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Pitching by the Numbers: Going deep

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

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Josh Johnson's ERA should greatly improve over the rest of '12. (AP)

Since the dawn of the sabermetric revolution, homers have always been put into the "pitcher's responsibility" column, along with walks and strikeouts.

A look at the league leaders and trailers this year in homers per nine innings shows that's for good reason. The test was simply looking at the current rate and comparing it to that pitcher's rate from 2010-2012 (needed 300 innings pitched).

While homers are not a pitching category in most leagues, they have a dramatic impact on ERA. Thus far this year (through Wednesday), there have been 2,909 runs scored on 1,852 homers – 1.57 runs per homer.

We've isolated how these runs-scored-per-homer should be expected to contribute to each pitcher's ERA, too. League average this year is one homer per nine innings. So if you are half-a-homer-per-nine under, you should expect an ERA savings of a little more than three quarters of a run. Vice versa if you a half-a-homer over.

Here are the current leaders in limiting jacks:

Player HR HR/9 ERA HR ERA HR/9 ('10-'12) Advice
Gio Gonzalez 1 0.12 2.35 0.19 0.62
Jaime Garcia 2 0.27 4.48 0.43 0.55
Zack Greinke 3 0.34 2.96 0.54 0.76
Trevor Cahill 3 0.35 3.36 0.55 0.77
Josh Johnson 3 0.35 4.27 0.54 0.34 BUY
Wade Miley 3 0.36 2.39 0.56 N/A
Kevin Millwood 3 0.38 3.57 0.60 1.2 SELL
C.J. Wilson 4 0.42 2.30 0.66 0.53
Derek Lowe 4 0.46 3.78 0.72 0.71
Chris Sale 4 0.48 2.05 0.76 N/A
James McDonald 4 0.48 2.39 0.75 0.91
Johnny Cueto 5 0.51 2.46 0.81 0.67
David Price 5 0.54 3.01 0.84 0.73
Lance Lynn 5 0.55 2.42 0.87 N/A
Luke Hochevar 4 0.57 6.57 0.90 0.89 BUY
Stephen Strasburg 5 0.58 2.45 0.92 N/A
A.J. Burnett 4 0.58 3.61 0.91 1.23 SELL
Justin Verlander 6 0.58 2.69 0.91 0.7
Ryan Vogelsong 5 0.59 2.26 0.93 N/A
Jeff Samardzija 5 0.62 3.96 0.97 N/A BUY
Brandon McCarthy 5 0.63 2.79 1.00 N/A
Jered Weaver 5 0.65 2.61 1.02 0.82
Matt Cain 7 0.66 2.18 1.04 0.63
Brandon Beachy 6 0.70 1.98 1.10 N/A
Aaron Harang 6 0.70 3.59 1.09 1.05

Please believe Sale and Lynn, people.

I should respond to colleague Scott Pianowski's Cueto's comments on RotoArcade that referenced our Breakfast Table-like Twitter debate. Hard to argue that Cueto's ability to limit homers is random. So his ERA is going to be at least a half a run better than what you'd expect looking at his raw stats. Add his elite BB/9 and you have a 3.00-ish ERA pitcher at worst. (At best, the league-best 2.33 ERA guy he's been since 2011.) So if some sharp thinks the roof is going to fall in on Cueto, buy him for sure.

I've highlighted the most extreme cases in the "Advice" column. Buy Josh Johnson, who I know has injury risk. But his ERA is clearly incredibly unlucky given that he remains elite at preventing homers (league best in 2010-2012).

Millwood has park factors working for him. But they can't be working that well. So sell or just cut him in mixed formats, locking in some profits.

Hochevar is a personal test of my discipline here. I hate the guy. But there are so many buy signs for him. Maybe he's the Bizarro Jeremy Hellickson. But the K/BB, BB/9 and HR/9 all say he should at least be a solid AL-only play. Of course, his entire career screams otherwise. At least put him on a watch list.

Burnett, come on …. Yes, park factors are working for him, too. But his ERA should be about 4.40 with a normalization of his HR/9. I'd bet money his ERA for the balance of the year, barring injury, will be 4.00 or worse.

Looking at Samaradzija closely, I'm putting my highest Buy on him. I know wins will be a problem. But I can almost guarantee top value in the other categories.

Now let's take a look at the league's biggest gopherballers (Editor's note: this column was filed before Jeremy Hellickson allowed two home runs to Kirk Nieuwenhuis on Thursday):

Player HR HR/9 ERA HR ERA HR/9 ('10-'12) Advice
Jonathon Niese 10 1.32 3.69 2.07 0.99 BUY
Jeremy Hellickson 11 1.33 2.65 2.08 1.11 SELL
Hiroki Kuroda 12 1.33 3.43 2.08 0.96
Homer Bailey 11 1.37 4.35 2.15 1.15
Drew Smyly 10 1.41 3.96 2.22 N/A
Matt Moore 11 1.44 4.59 2.26 N/A
Tommy Milone 13 1.46 4.48 2.29 N/A
Derek Holland 11 1.48 5.10 2.32 1.09
Ivan Nova 13 1.51 4.64 2.37 N/A
Colby Lewis 15 1.52 3.13 2.38 1.3 SELL
Mat Latos 13 1.55 4.64 2.43 0.89 BUY
Joe Blanton 13 1.56 5.40 2.45 N/A
Clay Buchholz 14 1.57 5.38 2.46 0.88 BUY
Kevin Correia 12 1.57 4.43 2.46 1.37
J.A. Happ 13 1.61 5.33 2.53 1.19
Max Scherzer 13 1.66 5.76 2.61 1.21
Henderson Alvarez 16 1.67 3.87 2.63 N/A SELL
Philip Humber 12 1.73 5.92 2.72 N/A
Blake Beavan 12 1.73 5.92 2.72 N/A
Gavin Floyd 14 1.75 5.38 2.75 0.99
Mike Minor 14 1.79 6.01 2.81 N/A
Hector Noesi 15 1.81 5.54 2.84 N/A
Phil Hughes 15 1.99 4.76 3.12 1.38
Ervin Santana 18 2.03 5.74 3.18 1.2
Tommy Hunter 16 2.22 5.40 3.48 N/A

The guys on the bad homer list are almost all bad, generally - meaning that their three-year rates are bad also. And for pitchers who don't have a 300-inning sample since 2010, we'll be safe and assume that this will be for them, like most on the bad list, a chronic problem. As expected, most of these guys are giving up so many runs on homers that their ERAs are ghastly. But there are some exceptions.

I'm buying Niese. I know he's never been good in the second half. But he's just 25 now and shouldn't have been expected to know how to pitch well for a full season. This year, with his experience, I expect a full season of solid pitching and his ERA right now is inflated probably by about half a run, given his 2010-2012 HR/9 rates (plus his park/league). Also note you are getting elite K/9 with Niese.

Have to sell Hellickson or just replace him with, say, Niese, in most mixers. Hellickson just has too many sell signals and this is probably the one I worry most about. He's giving up the homers but not the runs – seems like that can only be random/lucky to me.

Latos has park factors against him, but not that much. Buchholz has been horrid this year in HR/9 but good in the broader period and we always bet the bigger numbers. Alvarez – yuck. Sort of the poor-man's Hellickson.
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