Predicting the Unpredictable

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - While forecasting what hitters like Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera will produce in the upcoming season seems to be relatively simple, the same can't be true for pitchers and their statistics.

Who among us could have foreseen that two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum would falter as badly as he did? Or Zack Greinke? Or Javier Vazquez? Ok, maybe everyone outside of New York saw that last one.

On the other hand, youngsters like Mat Latos, Daniel Hudson and Trevor Cahill came from seemingly nowhere to help many a fantasy roster.

Normally this type of editorial doesn't come out until the weather turns cold and we are all dreaming of spring training, but as the year winds down and the "die is already cast" for this baseball season, it's sometimes good to evaluate your theories while they are still fresh in your mind.

And today's theory is: "Spending big money/high draft choices on top pitching talent."

Sure, there are examples of top draft choices who have come through with big seasons, Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia to name just two, but in the end, the best you can hope for is getting "fair market value" for high picks.

Meanwhile, so many, many things can go wrong.

There are injuries or wildness or hitting and fielding slumps from the rest of the team which are not easy to evaluate in spring training.

Pitching and injuries are always going to go hand-in-hand because of the stress put on the shoulder and elbow by the pitching motion. Think Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and more recently Stephen Strasburg.

Or a pitcher can simply lose his pinpoint control for a month, or a season. Phil Hughes was one of the best pitchers in baseball for the first half of the season, going 11-2 before the All-Star break with an ERA of 3.65 and a WHIP of 1.18. After the break, his numbers are 5-6 with an ERA of 5.37 and a WHIP of 1.37.

And sometimes, the deciding factor on your pitcher isn't even determined by his own performance, but by the performance of the guys surrounding him. Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels has started 31 games this season and pitched well in most of them (2.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP), but in 14 games (45%) he received two- or-less runs of support. He was 3-8 in those games. When the team has scored three-or-more runs, the Phillies lefthander is 9-2.

If you look at the chart below, only four of the top-10 preseason starting pitchers lived up to their expectation (Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Sabathia, Cliff Lee).

So with all these factors working against your ability to predict how pitchers will produce, the better theory might be to load up on hitters and build most of your staff as the season evolves.

Top-10 Preseason Starting Pitchers and Current Rank
Tim Lincecum SF 14 14 10 3.60 1.31 211 116
Roy Halladay PHI 15 19 10 2.49 1.07 210 7
Felix Hernandez SEA 35 12 11 2.35 1.07 222 9
Zack Greinke KC 29 9 13 4.00 1.23 167 215
CC Sabathia NYY 39 20 6 3.05 1.18 183 29
Chris Carpenter STL 44 15 8 3.28 1.17 174 56
Dan Haren LAA 48 10 12 4.08 1.29 206 220
Cliff Lee TEX 52 12 8 3.19 1.00 174 28
Yovani Gallardo MIL 55 13 7 3.55 1.33 187 135
Johan Santana NYM 51 11 3 2.98 1.18 144 77

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at