What’s the toughest division in baseball? (continued)

19 04 2010

My co-manager Hurricane Kawasaki hit me over the head for my last post:

Based on that argument, you can argue that any pitcher coming up from the minors into the AL east would be facing an “easier” league and thus his poor performance should not be because he’s facing better hitters.

I’d like to clarify what I was trying to say, and how I think this analysis should be used.  Also, I think there was a key piece of information missing from the analysis.

For the analysis, I used baseballmonster‘s ease rankings to rate the difficulty of pitching in each division.  As Hurricane points out, the way ease rankings are calculated depends both on the quality of hitting in a league and the quality of pitching.  So if the AL East has the best hitters, but also has really good pitchers, it will appear as if it’s a pretty good division for pitchers, when really it’s a very tough division that happens to have some incredibly good pitchers.

In the post, I used the analysis to suggest that Javier Vazquez’s pitching performance shouldn’t be tied to his league change.  As Hurricane says by email, “Javy might have been the best pitcher in the NL east, but he’s at best the fifth best on his own team right now.”  My analysis was highly dubious.  Of course, I find Hurricane’s assessment that Vazquez is pitching on par with his AL track record to be equally dubious.  Vazquez’s ERA is currently 9.82.  His worst ERA over the course of a season in the AL is 4.91.  I think it’s perfectly fair to call that struggling.

The better application of this analysis is in thinking about where to find pitchers to add to your fantasy roster.  If the divisional ease ranking of the AL West and NL Central are favorable to pitchers, as I suggested last post, then there are presumably pitchers getting good results in those divisions.  Whether they’re getting good results because they’re strong pitchers or because they’re facing weak hitters is somewhat immaterial.  It’s not completely immaterial since there’s plenty of inter-divisional play, but it’s nonetheless valuable to know which divisions have weak hitting relative to their pitching.  That seems to be the case for the AL West and NL Central.

One question worth addressing, however, is how many starters are owned in each league?  The 10th best starter in the AL West might be more valuable than the 10th best starter in the NL West, but they may not both be available.  Who’s owned differs by league, but here’s the breakdown for mine:

  • AL West: 0.48 ease rating, 13 SPs owned.
  • NL Central: 0.42, 12 SPs owned.
  • AL East: 0.10, 18 SPs owned.
  • AL Central: -0.23, 14 SPs owned.
  • NL West: -0.37, 13 SPs owned.
  • NL East: -0.39 , 11 SPs owned.

(Note: injured players who haven’t yet pitched and relief pitchers who qualify as a starter are excluded from these counts.)

This information tells a different story.  The AL East has a more favorable ease rating for pitchers, but 18 starters are owned, far more than any other division.  This suggests that the starting pitching is indeed stronger in the AL East, skewing the ease rating.  If you’re looking for a spot start, chances are the 15th best starter in the AL Central, or the 12th best in the NL East is a better bet than the 19nd best starter in the AL East.

This analysis probably needs some further hammering out, but I’d nonetheless look to the AL West and NL Central as the best divisions for pitchers.

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