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2015's Unluckiest Pitchers

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The opposite of last week's post, I'm looking at which pitchers got unlucky this year based on their BABIP, left on base rate, homerun/flyball ratio, and underlying talent and who is therefore destined to bounce back in 2016.

Michael Pineda had bad results this year, but is he really this bad or was he just unlucky?
Michael Pineda had bad results this year, but is he really this bad or was he just unlucky?
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

If you checked out my post about 2015's luckiest pitchers, then you know how this will go, except this is the opposite. We'll take a look at a couple tables listing the starting pitchers in 2015 that had the highest 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 for some better results next year and which pitchers are just that bad and it wasn't just bad luck. Let's jump right into the tables (data from Fangraphs)!

First up, the master table showing the high BABIP guys (among starting pitchers with at least 100 IP). Everyone with a BABIP against more than .298 had a BABIP against above league average. If a pitcher also had a strand rate (LOB%) lower than league average (72.2%) or a HR/FB% above average (11.7%), that stat is highlighted red. Three red marks (BABIP, LOB%, HR/FB%) can be an indicator of a positive bounce back next year. This table is sorted by BABIP from highest to lowest.

unlucky pitchers 1
unlucky pitchers 2

Before we dive into the unluckiest 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 unlucky this year and could see some positive regression. I'm going to pick on just a few that I think are due for recovery: Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Cashner, Brett Anderson, and Michael Lorenzen. Why did I pick them?

They have extremely high BABIPs, extremely low LOB%, or very high HR/FB ratios and possess (or have possessed) an elite talent or skill. I just picked a few of them to highlight because I found them interesting. I see better things ahead for Anderson due to his excellent grounder rate and the fact that a 17% HR/FB ratio just won't continue. Gio had such a sky-high BABIP and good strikeout and groundball rates that I think next year will be better.

Cashner had a weird season. His strikeout rate was 1.2 K/9 better in 2015 than 2014, his grounder rate stayed constant, but his ERA jumped two runs mostly due to a scary-high BABIP and one of the lowest strand rates in baseball. I think that points to improvement next year with some average luck. I could see a 3.5 ERA out of him next year. I through the young Lorenzen on this list as a counter to the other guys. His bad K/9 and BB/9 show that even though he gave up a very high HR/FB ratio and BABIP, he isn't due for a bounce back next year. He could improve a little since he is young, but I'm not expecting much.

I won't say anything here about the guys with only one strike because there isn't enough there to call them unlucky. 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 unlucky and marked 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 unluckiest pitchers of 2015!

unlucky pitchers 5

Ok, so perhaps they weren't all unlucky. Some of these guys are just terrible pitchers. This list is a mix of very bad pitchers (e.g. Kendrick, Guthrie) and guys that were killed by bad luck. Generally speaking, pitchers with high groundball rates, high K-rates, low walk rates, and low hard hit ball rates (Hard %) are talented and should continue to put up great results, while pitchers with the opposite are lacking necessary skills to be successful. So, I chose a K-rate of 7.4 K/9, a walk rate of 2.71 BB/9, a grounder rate of 45.2%, and a hard-hit rate of 28.8% as my cut-off points for determining which pitchers are actually bad (those are league averages for starters) and assigned a point to each pitcher for each of those three things that are worse than my threshold. After that, I get the following table:

unlucky pitchers 4

I think we can all agree that the pitchers not in green are just plain bad pitchers and weren't really unlucky. I assumed that all pitchers with a score of 3 or 4 are just bad. I just don't like Jerome Williams' skills, so even though he only got a '2', I still threw him in the 'bad' category. The rest are guys who have some real talent and just got unlucky this year. I expect better results next year for all of them. Hutchison was a favorite sleeper of mine this year and I am really disappointed in his results. His weirdly extreme home/road ERA split (2.91 at home, 9.83?!!?! on the road) is just weird and I don't yet have an explanation. I just can't believe that will happen again and the skills are still there for an above-average starter.

Note that almost all of the pitchers in the table had hard-hit ball rates higher than league average. I'm not sure exactly what that means yet. Look at Porcello and Pineda. These guys have good-to-great strikeout, walk, and groundball rates but still got hid hard. I would need to dig deeper to figure out why hitters teed off on these guys despite their skills. I think it is safe to say that all guys with high BABIPs will have high Hard %, since the two are certainly related. It's not surprising that this list of high BABIP guys has so many hard-hit leaders.

The final column in the table above has my "Luck or Bad?" determination based on the sum of the other columns and my judgement. Keep in mind that just because a pitcher was unlucky does not mean he will dominate in 2016. It just means that I believe that he will not perform as poorly in 2016 as he did in 2015 and your keeper choice, draft pick, or auction price should be adjusted accordingly. There may be some 2016 sleepers here that you can take advantage of. As always, Tschus!

One final note, to user Stock from last week's comments. I ran out of time to put together a solid xBABIP equation for this post, but I did incorporate that batted ball data you suggested in the form of hard-hit rate. I didn't use batted ball velocity data because it has some large missing data points. The hard-hit rate wasn't much of a differentiator for the unlucky pitchers, but it is good news for Hendricks, and, to a lesser extent, Anderson, since they were the only two to have high BABIPs and low hard hit rates. They are certainly primed for positive regression.