Philadelphia Phillies: Is Vance Worley Lofty or Lucky? BABIP, FIP Raise Doubt

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Philadelphia Phillies: Is Vance Worley Lofty or Lucky? BABIP, FIP Raise Doubt
Vance Worley dazzled again last night against the Mets. But is his recent success as much light or heat? Or is it luck altogether?

Kevin Negandhi was merely filling air.

Dressing up a highlight.

Teasing the Vance Worley story.

He wasn't seeking to stoke a debate. But however accidentally, he did.

"And Vance Worley, the Phillies rabbit's foot," he quipped, and sparked, this morning on SportsCenter.

It just so happens that luck and Worley seem one in the same.

Consider:

Worley's 2011 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in 18 games is .258. As seamheads will tell you, stark discrepancies between a pitcher's opponent batting average—Worley's is .218—and BABIP imply good fortune. They'll tell you about strength (or stinginess) in numbers, that the guys behind the mound are as influential as the one towering atop it.

Not coincidentally, the Phillies are the toast of big league fielding, with an MLB-high .989 fielding percentage and league-low 55 errors. Seems more coincidence than causation.

And if that doesn't sell you, the blip between Worley's ERA (2.65) and fielding independent of pitching ERA (3.15) could lure a dog off a meat truck.

So it seems, Worley's numbers are Philly-deflated.

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Why that matters?

It skews the numbers, and how you project how Worley finishes. That's what got the stat geeks so spooked about Josh Beckett, whose BABIP sank to .217 this June—then running a 2.20 ERA—after posting a third-worst .338 and 5.78 ERA in 2010.

Keep in mind, his K/BB ratio was constant between the two years. All other things equal, like a telling metrics of isolated pitching performance, K/BB, the two years served a pretty conclusive sample for BABIP's ominous implications.

For the record, Beckett posted a 4.13 ERA in August, including a five-run shellacking in Seattle.

It makes you wonder what's in store for Worley. Jayson Stark did.

"I don't want to sell Vance Worley short. He's been tremendous. The numbers ... the record ... the confidence he's pitching with tells you that," he leveled with Mike Missanelli of 97.5 The Fanatic.

"Nevertheless ... Vance Worley's BABIP is only .230, which a lot of people would tell you means he's been lucky."

That streamed July 29. At the time, only six National Leaguers had a lower line, and the major league average lingered around .300.

Makes you wonder whether Worley's luck will wane.

As good as he's been, you have to wonder whether Worley will wane down the stretch.

It seems sacrilege to even think it lately. Look at all he's done:

Last night's one-run win against the Mets was Worley's ninth in 2011, and made his latest slew of decisions a perfect seven-for-seven. Over the span, he's 7-0 with a 2.56 ERA.

The Phillies have won in his last 12 starts. That's the club's longest streak of upswing since Steve Carlton (15) and 1972.

Worley threw nine strikeouts, six looking—both career highs.

You'd expect that of a rookie. But he's not sitting at the kids' table.

Worley's 34 called strikes are best in the bigs. The six backwards Ks are tied for the third-most among all starts this year.

Granted, it was the Mets (60-68). But they're who rocked Worley in the worst of only two losses (he's 9-2 on the season), Worley's five-earned run outlier on May 29. They might even be better, last night propped by David Wright. (He was injured in May.)

We thought the streak snuffed two weeks ago (August 10), when the Dodgers dumped six runs on him in four innings (15.75 ERA). If there were ever a jolt to a youngster's psyche, that was it.

But Worley hasn't buckled, going 10 innings but letting only a lonely run in.

Figuring how is like yoga in 100x gravity.

Worley's knack for pop ups and relatively slow velocity make for a winning formula in Citizen's Bank Park.

You can point to velocity and say that Worley's stuff hovering around 90 mph curiously helps him. That slower pitches mean more pop outs (check, given Worley's 5.7 percent HR/FB) and home runs (and check, his HR/9 is .55, two-thirds of Cliff Lee's), a blessing in broad daylight. Or at least in Citizen's Bank Closet (103 batting park factor; 101 pitching).

That bodes well for a fly-ball pitcher like Worley, who sends 1.31 balls sailing each time one skips along the infield dirt. With Jimmy Rollins (groin) hamstrung and Placido Polanco's back teetering, the marriage seems made to last.

Still, you can't help but waffle. As much as you want to warm to him, Worley gives as many reasons for a pick axe to be ready, in case he ices over.

What it all means for Worley and the immediate future of the Phillies? It's tough to say.

Except that sports news anchors should be pickier with pontification from now on.

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