March 3, 2013 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

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

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Jered Weaver, SP, Los Angeles Angels

There are three kinds of pitchers on this list. The first kind is fly ball pitchers. It’s not the worst thing in the world to have a fly ball pitcher on your fantasy staff. Fly ball pitchers tend to have lower BABIPs than those who induce lots of ground balls and, as long as those fly balls don’t go over the walls, they can outperform their xFIP. The second kind is guys who were just lucky. Avoid these guys. They’ll hurt a lot more than they’ll help. The third kind is pitcher’s who might be awful soon. One of these guys is being drafted in the first seven rounds of most fantasy drafts and is shaping up to be the 2013 version of 2012 Tim Lincecum. 

Some men lead while others lag. These are the guys who blazed a trail in 2012 with their surprisingly low BABIPs. These are the leaders…

1. Jered Weaver .241
2. Ervin Santana .241
3. Mike Minor .252
4. Jason Vargas .254
5. Matt Cain .259
6. Jeremy Hellickson .261
7. Derek Holland .261
8. Clayton Kershaw .262
9. Kyle Lohse .262
10. Ross Detwiler .263

Jered Weaver’s .241 BABIP in 2012 is 30 points lower than his .271 career average. Weaver profiles as an extreme fly ball pitcher with a 0.70 GB:FB ratio for his career, so he should be able to maintain a lower than average BABIP. The problem is that his LD % has increased each of the past two seasons while his velocity has been in decline for the past two seasons. Add in Weaver’s 4.18 xFIP and you’ve got the makings of a draft day bust. Jered Weaver is being drafted on name value instead of his actual value. He’s a pitcher that fantasy GMs should be avoiding in the early rounds.

Ervin Santana’s .241 2012 BABIP was 43 points off his .284 career average. He owns a career GB:FB ratio of 0.93, but he’s posted GB:FB ratios of 1.15 and 1.16 over the last two years. He should be able to carry a lower than average BABIP due to the amount of fly balls he generates (41.8% FB % for his career). However, a .241 BABIP is hard to maintain when a pitcher allows a 19.5% LD % like Santana did last year. He would be a regression candidate, but he’s changed teams and home parks. A different team has a different defense. There’s a good chance that statistical variance will have little to do with Santana’s issues should he regress in 2013. Santana’s velocity has diminished from a 94.4 MPH average fastball velocity to 91.7 MPH last year. Santana has a lot of innings on his arm and the impact of a heavy workload is starting to show.

Mike Minor is yet another fly ball pitcher (0.81 GB:FB ratio last year) with a lower than average BABIP. Are we sensing a theme yet? Last year was Minor’s first full season in the big leagues, so it’s hard to know if a .252 BABIP is out of the ordinary for him. There simply isn’t enough data to evaluate him properly. It is worth noting that his 4.32 xFIP claims that he out pitched his 4.12 actual ERA.

Jason Vargas outside of Seattle isn’t nearly as exciting as Vargas in Seattle. Vargas in Seattle isn’t exciting at all. Vargas owns a 0.82 GB:FB ratio and posted a lower than average BABIP last year. He’s moving to a smaller ballpark, but with an equally competent defensive outfield. Either way, Vargas isn’t worth a roster spot in a mixed league.

Matt Cain’s career average BABIP is .264. He’s a fly ball pitcher (0.85 career GB:FB ratio). There’s really nothing to look at here. This is what Cain does. He’s a fine addition to any fantasy team…other than an AL-only. He’s not going to help there. 

Jeremy Hellickson is having a career that has irritated a lot of sabrmetricians. He puts a lot of balls in play, doesn’t have overpowering stuff and doesn’t strike out all that many, but he’s gotten by with an insanely low BABIP. He posted a .224 in his first full year and a .261 in 2012. Hellickson posted a 1.12 GB:FB ratio last year with a 21.0% LD %. He’s due to regress at some point. He’s outperformed his xFIP by almost 1.50 points in each of the last two years. It would be an impressive feat to see that done for three straight years.

Derek Holland’s career low .261 BABIP was driven in part by his 16.8% LD %. Holland’s bigger issue was his 15.2% HR:FB ratio. He got lucky on balls in play, but got absolutely murdered on balls in the air. Holland is a decent three or four starter in most mixed leagues and his numbers on balls in play really shouldn’t have an impact on his draft status.

Clayton Kershaw owns a .275 BABIP in four and a half seasons. His .262 BABIP isn’t that far off, but he’s capable of pitching over poor numbers on balls in play with his ridiculous strike out rate. He’s a solid bet to post a BABIP higher than .262 in 2013, but he’ll still post elite numbers unless he gets hurt.

It’s hard to evaluate Kyle Lohse until he’s able to find a contract. Could it be that major league teams are scared off because he’s a regression candidate? Probably not, but he’s likely to post a BABIP closer to his .297 career average than his .262 2012 number. He puts a lot of balls in play and a lot of those balls were line drives last year (23.9% LD%). Lohse might luck his way into a few W’s, but that’s really all he offers from a fantasy baseball standpoint.

Ross Detwiler would be a sleeper candidate if his one competent season hadn’t come with a 5.75 K/9 and a .263 BABIP. He posted a 50.8% GB %. It’s hard to maintain a lower than average BABIP with a GB % that high. He did post a career low LD % last year and that likely drove his low BABIP. He’s a solid bet to regress and not worthy of sleeper status of any kind.


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