FLB: Kings of Command

Updated: January 11, 2006, 4:51 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN Fantasy Games
Judging pitching talent is always a challenging exercise. Pitchers are so unpredictable, and the fact that they work less frequently each season than hitters makes them more susceptible to unexpected statistical results. Still, there are ways to identify potential pitching bargains, and those who generally build their fantasy teams around hitting -- good for you if you do! -- need to find those annual unheralded gems.

One of the ways to do it is by taking a closer look at a pitcher's numbers in the command ratios, also known as defense-independent statistics. Those include walks and strikeouts per nine innings, home runs per nine and strikeouts per walk. Yes, that doesn't take into account whether a pitcher is simply very hittable, but generally speaking, pitchers who excel in those four departments become safe fantasy bets. With a little luck behind them in defense and run support, they can often break out in the primary Rotisserie categories.

Your safest pitching bets must meet the following criteria: They must have pitched 50-plus major-league innings in 2005; allowed fewer than 3.00 walks per nine innings and 1.50 home runs per nine; and struck out at least 6.00 batters per nine and 2.50 batters per walk allowed. Just 58 pitchers met all five criteria in 2005, a group that included all four 20-game winners, Chris Carpenter, Bartolo Colon, Roy Oswalt and Dontrelle Willis, top closers Chad Cordero, Brad Lidge and Mariano Rivera, and breakout rookie arms like Zach Duke, Felix Hernandez and Huston Street.

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