On Thursday, I discussed some of the statistical oddities and extremes on the hitter side after a month of play. While we preach not to make rash decisions based on small sample randomness, it’s because it could lead to some really fun, weird, and extreme results. Let’s dive into some of the weird and extreme starting pitcher stats.
BABIPs Be Crazy
Despite pretty strong peripherals and lots of strikeouts, Brandon Woodruff leads baseball with the highest BABIP at an absurd .396. Of course, a lot of that appears deserved as his line drive rate stands at an inflated 27.6%. Since liners land for a hit most often of all the batted ball types, this all makes sense. I highly doubt such an inflated LD% will continue, though, so he’s a nice target in deeper leagues.
You think it’s just unproven starters getting BABIP’d to death? Nope. A pair of top flight starters currently rank third and fourth in the metric. Their names? Max Scherzer & Carlos Carrasco. Scherzer is pretty shocking, as he has posted a sub-.300 BABIP every season since 2014, and owns a career .289 mark. His batted ball profile holds some clues, with a jump in LD% and barely any pop-ups, but it doesn’t provide a full explanation. You can’t even blame the defense, as they have posted a slightly positive UZR/150 so far.
Carrasco is a bit of a different story, having posted marks above .300 the last two seasons and he owns a career .308 mark. He has become an extreme fly baller though, which you would expect to help his BABIP, not hurt it.
If you continue browsing the rest of the top 10 in highest BABIP, you find the names of other expected stars including Corey Kluber, Aaron Nola, and Noah Syndergaard. Man, it’s been a crazy year for pitching indeed.
It’s been so crazy, no one would have guessed who sports the lowest BABIP in baseball. It’s hybrid starter/follower Yonny Chirinos with his microscopic .198 mark. It’s pretty amazing that his ERA is nearly identical to last year with that BABIP, but that’s because his FB% has spiked, and his HR/FB rate has doubled.
Remember how half of you called Shane Bieber a sleeper because of his strong underlying skills and SIERA over a full run below his ERA, while the other half claimed he was “hittable” because of his inflated .356 BABIP? I guess he learned how to suppress hits on balls in play over the off-season, because he now sits seventh lowest in BABIP with a .231 mark. If that swing doesn’t convince you of how fluky the stat is over small samples, I don’t know what would.
To Induce Grounders or Not to Induce Grounders
Cole Hamels is a veteran of veterans, owns a career 44.9% grounder rate, which is essentially league average, and has posted a mark above 50% once in his long career. So how on Earth is he leading baseball right now in GB%?!
On the other end of the spectrum, Jake Odorizzi has refused to kill worms, generating a grounder just 26.2% of the time. He has always been an extreme fly ball pitcher, but in this age of rising HR/FB rates, this doesn’t sound like a winning strategy. While it has so far this year given his 2.78 ERA, that 4.9% HR/FB rate ain’t going to last, which could drive his ERA up toward his 4.34 SIERA.
Homers Are Bad, mmmmmmkay?
Yes, Yu Darvish has been terrible, walking 27 batters already in just 32.2 innings. But the results have been even worse thanks to a league high HR/FB rate of 33.3%, the only pitcher with a mark above 30%.
A better strategy would be to just not allow any homers like Marcus Stroman has. He’s the only qualified starter who has yet to do so. He has enjoyed quite the rebound so far after last year’s disappointing season. However, notice that his SIERA is actually sitting at a career high, and it has risen literally every season. That’s not a good trend.
Line Drives Are Bad…or Maybe Not?
There’s a real possibility that Andrew Cashner would be your last guess of all starting pitchers when asked who currently owns the lowest LD% allowed. His 11.3% mark actually does rank as lowest, which is pretty shocking for such a bad pitcher. It hasn’t done him much good though, as his ERA still stands at 4.71. Just imagine what happens to that ERA once his LD% reverts toward his career average (20.4%)!
But maybe allowing liners is actually a good thing? Heck, it’s worked for Trevor Bauer & Caleb Smith! Bauer has somehow managed to post a low .221 BABIP while allowing liners at a skyhigh 27.1% rate. He has also walked 12.2% of opposing batters. Makes you wonder how much longer he could sustain a sub-3.00 ERA. Smith is one of the early season’s biggest breakouts, following up last year’s strikeout rate surge with further skills gains. But he too is allowing tons of liners (26.3% LD%), while allowing just a .224 BABIP. Unlike Bauer though, Smith’s skills have been superb and yielded a 3.05 SIERA, but still, with a LOB% over 90% and the low BABIP despite the high LD%, there’s an implosion or two potentially coming.
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.