You don’t need to be a sabermetric genius to realize that line drives are very bad things for pitchers. And it’s no great leap to conclude that those who give up the fewest have a certain quality, be it velocity or movement or deception in delivery, that makes them less hittable. Conversely, the pitchers that give up the most line drives deliver pitches that hitters can more easily square.
Unfortunately, batted ball types are typically buried deep within the stat profile, well beneath the overall measure that’s now so prominent – batting average on balls in play (BABIP). So while we’re still in last-year mode, let’s highlight the pitchers who were most extreme in limiting liners and allowing them. And we’ll also flesh out the chart with another one of my favorite batted-ball types that unearths hidden value, infield fly balls (because they are almost always outs).
The first name you see below is someone who was on the list of pitchers to avoid last week because he so poorly does all the little things (preventing stolen bases, wild pitches, balks, hit batters). It’s not uncommon for pitchers to show up on multiple lists in ways good and bad. Readers last week wanted to know what to make of these pitching "Sybils." My answer is that you need to weigh this data as you see fit. Contradictory evidence is present in conventional analysis, too, after all. How many pitchers light up the radar gun but still get cuffed around? With them, you are intrigued by the velocity but tempered by the results. Similarly, for A.J. Burnett below, you should be buoyed by his ability to limit liners but chastened by his sloppiness. That’s precisely why he’s such a tease. It’s why he’ll never be great and often not close to it but also why he’ll sometimes be useful.
The average line-drive rate for qualifying starters (minimum 162 innings) was about 20.8 percent. I wanted to highlight pitchers who were at least three percentage points better or worse than that.
We’ve already talked about Burnett. And we can also see why you can’t assume that Bumgarner’s BABIP will regress toward the typical .300 mark (though BABIP league-wide was down in 2012). Alvarez is hurt (shoulder) but is worth taking a chance on in deeper formats in the event his plus velocity eventually translates into more Ks. It’s clearly translating already in being harder than average to hit. The world is catching up to my love of Vogelsong, say Yahoo! ownership rates. Clayton Richard was hammered by the Mets in his first start but can at least be skimmed when pitching at home. I think the real find here is Floyd. His 5% ownership is too low. He has decent strikeout numbers, too. And look at that IFFB rate. Remember, those are all outs. His BABIP this year could easily be in the .260s if those part of his profile hold. I will not pass on an opportunity to mention Latos, who is nasty in uppercase, exclamation mark. He could be a top five pitcher this year and easily top 10. Another one of my favorites without enough innings to quality, Matt Harvey, actually gives up a high rate of line drives (24.3%). But he makes up for it with a 14% IFFB rate. Nothing I have seen to date in the databases or on the mound has dissuaded me from my unbridled Harvey love.
I really like Detwiler a lot more than 26% ownership. There is strikeout upside there I think given that he throws very hard for a lefty. He just needs to mix in other pitches, though he clearly lacks motivation given how hard his fastball is to hit. I have not been a big Cahill fan but he did show up on my list last year of guys who would get a strikeout spike due to a relatively high swinging strike rate (that happened). My buddy Scott Pianowski likes him a lot and I believe it’s likely that Scott is right about him being a mixed-league asset and I have been wrong.
I’m surprised by how many high LD% guys are good enough to have high Yahoo! ownership rates.
Parker is on my all-overrated team. I don’t see a breakout. Nice pitcher, but should not be 80% owned when most of these leagues are mixers. I bought into Porcello being transformed off the spring. But remember, spring is always against hitters who are mostly minor leaguers. Still, the story that he junked the slider for the superior curve had me envisioning a K spike beyond the minor gains he’s achieved. Reality in the form of games that count bit me in his first start. So, I’ve swapped him for Floyd in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League.
I think I’m going to have to just surrender on Lynn a little. I don’t think he can sustain the near greatness he flashed last year. And there’s clearly downside. Lohse’s BABIP numbers make no sense, clearly. A very painful correction is coming for him. And if you need another reason not to own Lincecum, I’ve given you not one, but two.