Pitching by the Numbers: The unlucky ones

Michael Salfino
Yahoo! SportsAugust 29, 2011

Last week, we looked at pitchers who seemed lucky based on the trio of stats that tend to swing most dramatically for reasons that reasonably can be attributed to mere randomness.

This week, we look at the unlucky one, at least on first blush. I've noted their career rates in these categories. N/A means not applicable because their career numbers aren't at least twice the 2011 sample.

First, let's address a point in last week's column about the decline in batting average on balls in play MLB – and especially AL-wide being attributable to random factors. There was a lot of pushback here from some amateur statisticians who argued that because the sample of at bats in a given year is so large, that an even small variance is extremely unlikely (1/30,000) to be random. That seemed ridiculous to me given we've seen similar variance multiple times just this decade. But I wanted a true expert's opinion. Enter Paul Bessire of the great PredictionMachine.com website. "The general probability math suggests (randomness). It's not responsible to state that any variation in BABIP is due to any (other) specific reason." He adds that "the two most deterministic factors in BABIP" are ballpark dimensions and defense. The parks haven't changed, he continues. And he added that while there has been greater focus on tracking defense statistically by teams, it's not clear if defense has actually improved.

Now on to the pitchers who score as unluckiest in BABIP, HR/FB rate (average is typically about 10-to-11 percent) and LOB% (percentage of baserunners stranded where average is about 70 percent). Thanks to Fangraphs.com for the stats.

Name Team '11 BABIP Career
Madison Bumgarner(notes) SF .335 N/A
Jonathon Niese(notes) NYM .333 .329
Brian Duensing(notes) Min .331 .301
Edwin Jackson(notes) ChW/StL .329 .310
Ricky Nolasco(notes) Fla .329 .307
Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) Col/Cle .324 .286
Rick Porcello(notes) Det .323 .301
Jaime Garcia(notes) StL .321 .302
Chris Carpenter StL .320 .298
Ryan Dempster(notes) ChC .319 .303

Here's the sweet spot of this list. If you believe that Bumgarner's .335 isn't bad luck, pass. But I hope you are in my league. Niese is a tougher call given that career rate but the career numbers are still small relative to this year's. His line-drive rate the past two years is 20.6 percent both years. That's high but not .330 BABIP high. I'd give him one more chance to prove to me that he's a truly a BABIP outlier.

I think Porcello can be much better next year and obviously for the rest of this year, too, if that still matters for you. Nolasco and Jackson always seem to be unlucky in some way, especially Nolasco. I do not trust Carpenter given his age. When there's reasonable evidence of skill decline (such as age or injury), it's safest to take declines at face value.

Name Team '11 HR/FB Career
Bronson Arroyo(notes) Cin 15.0 10.4
A.J. Burnett(notes) NYY 14.6 10.9
Brett Myers(notes) Hou 14.4 14.4
Fausto Carmona(notes) Cle 14.3 11.2
Nick Blackburn(notes) Min 14.1 11.3
Jhoulys Chacin(notes) Col/Cle 13.7 N/A
Mike Leake(notes) Cin 13.5 N/A
Ted Lilly(notes) LAD 12.9 11.1
Tim Stauffer(notes) SD 12.6 10.6
Kevin Correia(notes) Pit 12.6 10.6
Jake Westbrook(notes) StL 12.5 12.1

None of the pitchers on this list are guys that I would be targeting in most fantasy formats. But deep leaguers maybe can talk themselves into some value. Perhaps Leake and Chacin will turn out to be values given that they have no track record for being homer prone. But we'd be flying blind with them given their small career samples.

Name Team '11 LOB% Career
Brandon Morrow(notes) Tor 63.4 70.6
Rick Porcello Det 64.1 68.6
Ubaldo Jimenez Col/Cle 64.3 71.3
Fausto Carmona Cle 65.0 69.2
Javier Vazquez(notes) Fla 65.3 70.6
Luke Hochevar(notes) KC 66.0 63.6
Jason Hammel(notes) Col 66.4 68.0
Gavin Floyd(notes) ChW 66.4 69.2
Jo-Jo Reyes(notes) Tor/Bal 66.7 64.6
Jonathon Niese NYM 67.0 68.9

This list I like. Morrow I would bet heavily on in 2012. There's Porcello again. The K-rate is moving in the right direction and he's only 22. Are we really convinced he's a low-ceiling guy at that age or do we keep seeing his glass as being half full? I'll bite at least one more time. I think 10 percent improvement again in K/9 is reasonable. Alas, he needs 20. So this bet needs to be of the late-round/reserve variety.

Something is wrong with Jimenez. The velocity is down and the effectiveness of his fastball has cratered with it. We've discussed that at length in this space (too bad the Indians brass missed this column).

Here's more wind in Niese's 2012 sails, I think … Vazquez could be done or at least rapidly declining due to age/innings. None of the other guys interest me.

Finally, this column closes out Pitching by the Numbers for the season as we transition here into providing football analysis for Yahoo! fantasy gamers. I'll be back next spring to help guide you again in your mound choices.

Michael Salfino writes and edits the SNYWhyGuys blog that projects player and team performance for New Yorkers. He's also a quantative sports analyst whose writing regularly appears in the Wall Street Journal.

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