March 3, 2013 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2013 Fantasy Baseball Leaders and Laggards: Pitcher’s BABIP Laggards Edition

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Max Scherzer, SP, Detroit Tigers

Like it or not, fantasy GMs and pitchers will always be subject to the whims of bouncing baseballs. Bounce into gloves? Outs happen. Bounce away from gloves? Hits happen. Then runs happen. Then guys getting dropped onto the waiver wire happens.

Team defense is part of it. We’ve got a few guys from Detroit (horrific), but we’ve also got a few guys from St. Louis (competent). What seems to have the biggest impact on a pitcher’s BABIP isn’t ground balls or fly balls, but line drives. This makes complete sense because line drives are the toughest balls for a defense to catch. Subtle moves in a line drive rate can have a huge effect on a pitcher’s BABIP and his other numbers (WHIP, ERA, etc). It’s probably a good idea to pay close attention to a pitcher’s LD % during the season and cut ties quickly with pitchers who post LD %’s higher than their career averages.

Now, for the guys who lagged behind and had line drives sprayed all over the field last year. These are the BABIP laggards from 2012.

1. Rick Porcello .344
2. Max Scherzer .333
3. Ivan Nova .331
4. Lance Lynn .321
5. Adam Wainwright .315
6. Luke Hochevar .315
7. Tommy Hanson .314
8. Jake Westbrook .312
9. Jon Lester .312
10. Ricky Romero .311

Rick Porcello had the highest BABIP among starters last year? He’s a guy who doesn’t strike out very many (5.46 K/9 last year), does put a lot of balls in play (83.7% contact rate last year) and pitches on the Tigers. That’s a triple whammy. Porcello would be a lot more desirable if he could get traded to a NL team. Trade Porcello to San Diego and he gets a lot more interesting. In Detroit? He’s waiver wire fodder who will probably get murdered on balls in play as long as he posts a 53.2% GB % with Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta in the infield. It’s also troubling that he set a career high with a 24.2% LD %. Porcello is a stay away in anything but the deepest AL-only leagues.

Max Scherzer’s .333 BABIP was fueled by his 22.1% LD % and pitching on the Tigers. What’s interesting about Scherzer is that he posted two completely different halves of the season, but his xFIP was basically the same during both. His first half xFIP was 3.32 and his second half xFIP was 3.13. He was basically the same guy, but his luck was wildly different. Scherzer’s LD % is a concern. He’s posted LD %’s over 20% for each of the last two years. It’s surprising that a pitcher as good as Scherzer gets hit that solidly. Scherzer is capable of posting ridiculous strikeout numbers and is a worthy addition to a fantasy pitching staff regardless of his numbers on balls in play.

Ivan Nova had three issues last year. First, he was murdered on balls hit in the air. He posted a 16.6% HR:FB ratio last year while owning a 12.3% career average. Second, he posted a 22.4% LD %. That’s after a season and a quarter with a LD % in the 18% range. Third, he was killed on balls in play (.331 BABIP vs. .305 career average). Ivan Nova is actually a decent slipper with one big “IF.” He’s a decent sleeper IF he can maintain his career high 8.08 K/9. Nova has never posted a number that high over a full season at any level, but he does possess the raw stuff (93.0 MPH average fastball) to post high strikeout numbers. He could be a late bloomer or he could be a mirage.

Lance Lynn is another guy with a LD% driven “higher-than-it-should-be” BABIP. Lynn’s .321 BABIP was pumped up by his 24.0% LD %. He gets ground balls (43.8% GB %) and the Cardinals catch the ball. His BABIP should shrink in 2013 if his LD % normalizes. The biggest red flag with Lynn for 2013 isn’t what happened to the ball after it left his hand. Lynn had a huge innings bump after tossing only about 110 innings in 2011. He could be an injury risk, but a pitcher with a 9.20 K/9 in his first full season as a start at the major league level is worth taking a risk on in the middle rounds of a draft.

Adam Wainwright’s .315 BABIP is an outlier in a career that had never seen Wainwright post a BABIP over .300 since 2007. He also posted a career high LD % last year. Wainwright had never finished a season with a LD % over 20% during a full season until last year’s 23.0%. This looks and smells like an outlier. Wainwright’s BABIP will calm down once his LD% normalizes to somewhere around his 19.1% career average. There’s nothing to see here and no reason to be scared off of Wainwright.

Luke Hochevar’s problem isn’t with his BABIP. The .315 BABIP he posted isn’t that far off his .303 career average. His BABIP was mostly LD % driven. He was slapped around for a career high 21.7% LD %. Hochevar’s issue is his chronically below average LOB %. Hochevar posted a 62.6% LOB % last year and owns a 63.4% LOB % for his career. League average is usually in the 70%-72% range. When hitters get on against Hochevar, they have a 36.6% of coming around to score. Hochevar is a deep AL only play and waiver wire fodder in mixed leagues.

Tommy Hanson posted a .315 BABIP while pitching for Atlanta. The Braves are actually one of the better defensive teams in the league. Hmmmm. Could Hanson’s LD % have caused his career high BABIP? His LD % was a career high 20.7%. Sensing a theme here yet? Line drives are bad for pitchers. His average fastball velocity also dipped below 90 MPH for the first time in Hanson’s career. GMs planning to rely on Hanson in 2013 could be in for some pain. He’s clearly not the same guy that he was in 2009.

Jake Westbrook’s 2012 season is what happens when an extreme ground ball pitcher (2.77 GB:FB ratio last year) also posts a LD % over 20% (20.8%, to be exact). His .312 BABIP wasn’t that far off his .301 career average. This is Westbrook doing Westbrook. He puts a lot of balls in play, doesn’t strike out very many (5.08 K/9 for his career) and gets by as long as the guys behind him catch the baseball.

Jon Lester hasn’t posted a BABIP over .300 since 2009. He had a solid season in 2009 and he was really mediocre in 2012. The only difference is that he posted a 9.96 K/9 in 2009 and had an average fastball velocity of 93.7 MPH. He posted a 7.28 K/9 last year with a 92.6 MPH average velocity. It’s not a huge drop off, but he’s clearly not the same guy he was in 2009. Lester also gave up a career high 22.0% LD %. This is what they call “hitters telling you you’re not the same guy any more.” Lester has gained some steam as a decent buy-low guy, but it’s hard to believe he’s going to suddenly stop giving up line drives when he’s lost a little zip on his fastball. He’s not the 9.00+ K/9 guy who can pitch over shoddy defense or a few well hit balls. 

Ricky Romero went out of his way to allow hitters to reach base in 2012. They ought to call him “Salvation Army” because no one in baseball gave away more last year. When he wasn’t walking batters (5.22 BB/9) he was letting them spray line drives everywhere (20.7% LD %, career high) and bounce balls all around the Rogers Centre (53.5% GB %). The good news is that it was either a mechanical issue or a mental issue and not a pitching ability issue. Romero’s velocity was right around his career average. Romero came off a career year in 2011 that saw him post a .242 BABIP. He was a prime regression candidate, but no one saw the walks coming. He’s a stay away in most formats until he gets his command issues sorted.


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