Can't Buy Me Luck: Ten Slow-Starting Pitchers Due for Big Rebounds
Yesterday, I took a look at 10 thus-far successful pitchers whose impressive starts I attributed to luck and declared that they would be unable to maintain their good fortunes for the rest of the season (click here for that article).
While I admittedly got some schadenfreude out of it, it was kind of depressing; as one commenter observed, the list was "almost every breakout pitcher this season."
In the interest of fairness (and not seeming like a complete raincloud), here is a list of 10 starters who have sputtered out of the gate, but whose peripherals indicate that they'll soon get back on track.
Explanation of Statistics Used
BABIP: Batting Average on Balls In Play, also known as hit rate. Based on the theory that once a ball is hit the pitcher has no control over what happens, this is the measure of how many balls that fall inside the walls of a stadium fall for hits while a pitcher is on the mound. The league average BABIP is about .300, and while pitchers' marks can fluctuate from year-to-year, they usually end up right around the average over their careers.
LOB Percentage: Left On-Base Percentage, also known as strand rate. The proportion of baserunners allowed who don't end up scoring. League average is around 72 percent. Like BABIP, this can fluctuate as the result of luck.
HR/FB Percentage: Home Run/Fly Ball ratio. The proportion of fly balls a pitcher allows that end up as home runs. Some sabermetricians argue that this is also a product of luck; it can definitely vary based on things like the pitcher's home park and the potency of opposing lineups. League average HR/FB percentage is around 11 percent.
FIP: Fielding-Independent Pitching. An estimate of what a pitcher's ERA "should be" with a neutral defense behind him. Walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed are the only things considered, so this number cannot be tainted by aberrant hit and strand rates.
xFIP: Expected Fielding-Independent Pitching. Same as FIP, but with an estimate of how many home runs a pitcher should give up (calculated with the pitcher's fly-ball rate and the league-average HR/FB percentage) instead of the actual number of homers allowed.
Justin Masterson, Indians
The ugly appearance: 0-3, 5.68 ERA, 1.95 WHIP
Why there's hope: .448 BABIP, 60.8 percent LOB rate, 3.35 xFIP
I'll be honest, I'm biased because Masterson is a personal favorite of mine (for a full explanation, click here).
Sure, he struggles against lefties (.477 BAA this year, but that's fueled by a Charlie Brown-esque .538 BABIP—his career mark is 175 points lower), and he walks more than his share of hitters (5.2 BB/9).
But he sure can rack up the strikeouts (11.4 K/9), and several other Indians pitchers (Fausto Carmona, David Huff, Mitch Talbot) are having much better luck.
Edwin Jackson, Diamondbacks
The ugly appearance: 6.67 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, .311 BAA
Why there's hope: .344 BABIP, 60.8 percent LOB rate, 4.28 xFIP
At first glance, it would appear that the already well-traveled 26-year-old is having a hard time readjusting to the NL West.
Jackson might never make good on his once-storied potential, but there's some middle ground between phenom and bust.
Luke Hochevar, Royals
The ugly appearance: 6.11 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, .313 BAA
Why there's hope: .369 BABIP, 56.7 percent LOB rate, 3.61 FIP
During Spring Training, many analysts predicted that Hochevar would emerge as a quality No. 2 starter this year.
His talent hasn't magically disappeared just because the Royals' fielders have holes in their mitts.
Felipe Paulino, Astros
The ugly appearance: 0-3, 5.40 ERA, 1.66 WHIP
Why there's hope: .323 BABIP, 46.0 percent LOB rate, 3.80 FIP
The hit rate is tough, but Paulino's strand rate (by far the worst in the majors) is just nausea-inducing.
Of course, Paulino's had his share of luck too; his superficial statistics aren't that absurd when you consider his 5.8 BB/9 rate and his 0.0 percent HR/FB rate could have made him a candidate for yesterday's list.
Dan Haren, Diamondbacks
The ugly appearance: 4.50 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 1.18 WHIP
Why there's hope: .310 BABIP, 69.6 percent LOB rate, 18.2 percent HR/FB rate
Let's be clear—Haren has been anything but bad. It's just that his current numbers aren't quite up to his usual, lofty standards.
There's nothing wrong with him; in fact, his 10.1 K/9 rate is the best of his career. Look for the ERA to move closer to his 2.90 xFIP.
Josh Beckett, Red Sox
The ugly appearance: 7.22 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, .314 BAA
Why there's hope: .352 BABIP, 58.6 percent LOB rate, 4.79 xFIP
There are some pitchers whose performances with runners on over the course of their careers indicate genuine weaknesses. But no one can doubt that the 2007 World Series MVP knows how to handle himself in the clutch.
That being said, his 6.3 K/9 rate is the worst of his career, and he's issuing walks more frequently (4.1 BB/9) than he has since his 24-inning debut in 2001.
Gavin Floyd, White Sox
The ugly appearance: 6.49 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, .301 BAA
Why there's hope: .369 BABIP, 55.8 percent LOB rate, 3.71 FIP
After a couple of solid years with Chicago, this former top Phillies prospect seems to have suffered a major setback.
You have to pity Floyd, though; his hit and strand rates are both the second-worst in the American League.
Aaron Harang, Reds
The ugly appearance: 7.16 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, .322 BAA
Why there's hope: .352 BABIP, 59.6 percent LOB rate, 20.0 percent HR/FB rate
Many writers suggested before the season that if Harang (along with the Reds' other young pitchers) could take the next step, Cincinnati could make a playoff run in 2010. On the surface, he has failed miserably.
But before you judge him too harshly, look at that HR/FB rate. That's basically the equivalent of every opposing batter having Albert Pujols' power.
Cole Hamels, Phillies
The ugly appearance: 5.28 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, .288 BAA
Why there's hope: .357 BABIP, 20.6 percent HR/FB rate, 3.35 xFIP
Despite no real shifts in his peripheral numbers, Hamels' BABIP rose 55 points between his stellar 2008 season and his disappointing 2009 campaign; that made him a popular bounce-back candidate for 2010.
As it happens, Hamels' misfortunes have only increased this year, as he has undoubtedly been one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball.
Doug Davis, Brewers
The ugly appearance: 8.88 ERA, 2.15 WHIP, .376 BAA
Why there's hope: .473 BABIP, 58.0 percent LOB rate, 3.90 xFIP
The not so proud owner of the worst hit rate in baseball, his FIP (4.18) is less than half his ERA. Ouch.
Make no mistake—Davis has never been an ace. But he definitely isn't this bad.