The Z Files: Victims of Misfortune

The Z Files: Victims of Misfortune

This article is part of our The Z Files series.

A couple of weeks ago, several metrics were reviewed, all of which measure things out of the player's control. The purpose was to help delineate a player's skill from the luck aspect of his performance, so as to get a more accurate picture when projecting future performance. Last week, a handful of hitters were examined in this light. Today, pitchers will be the focus but the approach will be different. Instead of dissecting specific players, several will be discussed, grouped under each of the pitching-related, luck-based metrics.

The mantra used to be "wait on pitching." With more and more drafters taking pitching early, the new plan should be to wait on a pitcher within each tier. We all have groups of pitchers we consider to be roughly equal but we still rank them within that group. If you can identify one you rank higher than the market, there's a good chance you can wait a round and grab that hurler which should fortify your offense via a hitter with that previous pick. If you can pinpoint where a pitcher was the victim of some bad luck there's a decent chance he'll be lower ranked thus someone you can wait on. To that end, here are some pitchers that endured some misfortune last season.

Left-on-base Percentage

Corey Kluber, CLE: The quickest way to find pitchers that had some bad luck is to compare their actual ERA with their FIP and xFIP, or whatever expected ERA you favor. Kluber's actual

A couple of weeks ago, several metrics were reviewed, all of which measure things out of the player's control. The purpose was to help delineate a player's skill from the luck aspect of his performance, so as to get a more accurate picture when projecting future performance. Last week, a handful of hitters were examined in this light. Today, pitchers will be the focus but the approach will be different. Instead of dissecting specific players, several will be discussed, grouped under each of the pitching-related, luck-based metrics.

The mantra used to be "wait on pitching." With more and more drafters taking pitching early, the new plan should be to wait on a pitcher within each tier. We all have groups of pitchers we consider to be roughly equal but we still rank them within that group. If you can identify one you rank higher than the market, there's a good chance you can wait a round and grab that hurler which should fortify your offense via a hitter with that previous pick. If you can pinpoint where a pitcher was the victim of some bad luck there's a decent chance he'll be lower ranked thus someone you can wait on. To that end, here are some pitchers that endured some misfortune last season.

Left-on-base Percentage

Corey Kluber, CLE: The quickest way to find pitchers that had some bad luck is to compare their actual ERA with their FIP and xFIP, or whatever expected ERA you favor. Kluber's actual mark was about half a run higher than dictated by his skills, which were essentially identical to those of his Cy Young campaign. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and home run per fly ball (HR/FB) were well within the expected range. The outlier was left-on-base percentage (LOB%) as he sported a 71 percent mark. League norm is about 72 percent but pitchers with excellent strikeout rate usually tend towards 78 percent. Kluber's 9.9 K/9 certainly qualifies as excellent so his LOB% was lower than expected. Assuming this normalizes, we're looking at a guy with a 3.00 ERA floor. Since it's been higher two of the past three seasons, many will expect an ERA north of that mark. This presents a great buying opportunity. Among the Tier-2 starters, it can be argued that Kluber should be ranked ahead of Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, Jose Fernandez and Stephen Strasburg, yet all four were drafted before Kluber in the recent Mixed LABR draft. One word of warning is most pitchers perform better from the wind-up than the stretch. The delta for Kluber's career is higher than average, meaning that on a relative basis, he's hurt more than other top starters when working from the stretch which may explain why his expected ERA is lower than his actual. Still, if I can get Kluber at the end of this tier, I'm not complaining.

Jon Lester, CHC: Like Kluber, Lester recorded a BABIP and HR/FB well with the expected range. His peripherals matched that of the previous season where his ERA was almost a run lower (though aided by some good fortune). In 2015, Lester's 72 percent LOB% mark was lower than expected. His career mark is 75 percent, with a couple of campaigns over 77. His peripherals those years closely resembled last year. If Lester repeats last season's whiff and walk rates, which he's achieved the past two seasons, his ERA should drop from last season's 3.34 and hover closer to 3.00. As such, instead of being in the middle to end of Tier-3, he deserves to be picked closer to the front of the tier. Some pitchers that could be ranked behind Lester but went earlier in Mixed LABR were Sonny Gray, Chris Archer and Cole Hamels.

Batting Average on Balls in Play

Chris Sale, CHW: Sale's 2015 strikeout and walk rates were better than the previous season. In 2014, his FIP/xFIP were 2.57/2.83 as compared to 2.73/2.60 last season. This is exactly the same guy yet his 2014 ERA was 2.17 while ballooning to 3.41 last year. The difference was a 0.323 BABIP, above the 0.294 league average and well above 2014's 0.280 mark. To be fair, his HR/FB was also elevated but the major point is Sale is the same pitcher he was this time last year, when he was the second or third starting arm off the board. In Mixed LABR, Sale was the fifth hurler drafted, to none other than Rotowire's Jeff Erickson. In the draft chat, Jeff said the main reason for taking Mike Trout first overall (with the implication being not taking Clayton Kershaw) was having a sense for what he could pick up at the next turn. He was no doubt planning on doubling up with aces, perhaps anticipating Sale would be one of them. Well played, Mr. Erickson.

Gio Gonzalez, WAS: Even factoring in that ground ball pitchers tend to carry a BABIP above the league average, last season's 0.341 mark for Gonzalez was extreme. To be fair, he did sport a career-high 54 percent ground ball rate, about eight percent over his career average, but that doesn't account for the huge leap from a career 0.295 BABIP. Gonzalez's 2015 3.79 ERA was considerably higher than his 3.05 FIP and a tad above his 3.59 xFIP. We'll save the relative merits of FIP versus xFIP for another day but it seems safe to say Gonzalez gave up more hits leading to more runs and, assuming his BABIP reverts to his career norm, his ERA should go along for the ride and drop. We're talking in the mid to late rounds here but a lot of the time you're staring at two names, each fulfilling a different need so you're trying to figure out the proper order to draft them to maximize chances of getting both. If one of those names is Gonzalez, you can pick him second, hoping others don't recognize the impending WHIP and ERA correction.

Home Run per Fly Ball

Felix Hernandez, SEA: Looking at Hernandez's 2015 mark of 1.03 HR/FB in a vacuum, it may not seem that bad considering league average is about 1.00. However, in the context of a 56 percent ground ball rate, something is amiss. Last season, King's HR/FB was a helium-filled 15.3 percent. Since 2007, the highest it's been is 10.1 percent, recorded in 2014. Perhaps there was some bad pitching aiding his HR/FB spike but Hernandez was also victimized and can thus expect to throw few gopher balls this season, dropping his ERA much closer to its normal 3.00 level than the 3.53 turned in last year. The market appears concerned about the big righty as he was the 19th starting pitcher drafted in Mixed LABR. An argument can be made that he's still a top-15, if not top-12 starter.

James Shields, SD: The league average home run per fly ball (HR/FB) mark over the last five years is 10.7. Shields has been right around that, albeit aided by working in venues that depress power. Given that Petco Park played positive for homers last season, a 17.6 HR/FB mark is way out of line with Shields' norm. Lost in last season's bloated 3.91 ERA was the veteran right-hander sporting a career-best 9.6 K/9. Granted, he's likely to give some of that back, but if he maintains any of it while honing his control closer to career levels, the correction in homers will result in a half a run lower than last year's mark. With so many flashy young arms grabbing people's attention, Shields is a nice staff stabilizer that will be ignored by many.

Swinging Strike Rate

Garrett Richards, LAA: Even though Richards was coming off a rather horrific season-ending knee injury, more was expected from him last season. The primary culprit was a precipitous drop in strikeouts, with a K/9 of 7.6, down from 2014's 8.8. Curiously, Richards' swinging strike rate (SwStr%) was higher in 2015 than the previous campaign. Research has shown a correlation between SwStr% and strikeout percentage. Converting Richards' expected strikeout percent into a typical K/9, his expected mark last season was 9.0. That is, assuming Richard maintains the same SwStr% he has exhibited the past two seasons, his 2016 K/9 should again threaten a batter an inning. Not only will this aid ERA (and WHIP), since whiffs are a scoring category in almost all types of fantasy play, he gets a boost there as well. Adjusting Richards strikeouts makes him a borderline top-20 starting pitcher. ESPN.com's Stephania Bell scooped up the Halos' righty as the 26th starter off the board.

Erasmo Ramirez, TB: Everyone wants to be ahead of the curve, unearthing that late round gold nugget. Ramirez is a popular choice for this season's chosen one. Last season, Ramirez sported a decent 3.75 ERA, fully supported by his peripherals. As such, many would expect a similar 2016 campaign. However, Ramirez recorded a rather pedestrian 6.9 K/9 despite a 11.3 SwStrk%. This should portend a K/9 in the 9.0 neighborhood. Combine that with last season's 2.2 BB/9 and 48 percent ground ball rate in one of the best pitcher's venues in the league and you can see what all the fuss is about. It's always nice to take a flyer on a guy working half his games in a pitcher's park, since worst case scenario you can spot him at home. If Ramirez can maintain the control gains exhibited last season while fanning more as suggested by his SwStrk%, he'll be active for a lot more than his starts in Tropicana Field.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Todd Zola
Todd has been writing about fantasy baseball since 1997. He won NL Tout Wars and Mixed LABR in 2016 as well as a multi-time league winner in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. Todd is now setting his sights even higher: The Rotowire Staff League. Lord Zola, as he's known in the industry, won the 2013 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Article of the Year award and was named the 2017 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year. Todd is a five-time FSWA awards finalist.
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