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February 3, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball Leaders and Laggards: Pitchers’ BABIP Edition

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Zack Greinke, Milwaukee Brewers, Starting Pitcher

It’s always a good idea to start pre-season analysis with pitcher’s BABIP. Taking a close look at the BABIP leaders and laggards is a solid way to figure out who your early busts and sleepers might be. Sure, it might be a little early for this stuff, but it’s always time to completely write off a player before he’s even taken his physical at Spring Training. Amirite?

We’ve got at least three guys who will likely be ignored and are worth a look. We’ve also got a guy who is a popular pre-season sleeper who probably won’t deliver as expected. We’ve also got….Jeff Francis. Can’t this guy just go pitch in Asia or sell insurance or anything other than try to pitch to major league hitters? We’ve also got more than a few other surprising stayaways.

1. Jeremy Hellickson .223
2. Justin Verlander .236
3. Ricky Romero .242
4. Josh Beckett .245
5. Jered Weaver .250
6. Josh Tomlin .253
7. Cole Hamels .255
8. James Shields .258
9. Michael Pineda .258
10. Matt Cain .260

A lot of space on the Internet has been devoted to Jeremy Hellickson’s super-low BABIP combined with his high xFIP (4.72) and low K/9 (5.57). These numbers are all great reasons to stay away from him, but we might be reaching the point that his value has become so beaten up that he’s actually going to come at an extreme discount. He’s worth a roster spot if the price is right.

The more time spent looking at Justin Verlander’s 2011 season, the more it seems like he’s going to disappoint in 2012. His .236 BABIP just doesn’t make sense when looking at his overall numbers. He posted similar peripheral stats in 2010 and posted a .286 BABIP. His career mark is at .285 and it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see him regress to that level in 2012. He’ll still supply the K’s fantasy GM’s expect, but the 2.40 ERA and 0.92 BABIP are likely the products of a career year.

Ricky Romero profiles as a ground-ball pitcher and that’s bad news for his 2012 season. He was incredibly lucky on balls in play and will likely regress closer to his .285 career average. His FIP and xFIP numbers seem to be in agreement that Romero was saved by his defense in 2011.

Is Josh Beckett the 5.57 ERA pitcher that trudged through a lost 2010 season or is he the guy who laughed in the face of advanced metrics in 2011? His career average tells us that he’s a 3.84 ERA pitcher. He’s also a pitcher with a career .290 BABIP and he should regress closer to that number than the .245 he posted in 2011.

Jered Weaver’s .250 BABIP isn’t really a concern. He profiles as a fly ball pitcher with a 0.68 GB:FB ratio. Fly ball pitchers are able to maintain a lower BABIP because fly balls are more likely to be outs than ground balls. Potential fantasy GM’s can have concerns about Weaver, such as his sub-90 MPH fastball or his elevated xFIP (3.80), but his low BABIP shouldn’t be a concern.

We don’t really have enough data on Josh Tomlin to know if he was lucky or not. He profiled as a GB:FB neutral pitcher with a 0.95 GB:FB ratio in 2011, but had a 0.56 GB:FB ratio during an extended coffee break in 2010. Fantasy GM’s have plenty of other reasons to stay away from Tomlin. He owned an anemic 4.84 K/9 last year and he was shut down at the end of the year with a balky elbow. Tomlin is a stay away in every format a sane fantasy GM would be interested in playing.

Cole Hamels owns a .280 BABIP for his career. A .255 figure isn’t that big of a stretch for him, but he did it while maintaining a 1.60 GB:FB ratio. That’s the highest ratio for his career, and he needs to keep the ball on the ground to survive in Citizen’s Bank Band Box. Hamels owners could be in for a few painful starts in 2012.

James Shields enjoyed a bounce-back year thanks in large part to the luck dragon. Shields was the unluckiest pitcher in baseball in 2010. In 2011, he was among the luckiest. He threw 46 more innings in 2011 than in 2010 and gave up 51 fewer hits. He’s likely to regress back towards his .299 career BABIP, but he shouldn’t be the horror story he was in 2010.

Michael Pineda is difficult to project for 2012 because he’s moving from a low-pressure situation in a pitcher’s park to a high-pressure situation in a hitter’s park with a different defense behind him. The problem is that we only have 28 major league starts to analyze. It’s simply too small of a sample size in a different park to try to draw any conclusions. He posted a 0.81 GB:FB ratio in 2010 and that would normally be a sign that a pitcher should be able to maintain a lower than average BABIP. At this point, Pineda’s slider % (31.5%) and his innings bump (from 139 minor league innings in 2010 to 171 ML innings in 2011) should concern fantasy GM’s more than his BABIP numbers.

Matt Cain owns a .265 career BABIP. He was pitching to his career average in 2011. It’s not a concern for a guy like Cain.

We’ve seen the leaders, now, for the laggards…

1. Ricky Nolasco .331
2. Edwin Jackson .330
3. Derek Lowe .327
4. Ryan Dempster .324
5. Madison Bumgarner .322
6. Charlie Morton .320
7. Jaime Garcia .318
8. Zack Greinke .318
9. C.C. Sabathia .318
10. Jeff Francis .316

This makes three straight seasons that Nolasco has been on lists of “unlucky” pitchers. At some point it stops being luck and starts being a trend. We’ve reached that point. Ricky’s BABIP was more than 20 points higher than his career average of .309, but he also set a career high with a 1.45 GB:FB ratio. He gave up more grounders than usual and a mediocre Florida defense didn’t help him much. Also troubling is is 6.47 K/9. His strikeout numbers have been in decline since his career high 9.49 in 2009. Nolasco looks like a guy to stay away from in 2012.

Edwin Jackson split time not only between two teams last year, but two leagues. 2011 was the second consecutive year that EJax has spent time facing batters in both leagues. That should change this year with a Nationals team poised to stay relevant into September. He owns a career BABIP of .311. He also posted career lows in BB/9(2.79) and K/9(6.67), so he was putting more balls in play in 2011 than in any point in his career. EJax also owned GB:FB ratios of 1.55 and 1.40 over the past two years. He fits the profile of a pitcher who should have a higher than average BABIP.

Derek Lowe is as Derek Lowe does. Lowe hasn’t had a BABIP under .300 since 2008 and he profiles as an extreme ground ball pitcher with a 2.62 GB:FB ratio. He also fits the profile of a pitcher who should have a higher than average BABIP.

Ryan Dempster was the unluckiest pitcher in baseball during the first half of 2011. He was basically the same guy he’s always been, but his FIP (3.91) and xFIP (3.70) indicate that his 4.80 actual ERA was a product of mediocre defense instead of a declining skill set. He owns a career GB:FB ratio of 1.39 and a career BABIP of .303. He’s a solid benefit to regress towards his career averages in 2012.

Madison Bumgarner has maintained a 1.31 GB:FB ratio and .317 BABIP in 55 career starts. He wasn’t lucky in 2011 and he wasn’t unlucky. He was who he was. Bumgarner’s success and fantasy value lie in his high K/9 and low BB/9 numbers. As long as he’s striking batters out and not walking them, he should be viewed as a solid option in fantasy baseball.

Charlie Morton posted a 3.10 GB:FB ratio and played exactly to his career average of .320. He’s been a ground-ball pitcher, but last year was his first year as an extreme ground ball pitcher. Actually, we’ve already spent too much time discussing Morton. He strikes out too few and walks too many to really be useful in fantasy baseball.

Jaime Garcia was unlucky in 2011, but not necessarily because of his BABIP. Garcia owns a .302 career BABIP with a 2.07 GB:FB ratio. He should be carrying a higher than average BABIP. Garcia posted an 66.8% strand rate. That’s lower than league average and lower than his 74.5% career average.

Zack Greinke will be hyped by a lot of pundits and ‘perts this off-season, but it won’t be because of his BABIP. He owns a career mark of .318 and has posted GB:FB rates over 1.00 for each of the last two seasons. He’s pegged as a sleeper because of his 3.83 ERA compared to his 2.56 xFIP. Greinke was betrayed by a mediocre Brewers defense that isn’t likely to improve. Draft Greinke if you want lots of K’s, but don’t be surprised if he’s on this list next year.

It’s actually surprising to see C.C. Sabathia on this list. There’s not much to read into it, but it’s still a surprise. It was more than likely driven by his 23.1% LD rate. There’s not much to analyze here. C.C. has been about as safe as it gets from a starting pitcher.

Jeff Francis? We’ve gone through all these interesting names to end with Jeff Francis? The only thing worse than Jeff Francis on the Royals is Jeff Francis on the Reds. He owns a .310 BABIP. so it’s not really that ridiculous for him to carry a .316. However, it is ridiculous that he threw enough innings to even qualify for this list.

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