RAW Pitcher Ratings: Tweaks, Reasons, Comparisons and Pitchers to Buy Low/Sell High

Not to continue hitting you over the head with this RAW Pitcher Rating stuff, but I truly believe it could play a big role in how we evaluate pitchers based on their “raw” stuff. I’ve received some feedback and questions (thank you!) and have done a bit of tweaking to the formula. It doesn’t change things too dramatically, but I think the changes improve the effectiveness of the ratings overall.
 
To explain in furthur detail how I see this working and explain why some players are ranked surprisingly high or low, let’s take a look at some interesting comparisons.
 

First, however, I think I should start out explaining why I value certain skills more than others.

 
To me, strikeouts are thee most important part of a pitcher’s ability to dominate an opponent. Strikeouts keep pitchers from relying on the result of a batted ball, especially when runners are on base and the defense is playing in an abnormal shift (anything other than how they would play a hitter normally based on scouting reports).
 
For example: When there is a runner on first base, the first baseman must hold the runner on, thus opening up a big hole on the right side of the infield. That hole increases the chances of any ground ball to the right side becoming a base hit. Pitchers with the ability to generate more swings and misses and thus more strikeouts have a better chance of getting out of that situation without any further damage.
 
While keeping one’s walk rate low is also important, it can be somewhat negated by a top-notch strikeout rate (i.e. Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum and Carlos Marmol).
 
The area that Fangraphs defines as “plate discipline” is next on my list. Two factors in particular I find to be most important: Whiff rate and chase rate (The two are explained here). The more a pitcher causes hitters to swing and miss (whiff), the more dominant that pitcher’s pure “stuff” is. Chase rate is a less dominant skill and is weighed as so in the RAW formula, but the more a pitcher gets a hitter to chase pitches outside the strike-zone, the less likely that hitter is to make clean, solid contact, which reduces the chances of a hitter reaching base on a hit.
 
The final two factors are line drive rate and ground ball rate. Simply put, the fewer line drives a pitcher allows the more likely they are to keep a low BABIP as liners are more likely to turn into hits than any other batted ball. At every level of baseball, little league to the majors, coaches preach for pitchers to keep the ball on the ground. “Throw some ground balls. It’s more democratic.” A famous baseball movie character once said. Ground balls can’t become home runs and only turn into extra base hits if they are sharply hit down either line.
 
The final factor is home runs per nine innings pitched. There is no way around it. Home runs hurt and the more a pitcher tends to give up, the more risk is involved (Damn you for giving up so many long balls Ricky Nolasco!). However, it is something that can be countered by keeping runners of base as Johan Santana has done for years.
 
Those are the stats used and the reason for using them in the RAW formula. I’ve broken them down into three categories.
 
  • SWS – Strikeout/Walk Score
  • LGS – Liner/Grounder Score
  • CWS – Chase/Whiff Score
 
Add these up to get the RAW Pitcher Rating.
 
Now, onto the comparisons.
 
I received an email noting the big difference between Brandon Morrow and CC Sabathia in the ratings. Even with the tweaked formula, Morrow (83.42 RAW) comes out way ahead of Sabathia (68.72 RAW).

 
The point of RAW is show which pitchers have the best raw ability to dominate an opposing lineup. In 2008, CC Sabathia would have been near the top of this list (96.92 RAW). However, his K/9 this season is quite low (7.17) and his BB/9 is pushing three. What he has done well is compensate for a regression in strikeouts by adding more movement to his fastball, sacrificing some velocity, but increasing his ground ball rate and maintaining a very low 14.8 percent line drive rate.
 
For Morrow, it’s all about swings and misses and strikeouts. Morrow’s K/9 is an excellent 9.99 and his walk rate has come way down since making an adjustment in June. His line drive rate against is below league average and he gets more ground ball than fly balls while limiting home runs (only seven in 100 IP). His ERA is highly inflated by control issues in April and May while his .350 BABIP against is very high considering a below average line drive rate.
 
This comparison does not tell us to trade CC Sabathia for Brandon Morrow, but it does say that it may be a good time to sell high on Sabathia and buy low on Morrow.
 
Scott Baker (78.78 RAW) and Zack Greinke (77.42 RAW). How could Scott Baker rank higher than Zack Greinke on ANY list?
 
For one, the biggest factor in RAW Pitcher Ratings are strikeouts minus walks. Baker has a slightly better K/9 and BB/9 than Greinke so far this season. Both have had their fare share of problems allowing the long ball, Baker a bit more so. While Baker has one of the worst Liner/Grounder Scores on this list, he makes up for it with a 35 percent chase rate, which is one of the best around. He also has a higher whiff rate than Grenkie.
 
What needs to be pointed out about this particular comparison is not that the RAW ratings say “Scott Baker is 1.36 points better than Grenkie”, but rather they show the similarities in raw pitching skill to this point in the season (We are not comparing last season or career stats here). Based on other advanced metrics, both pitchers look fairly similar: Baker 3.71 xFIP, Greinke 3.69 xFIP.
 
The point of RAW here, for fantasy purposes, is to place into context a group of players and establish a buy low or sell high. In this case, if we take RAW ratings from 78.99 down to 75.00 we get:
 
Scott Baker 78.78 RAW
Justin Verlander 77.44 RAW
Zack Greinke 77.42 RAW
Ricky Nolasco 76.64 RAW
Colby Lewis 76.01 RAW
Ricky Romero 75.43 RAW
 
Given that all these scores are considered fairly good, we can say “hold” on players like Verlander and Lewis and, based on high ERA’s, say “buy low” on Scott Baker and Ricky Nolasco.
 
David Price (67.34 RAW) vs Carlos Silva (67.32 RAW) vs Jonathon Niese (65.96 RAW).
 
David Price, the starting pitcher for the American League in the all-star game, is having his breakout season. However, the closeness in RAW scores between him and Carlos Silva only go to show just how impressive Silva has been this season. While Price has the better strikeout numbers, his BB/9 is nearly double that of Silva, who actually has a better Strikeout/Walk Score. Both pitchers have similar line drive, ground ball, chase and whiff rates as well.
 
This RAW rating does suggest that perhaps Price’s numbers are a bit better than expected and that makes him a good sell high candidate.
 
The interesting name here is Jonathon Niese, whom I am continuing to warm to. Niese has a better K/BB rate than Price so far this season and his ground ball rate (almost 50 percent) is slightly better than both Price and Silva’s. Despite having a similar line drive rate and a better ground ball rate, Niese’s BABIP against is a high .321, while Price’s sits at .276 and Silva’s at .288.
 
Niese is owned in only 31 percent of Yahoo leagues.
 
Felipe Paulino (58.15 RAW) and Jeff Niemann (58.06 RAW).
 
This has got to be a joke right? How can we compare Niemann and his 2.92 ERA to Paulino and his 4.40 ERA? Well, they are not the same type of pitcher, that is for sure, but the difference in skill set evens out here, despite what their ERA’s tell us.
 
Paulino is a hard thrower with an average fastball of 95.5 mph, which is the third fastest by a starting pitcher this season behind Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Verlander. With the velocity comes the strikeouts (almost eight per nine innings pitched). But like Jimenez early in his career, walks have been an issue.
 
Walks are not an issue for Jeff Niemann, but his strikeout rate is well below league average. Niemann is also close to league average when is comes to missing bats (or lack thereof) and getting hitters to chase pitches outside the strike-zone. While Paulino is about league average in both of those categories as well, he has excelled this season in limiting home runs (only two in 86 IP). Also, he has limited batters to a 16.5 percent line drive rate, only one percent worse than Niemann’s. Despite such a low line drive rate, Paulino’s BABIP against is an inflated .338.
 
The difference in FIP between the two is considerable (3.25 for Paulino, 4.21 for Niemann).
 
Matt Cain and his 50.02 RAW
 
There has not been a more mysterious pitcher over the last several years. Cain does barely anything that excites the RAW formula. His strikeout rate is below average, his walk rate is average, he gives up his fare share of line drives and home runs, he allows more fly balls than ground balls and he doesn’t miss many bats.
 
Cain is a product of his home park. He has a 2.63 ERA, 1.04 WHIP at home and a 3.92 ERA, 1.35 WHIP on the road while allowing only three home runs at home and seven on the road. Also, despite similar line drive rates, Cain’s BABIP against is .238 at home and .297 on the road.
 
Whatever works I guess, but this spells R-I-S-K and I’m not touching him with a ten foot pole.
 
Johan Santana’s 48.95 RAW
 
This all boils down to is strikeouts or lack thereof. Johan’s strikeouts have regressed since coming to the Mets. His velocity is also on the decline. His command isn’t even as sharp as it used to be.
 
Here’s the big risk: Santana is someone who would normally give up his fare share of home runs, but he limited base runners so well that it rarely hurt him. However, this season, Santana has only allowed 0.57 home runs per nine innings pitched, which would end up being his lowest HR/9 since becoming a full time starting pitcher. Because of the lack of strikeouts and because his ground ball to fly ball ratio hasn’t changed much, fantasy owners are banking on Johan keeping the ball in the yard at a rate well below his career average the rest of the season.
 
Whether Santana keeps the ball in the yard this season or not, this may be the best chance to sell high on Johan in a keeper format as his age rises and skills continue to decline.
 
You can download the updated RAW Pitcher Rating spreadsheet here.