What's Luck Got To Do With It?

BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 8: Jake Arrieta #34 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches during a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies on June 8, 2012 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

When trolling for pitching help on the waiver wires, I often will turn to the leaderboards scouring for starters who are underperforming in the ERA category in relation to FIP. Fangraphs is an excellent resource as they allow you to sort by what they call E-F, which is basically ERA minus FIP. Those with the largest difference are the one’s who may be likely to reverse course and provide some value.

It’s not a foolproof system. (Nothing is. If you find one, let me know.) However, it can be an efficient way to identify some trends among struggling starting pitchers. Sorting the starters by E-F reveals three starters who have a difference greater than two.

One common theme is they are all allowing an astronomically high line drive rate. Another common theme is they have all been roundly horrible. You already knew that.

But are they just a little unlucky? Can they find a way to improve and close the gap? Following the jump are the three starters with a brief look as to whether or not they can turn things around.

Jake Arrieta

ERA - 6.32

FIP - 4.21

E-F -- 2.11

The subtitle could be: “How the Orioles Opening Day starter landed in the bullpen in less than two and a half months.”

After tossing eight shutout innings against the Yankees on May 2, his ERA dropped to 3.52. Since then… disaster. In four of his next seven starts, he’s been bombed for at least six runs and has pitched into the sixth inning just three times.

The knock on Arrieta in the past was the base on balls and the home run rate. He seems to have solved the walk issue - he’s issuing free passes at a rate of 2.8 BB/9. Yet his home run rate of 1.34 HR/9 remains high.

Arrieta’s strand rate of 56 percent is low, but his career rate of 68 percent signals that it’s never really been where it should be. That’s really an unsustainable rate, but he’s not helping his cause by allowing hitters to tee off him for a 24 percent line drive rate.

The Orioles are attempting to solve this problem by exiling Arrieta to the bullpen. You should solve it by dropping him or avoiding him altogether.

Tim Lincecum

ERA -- 6.00

FIP -- 3.66

E-F -- 2.34

Lincecum’s struggles are well documented. My thought is he’s lost confidence in his command. I know… Hardly a giant leap.

He’s throwing a first pitch strike 60.5 percent of the time which is the highest rate of his career. Yet, according to PITCH f/x, he’s throwing a career worst 43 percent of all pitches inside the “zone.” That’s six percent lower than league average. His walk rate has puffed up to 4.88 BB/9 - which inflates his WHIP to a disgusting mark of 1.58.

As he’s attempted to get the ball over the plate, he’s giving into throwing more “hittable” pitches. His 26 percent line drive rate is unfathomable given his history. And that’s led to a .335 BABIP. We often look at deviations from BABIP as luck, but in Lincecum’s case, it’s a justifiable result given the approach.

Can The Freak right the ship and recover? In the short term, it doesn’t look promising. In his last six starts, he’s walked at least three batters in five of them. He’s surrendered just six home runs on the season, but four of them have been coughed up in his last four starts. He just isn’t showing any signs of improving. In a start against the Diamondbacks at the end of May, he gave up only two runs in seven innings, but he walked five. In his following start in San Diego, he walked just one, but couldn’t avoid a big inning in allowing four runs in six innings.

The Freak is in The Funk.

Luke Hochevar

ERA -- 6.57

FIP -- 3.61

E-F -- 2.97

Hochevar’s performance is confounding. He’s striking out seven batters per nine, which is the best rate of his major league career. His home run rate is down to 0.57 HR/9, which is again the best of his career. Throw in a walk rate of 3.14 BB/9 which is in line with his career mark and you would think Hochevar’s is having one of the better seasons of his career.

However a 6.57 ERA and 1.56 WHIP through 63 innings tell a different story.

A huge part of the problem comes with Hochevar’s 22 percent line drive rate. He’s getting hit harder and more frequently, which translates into a .364 BABIP. I

Then there’s his 58 percent strand rate.

There’s long been speculation that Hochevar struggles with pitching out of the stretch. The numbers seem to support this. This season with the bases empty, hitters are posting a line of .286/.349/.406. With runners on, his slash line balloons to .328/.400/.466. Most pitchers have an uptick with runners on, but this feels a little extreme. And with runners in scoring position, it’s even worse at .366/.444/.521.

Can Hochevar close the gap between his ERA and FIP? Probably. But it won’t be enough to make a difference over the course of the rest of the season.

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