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Mound Musings: BABIP Check-in

David Regan

David Regan

David Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, and was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

Before I got smart (OK, smarter) about the whole baseball analysis thing, I figured BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) was pretty cut and dry. BABIP league average was around .300. If you had a mark well above or below that, you were either getting "unlucky" or "lucky" on balls in play.

Not quite that simple.

Factors such as the quality of the defense behind said pitcher, the ballpark, and simply how good the pitcher is also impact BABIP. Plus, historically some pitchers have shown the ability to maintain a consistently-low (or high) BABIP, so are they getting “lucky” every year? Maybe once or twice, but witness SD's Chris Young's BABIPs the past four years:

2006 – .237
2007 – .252
2008 – .266
2009 – .261

Isn't it safe to say Young has a different BABIP ceiling if you will than other guys?

Isn't it also safe to say that Ubaldo Jimenez's stuff is so filthy that he induces more weakly hit routine grounders than the average pitcher?

Anyway, let's take a look at a handful of guys on both sides of the ledger in 2010:

Note that the stats below are as of Tuesday's games.

LOW BABIPs

NAME BABIP LD% GB% FB% HR/FB ERA K/9
Jeff Niemann, Rays .226 14.2 45.1 40.8 8.4 2.48 5.7
Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies .229 12.6 54.7 32.7 2.9 0.93 8.0
Matt Cain, Giants .231 18.6 34.7 46.7 3.5 2.11 6.4
Tim Hudson, Braves .233 11.5 66.0 22.5 10.9 2.44 4.0
Doug Fister, Mariners .240 13.0 52.5 34.5 6.5 2.45 4.1
Jamie Moyer, Phillies .240 16.3 45.4 38.3 10.9 3.98 4.1
Ted Lilly, Cubs .240 17.8 33.3 48.9 9.1 3.28 6.0
Livan Hernandez, Nationals .242 17.0 45.6 37.3 7.8 2.22 3.7
Jonathan Sanchez, Giants .243 16.2 38.7 45.1 5.1 2.63 9.0
Mat Latos, Padres .247 13.3 48.9 37.8 11.3 3.26 7.6
David Price, Rays .248 18.7 45.8 35.5 7.9 2.29 6.4
Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks .249 17.5 37.0 45.5 14.6 3.46 7.8
Jason Vargas, Mariners .254 14.7 34.8 50.4 6.2 3.06 5.6
Mitch Talbot, Indians .255 17.8 47.9 34.3 9.9 3.54 3.9
Colby Lewis, Rangers .256 17.7 39.7 42.6 9.0 3.40 8.3
Ryan Dempster, Cubs .256 11.6 48.4 40.0 13.3 3.76 8.5
You may have been watching some other guy pitch on Tuesday, but don't overlook the two-hit shutout Jeff Niemann spun against the Blue Jays. If you recall last year, Niemann had to compete for a rotation spot in the spring, ended up obviously winning the slot, and subsequently led the team in wins in 2009. This year was the first time he'd had the security of one of the five slots, and he's apparently settled in just fine. That Niemann doesn't miss a lot of bats plus entering the season with a BABIP 80 points higher than his current mark makes him an obvious candidate for regression. Still, there's enough to like for me to forecast a sub-4.00 ERA the rest of the way. Ubaldo Jimenez has never posted a BABIP this low, and we are pretty sure a 0.93 ERA isn't sustainable, but there's no pitcher in baseball I'd rather own than Jimenez (sorry Stephen). Matt Cain has been great lately, but at the same time, his strikeout rate has regressed the last couple years and he surrenders a lot of flyballs. Factor in a relatively high LD% and a bit of luck on balls in play and clearly Cain is in line for some re

You may have been watching some other guy pitch on Tuesday, but don't overlook the two-hit shutout Jeff Niemann spun against the Blue Jays. If you recall last year, Niemann had to compete for a rotation spot in the spring, ended up obviously winning the slot, and subsequently led the team in wins in 2009. This year was the first time he'd had the security of one of the five slots, and he's apparently settled in just fine. That Niemann doesn't miss a lot of bats plus entering the season with a BABIP 80 points higher than his current mark makes him an obvious candidate for regression. Still, there's enough to like for me to forecast a sub-4.00 ERA the rest of the way.

Ubaldo Jimenez has never posted a BABIP this low, and we are pretty sure a 0.93 ERA isn't sustainable, but there's no pitcher in baseball I'd rather own than Jimenez (sorry Stephen).

Matt Cain has been great lately, but at the same time, his strikeout rate has regressed the last couple years and he surrenders a lot of flyballs. Factor in a relatively high LD% and a bit of luck on balls in play and clearly Cain is in line for some regression, but then again, you probably figured that.

Tim Hudson was never a big strikeout guy, but now at 34 and post-Tommy John, he still averages 91 mph on his fastball, but the strikeouts continue to come less frequently. What he does better now than perhaps ever though is keeping hitters off balance and inducing ground balls. Hudson's GB% and LD% both lead all major league starting pitchers, allowing him to let the Braves defense take over. So that means the Braves have a great defense, right? Not so fast. From a UZR/150 perspective, the Braves infielders rate as follows:

Nothing special there. Hudson's GB% is a huge component of his success, but with the caveat that I've not watched too many of his starts this year, I have to think that there's quite a bit of luck involved here. If the Braves had the Twins or Phillies defense up the middle, I might feel differently. Perusing Doug Fister's swing/strike percentages (thank you FanGraphs) yields some interesting observations: As a percentage of total pitches thrown for strikes, batters swing less against Fister than any pitcher in the game. On all pitches (balls or strikes), batters swing less against Fister than most pitchers. When batters swing against Fister's pitches outside the zone, they make contact far more frequently than average. When batters swing at strikes, they make contact 94.1 percent of the time as compared to the leader, Clayton Kershaw's 78 percent. What's that tell us? To me – he's not that good and that hitters should swing more. Jamie Moyer – the ageless one. A guy you really don't want a part of outside NL-only leagues, but if you somehow "time it" right and use him, he could toss a two-hitter. I'm just not that good at figuring when those moments are going to occur. Before this year, Ted Lilly already was a soft-tosser, as his fastball velocity declined from 89.9 mph on average in 2006 to 87.1 last year. Somewhat alarming in and of itself, but back off another full two mph over last year to this year and we have a problem. His last outing against Milwaukee Tuesday was brilliant, so perhaps he's still working out the kinks from missing the season's first three weeks with a shoulder injury. I'll put a caution flag here and watch his velocity going forward. Livan Hernandez – move along. Jonathan Sanchez has the stuff to maintain a below-average BABIP, but not this low. His stuff and handedness combined with better command (4.9 BB/9 down to 4.1 this year) make him a tough customer when he's on. Mat Latos – I see him as more of a No. 2 type guy rather than a Halladay-type ace, but then again, there aren't many Halladays to spread around. Latos does well against LH hitters (.220), but he doesn't dominate them (6.1 K/9) as much as you'd like to see. David Price is another guy who I see as a strong No. 2 rather than the No. 1 he was projected to be after being the first pick in the draft. Nothing wrong with that, but I've yet to see what I need to in order to put him in that upper tier. His K:BB is a shade under 2:1, and the strikeouts don't come as frequently as you'd like to see. Factoring in BABIP and the AL East competition (he's yet to face BOS and has seen the Yankees just once) and I see a 4.00 guy the rest of the way. The rest of the group: Ian Kennedy I like quite a bit as an under-the-radar guy on a bad team. Too bad that bullpen is so brutal. … Jason Vargas and Mitch Talbot are probably on a lot of AL-only league-leading teams, but pessimism is warranted. … Love Colby Lewis despite the BABIP. His slider has been one of the league's best to date. … Ryan Dempster is actually making Jim Hendry look good with that four-year deal. He's quietly been one of the NL's more reliable starters the past three years. HIGH BABIPs
UZR/150 MLB RANK
1B -18.5 30
2B -6 20
SS 0.9 14
3B 4.2 13
NAME BABIP LD% GB% FB% HR/FB ERA K/9
Justin Masterson, Indians .384 19.5 61.6 18.9 14.3 5.46 8.3
Gavin Floyd, White Sox .369 20.1 46.6 33.3 9.6 6.18 7.7
Zach Duke, Pirates .359 21.2 49.8 29.0 14.3 5.43 5.8
Wandy Rodriguez, Astros .354 21.9 48.9 29.2 7.8 4.95 6.1
Brian Matusz, Orioles .353 19.9 33.6 46.4 7.1 5.10 7.7
Aaron Harang, Reds .351 24.6 41.7 33.8 14.3 5.43 7.2
Dan Haren, Diamondbacks .351 17.8 43.6 38.6 15.7 4.83 9.0
Francisco Liriano, Twins .349 18.80 49.5 31.7 3.1 3.10 9.4
Rick Porcello, Tigers .345 17.5 48.9 33.6 5.2 5.25 4.1
James Shields, Rays .344 23.5 42.6 33.9 14.1 3.64 8.6
Randy Wells, Cubs .343 24.5 47.2 28.3 10.0 4.86 6.8
Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays .341 22.0 39.6 38.4 7.9 5.48 10.4
Scott Feldman, Rangers .336 19.8 41.3 38.9 9.2 5.73 5.0
Joel Pineiro, Angels .328 16.9 55.5 27.6 11.4 5.23 5.7
Brett Myers, Astros .327 20.4 49.0 30.6 8.0 3.01 7.3
Nick Blackburn, Twins .327 17.8 47.3 34.9 10.0 5.21 2.3
A lot of groundballs, a fair amount of strikeout and a high ERA. Sounds like a buy-low opportunity. That is Justin Masterson. I own Masterson in a couple leagues, though he's riding my bench until he is able to prove my confidence in him is justified. Gavin Floyd, a former No. 4 overall pick, has been one of my more frustrating pitchers since the day he was drafted. Spurts of brilliance following by 3-7-7-7-5-2 outings last left many a fantasy owner frustrated. Floyd's talent is far superior to his 6.18 ERA, but if you are too frustrated to buy low, I understand. I just traded for Zach Duke's 2009 card in a Strat-O-Matic league, but over last year, Duke's velocity is down and his command has regressed, so it's hard to be too optimistic here. He's a bit better than his ERA, but a 4.75 ERA the rest of the way is about his ceiling. Wandy Rodriguez has taken a step back this year, not throwing as hard while striking out fewer batters and walking more. He's also allowing a lot of line drives, so the near-5.00 ERA is pretty easy to explain. Don't discount how good he was in 2009, but at the same time, I'm pessimistic that his ERA is going to drop rapidly. I'm a huge Brian Matusz fan, but he's probably a couple years away from fulfilling his vast potential. Solid but not spectacular K rate, a few too many flyballs and simply a bit too much inexperience. The non-Strasburg hype has died down, so it may be a good buying opportunity, but don't expect a payoff until at least mid-2011. Aaron Harang – Tired of him showing up on these lists. I'll just say that I'll be avoiding any Reds starter not named Cueto or Leake. Dan Haren will be fine simply because he's Dan Hare



A lot of groundballs, a fair amount of strikeout and a high ERA. Sounds like a buy-low opportunity. That is Justin Masterson. I own Masterson in a couple leagues, though he's riding my bench until he is able to prove my confidence in him is justified.

Gavin Floyd, a former No. 4 overall pick, has been one of my more frustrating pitchers since the day he was drafted. Spurts of brilliance following by 3-7-7-7-5-2 outings last left many a fantasy owner frustrated. Floyd's talent is far superior to his 6.18 ERA, but if you are too frustrated to buy low, I understand.

I just traded for Zach Duke's 2009 card in a Strat-O-Matic league, but over last year, Duke's velocity is down and his command has regressed, so it's hard to be too optimistic here. He's a bit better than his ERA, but a 4.75 ERA the rest of the way is about his ceiling.

Wandy Rodriguez has taken a step back this year, not throwing as hard while striking out fewer batters and walking more. He's also allowing a lot of line drives, so the near-5.00 ERA is pretty easy to explain. Don't discount how good he was in 2009, but at the same time, I'm pessimistic that his ERA is going to drop rapidly.

I'm a huge Brian Matusz fan, but he's probably a couple years away from fulfilling his vast potential. Solid but not spectacular K rate, a few too many flyballs and simply a bit too much inexperience. The non-Strasburg hype has died down, so it may be a good buying opportunity, but don't expect a payoff until at least mid-2011.

Aaron Harang – Tired of him showing up on these lists. I'll just say that I'll be avoiding any Reds starter not named Cueto or Leake.

Dan Haren will be fine simply because he's Dan Haren. The floundering D-backs are rumored to be sellers this summer, and Haren could bring a nice haul. Maybe us writers aren't supposed to be impartial, but let me go ahead and propose a Haren to the Dodgers deal for Ethan Martin, Kyle Russell and Dee Gordon. Get it done Ned Colletti.

The Francisco Liriano hype has died down, but the fact he's able to maintain a 3.10 ERA despite a .349 BABIP is impressive. Liriano is throwing harder than he has since 2006, and he has a 2.6 BB/9, so he might actually be a bit undervalued right now.

All throughout Rick Porcello's minor league career we heard about how the Tigers were babying his arm, so don't expect strikeout rate to be much of anything. It's 2010, so shouldn't the glove be about off by now? Porcello still has immense upside, but clearly the 4.1 K/9 and 5.10 ERA are both disappointments. On a more positive note, Porcello's slider has shown improvement this year and is now a plus pitch (thanks again FanGraphs), so look for a breakout, but likely not until 2011.

James Shields – we've seen enough here to have confidence in what we're going to get from him, high LD% aside.

Randy Wells had just three quality starts in his last eight outings and could be in danger of losing his rotation spot to Tom Gorzelanny. That sounds unlikely given Wells' 3.05 ERA a year ago, but recall that ERA came with a 5.7 K/9, so the lack of dominance appears to be catching up to him.

The rest of the group: Re: Brandon Morrow – I'm not discounting anyone with a double-digit K/9 rate. I am buying. … Scott Feldman – exhibit A on why you don't buy into a guy based on win totals (see Saunders, Joe if you remain unconvinced). … Joel Pineiro – more strikeouts, but also more walks, line drives and fly balls. He'll be his usual and mediocre self the rest of the way. … Brett Myers – five runs over his last four starts. I'll buy but I won't be that thrilled about it. … Nick Blackburn – 2.3 K/9? Really? Pretty sure Kyle Gibson would be a better pitcher NOW.