March 2, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball Leaders and Laggards: LOB % Edition

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Jered Weaver, SP, Los Angeles Angels

LOB % can work hand in hand with BABIP when evaluating luck. Lower-than-average BABIPs tend to hang out with higher than average LOB percentages and higher than average BABIPs tend to stick with lower than average LOB percentages. It makes perfect sense really. The luckier a pitcher is on balls in play, the more runners he’s likely to strand.

These two stats can, not always, work together to give a fuller picture of how lucky or unlucky a pitcher is. Now, this is not a hard and fast rule. Sabermetrics is used best when you stay away from hard and fast rules. Remember how silly it was to think every pitcher and hitter should end up with a BABIP around .300? Same thing. Not all pitchers are created equal and not all LOB percentages are created equal.

Higher than average LOB percentages tend to favor pitchers with high K rates. A pitcher capable of striking batters out will fare better than a pitcher who has to rely on the whims of the great magnet and balls in play. It’s a lot harder for batters to advance when they can’t go in motion. Higher LOB percentages should also favor fly ball pitchers. Runners are typically in motion on ground balls and line drives, but it’s not as easy to advance on fly balls. Anyone who has ever seen Juan Uribe try to hit with runners on base should know this.

1. Fausto Carmona 62.1%
2. Ubaldo Jiminez 65.0%
3. Brandon Morrow 65.5%
4. Derek Lowe 65.9%
5. Luke Hochevar 66.0%
6. Ricky Nolasco 66.2%
7. Livan Hernandez 66.8%
8. Jaime Garcia 66.8%
9. Brad Penny 67.2%
10. Carl Pavano 67.3%

Fausto Carmona /Heredia puts far too many balls in play to consider his 62.1% strand rate unlucky. Carmona walks too many (2.50 BB/9 for his career) and strikes out too few (5.44 K/9). He also might have some issues with availability in 2011 due to the fact that he lied about his name (real name Roberto Heredia) and age (he’s actually 31). He’s yet to obtain a visa to work in the US.

Ubaldo Jiminez doesn’t have any aliases (that we know of) nor does he have a fictional age (that we know of). We do know that he was bothered by groin issues all year and it appeared to have an affect on his performance. He was also unlucky last year. Ubaldo owns a 8.20 K/9 for his career. That should be more than enough to maintain a higher than average LOB %, but Ubaldo was plagued with a career low 65.0% LOB %. His career average sits at 71.1% and it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see Ubaldo rebound at or above those numbers in 2012.

Brandon Morrow is a pitcher you should want on your fantasy team in 2012. Sure, he’s not without his warts, but he’s capable of striking out more than a batter per inning and he was unlucky with runners on base in 2011. His career average of 70.8% stands in sharp contrast to the 65.5% LOB % in 2011. With his ridiculous K numbers, Morrow should be able to support a much higher LOB %. His actual ERA should be much closer to the 3.53 xFIP he posted in 2011 than his 4.72 actual ERA.

There’s a good reason that the Braves are paying the Indians $10 million to have Derek Lowe not pitch for them in 2012. Lowe was really lucky in 2010 and posted a 74.2% strand rate along with a 16-win season. Lowe’s LOB % regressed below his 69.4% career average and ended up at 65.9%. He’ll likely be close to his career average in 2012, but that doesn’t mean fantasy GMs should want Derek Lowe on their roster.

Luke Hochevar actually outperformed his 63.7% career average in 2011. Whoopee. He’s essentially a league average innings eater who doesn’t strike out enough batters or post good enough ratios to matter.

Ricky Nolasco has been a sabermetric favorite forever. He owns a 7.67 K/9 for his career with a 2.08 BB/9 for his career. He’s capable of striking batters out, but he’s always struggled with balls in play. His FIP and xFIP numbers have been outpacing his actual ERA for the last three years. His career average LOB % is at 68.1%, but he strikes guys out and doesn’t walk very many. Where’s the problem? Well, the problem with Nolasco is likely his 20.9% career LD rate. He gives up too many hard hits and they just chew up his ERA. Nolasco is fine if you’re rounding out a pitching staff, but he can’t be relied on to be a key member of a fantasy pitching staff.

Livan Hernandez is trying to hang on for another year. He’s a guy who can take the baseball every five days and not be completely embarrassed. His average fastball was just over 83 MPH last year. Livan doesn’t strike batters out and he doesn’t have the stuff to be anything worth discussing in fantasy baseball. His LOB % is way down the list of concerns. He’s not a name you should have on your roster in anything but the deepest of NL-only leagues.

Jaime Garcia is actually a solid bet to rebound in 2012. Jaime owns a 70.8% LOB % for his career and he’s posted a K/9 over 7.00 for each of his last two seasons. Jaime is capable of striking batters out and he’s due for a return to his career average in 2012.

It’s going to be hard for Brad Penny to produce in a fantasy league…unless you’re playing in a league that counts NPB stats. Penny quietly signed with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the offseason. 

The Twins have already named Carl Pavano their opening day starter. Carl is another guy who outperformed his career average in 2010 by posting a 74.0% LOB % and suffered through a regression in 2011. The problem with Pavano isn’t his LOB %. It’s his anemic 4.14 K/9 and his fairly high 18.4% LD rate in 2011. He doesn’t strike guys out and he gives up lots of hard hit baseballs.

1. Jered Weaver 82.6%
2. Jeremy Hellickson 82.0%
3. Cliff Lee 81.4%
4. Ryan Vogelsong 80.4%
5. Justin Verlander 80.3%
6. Josh Beckett 80.0%
7. Hiroki Kuroda 79.9%
8. James Shields 79.6%
9. Ian Kennedy 79.2%
10. Ricky Romero 79.2%

Jered Weaver posts solid K numbers, but they’re not solid enough to maintain a LOB % over 80%. Weaver owns a career average of 76.8% and it shouldn’t shock fantasy GMs to see Weaver at or under that number in 2012. He looks like a prime regression candidate, but his FB % and IFFB % tells us other wise. Weaver is an extreme fly ball pitcher who posted a 48.6% FB rate and a 15.7% infield fly ball rate. It’s hard to advance runners when guys are hitting weak pop ups. He should regress towards 76.8%, but he’s not going to fall off or fly off a cliff next year.

Jeremy Hellickson probably will fall off a cliff next year. He’s a stay away in most leagues. His crazy high LOB % is only the third or fourth best reason to steer clear of Hellickson. You’ve been warned…several times.

Cliff Lee posted a 67.9% in 2010 and was due for a bump in 2011, but no one expected this. Cliff’s velocity has been trending upwards since 2008 and he posted a 9.21 K/9 in 2011. He struck out better than a batter per inning and that definitely fed into his career high 81.4% LOB %. What does this mean for 2012? Well, he can likely maintain a high LOB % if he can maintain his high strike out numbers and none of his other numbers scream regression. He should be fine to own and worthy of a high-round pick.

Ryan Vogelsong was a nice story last year, but he’s really not someone you can rely on to take your team to fantasy glory. Vogelsong hadn’t pitched at the major league level since 2006, so his career numbers are basically useless. He doesn’t strike out nearly enough or put the ball in the air enough to maintain a LOB % this high. He could be in for some pain in 2012.

Justin Verlander enjoyed a career year in 2011. His 2011 is what happens when legit talent meets legit luck. Between his career low .236 BABIP and his career high LOB %, Verlander will come back to the pack a little in 2012. He will post elite strike out totals, but he’s due for a regression on balls in play and with runners on base. His career LOB % is at 73.3% and he’ll likely post a number closer to that in 2012.

Josh Beckett is another guy who suffered through terrible regression in 2010. His health even regressed. Beckett enjoyed a lucky 2011 and posted a solid season while doing so. He posted a crazy low .245 BABIP and a crazy high 80.0% LOB %. Both were career bests and he’s unlikely to repeat those numbers in 2012. An even greated concern is that his velocity has been in a downward trend since 2007.

The weird thing about Hiroki Kuroda’s 2011 season was that he posted a relatively normal .287 BABIP while posting a career high 79.9% LOB %. It’s hard to project what Kuroda will do in 2012 because he’s switched leagues and ballparks. He’s heading into a new situation at age 37. He could be in for some trouble for that reason alone. He’s also likely to regress closer to his 71.2% career average.

James Shields was sabermetrics in action in 2011. He suffered through a terribly unlucky 2010 season and enjoyed an amazingly lucky 2011 season. He’ll likely be somewhere in the middle in 2012. Both his BABIP and LOB % should be closer to his .299 and 72.7% career average.

Fantasy GMs need to beware pitchers coming off career years. Ian Kennedy isn’t likely to get 21 wins again any time soon and he’s equally likely to regress in 2012. There is nothing about his peripheral stats, other than his K/9 rate, that suggests he can sustain this level of production.

Ricky Romero posted a career low .242 BABIP and a career high LOB %. Both numbers are likely to regress towards his .285 career BABIP and his 74.8% LOB %. He enjoyed a career year in 2011. When(if?) those numbers regress his ERA will head towards his 3.80 xFIP. He’s another guy coming off a solid season who will be overvalued on draft day.


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