by Eno Sarris //
Sometimes deep league managers have a hard time reading fantasy advice columns. “But he’s already owned” is the refrain of many a frustrated dude (or dudette). Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs did a little piece about ownership cutoff rates in fantasy leagues and what the definition of a ‘waiver wire guy’ is depending on the size of your league. The upshot is that players who are owned in 11% of Yahoo fantasy leagues or fewer are on the waiver wire if your league rosters 350 players. That number drops to 6% if your league rosters 400. So, in other words, if you are in a 14-team league with 25-man rosters, your waiver wire should be full of guys that have about an 11% ownership level.
With that in mind, let’s look at two very different pitchers who are owned in 9% of Yahoo leagues. They are both interesting pitchers, but it will be up to your personal preference whether you take Bud Norris or Chris Volstad in the end. Apples and oranges here, but we’ll cover Norris today and Volstad in a subsequent post.
Norris’ overall 78.2% contact rate this year puts him between Adam Wainwright and Ubaldo Jimenez in that category — elite company. He was top-five in contact rate outside the zone last year, so it’s no fluke. He has a 9.5% swinging strike percentage in 2010 – which is above average (around 8.5% across baseball). So Norris brings legitimate stuff to the table.
Some of his other peripheral stats are nearly off the charts. His 12.08 strikeouts per nine innings would be very impressive if he wasn’t allowing a correspondingly terrible 6.39 walks per nine innings. It’s a rare combo. Take a look at this chart from the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools — those other three dots with huge strikeout rates are Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren and Jonathon Broxton. To approach that group’s overall performance, Norris will have to maintain his elite strikeout rate while also improving his command significantly. Is there a chance he develops his abilities further this year?
Let’s take a look at the locations of his pitches this year (click image for full size version). You may notice something about the red squares. Yeah, he’s all over the place with his fastball. Looks like rearing back for that gas really hurts his command of the pitch – only about 55% of those fastballs find the zone. Norris’ other pitches find the zone more than 60% of the time.
A look at the spin and movement graph of Norris’ pitches shows that he only really has two pitches this year. He’s a fastball/slider guy, and that’s why whispers of future reliever duty have followed him up the ranks. Satchel Price at Beyond the Box Score recently had a post that outlined the reasons to move a pitcher to the bullpen (Insider link), and inconsistent command of a smaller repertoire was one such condition.
But if we look at last year’s spin and movement chart to get a larger sample size, the change-up actually looks like a legitimate pitch (see how distinct the purple squares are on the left). Since he can command it better than his fastball and it has shown a distinctly different movement and spin in the past, the change-up might be Norris’ path to fewer walks in the future. This year, the change is getting the best whiff rate of his three pitches (19.4%); it has the potential to be a strong third pitch for Norris.
If you are interested in strikeouts no matter what the damage to your WHIP, Norris is already a play for your mixed league team. If you’re looking for further development from Norris, watch his fastball command and change-up usage. If they trend up in future games, we may yet see solid, more consistent starting pitching from Norris. He can certainly miss bats.
For more on Bud Norris and other flame-throwing starters, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.