Fantasy Free Agents: Dissecting Negatives of Tanner Roark


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We’re reaching a point with Tanner Roark where it’s getting awfully hard to pass his good pitching off as a small sample size, or just luck. Whether it was with the Washington Nationals or in the minors with the Syracuse Chiefs — Roark has been dealing ever since the beginning of the 2013 season.

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Now, why do I think people are being dismissive of Roark? It’s pretty simple. At the time of this writing, he’s available in more than 85 percent of ESPN leagues.

So, what negatives would explain why he’s available, and how much stock should we put in them?

Negative No. 1: Poor Win-Loss Record

You can see the numbers above. His W-L record going back to the start of last season is fine, but this year, it’s a rather paltry 3-4. Even worse, Roark has been handed a loss in each of his last three outings.

But fantasy players put too much stock in that, do we? Heck, talk to a stat geek and it seems like they’ll treat a good W-L record as more of a bad thing than good.

Tanner Roark has indeed dropped three outings in a row, but he’s pitched very well in those outings.

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Now, I do understand this argument: Regardless of how much/little wins tell us about how well a pitcher is pitching, wins are still a category in most fantasy leagues.

That’s true, but at this point of the year, I want to see my ratios kept down. It’s much easier to pick up wins or strikeouts (more in this in a moment) late in the year if you’re struggling in those areas than it is to pick up ERA and WHIP help.

I also happen to think the Nationals are going to get things going quickly enough. When that happens, their pitchers will begin to win more games.

So, on a scale of 1-10, how relevant a negative is this? Once we get into the final two months of the year, it’s in the 6-7 range but in the first week of June, it’s a 3, and even that may be high.

Negative No. 2: Average Strikeout Rates

I’ll go ahead and do the math for you. If you look at the numbers above, Roark’s K/9 since the beginning of 2013 has been a rather pedestrian 6.85. That’s not terrible, but it definitely leaves something to be desired.

If you’re struggling with strikeouts, you will probably need to do some pairing to compensate. The positive is that his strikeout totals are good enough that you wouldn’t need to sign a big strikeout guy with other big risk –ie: Tim Lincecum — to compensate. But you probably would need to pick up a similar pitcher. Fortunately, guys like Jon Niese, Mike Leake, Ryan Vogelsong, and Jorge De La Rosa (if you want to bet on a Rockies pitcher) are on the waiver wire.

There are two drawbacks there.

  1. When you sign two free agent pitchers, you’re increasing the chances that one of them will not work out, and potentially increasing the damage that’d be inflicted.
  2. Even if they work out, you have to make room for not one, but two guys.

I don’t see either of these as big negatives though. If you’re struggling with pitching now, it probably means that you’ve been a bit too loyal with a few guys and therefore, dropping an extra guy shouldn’t be a problem. As for the first problem, you’ve always got the option of dropping these guys if they don’t work out.

On top of all of that, again, I don’t worry too much about counted stats now. Strikeouts can be more difficult to make significant headway in, but it’s definitely something that can be done in the second half of the season.

So, on a scale of 1-10, how relevant a negative is this? It’s a bigger issue than the lack of wins but again, at this point of the year, it’s not that big a problem. Right now, it gets a 5.

Negative 3: Roark’s Pre-2013 MiLB Career

We’ve already established how good Tanner Roark has been since the start of 2013. But he is 27, so there’s a track record before 2013, right? Yup, and it’s not terribly pretty.

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It’s not what you like to see, but also not that uncommon with starting pitchers. If you put too much stock in that, then you might have been awfully dismissive of Cliff Lee when he was in the midst of an AL Cy Young Award season in 2008.

Pitchers turn corners, especially when they get into their mid-late 20’s with some significant professional experience under their belts. Roark figured out how to locate his pitches better and pitch to his strengths.

So, on a scale of 1-10, how relevant a negative is this? This would help give credence to anyone that wants to dismiss Roark as a fluke, but I’m not on that bandwagon. He’s simply evolving as a pitcher, which is what the Minor Leagues are for. At most, this gets a 3.

I’m just not putting too much stock in the negatives with Roark. I like his situation. I like that he’s firmly entrenched in one of the best starting rotations in the league. I like the fact that he’s pitching in the NL East, which is a great division for pitchers.

More importantly, I like how well Tanner Roark is pitching, and with that, I like the potential impact he’ll make on fantasy rosters.