Robbie Ray Continues to Baffle

Robbie Ray’s latest eight strikeout, five runs allowed effort, has continued what has become a baffling season from a results perspective. His 4.66 ERA is obviously poor and ranks 13th worst among all qualified Major League starters. But he has still attracted interest from fantasy owners thanks to a plethora of strikeouts. Let’s take a look at where he ranks in a variety of metrics among 78 qualified starters to get a better idea of just how bizarre his performance has truly been.

Robbie Ray’s Baffling Performance
Metric ERA SIERA ERA-SIERA K% SwStk% BABIP LOB% HR/FB Hard%
Value 4.66 3.46 1.20 28.7% 11.8% 0.353 69.3% 14.5% 36.8%
Rank 66 8 3rd highest 4 13 78 64 64 76

Though Ray sports an ugly 4.66 ERA, his SIERA is a much more exciting 3.46, leading to an ERA-SIERA discrepancy that ranks as the third highest among all starters. Aside from the strikeouts, that SIERA is the other primary reason fantasy owners are still hanging on and his CBS ownership stands at a robust 69%.

His strikeout rate ranks fourth highest, driven in part by a strong SwStk% that ranks 13th highest. Ray is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, and both his four-seamer (9.6% SwStk%) and slider (20.5%) have generated whiffs at a better than average clip.

But oddly despite his clearly superior stuff that induces plenty of swings and misses, batters have had no such issues making high quality contact when they do manage to put the ball in play. Check out how poorly he ranks in the four metrics that follow his SwStk% in the table! He sports the highest BABIP among all starters and his Hard% is third worst. It’s no surprise then that batters are also knocking a high rate of Ray’s fly balls induced over the fence. Between the high BABIP and HR/FB rate, his LOB% has been suppressed, furthering inflating his ERA.

It’s always strange to me when I see a pitcher post a high strikeout rate — indicating high quality stuff — paired with a high BABIP and hard contact allowed. It’s just difficult for me to reconcile the fact that a pitcher’s stuff could be good enough to miss bats, but not good enough to drive positive outcomes when the ball is put into play.

Ray has only thrown 322.1 innings over his career, but a high Hard% and BABIP has become a trend for him. Does it have anything to do with his limited arsenal? Surely it would make sense that a pitcher with a more varied repertoire could do a better job of limiting hard contact and keeping hitters off balance. But I cannot recall any studies that related numbers of pitches thrown with these metrics that Ray seemingly has trouble controlling.

Perhaps there is at least some clear explanation for the high BABIP, besides just the hard contact — the Diamondbacks have stunk at defense this year. Like worst in baseball stinky. Their -9.8 UZR/150 is dead last in baseball and the team’s pitching staff owns the highest aggregate BABIP as a result. So it’s not all Ray’s fault, though clearly some of it is given how hard batters are hitting the pitches he has thrown.

The sample size of Ray’s entire body of work still remains too small to determine whether his penchant for allowing hard contact is a real weakness or just a relatively short-term fluke. Obviously, if it ultimately proves to be a lingering problem, he’s probably going to continue to underperform his expected ERA metrics. But we cannot be sure now. And since that’s the case, his strikeout ability, combined with his potential for a sub-4.00 ERA with an improved defense next year, means he’s going to be a popular sleeper, and rightfully so. But since he’s in Arizona, and has such a limited track record, I have a feeling that his hype will not get out of control and he’ll remain a good value and cheap in drafts.





Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Dolemite
Member
Dolemite

I think this is where statcast becomes valuable.
I don’t have the time for a full dive right now, but this sounds like Pineda/eickhof/smyly/etc 2.0…. misses bats, good stuff, but when its hit its hit hard. Pineda deserved his BABIP and era to a certain degree by allowing VERY hard contact when contact was made… this would be a good Tony Blengino article… “does robby ray deserve his era” with all of his quality of contact metrics

igloo
Member

Pretty much my thoughts.

Blengino writes, “I’m proud to list myself as a Robbie Ray fan, but at present he is one of the worst contact-managers in the game.”

From: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/pitcher-contact-management-update-new-qualifiers/

The lack of a changeup is also a reason why he has a .336 wOBA against RHP (26th worst among qualified pitchers).

I will be buying shares next year but the upside is limited unless he can add a changeup and/or improve his contact management skills.

wobatus
Member
wobatus

Yes, Pineda immediately came to mind. Although he has a lower walk rate, but the elevated hr/fb, babip, and an era-siera of an even worse 1.50.

Jeff Zimmerman had a piece August 12 saying he thinks it is because Pineda is a 2 pitch fastball/slider pitcher, only throws the fb for strikes, so when he is behind he gets hit hard.

However, over his career Pineda has a more normal babip of .300 and homer to fb of 11.9.

In that same article Jeff discussed Duffy’s breakout. Mike’s article about selling high on Duffy was fairly accurate, although he has bounced back. But since Mike’s article on Duffy his era is 4.78 with a 3.8 xfip. In his starts prior to that his era was 3.8 and his xfip was…3.75. Results have differed, his k% is down from 27.5 to 23.3, and his hr/fb and babip are up. Some kudos to Mike although also seems like it is a slight luck issue.

Ray’s issues seem to be 3rd time through, as he was perfect through 4 innings with 7 Ks then got hit in the 5th his last start. But the start before that it was all in the first then he locked in.

I think we are really starting to see where DIPs theory can be pretty general, and with Blengino and all of the other statcast type info analysis is really becoming more finely grained. Next year, who would you rather have, Tanner Roark and Kyke Hendricks or Ray and Pineda (the latter 2 with lower siera)? Of course Hendricks and Roark are on better teams. And Roark has done this twice now but sandwiched around a poor 2015, his siera being roughly equal in all 3 years. But he and hendricks are major league leaders in least hard contact % and highest soft contact%.

Alex Chamberlain
Member

Instead of describing what I did (and did not) find out by combing through Ray’s splits data for an hour and assessing whether or not it was a complete waste of time, I’ll just leave this here.

wobatus
Member
wobatus

Ha, thanks!

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

Yes! let’s try to find some statistics to tell us what we already know. That sounds valuable… thank you Statcast!