By the Numbers: Specialists for hire

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 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.

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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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