All hits are not created equal.
A base hit with runners on base can do a lot more damage to a pitcherâ€™s ERA than a double with the bases empty. If only we had a way to measure if a pitcher was lucky with runners on base. If only…Wait! There is! Left on base percentage (a.k.a strand rate) is simply the percentage of batters left on base that did not score a run.
League average for LOB % is around 70% depending on the year and most pitchers tend to be around league average. Itâ€™s a good idea to look at a pitcherâ€™s career average if a pitcher strays too far from league average. The pitcher could be lucky or unlucky depending on which side of 70% the pitcher falls on, but his skill set could also be affecting his LOB%. Pitchers with higher than average K/9 rates and strikeout ratios will tend to be able to support a higher LOB% than those who arenâ€™t capable of maintaining a higher than average K/9 or strikeout ratio. It makes perfect sense really. A batter making the walk of shame back to the dugout is a lot less dangerous than a ball put in play, especially with runners on base.
Of the ten highest strand rates in 2011, only two pitchers with K/9 rates under 7.00 were listed. One was Jeremy Hellickson who pitched an entire season with a horseshoe up his butt and is as close to a lock to regress as there is in baseball. There have been gallons of e-ink spilled on Hellickson and his prospects in 2011. Heâ€™s a stay-away in most mixed formats unless he can dramatically improve his strike out numbers.
The other guy was Ryan Vogelsong. Vogelsong posted a 6.96 K/9 and a 18.5% K-rate. He was borderline in both categories. It really would have been nice if Ryan could have gotten to 7.00 and we wouldnâ€™t have to take a look at him, but he didnâ€™t, so we will. Vogelsong posted an 80.4% strand rate in 2011. That was the fourth highest in the league among pitchers who qualified. The problem lies with Vogelsongâ€™s 69.9% career average. Heâ€™s league average for his career and outperformed that number in 2011. He is due for a regression and everyone knows what happens to ERA’s when more base runners score. Hint. They go up.
Cliff Lee posted the third highest LOB % in 2011 with an 81.4% mark. Cliffy also struck out 9.21 batters per nine innings and posted a 25.9% K-rate. Also, if we dig a little deeper, Cliff was fairly unlucky in 2010 with a 67.9% strand rate compared to his 73.0% career average. Cliff was due for some good luck in 2011, but striking out more than a batter per inning likely helped.
A pitcher that fantasy GMs should look to in 2012 is Brandon Morrow. Morrow provides a sick strikeout rate (25.7%) for his career and he struggled with runners on base in 2011. Morrow posted a 65.5% strand rate in 2011, but owns a 70.8% mark for his career. Morrow could be in for a big, big 2012 season if heâ€™s able to put his strikeout numbers to work with runners on base.
Fausto Carmona a/k/a Roberto Hernandez HerediaÂ had the lowest LOB% in 2011 among pitchers who qualified, with a 62.1% mark. Was he unlucky? No. He was bad. His career rate is 68.4%, but he allows so many balls in play that heâ€™s due to get burned more often when he puts runners on base. Carmona posted a weak 5.22 K/9 with a 13.2% K-rate. He posted a 2.06 GB:FB ratio, but he also had an 18.6% LD%. Forget the fact that Carmona doesnâ€™t strike anyone out. He gives up ground balls and line drives. Those are two great ways to let runners on base advance.