Fantasy Baseball Buy-Low Candidates: Looking at Pitchers with the Worst BABIP

Eric StashinSenior Writer IJune 22, 2011

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JUNE 08: Ricky Nolasco #47 of the Florida Marlins pitches against the Atlanta Braves at Sun Life Stadium on June 8, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

Earlier in the week we took a look at the five pitchers with the best BABIP (click here to view) who could potentially be sell-high candidates. Today, let’s take a look at the five pitchers with the worst BABIP and see if there are any buy-low candidates that we should be focusing on (through Sunday).

1. Edwin Jackson – Chicago White Sox – .352
It has been a disappointing campaign for Jackson, who is sporting a 4.47 ERA (identical to his 2010 mark) and 1.52 WHIP. When valuing him, you will find at an ERA of 4.42 or worse in four of the past five years (he’s made at least 31 starts in each season). Clearly, his owners are most likely thinking that his 2011 struggles is just Jackson being Jackson.

Before we just assume that Jackson’s sole problem is a below average BABIP, he also is sporting an atrocious 24.4% line drive rate, fourth-worst in the league. It’s not like he has just been hit hard at times this season, with monthly marks of 23.6%, 23.7% and 27.0%. Would you think that he’s going to improve? You certainly would think so, but it certainly shouldn’t be taken as a guarantee.

Throw in the fact that, once Jake Peavy returns, one of the White Sox’ six starting pitchers could eventually be moved to the bullpen, and there is a lot of risk in acquiring Jackson. Given his struggles and inflated ERA in the past, with the risk of him losing his job, he certainly isn’t an ideal option to grab. If you could get him for pennies on the dollar (like as a waiver pickup) and stash him to see what happens, then I could see it. 

Otherwise, the risk probably outweighs the reward.

2. Matt Garza – Chicago Cubs – .340
The question with Garza isn’t necessarily about luck, because you would think that he would improve on both the BABIP and his strand rate (63.7%). There are actually two other issues that you need to answer before declaring him a great buy low candidate: Can he maintain an elite strikeout rate, and can he maintain a dramatically improved groundball rate?

We all expected the strikeout rate to improve when he went from the AL to the NL, but he’s currently sitting at 9.80. Is it for real? It certainly appears that he has slowed down significantly of late, even before landing on the DL with a bone bruise. 

Over his past four starts he has struck out a total of 13 batters in 22 innings, never striking out more than four in a game. I don’t think he’s going to fall quite that far, but considering he never posted a mark better than 8.38 (the only other time he was above 7.27 in the AL), it’s hard to imagine him jumping to a 10.0 K/9 guy.

The groundball rate may be a little trickier. He’s at 49.5% this season, after posting groundball rates of 39.7% and 35.8% the prior two seasons. It does appear like he is throwing his fastball significantly less, currently at 54.8% (the prior three years he threw his fastball over 70% of the time). Throwing more sliders and curveballs can definitely lead to more groundballs, but this is like night and day.

Even with a reduction in strikeouts, it appears that the improved groundball rate is for real. Over the previous three seasons, pitching in the toughest division in baseball, he posted WHIP rates of 1.24, 1.26 and 1.25. It certainly would appear that, when the luck turns, he is going to be well worth owning.

3. Chad Billingsley – Los Angeles Dodgers – .336
His luck is poor in both his BABIP and strand rate (69.7%). The culprit appears to be the line drive rate, currently at 23.8%. Before we dub that that mark is realistic, just look at how consistent he has been the previous three seasons:

  • 2008 – 19.9%
  • 2009 – 18.4%
  • 2010 – 18.3%

You have to think that, sooner or later, he is going to right the ship, which will certainly bring significantly better results. He has maintained a good strikeout rate (8.09 K/9) and his control is right along the lines of what he has done over his entire career (3.84 BB/9 in ’11 vs. career mark of 3.89).

While he may be a pitcher who posts a WHIP in the 1.32-1.34 range, he simply is not a 1.52 pitcher. An improvement is going to come, so buying him while his value is low certainly makes sense.

4. (tie) Ricky Nolasco – Florida Marlins – .333
The pitcher with the worst line drive rate thus far (27.1%), doesn’t it feel like we are always talking about poor luck when it comes to Nolasco? Sooner or later, are we going to reach the conclusion that it is simply a lack of skill, not just a lack of luck?

In fact, not only is he suffering from a poor BABIP, strand rate (67.8%) and line drive rate, but his strikeouts are also down (currently at 6.96 K/9). The control is sterling, at 2.10 BB/9 (he’s at 2.12 for his career), so his WHIP, while high at 1.41, is not a complete lost cause. With improved luck, the number will be impressive, it’s just a matter of if it will ever come.

April gave us hope, when he posted a .277 BABIP, helping him to a 3.24 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.  Since then, however, he has posted marks of .361 and .363. At this point, I can’t blame you if you simply have lost your stomach for him.

However, we all see that the talent is there. Depending on the cost, it certainly could be worth acquiring him. However, at this point, it is tough to consider him a must use option in any format.

4. (tie) Brian Duensing – Minnesota Twins – .333

Sure, he has had some bad luck, but it’s tough to consider Duensing in the class of the other four pitchers on this list. He doesn’t bring a big strikeout rate to the table (career mark of 5.72), significantly limiting his appeal. Luck or not, he’s a low-end option.

What are your thoughts on these pitchers? Who would you try to acquire? Who would you avoid?

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