Last Wednesday I took a look at the pitchers who have generated the most weak contact this year. Today I want to take a look at the other side of the coin and examine the guys getting hit the hardest. Let me start by saying I haven’t updated the data since I calculated it last Tuesday. Calculating the relevant data takes a whole lot of time, and I doubt it’s changed all that much after one turn through the rotation.
The reason the data takes so long to calculate is because I’m calculating sOPS+ for batted balls. You could find each pitcher’s sOPS+ on their b-ref page, but that takes walks into consideration, and walks obviously have nothing to do with batted ball quality. I have taken each pitcher’s sOPS+ for each specific batted ball type, factored in how often a pitcher generates each batted ball type and calculated their sOPS+ just on balls that are put into play.
If you’re unfamiliar with sOPS+, it is just the OPS allowed by each pitcher relative to league average. It’s similar to wRC+ or ERA-. In this case, numbers below 100 are better than average while those above 100 are worse.
The idea is that this is supposed to tell us more about the quality of the hits a pitcher is giving up. In this way the stat is much more relevant than something like BABIP because BABIP gives all hits equal weight. I like this stat for the same reason Michael Salfino likes ISO allowed. BABIP includes singles, which are the most common outcome and doesn’t even consider home runs. But sOPS+ considers all hit types and weights them. This means sOPS+ is much more likely to tell us if a pitcher has been ‘lucky’ than BABIP is. If you see a pitcher whose ERA is much lower than ERA estimators, sOPS+ will give you a much better indication of whether the pitcher is due to regress than BABIP will.
That said, here are the qualified starters with the worst sOPS+ so far this year.
Despite matching his career best 22.8% K-BB% from 2012, Strasburg’s ERA is a career worst 3.41. This is why. It’s the line drives in particular that are killing him. It’s not just that he’s giving up a higher percentage of line drives than he ever has in any full season, but he’s been among the worst in the league at limiting the damage line drives cause. His sOPS+ against line drives is 186, which is 5th worst among the 90 qualified pitchers in my sample.
We’ll see how the season ends up, but I imagine you’ll see a lot of people pointing at Strasburg’s .325 BABIP (if it stays about that high) as reason he’s due for a bounce back next year. But this sOPS+ calculation makes me think that’s hasty analysis. Not that sOPS+ is extremely predictive. We are, after all, talking about a little over 100 line drives when we mention his issues with that batted ball type. That’s a pretty small sample and some regression should certainly be expected there. But if his issues with limiting hard contact don’t rebound, what his BABIP does isn’t going to matter all that much. Keep that in mind when you’re splitting hairs among the top pitching options next year.
With a couple of exceptions, the rest of the list contains other guys whose ERA has not matched their SIERA. Based on their high sOPS+, I don’t think we should expect the ERA and SIERA to eventually match up. Some guys on the list have a SIERA so high that we don’t really care if they do start pitching at a level in line with it. Those guys would be Verlander, Danks, Wilson and Jackson. And with the trade deadline long since passed in most leagues, we don’t care about the guys that are almost or universally owned until next year. Those guys are Shields and Lackey.
That leaves McCarthy, Odorizzi, Kennedy, Chen and Hughes, all of whom are owned in roughly 50-70% of ESPN.com leagues. With the exception of Chen, all have a K-BB% that is well above league average, and even Chen’s is safely above average. That’s obviously why their SIERAs are so attractive. But if you look back at the past couple of years, you’ll see that all but McCarthy had a SIERA lower than their ERA for 2012-13. I’m making a bit of an assumption here, but I’m guessing the ability to limit hard contact plagued them in years past as well. That makes me wary of all of them. Because of their ability to get strikeouts, they all obviously have some value. But I’d limit them to spot start work if they happen to be available in your league.