You don't have to have great command to be successful as a Fantasy pitcher, but it sure does help.
David Price and Yovani Gallardo have both been among the most valuable starters, though both have been generous with bases on balls, and Tim Hudson and Jason M. Vargas have done exceedingly well without the benefit of a gaudy strikeout rate. Then again, most of the starters who grace this week's K/BB ratio leaderboard do happen to be among the most productive Fantasy starting pitchers, and only three of the top 15 have ERAs over 4.00 or WHIPs above 1.20.
To be a top pitcher like Gallardo or Hudson and not be among the major league leaders in strikeout-to-walk ratio, you have to be doing something pretty unusual. (Gallardo is allowing very few homers on flyballs. As for Hudson, more on that below.) The same thing is true for lesser producers like Dan Haren, James Shields and Scott Baker, who have demonstrated the command of a Josh Johnson, but have wound up with inferior results.
So take a moment to admire the names at or near the top of our leaderboard: Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Jered Weaver and Zack Greinke. Their collective abilities to prevent batters from reaching base are truly impressive, not to mention highly desirable for Fantasy purposes. Their consistent performance also leaves little room for analysis, so let's turn our attention to those pitchers who have been sources of frustration for their owners and those who have been pleasant surprises.
Haren, Shields and Baker have much in common besides their inclusion on this week's leaderboard. All entered this season with high expectations, and all have disappointed. Each also has allowed an above-average share of balls in play to become base hits. Each of these pitchers currently sports a BABIP above .320, though none has a history of chronically-high BABIP rates. The strongest tell-tale sign of a BABIP rate that could stay high is a propensity for allowing line drives, but only Shields has shown this tendency so far this season. Haren has also been killed by the long ball, but erase a start against homer-happy Toronto and another at Coors Field, and his rate is in line with his normal HR/9 ratio. Though both Haren and Baker have tested their owners' patience this year, both offer the assurance that they are likely to do a very good job of keeping hitters from reaching base going forward, just as they have in the past.
Add Kris Medlen to that category as well. After struggling with command in his rookie season, he is now showing that he can be a consistent strike-thrower in the big leagues, just as he was in the minors. Medlen's other obstacle to success was a stubborn case of James Shields Syndrome -- getting hit hard when allowing contact. Though line drives were an issue in the minors and in his rookie campaign, Medlen has limited his line drive rate to 18 percent this season, and he is now getting grounders on 45 percent of hit balls. His inclusion on both our leaderboard and the list of the top 12 NL starting pitchers in WHIP is no coincidence and no fluke.
Carlos Silva's presence on this list may be more short-lived. The improvement in his command is for real, but it is probably not as dramatic as the chart would indicate. If not for a single 11-strikeout, no-walk performance against the Cardinals, his K/BB ratio would not be high enough to make the leaderboard. Silva's extreme aversion to walks makes him genuinely useful in mixed leagues, but you may find yourself with a good opportunity to sell high, particularly if you can find an owner impressed with Silva's unusually high strikeout rate.
Finally, a note about one of the pitchers to drop off the list ... Tim Lincecum has fallen from the command elite for the time being. His absence from the leaderboard is due to a string of four straight starts in May in which he allowed five walks and struck out no more than six batters. Lincecum has rebounded since then, striking out 30 batters and walking nine over his last four starts while going 3-0 during that span. Whatever worries owners might have had over Lincecum, they can be put aside now.
While some pitchers, like Lincecum, can temporarily drop from the ranks of the top command pitchers only to rise again, those who fall out of the bottom 15 list often just disappear. None of the pitchers who disappeared from the bottom 15 missed the latest version of the list because they got better; they simply didn't qualify due to getting yanked from the rotation. Ryan Rowland-Smith spent some time in the Mariners' bullpen, Brad Bergesen missed starts due to a minor-league demotion, and Dana Eveland was designated for assignment by the Jays (and eventually traded to the Pirates). In other words, allowing frequent contact and walks is not a very good career path. Given their recent minor-league demotions, we won't likely see John Lannan or David Huff on this list again for some time.
The question for Fantasy owners, of course, is who will be next? Despite declining numbers, we can feel good about the job security of Joe Saunders, Randy Wolf, Nick Blackburn, John Lackey, Scott Kazmir and Derek Lowe. And Tim Hudson and Bronson Arroyo have actually thrived in spite of their ratios. Kyle Davies and Dave Bush, however, are pitching on borrowed time. Davies' 6.15 ERA is not due to regress much, if at all, while Bush's Component ERA (ERC) suggests that his actual ERA will surge from 4.67 to 5.33, unless he can start to throw more strikes. Due to his rapidly declining command, the Rockies may be forced to consider Aaron Cook as the odd man out when Jorge De La Rosa returns from the disabled list, as he has performed much worse than the less-tenured Jason Hammel and Jhoulys Chacin.
The most surprising performer on this list is probably Mitch Talbot, who is managing a 7-6 record with a 4.08 ERA for a punchless Indians team. A healthy dose of run support -- 6.9 runs per nine innings -- has helped Talbot to amass wins, but he has compiled a respectable ERA all on his own, even though he allows frequent contact and walks a fair share of batters. His secret is the same as Hudson's: a steady stream of ground balls. Talbot's 49 percent rate is high enough to blunt the impact of his low K-rate, though he is not getting Tim Hudson-like results (2.34 ERA, 1.16 WHIP). If only he could raise his grounder rate 20 percentage points or so to Hudson's level, he could be just as effective.
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%
Left-on-base rate (LOB) -- Also known as strand rate. The percentage of baserunners that a pitcher allows that does not result in an earned run scoring. The research that established LOB norms and benchmarks was conducted by Ron Shandler. His research established that a certain level of variation in LOB can reflect differences in pitchers' abilities to prevent baserunners from scoring.
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
Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put By the Numbers in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.