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BABIP and Other mid-May Pitching Indicators from the MadProf

Hi Campers.  As we slip slowly towards Memorial Day, I decided to pause to see if there is more than I’ve noted to some of the analysis I’ve run so far.  I’ve emphasized stats (especially BABIP, PIP, GB% and LD%) of some SP who seem to be having otherworldly seasons so far.  In particular, I’ve noted really high GB% (such as Corbin’s) and really low BABIP (such as Verlander’s) to urge caution.  No one defies the laws of physics or probability for long.  So, what goes up usually comes down and what is too far up or too far down will usually regress a bit towards the average.

So, last time I noted how some SP were simply performing way above not only their colleagues, but also their team’s play.  Are they unusually effective (ridiculously high GB% or low LD% that put you eons above the likes of Kershaw, Scherzer, et. al.) or seemingly lucky (much lower BABIP than the team average) or some combination of the two?

For example, I’ve harped on SP who’ve benefitted from low BABIP.  But, that might be the result of their also having very low LD% or very high GB% relative to the other SP on their teams.  If so, then they may be helping their team and themselves by making it easier for the defense to make outs.  What do the data suggest?  In a phrase, the jury is still out.

The following analysis draws once again from Fangraphs through 5 May and includes data on the 92 pitchers they designate as starters. The first thing I want to show is the graphic relationship between SP BABIP and, respectively, LD%, GB% and FB%.

 

For the most part, these are not particularly useful. Hypothetically, we would think that there would be a more or less positive, linear relationship between BABIP and LD (as LD% goes up, so too should BABIP), a negative relationship between BABIP and GB (as GB% goes up, BABIP ought to go down) and we are not necessarily sure about FB%.  It would be qualified in no small part by HR/FB ratio.

 

The graph between LD% and BABIP meets our expectations.  It shows a generally upward slope.  There is still a lot of variance here (LD% explains only 20% of the variance in BABIP), but it is absolutely a positive relationship.  For GB% there is, statistically, no relationship.  This graph looks like someone fired buckshot at a target.  Finally, for FB%, we actually do have a pretty strong relationship that we might not have expected.  As FB% increases, BABIP decreases.  So, those flyballs are finding their way to outfielders’ gloves.  This relationship is strong (FB% explains about 13% of the variance in BABIP), but not as strong as the impact of LD%.

Fine—there is lots more to look at.  How hard are the balls hit, what is the FB/HR ratio, etc.  But, these graphs give us a basic sense of what is impacting BABIP.  To create some perspective, the following graphs offer the same analysis for team level data (so they include all pitchers).

SAME DATA–TEAM-BY-TEAM PERSPECTIVE

There is a clear, stronger relationship between LD and BABIP (LD% explains about 30% of the variance in BABIP).

 

 

 

 

 

GB% still tells us nothing.  FB% is more or less the same as it is for the individual SP data.  So, in general, we want to see whether SP with lower than average BABIP are also giving up lower than average LDs than the other members of their rotations (and higher than average FB%, etc.).

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK.  To put this in perspective, let’s look at the top 10 SP (as of 5 May) in terms of low BABIP.  There are some surprises here.  Where did Francisco Liriano come from?

TOP 10 SP IN TERMS OF BABIP, 5 May 2018

Name Team BABIP LD% GB% FB%
Sean Manaea Athletics 0.167 18.10% 44.10% 37.80%
Jakob Junis Royals 0.184 14.30% 42.00% 43.80%
Corey Kluber Indians 0.195 21.70% 44.20% 34.10%
Justin Verlander Astros 0.202 12.70% 28.40% 58.80%
Patrick Corbin Diamondbacks 0.208 19.80% 50.50% 29.70%
Trevor Williams Pirates 0.209 22.80% 36.80% 40.40%
Francisco Liriano Tigers 0.211 15.30% 48.00% 36.70%
Chase Anderson Brewers 0.213 17.00% 39.30% 43.80%
Charlie Morton Astros 0.223 18.40% 56.10% 25.50%
Kyle Hendricks Cubs 0.223 17.30% 51.80% 30.90%

 

Manaea has been lights out this year.  But, there is no doubting that the elves and fairies are on his side.  Take a look at his performance and compare it to the other Oakland SP.

Name Team GS BABIP LD% GB% FB%
Sean Manaea Athletics 7 0.167 18.10% 44.10% 37.80%
Daniel Mengden Athletics 7 0.298 28.80% 38.40% 32.80%
Andrew Triggs Athletics 6 0.313 13.60% 49.40% 37.00%
Kendall Graveman Athletics 6 0.370 19.40% 53.10% 27.60%
Trevor Cahill Athletics 4 0.283 13.50% 59.60% 26.90%

 

Triggs, Graveman, and Cahill have comparable or better LD and GB rates.  Yet they have much higher BABIP.   I’m not suggesting you trade Manaea for any of these guys. But, this makes you want to look at the rest of the staff more closely.  Maybe hard-nit balls are killing the others.

Patrick Corbin has been on everyone’s radar this year.  His LD% is lower than Greinke, Godly and Ray’s—but not so much to predict such a radical difference in BABIP.   Who is lucky and who is unlucky?  Worth noting.

Name Team GS BABIP LD% GB% FB%
Patrick Corbin Diamondbacks 7 0.208 19.80% 50.50% 29.70%
Zack Greinke Diamondbacks 7 0.306 21.70% 43.50% 34.80%
Zack Godley Diamondbacks 6 0.330 22.70% 55.70% 21.60%
Robbie Ray Diamondbacks 6 0.357 23.70% 32.20% 44.10%
Matt Koch Diamondbacks 3 0.200 15.40% 53.80% 30.80%
Taijuan Walker Diamondbacks 3 0.341 27.50% 42.50% 30.00%

 

Finally, the Astros’ staff is a bit less peculiar, but still intriguing.  Verlander is giving up few LD and has a high FB rate.  These both correlate with a low BABIP.  Nevertheless, McCullers is right there with him (and Morton) in terms of low LD% and essentially Morton’s equal in terms of FB%. The key difference here seems to be the GB%.  While it does not correlate closely with BABIP across the league, something is up with Houston.  Keuchel and McCullers have much higher BABIP than Verlander or Morton (and Keuchel and Morton are essentially identical).  So, something is up.  Seems the Astros’ infield is rather porous and more so when McCullers and Keuchel are on the mound.

 

Name Team GS BABIP LD% GB% FB%
Justin Verlander Astros 7 0.202 12.70% 28.40% 58.80%
Charlie Morton Astros 7 0.223 18.40% 56.10% 25.50%
Gerrit Cole Astros 7 0.247 24.50% 31.90% 43.60%
Dallas Keuchel Astros 7 0.260 17.90% 56.00% 26.10%
Lance McCullers Jr. Astros 7 0.316 12.90% 62.40% 24.80%

 

What’s especially intriguing about these numbers is that they are a bit counterintuitive—especially with regard to GB%.  In Big Data Baseball, Travis Sawchik describes how a small market team like the Pirates was able to end a 20-year losing streak by, for one thing, acquiring SP who threw a lot of GB.  Back that up with good defense, and you could count on wins in low scoring games.

There is obviously a lot more to the study of pitching than one can fit in a short article.  These data offer some insights into which SP are controlling their fates and which depend on the defense.  If you are looking to work a trade for a buy-low candidate these data might help you identify good potential buys that are not on the radar yet.  Good luck this week.

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Major League Fantasy Football 2018 League Openings

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday May 6th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #119 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.

Our guest this week is Kyle Klinker. Kyle has been an owner in MLFS baseball, and basketball leagues for over 5 years. He also has a couple of championships under his belt over that span in some tough leagues. We loving refer to him as “The Red Rocket.”

Unrepentant Red Sox fan and all things Boston. Deflategate was a joke. Boston Latin School is awesome. Harvard and Johns Hopkins alma maters... Besides that... Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Professor of Politics and Law at Washington and Lee University. Wrote for Ron Shandler's Shandler Park for two summers and have been on board with MLFS since 2011. Been at Washington and Lee since 1990 with a brief hiatus (2010-2013) in the Middle East. Currently developing that last word in Fantasy Baseball analysis. Married to Flor, Dad to William and Alex, and adopted daughter Reem. Soon to be father and law to Meaghann. Alpha male to the world's super-pup, Humphrey. Life is not bad.

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