By John Otano
In 1968, Boston Red Sox first baseman and outfielder Kenneth Harrelson hit 35 home runs, drove in 109 runs while finishing third in the American League MVP voting. Harrelson had hit 24 home runs in the past two seasons combined and his previous career-high had been 23 homers. He was named the Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year in 1968.
In 1968, the Sporting News understood how Harrelson had won their award. They just didn’t have the tools to understand why Harrelson had achieved that award.
Why are we talking about a player in 1968? Kenneth Harrelson is better known, now, as Hawk Harrelson. His home-run calls are a show within the show. He’s also cited the movie Moneyball as a leg of his argument against the use of sabermetrics in the game of baseball. He believes the “will to win” can’t be quantified.
In a way, Harrelson has a point. As effective as sabermetrics can be, it can’t completely predict the future performance of a player. It does, however, improve your chances of correctly evaluating the future performance of a player.
Evaluating players future performance is the name of the game, after all. In order to play fantasy baseball, there needs to be a basic understanding of sabermetrics. The question you need to ask yourself as a fantasy baseball player is, why should you view baseball played in 2013 through a 1968 lens?
This brings me to a baseball player who is active who embraces and uses sabermetrics to improve his game on the field, Diamondbacks right-hander Brandon McCarthy. He’s the anti-Hawk Harrelson and he also has some value for you on your fantasy baseball team.
Brandon McCarthy (ARI-SP) (Owned in 37 percent in Y!, 37 percent in CBS, 32.6 percent in ESPN)
On the surface, Brandon McCarthy looks like a completely passable waiver wire option right now. He’s 0-3 with a 5.63 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP in 48 innings so far this season. He’s still doing the little things right, despite the ugly results so far.
The most effective pitch in baseball is a strike and this Diamondbacks hurler is one of the best in the game at throwing strikes. McCarthy is currently sporting a 5.3 strikeout to walk ratio. Anything above a 3.0 strikeout to walk ratio is usually a good indicator that the pitcher is finding the strike zone with regularity. Which is a good thing since, you know, three strikes and you’re out.
There’s a direct correlation between a pitcher’s Cmd ratio (Strikeouts/Walks) and potential earned run average.
Taken from Ron Shandler’s 2013 Baseball Forecaster (you need to make the yearly investment), here’s some research done outlining the correlation over the past five seasons.
Besides throwing strikes, McCarthy is retaining his velocity, though, he won’t post incredible strikeout rates, he’s getting ground ball outs 43.2 percent of the time. Ground balls are good because they aren’t in the air and, you know, those can land in the seats.
Owned in less than 40 percent in all of the major fantasy baseball major platforms, Brandon McCarthy is still displaying the skills that make him a very useful starting pitcher in mixed leagues in 2013.
John Otano is a freelancer for Sports Illustrated and Web Production Assistant for MSG Varsity in New York. He was a reporter and editor for several Long Island Patch.com sites and wrote a fantasy baseball column for the Long Island Press. John can be followed on Twitter at @MisterOtano.