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2015's Luckiest Pitchers

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Just like I did last year, I'm looking at which pitchers got lucky this year based on their BABIP, left on base rate, homerun/flyball ratio, and underlying talent and who is therefore destined to regress in 2016.

Jake Peavy was one of 2015's lucky pitchers. Was it all luck or does his skill come into play?
Jake Peavy was one of 2015's lucky pitchers. Was it all luck or does his skill come into play?
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

If you checked out my post about 2014's luckiest pitchers, then you know how this will go. We'll take a look at a couple tables listing the starting pitchers in 2015 that had the lowest BABIPs against, along with two other pitcher luck indicators: strand rate (aka LOB%) and HR/FB% (the percentage of fly balls allowed that turned into round trippers). Then, I'll give you some judgments about which pitchers are headed straight to Regression City next year and which pitchers have shown skill for beating the odds every year and are not just flukes. Let's jump right into the tables!

First up, the master table showing the low BABIP guys (among starting pitchers with at least 100 IP). Everyone with a BABIP against less than .298 had a BABIP against below league average. If a pitcher also had a strand rate (LOB%) higher than league average (72.2%) or a HR/FB% below average (11.7%), that stat is highlighted red. Three red marks (BABIP, LOB%, HR/FB%) can be an indicator of looming regression next year. This table is sorted by BABIP from lowest to highest, but includes all qualified starters.

lucky pitchers 1
lucky pitchers 2

Before we dive into the luckiest pitchers, I want to stop here and look at some of the guys with two strikes (two red numbers in the table above. These guys got somewhat lucky this year and could regress. I'm going to pick on just a few that I think are due for regression: Wei-yen Chen, Nate Karns, Justin Verlander, and Roenis Elias. Why did I pick them?

They have extremely low BABIPs, extremely high LOB%, or very low HR/FB ratios and don't possess elite talent or skill. Verlander used to, but not really anymore, so we can't assume that his skill allowed him to have BABIP and HR/FB ratios well below league average. The others are marginal pitchers to begin with, so they are certainly susceptible to luck and should regress some next year.

I won't say anything here about the guys with only one strike because there isn't enough there to call them lucky. I also left out guys that have two strikes but neither of their two was very far from league averages and there just isn't enough to say they were especially lucky and doomed for regression.

Now, onto the three strikes guys. I gave them their own table for clarity, so I can add some more details about their season, and also so I can say: Ladies and Gentlemen, put your hands together for the luckiest pitchers of 2015!

lucky pitchers 3

Ok, so perhaps they weren't all lucky. Those guys at the top of the list may have some talent, I guess. Seriously though, this list is a mix of very talented pitchers (e.g. Kershaw, Arrieta), guys having sustainable breakout years (e.g. Archer, McCullers), and guys that relied heavily on luck. Generally speaking, pitchers with high groundball rates, high K-rates, and low walk rates are talented and should continue to put up great results. So, I chose a K-rate of 7.4 K/9, a walk rate of 2.71 BB/9, and a grounder rate of 45.2% as my cut-off points for determining which pitchers are actually good (those are league averages for starters) and assigned a point to each pitcher for each of those three things that are better than my threshold. After that, I get the following table:

lucky pitchers 6

I think we can all agree that the green highlighted pitchers are good and did not get lucky this year. McCullers had a breakout rookie year and seems to have sustainable skills for success next year as long as he can keep his walk rate under control somewhat (control? get it? it's a pun, har har). The rest of the green pitchers are good to go for next year and shouldn't regress much due to luck. Note that Jaime Garcia is still very good when healthy (a big problem for him) and belongs with these other names. For an explanation of Jake Peavy, keep reading.

I didn't make all of the pitchers with a score of 2 or higher green. I used some subjective analysis to leave Erasmo Ramirez, Taylor Jungmann, and Mike Bolsinger off the green list. They just didn't show me enough this year to make me believe yet. They don't have track records of good pitching yet, so I can't believe they can suppress homers, BABIP, or baserunners better than average. There isn't enough evidence to make them green. If they do this again next year, then I will believe. These guys get thrown in with the "lucky" pitchers category along with all of the guys that scored less than 2.

I will note here that in last year's luckiest pitchers post, this table showed Chris Tillman, Kyle Lohse, Julio Teheran, Yordano Ventura, Tanner Roark, Sonny Gray, Jake Peavy, Lance Lynn, James Shields, and Jake Odorizzi as lucky pitchers that weren't yet elite talents. Obviously that is a mixed list of results. Some lost their luck this year completely (Tillman, Lohse, Teheran, Roark) and turned back into pumpkins while others continued to be good this year. Some even show up on this year's list after being on last year's 3 strike list, so those guys might just be that good. This includes Jake Odorizzi, Sonny Gray, and Jake Peavy. If they show up two years in a row, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and believe in their skills. That's why Peavy gets to be green; he was on here last year and seems to be able to keep BABIPs and HR/FB down despite a lack of strikeouts or groundballs and a score of just 1.

The final column in the table above has my "Luck or Skill?" determination based on the sum of the other columns and my judgement. Keep in mind that just because a pitcher was lucky does not mean he will fall apart in 2016. It just means that I believe that he will not perform as well in 2016 as he did in 2015 and your keeper choice, draft pick, or auction price should be adjusted accordingly. Check back soon for the follow-up post with the unluckiest pitchers of 2015 to see the other side of this. As always, Tschus!