March 25, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball Leaders and Laggards: Pitchers’ HR:FB Ratio Edition

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Zack Greinke, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

HR:FB ratio is one of the two stats we have to help figure out how lucky or unlucky a pitcher was. BABIP is one that most have heard about and heard discussed at length by fantasy pundits. HR:FB ratio is equally important, but not nearly as talked about. The difference between a long out and a home run is huge. One gets high fives from teammates and the other gets the ball taken away by the manager. The difference for fantasy GMs is a lower ERA or a higher ERA. Low ERAs help win leagues. High ERAs don’t. This is a stat that fantasy GMs need to be aware or and take into consideration on draft day.

Park factors are play a huge factor in HR:FB ratios. A fly ball pitcher in Oakland is a lot more useful than a fly ball pitcher in New Yankee Stadium. Not all ballparks are created equal and they can have a huge impact on a pitcher’s HR:FB ratio.

Career averages are also important. Guys tend to be who they’ve always been. An extreme number on either side of a career average needs to be investigated.

There is one limitation of HR:FB ratios. Hitters can also hit homers on line drives and HR:FB ratio doesn’t take that into consideration.

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Now, for some hardcore sabermetrics analysis of a lot of pitchers who may or may not interest you in this week’s Leaders and Laggards.

1. A.J. Burnett 17.0%
2. Bronson Arroyo 15.9%
3. Chris Volstad 15.5%
4. Mike Leake 13.9%
5. Zack Greinke 13.6%
6. Brett Myers 13.3%
7. Ricky Romero 13.2%
8. Fausto Carmona 13.0%
9. Wandy Rodriguez 13.0%
10. Yovani Gallardo 12.7%

A.J.Burnett could actually be useful in 2012. He was unlucky on balls hit in the air. His league leading 17.0% HR:FB ratio was much higher than his 11.3% career average. He’s shown that he’s capable of giving up the long ball, but he’s also moving out of New Yankee and into the cozy confines of PNC Park in the National League. Burnett has lost a few ticks on his fastball (his 92.7 average MPH was a career low), but he still managed to post a K/9 over 8.00 in 2011. He could be a cheap source of K’s once he gets over his broken face.

Some guys are unlucky and some guys are Bronson Arroyo. Arroyo’s 15.9% HR:FB ratio was a career high and well above his 10.6% career average. Arroyo is not a player that should be on your roster even if his HR:FB ratio winds up closer to his career average. Arroyo is a ratio killer who doesn’t strike out nearly enough batters to make up for it. His anemic 4.88 K/9 will probably hurt your fantasy team more than help it. He’s basically a guy who will get 200 innings and luck his way into a couple wins. The amount of luck it would take to make Arroyo worthy of inclusion on a fantasy roster in any format is unlikely to occur.

Chris Volstad is a ground ball pitcher (1.89 GB:FB ratio in 2011) who gets hurt when he puts the ball in the air. In his three years as a full-time starter, Volstad’s HR:FB ratio has yo-yo’ed from 17.5% in 2009 to 8.8% in 2010 to 15.5% last year. He’s a solid bet to be closer to his 12.3 career average than his 17.5% disaster in 2009. Volstad would be really useful in NL-only leagues. He strikes out enough guys (6.36 K/9 in 2011) and he won’t kill your ratios. His 3.64 xFIP indicates that he was betrayed by bad luck and bad defense in 2011 and could be in for a solid 2012 season.

We don’t have a ton of data on Mike Leake, but this is basically who he is. Leake has HR:FB ratios over 13.0% in both of his first two seasons in the major leagues. He’s actually similar to Chris Volstad, but Leake has to pitch in the Great American Ballpark. Leake probably waiver wire fodder outside of deep NL-only leagues.

Zack Greinke is due for a huge year if advanced metrics are to be trusted at all. His HR:FB ratio was well over his 9.0% career average. He also had a 2.56 xFIP versus his 3.83 actual. Oh, and he also struck out over ten batters per nine innings. He also set a career high with a 10.6% swinging strike ratio. Grienke could very well be the best pitcher in fantasy baseball if he can post a HR:FB ratio closer to his career average.

Brett Myers will be moving to the bullpen and closing for the Astros, so his advanced metrics as a starter are basically useless. There’s only one stat that fantasy GMs should care about with Myers and that’s saves. He has a closer job, so he’ll probably get more than a few. He does tend to give up a lot of homers and could be prone to disaster in the closer’s role. He has exactly one season in his career with a HR:FB ratio under 10.0%.

Ricky Romero turned in a year that helped a lot of GMs win a lot of leagues in 2011. He posted his typical 7.00-ish K/9, but he did it with a 2.42 ERA. What? He was a little unlucky on balls hit in the air. His 13.2 HR:FB ratio was slightly above his 11.8% career average, but he got really lucky on balls hit in play. Romero owned a .242 BABIP. He was over 40 points lower than his career average. Oh, and he’s a ground ball pitcher (1.94 GB:FB ratio for his career). That’s an unsustainable number and Romero could be in for some pain in 2012.

Roberto Hernandez Heredia (A.K.A. Fausto Carmona) is still on the restricted list due to the fact that he lied about his name and age for years. His low K-totals and high contact rates make him a stay away almost as much as the fact that he’s not allowed in the country. He wasn’t that far off his 11.0% career average HR:FB ratio and his .291 BABIP was also right at his .295 career average. He basically pitched to his career averages and that’s not something fantasy owners should have wanted last year or this year.

Wandy Rodriguez is about as “Meh” as it gets. He’ll post solid ratios with enough K’s to be helpful and double digit wins. That’s basically what he’s done for the past three years. Wandy had posted HR:FB ratios under 10.0% for three seasons before 2011. Last year, his HR:FB ratio ballooned over 13.0%. His strand rate was also a crazy high 79.2%. WayRod has a career average of 71.5% and could be in line for some better luck in 2012. He’s not worth taking a reach on, but he could prove to be a reasonable value.

Fantasy GMs should have seen Yovani Gallardo’s surprisingly unlucky 12.7% ratio coming after his surprisingly lucky 7.1% ratio. He’s a solid bet to be closer to his career average of 10.1%. He’s also coming off a season that saw Yovani post a career low 6.8% walk rate. Yovani is one of the more reliable options available in the elite to solid pitching tiers.

1. Matt Cain 3.7%
2. Roy Halladay 5.1%
3. Doug Fister 5.1%
4. Charlie Morton 5.8%
5. Jordan Zimmerman 5.9%
6. Madison Bumgarner 6.2%
7. Justin Masterson 6.3%
8. Jered Weaver 6.3%
9. Brandon McCarthy 6.4%
10. Daniel Hudson 6.4%

Matt Cain owns a 6.5% HR:FB ratio for his career. His 3.7% HR:FB ratio in 2011 was extreme even for him and he’s a solid bet to regress to his career average. He’s still worthy of his high draft status even if he does regress. His career high 8.9% HR:FB ratio in 2009 came with a 2.89 ERA. He actually changed his approach and stopped giving up ridiculous fly ball totals. Cain owns a GB:FB ratio of 0.84 for his career, but posted a 1.07 ratio last year. He got a lot more ground balls and only gave up nine homers in 2011. Cain is actually a fairly safe option for 2012 and owners should disregard any regression fears.

Roy Halladay was lucky on balls hit in the air, but he’s still an elite option and fantasy owners should draft him with confidence. There’s no fear for regression here. 

Doug Fister outperformed his 7.1% career average, but regression shouldn’t really be a concern. He doesn’t strike out enough hitters to be elite, but he also doesn’t walk very many. Fister owns a walk rate of 4.5% for his career. He’s like the anti-Charlie Morton. Fister owned a 3.95 K:BB ratio last year. He has an elite-level skill and he’s useful in most formats. He’ll help preserve ratios and he won’t kill your strike out totals. A 6.07 K/9 isn’t great and won’t win the category, but pair that with his lower-than-they-shoud-be ratios and he’s actually a helpful guy to have on a roster.

Speaking of Charlie Morton…Charlie Morton, ladies and gentlemen! Morton owns a career HR:FB ratio of 10.2%. He outperformed that in 2011 and he’s a solid bet to regress in 2012. This is one of the many, many reasons why Morton should not be on your fantasy roster.

We have less than 300 innings of major league data on Jordan Zimmerman, so looking at his 9.3% career average isn’t terribly useful. Keep in mind that number is skewed by his fairly awful 2010 season. Zimmerman will likely post a number higher than the 5.9% ratio he posted in 2012, but he’s still worthy of a roster spot. Zimmerman cut his walk rate to 4.7% last year. His K-rate was a fairly low 18.7, but he was still working is way back from an injury at the beginning of last year. Zimmerman posted K/9 ratios over 8.00 in both July and August before getting shut down in September due to reaching his innings limit. Zimmerman actually looks like a sneaky play for 2012.

Madison Bumgarner is everyone’s trendy sleeper and for good reason. His 6.2% HR:FB ratio in 2011 was low, but it wasn’t that far off from his 7.4% career average. Also, much like Jordan Zimmerman, we don’t have a lot of data to go on on. Bumgarner also has just over 300 career innings at the major league level. Bumgarner owned a 22.6% K-rate and a 5.5% walk-rate in 2011. Those are insane numbers for a pitcher as young as Bumgarner. Bumgarner is an elite-level option and he’s only 23 years old. Draft, or in some cases over-draft, as you see fit.

Justin Masterson is a curious case. He posted three straight seasons of HR:FB ratios at or over 10.0% and it suddenly dipped last year. Why? Because he went from awful against lefties to passable. He posted a 5.13 K/9 and 2.04 BB.9 against left handers in 2011. His HR:FB ratio against lefties in 2011 was only 7.3%. In 2010, he owned a 5.42 K/9 against lefties, but his BB/9 against lefties was 4.30. His HR:FB ratio was at 12.0% against lefties in 2010. Masterson will never post elite K-numbers, but he gets a lot of ground balls (GB:FB of 2.07 for his career). He’ll be worth a roster spot as long as he’s on the right side of luck. Ground ball pitchers are highly dependent on maintaining a low BABIP to achieve success.

Jered Weaver’s career average is 7.6% so 6.3% really isn’t that big of a shock coming from Weaver. The problem with Weaver is that his K/9 numbers fell from over 9.00 in 2010 to 7.56 in 2011. His career average is 7.77. Guess which one of those numbers is the outlier and guess which number he’ll probably be closer to in 2012. If you said, “7.56,” you deserve a cookie. People will point to his .250 BABIP in 2011 as a reason for regression. Not so fast. He’s a fly ball pitcher (0.68 GB:FB ratio for his career) and he owns a .276 career BABIP. Fly ball pitchers, especially those with higher K-rates, will be able to maintain a lower-than-average BABIP.

The problem with evaluating Brandon McCarthy is sample size. We only have 170 innings of data to really look at. Before last year, McCarthy had spent most of his career shuttling between AAA, the majors and the DL. He also pitched most of his games in places like Texas and Chicago. He didn’t get to enjoy playing half his games in a pitchers’ park like Oakland. His 6.4% ratio may very well be legit. He also never threw a cut fastball until last year and it’s had an impact on his numbers. He’s a popular sleeper, mainly because of his 2.86 FIP in 2011, and he may very well pan out. The problem is that there’s not nearly enough data to draw any real conclusions.

Daniel Hudson’s 6.4% HR:FB ratio was almost identical to his 6.8% career ratio. Regression really shouldn’t be a concern with Hudson. The drop in his K-rate is a concern, but again, we don’t have years and years of data to go on. It’s hard to know if his 22.6% K-rate in 2010 was the outlier or if the 18.4% rate  in 2011 was the outlier. It was a little obvious that Hudson’s .241 BABIP in 2010 was unsustainable and it was. Hudson regressed to .295 in 2011. There’s a good chance that Hudson is closer to his .278 career average than the .295 in 2012.  


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