alonso – 727
8) Ronald Acuna – 725
9) Xander Bogaerts – 723
10) Whit Merrifield – 717

OK, Note to Self #1 – Both lists are pretty darn obvious. The best players are the best players. There are some surprises on both lists based on who we expected to be there with names like Bell, Marte and Alonso on the hitting side and Giolito and Minor on the pitching making huge strides this season, but by this point in the year, it’s pretty clear these are all very good players.

So we know all these guys are good. What I want to try and figure out is if one side is MORE CONSISTENTLY better than the other. Because batters play every day and pitchers play once or twice a week, the only way to figure that out is to create some sort of guideline for what would constitute a “failure” vs a “success” if you were paying top dollar for any of these players, and then see how often they fall into those ranges. This is where Cheese Math becomes vague and sketchy. This is not meant to be a “be all and end all” answer to any question, but just a general sense of where these sides land. You might have a completely different opinion of what constitutes a failure, and this would also be far more accurate if we used a larger sample size of players. But I’m just one guy with a notebook and a calculator from the 1980s, so this is what we get for today.

For the sake of math, I’m going to say these batters cost an average of $5,000 and these pitchers cost an average of $11,000, again using DK pricing. I will start with 2-3x salary being an average expectation on any given day. I’ve broken the hitters and pitchers up into point tiers that I consider to range from Failures to Moderately OK up to Success. Again, you may have totally different guidelines for these tiers, but it’s a place to start:

Hitters DK Points Guidelines:

0-5 pts = 1x or less = Fail
6-10 pts = 1-2x = Okey Dokey
11-15 pts = 2-3x = Cool
16+ pts = 3x+ = Awesome Dude

Pitchers DK Points Guidelines:

0-11 pts = 1x or less = Fail
12-22 pts = 1-2x = Okey Dokey
23-32 pts = 2-3x = Cool
33+ pts = 3x+ = Awesome Dude

All righty then, here comes the interesting step. And when I started compiling these numbers, I had absolutely no idea what they were going to show. I did not cherry pick anything to support my hypothesis. These are simply the numbers so far this season, and here’s what they look like:

Top 10 Hitters, 735 total games:

Total Games at 0-5 DK Points = 266
Total Games at 6-10 DK Points = 177
Total Games at 11-15 DK Points = 82
Total Games at 16+ DK Points = 210

Top 10 Pitchers, 155 total starts:

Total Starts at 0-11 DK Points = 21
Total Starts of 12-22 DK Points = 51
Total Starts of 22-32 DK Points = 46
Total Starts of 33+ DK Points = 37

Now, more importantly, let’s look at those point buckets by percentages:

Top 10 Hitters Failure vs Success %:

Total Games at 0-5 DK Points = 36% Fail
Total Games at 6-10 DK Points = 24% Okey Dokey
Total Games at 11-15 DK Points = 11% Cool
Total Games at 16+ DK Points = 29% Awesome Dude

Top 10 Pitchers Failure vs Success %:

Total Starts at 0-11 DK Points = 13% Fail
Total Starts of 12-22 DK Points = 33% Okey Dokey
Total Starts of 22-32 DK Points = 30% Cool
Total Starts of 33+ DK Points = 24% Awesome Dude

This is not in-depth science, this is not definitive, and you are under no obligation whatsoever to take anything from this at all. But from what I can see here, if this is even vaguely correct, expensive pitching IS MORE CONSISTENT in avoiding failures than expensive hitting. It is not even close.

Again, you can disagree with me as to what constitutes a failure for an ace pitcher, but any way you slice this, the expensive pitchers have a lower failure rate than the top hitters. Of course, to reiterate, I have vaguely ballparked the salaries and none of these numbers are exact, but they do not have to be exact to see quite plainly why I still recommend paying up for ace pitchers in cash games.

Now, the tournament discussion is completely different, as we have a wider spread of ceiling games from hitters, and there is more of an endless ceiling on hitter point potential. There is also a very noticeable difference in that 3rd bucket of ‘Cool’ performances, which again adds fuel to my ‘aces in cash games / lean to bats in tournaments’ fire. Hitters have far more failures, and also more high end successes, with less in the middle. Pitchers have higher floors and lower ceilings, but more predictable results. I am strictly speaking in terms of cash games and where we can most reliably expect to find DFS points. It has always been, and it still is expensive pitchers.

BUT, WAIT, THERE’S MORE

So I was going to stop here, because I was satisfied. This showed me exactly what I was hoping to see. But in life and certainly in DFS, I want to go out of my way not to fall for confirmation bias and just stop when I see something I like. So then I thought to myself, “Self, but what happens with lower tiers of players, is this still sound strategy when we see what our choices might be elsewhere?”

Again, incredibly non-scientific, I picked at random a mid-tier grouping of 10 batters ranked from #70-79 in DK points scored this season, who have played at least 60 games. And then, with roughly 8 batters to every 5 pitchers as a starting team, I figured the same approximate range of pitchers to be pitchers ranked #45-54, who have made at least 14 starts. And here are those groups of players, as of this Saturday:

Batters: Total DK pts

70) Paul Goldschmidt – 564
71) Nick Markakis – 562
72) Hunter Renfroe – 560
73) Christian Walker – 557
74) C.J. Cron – 556
75) Yasiel Puig – 556
76) Avisail Garcia – 554
77) Adam Jones – 553
78) Lorenzo Cain – 551
79) David Peralta – 547

Pitchers Total DK Pts

45) Tanner Roark – 233
46) Yu Darvish – 231
47) Spencer Turnbull – 231
48) Marcus Stroman – 231
49) Kyle Gibson – 231
50) Sonny Gray – 228
51) Max Fried – 228
52) Trevor Richards – 223
53) Trent Thornton – 220
54) Mike Leake – 219

I set the average salary for these batters at $4,000. The pitchers’ salaries here have had a wider range, generally from $7,000-$9,000 with a few outliers in either direction at different points of the season. But my best guestimate for average salary was $7,500. So using the same points per dollar ranges as above, these are the point ranges from Failure To Success:

Mid-Tier Hitters Guidelines:

0-4 pts = 1x or less = Fail
5-8 pts = 1-2x = Okey Dokey
9-12 pts = 2-3x = Cool
13 pts = 3x+ = Awesome Dude

Mid-Tier Pitchers Guidelines:

0-7 pts = 1x or less = Fail
8-15 pts = 1-2x = Okey Dokey
16-22 pts = 2-3x = Cool
23+ pts = 3x+ = Awesome Dude

Now for the moment of truth, what happens to the percentages in each of these buckets of points compared to what we saw in the top tier.

Mid-Tier Hitters Failure vs Success %:

Total Games at 0-5 DK Points = 40% Fail
Total Games at 6-10 DK Points = 23% Okey Dokey
Total Games at 11-15 DK Points = 13% Cool
Total Games at 16+ DK Points = 24% Awesome Dude

Mid-Tier Pitchers Failure vs Success %:

Total Starts at 0-11 DK Points = 22% Fail
Total Starts of 12-22 DK Points = 28% Okey Dokey
Total Starts of 22-32 DK Points = 29% Cool
Total Starts of 33+ DK Points = 21% Awesome Dude

And the side-by-side comparison from Top 10 to mid-tier:

Hitters Fail Rate:

Top Tier = 36%
Mid-Tier = 40%

Pitchers Fail Rate:

Top Tier = 13%
Mid-Tier = 22%

Hitter Okey-Dokey Rate:

Top Tier = 24%
Mid-Tier = 23%

Pitchers Okey-Dokey Rate:

Top Tier = 33%
Mid-Tier = 28%

Hitters Cool Rate:

Top Tier = 11%
Mid-Tier = 13%

Pitchers Cool Rate:

Top Tier = 30%
Mid-Tier = 29%

Hitters Awesome Dude Rate:

Top Tier = 29%
Mid-Tier = 24%

Pitchers Awesome Dude Rate:

Top Tier = 24%
Mid-Tier = 21%

I know you see it even if you don’t want to. There is only one number out of all these buckets that is more than 5% different between tiers. And what is it? PITCHER FAIL RATE. CONFIRM, CONFIRM, CONFIRM….PAY FOR ACES IN CASH GAMES.

You could also take this as yet further confirmation of paying up for hitting in tournaments, as the next biggest difference between the two sets of numbers is in the Awesome Dude category for hitters being higher at the top.

I have seen nothing here that changes my pre-conceived notions on any of this. My default strategy has been and will continue to be pay for pitching in cash games and pay for hitting in tournaments.

I am going to say this one more time, very clearly, so please do not miss this: This is all just my opinion. This data is quite vague and encompasses an incredibly small portion of MLB players. I am completely with you on the frustration scale when you spend big money on a pitcher and he has a bad game. I get it. But there is a reason why I still focus on the few high strikeout aces in this game. They just don’t fail as often as hitters.

Thanks for hanging with me. I hope some of this data is useful to you in one way or another, regardless of whether it leads you down the same path as me or not.

About the Author

  • Dave Potts (CheeseIsGood)

  • One of the preeminent baseball minds in all of fantasy, Dave Potts, aka CheeseIsGood, has won contests at the highest levels of both season-long and DFS. He is a two-time winner of a million dollar first place prize in DFS; having won the 2014 FanDuel baseball live final and following that up by taking down a DraftKings Millionare Maker Tournament in 2015. In addition, he’s won the Main Event championship in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship and the NFBC Platinum League, which is the highest buy-in entry league. His consistent success in the NFBC tournaments recently earned him a prestigious spot in their Hall of Fame. Dave can also strum a mean guitar while carrying a tune and if you’re lucky, you’ll see him do so on one of his GrindersLive appearances. Follow Dave on Twitter – @DavePotts2.

Comments

  • GKB11

    These recent insights are so informative, really appreciate the work you are doing, you make complex statistical analysis simple by focusing on strike outs and walks. Cheers

  • Scotch

    Great article Cheese!

  • Mr_tjRoto

    Thanks. Esp true last weekend, pitchers ruled, and low and behold those that did were “forced” to play Greg Allen 😏

  • Rarfstar

    Cheese, you need to write a f-in book on this stuff. You’re a great writer.

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