Now that the baseball season is almost a month old, we have enough innings to examine the BABIPs of some of the starting pitchers out there and see if those numbers can tell us anything. Admittedly, we’re still laboring under very small sample sizes with most of them, but the data should help us sort out who’s been very lucky or unlucky and who’s going to improve or backslide as the season progresses.
It’s never too early to think about trading for a pitcher who’s under-performing and has been giving his owner headaches or — conversely — getting as much in return as you possibly can from a pitcher who’s pitching well over his head.
Before we begin our analysis, remember that a pitcher’s BABIP over the course of any significant period of time should always mean-revert to .299.
MOST LIKELY TO IMPROVE (unluckiest pitchers):
1.) Matt Garza, CHC (.485 BABIP) – Garza was expected to stabilize the Cubs’ rotation and help them contend this season. Many fantasy baseball owners also expected him to put up better numbers in the National League like many other pitchers have done before him. But so far Garza is 0-2 with a 4.74 ERA. However he’s been the most unlucky starter in baseball over the first month of the season. His .486 BABIP is easily the highest among all starters yet his stuff has been electric so far. He’s whiffing batters at a phenomenal rate (34 Ks in 24 innings) and his walk rate is tied with his career low from last season. Once opposing batters start hitting a few more balls directly to his fielders, watch out. Cubs fans and fantasy baseball owners should stick with him through this tough spot and expect much better numbers as the season progresses.
2.) Travis Wood, CIN (.366 BABIP) – Wood’s strikeouts-per-nine and his walks-per-nine are almost identical to his numbers from 2010. What’s different is clearly his BABIP. His 1-2 record and 5.40 ERA are due mostly to bad luck. Wood has a good command of the strike zone and is pretty good at missing bats with his changeup and cutter. Expect him to improve and start putting up better numbers very soon.
3.) Anibal Sanchez, FLA (.362 BABIP) – Sanchez almost pitched a no-hitter last week, yet even with that performance his BABIP remains severely elevated. Sanchez is 1-1 with a 3.55 ERA this season so it may seem like there isn’t a lot of room for improvement, but his BABIP suggests there is. If anything in Sanchez’s statistics suggests that he won’t improve it’s that his strikeouts-per-nine currently sits at 9.2 (well above his career average of 7.0). But if those numbers hold up, Sanchez might vault himself into the top rung of National League pitchers.
4.) John Danks, CHW (.330 BABIP) – Danks is currently 0-3 with a 3.27 ERA but like Garza his stuff has actually been better this season than the past. At age 26, Danks might finally be coming into his own and learning how to be a top-notch major league pitcher. His strikeouts-per-nine is at a career high 9.0 and his walks-per-nine at a near career low of 2.7. Danks’ BABIP is not as elevated as the other pitchers on this list and a .330 BABIP means he’s been unlucky on four or five hits, but depending on when those hits were delivered it could mean a sub-3.00 ERA and a crooked number in the wins column. Fantasy baseball owners should expect Danks to improve in both the wins and ERA department moving forward.
5.) Cole Hamels, PHI (.328 BABIP) – Like with Anibal Sanchez, it might be hard to believe that Hamels has much room to improve. At 2-1 with a 2.92 ERA what more could a fantasy baseball owner ask for? But Hamels has been unlucky on balls hit in play and his strikeouts-per-nine is currently at 9.5 (which is only a touch higher than his 9.1 from last season). His walk rate is a little elevated but should fall back into line with his career average of 2.4. When it does expect his ERA to fall. Hamels should be counted on for 200+ strikeouts and 15 or more wins this season.
MOST LIKELY TO SLIP (luckiest pitchers):
1.) Josh Johnson, FLA (.154 BABIP) – As unlucky as Garza’s been, Johnson has been the complete opposite. His .154 BABIP is easily the lowest amongst all major league starters. And while Johnson certainly won’t keep up this pace all season, don’t expect his ERA to rise much more than 3.00. The Marlins’ lefty has great stuff, a solid command of the strike zone and his shoulder injury from last season doesn’t appear to be hampering him at all. So although he’ll slip, don’t expect him to slip that far, unless you really expected him to finish the season with a 20-0 record and a 1.06 ERA.
2.) Mat Latos, SDP (.184 BABIP) – Latos is the most disconcerting pitcher to find on this list. Being the beneficiary of an extraordinarily low BABIP and a strikeout rate of 10.8 you’d expect to see Latos with similar numbers to Josh Johnson. However, Latos is currently 0-3 with an ERA of 5.94. Latos clearly hasn’t been giving up many hits, but when he does, they’ve been bombs. He has given up five dingers in just 16 innings and is walking nearly five batters per-nine. While those should both improve and are subject to low sample size distortion, whatever improvement he makes in his walks and homeruns will likely be offset by a rise in his BABIP. All of which could spell trouble for fantasy baseball owners and might be a clue that the 23-year-old could experience a major setback in 2011 on his way to becoming a future ace.
3.) Matt Harrison, TEX (.197 BABIP) – Fantasy baseball owners who ran out and grabbed Matt Harrison will be riding the razor’s edge with the young Texas starter over the next month or two. Harrison is a classic case of an abnormally low BABIP inflating a pitcher’s numbers. Although he’s 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA he’s never shown that he has particularly good stuff (career strikeout rate of 5.0) nor great command (career walk rate of 3.6). His numbers in both departments are a little bit better through four games this season, but they’re not top-flight by any means. Expect Harrison to regress, quickly, to his career ERA of 5.00.
4.) Roy Oswalt, PHI (.213 BABIP) – Oswalt has certainly started the season hot. His 3-0 record and 1.88 ERA are impressive, but the veteran righty has benefited from a low BABIP and that’s most certainly what has inflated his numbers thus far. His strikeout rate, walk rate and homerun rate are all in line with his career averages so expect him to finish the season with around 14 wins and an ERA in the low threes.
5.) James Shields, TBR (.241 BABIP) – Shields has been great for the Rays thus far this season throwing two complete games and a shutout in five starts this season. He’s 2-1 with a 2.35 ERA but he’s benefited from a low BABIP for the most part. As with Harrison, his other numbers aren’t particularly impressive and don’t indicate that fantasy owners should expect anything this season that will deviate far from his career numbers — meaning 12 to 14 wins and an ERA in the low 4′s.
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