How to Catch Up in ERA in Fantasy Baseball

By Eriq Gardner //

Let’s assume for a second that your team needs to improve in pitching for you to win a championship. You basically have three options:

  1. Hope your pitching staff gets luckier from here on out
  2. Hope your pitching staff improves via prospect call-ups or additions off the waiver wire
  3. Make a trade

Most owners will choose of the first two options. But maybe, you’re clear-headed and know that your current pitching staff just doesn’t have the stuff to improve. You don’t want to risk your season in the hands of a prospect. Maybe streaming is not very enticing either.  You want stability, so you start thinking of a trade.

But what kind of trade do you need? Most owners may have a vague idea they’d like to improve pitching, and will shop around for great pitchers on other teams who can be helpful in attaining the goal of improving pitching. But then again, why pay for Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Johnson if you only need Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda? Sure, you may accomplish your goal of upgrading pitching, but by sacrificing too much to plug the leak on one end, you may cause the dam to burst on the other.

Let’s assume team is targeting 1400 innings and has 850 left to pitch in the season. (Depending on your innings limit and your current pace, this might not be completely accurate, but should be close enough for this kind of exercise.)

Here’s a table showing how many earned runs you need to shave off from your current pitching staff the rest of the way:

So how do we save those runs? OK, here’s some ideas…

To save 8 runs:

Frankly, if you only need to diminish your team ERA by 0.05, you’re better off hoping the gods of fantasy baseball luck cooperate. Eight runs over 850 innings is simply within the margin of error of any projection.

That said, for the sake of fun, let’s take a look at some swaps that would yield 8 runs saved. To do this, we’re going to use ZIPS rest-of-season projections.

Eight runs is not a lot. It can easily (and best) be done by upgrading a closer. For example, going from Matt Capps to Brian Wilson or from Kevin Gregg to Heath Bell. Your trading partner may shrug off this exchange because he’s not giving up a ton of saves, but there’s an ERA benefit in making such a swap. If you’re doing well in saves you might also consider trading your back-end closer for an upgrade in hitting, and replacing one of your closers with a top middle reliever or set-up man. For example, going from Arizona’s shaky new closer Aaron Heilman to Luke Gregerson would do the job.

To save 16 runs:

If you want to diminish your ERA by 0.1 the rest of the way via trade, you can get creative with your bullpen by trading for two closers, or punting shaky closers and saves and going with middle relievers. More likely, you’ll be looking at the starting pitching market.

What kind of starters need to be exchanged to yield savings of 16 runs? You’ll probably need to upgrade two or three slots, meaning exchanging a #3 or #4 for a #1, like Ricky Nolasco for Cliff Lee or James Shields for Tim Lincecum. Buying those two pitchers would probably be expensive, though. So a better strategy might be looking to drop your #5 and acquire a #2 or #3: Getting rid of someone like Wade LeBlanc/Mike Pelfrey/Barry Zito/Fausto Carmona and trading for someone like Roy Oswalt/Hiroki Kuroda/Clayton Kershaw/Ted Lilly should be good enough.

To save 24 runs:

We’re now at the point where teams need to be looking at drastic upgrades.

To give you an idea, going from Paul Maholm to Cliff Lee saves just 19 expected runs. Going from Kyle Kendrick to Tommy Hanson saves 22 expected runs.

In other words, to diminish your ERA by .15, you probably need to trade for an ace and hope the acquired pitcher can get a little bit lucky the rest of the season.

To save 32 runs:

To diminish your ERA by 0.2 via trade, you’re probably looking at multiple player swaps. If you’re looking at the standings and see a gap this large,  you may want to consider combining some of the strategies outlined above.

For instance, when you ask for an ace pitcher in a trade, you may also try to press your trading partner to include a closer swap too. So for example, a trade might look something like this: Alex Rios and Matt Capps for Cliff Lee and Joakim Soria.

At a certain point, catching up in ERA is going to either be too difficult or too expensive. At that point, it might be a better strategy to look the other way by deciding to sacrifice some ground in ERA for greater potential gains in other categories. We’ll have more on that in a future post. 

To get more trading ideas, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools



    You can also swap your mediocre starters for top notch relievers. If you trade 100 innings of 4.25 ERA (47 ER) for 100 innings of 2.75 ERA (27 ER), you’ll make up 20 earned runs. Over about 15 or 16 starts, that’s probably 7 potential wins forfeited from the starter, but you could probably make up 3 or 4 of those from a few relievers. Add in the benefits in WHIP and K, and 3 relievers could easily be more valuable than a 5th starter.


    Interesting article. It is a good premise for the old fashion roto leagues and should work out just the way you described. Upgrading the closer position from the ERA/WHIP stand point should be pretty cut and dry for most, but that sort of deal might be tough if your trading partner has any wits about him.

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