Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense (and other notes from 6/23/15)

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After Danny Salazar suffered a meltdown in the 5th inning against the Tigers on Tuesday and I was simultaneously being asked by my brother what is wrong with Carlos Carrasco this season, I thought about both of those Indians pitchers, as well as rotation mates Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, and did a little digging and and discovered some interesting things.

Here is a look at each of these four Indians starting pitchers numbers in line drive rate (LD%), ground ball rate (GB%), fly ball rate (FB%), hard hit rate (Hard%), BABIP, ERA, and xFIP this season (I’m not including a 5th Indians SP because that 5th spot for them has been in flux all season long):

Salazar: 18.8 LD%, 45.2 GB%, 36.0 FB%, 30.7 Hard%, .323 BABIP, 4.06 ERA, 2.81 xFIP

Carrasco: 20.8 LD%, 46.6 GB%, 32.6 FB%, 33.5 Hard%, .347 BABIP, 4.35 ERA, 2.87 xFIP

Kluber: 22.2 LD%, 46.2 GB%, 31.6 FB%, 27.7 Hard%, .335 BABIP, 3.65 ERA, 2.80 xFIP

Bauer: 18.1 LD%, 37.2 GB%, 44.7 FB%, 29.4 Hard%, .283 BABIP, 3.86 ERA, 4.27 xFIP

So what we see here is that Salazar, Carrasco, and Kluber are all more on the ground ball side of things while Bauer is a flyball pitcher.  So we would expect the first three guys to to have higher batting average on balls in play (BABIP) marks because ground ball pitchers tend to almost always have higher marks than fly ball pitchers, because balls that are hit in the air for fly balls have a greater chance of being recorded for an out as long as it doesn’t leave the park.  But what is odd is how high those marks are for those first three pitchers listed and it poses the question if there is something outside of their control that is affecting them since it is odd to see three pitchers from the same team with such inflated BABIP marks.

The league average BABIP is usually around .300 and the league average hard hit rate is around 30%.  Salazar, Carrasco, and Kluber all rank in the top 20 in highest BABIP, but it is only Carrasco that appears in the top 20 highest hard hit rates and none of them appear in the top 20 highest line drive rates.  Line drives account for a good portion of hard hit balls, and hard hit balls have a greater chance to fall in for hits, which would increase a pitcher’s BABIP.  But if none of these three guys are really giving up a ton of line drives and it’s only really Carrasco who is getting hit harder than the average pitcher, why are their BABIP’s so much higher than the league average?

The answer here is the Indians team defense as a whole is just not very good and is costing these pitchers in ERA and WHIP.  According to ratings, the Indians rank 27th in the Majors in defensive efficiency as their defense has cost them 13.8 runs so far this season, and their defense is likely the reason why the Indians have the 3rd highest team BABIP in baseball. It’s not that the Indians defense makes a lot of errors, but it’s more the fact that they lack range, defensive prowess, and the ability to prevent hits from getting in and runs from scoring.  It could be attributed to poor defensive players, but it also could be attributed to poor defensive alignments set by the coaching staff and/or inefficient use of defensive shifts. Whatever it may be, the Indians had the same bad defense last year, but this year it seems to be affecting their starting pitchers more negatively.

What this means for the Indians pitchers (not named Bauer) going forward is that even though they have excellent xFIP marks (expected fielding independent ERA — measures what a pitcher’s ERA should be if defense was not a factor), huge improvements in ERA and WHIP in the near future are not necessarily a given.  Yes, they all should receive some better fortune and see their numbers regress at least somewhat toward the mean, but a complete 180 turnaround may not be in the cards and it cannot be expected that their ERA’s get as low as their xFIP’s.  However, something that may help is the recent promotion of defensive wizard Francisco Lindor to play shortstop for the Indians.  One player isn’t likely to turn around the whole defense, but Lindor has always been praised for his glove work and can at least provide some positive value in helping to prevent hits and runs.

Two other teams that have high team BABIP marks that also rank very poorly defensively are the White Sox and Padres. The White Sox have the highest BABIP in all of baseball and have the lowest defensive rating to coincide with it.  So this hurts guys like Jose QuintanaJeff Samardzija, John Danks, and Carlos Rodon who all are more on the ground ball side of things.  However, ace Chris Sale and his .283 BABIP appears to be skating by just fine (and should continue to) because he has been getting a lot of fly balls.  As for the Padres, we knew going into the season that their defense would be questionable all around with a completely revamped outfield that consisted of some poorly rated defensive players, and an infield that also looked like it was going to have some issues.  The Padres currently have the 6th highest team BABIP and rank 29th in defensive rating, so it should come as no surprise that heavy ground ball pitchers Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner are having such abysmal seasons so far.

So these are examples of how a poor defense can affect a pitching staff, or more specifically individual pitchers with ground ball tendencies, and it should give some pause to whether or not these aforementioned pitchers can truly turn things around and post numbers to what their “expected” stats say that they should.  I like Salazar, Carrasco, and Kluber, but this revelation does shine some poor light on their outlooks for the remainder of the season.

Now let’s take a look at the rest of Tuesday’s action. 

Edwin Encarnacion – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R.  Encarnacion is still kind of trudging along after he had an ailing shoulder and got a cortisone shot for it.  But he actually is hitting .303 in June and he was able to smack his 2nd HR of the month on Tuesday.  He figures to get hot at some point as long as his shoulder doesn’t hamper him too much.

Dioner Navarro – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R.  Navarro got back-to-back starts and now has HR in back-to-back games.  This could earn him some additional playing time, but don’t hold your breath just yet.  But as I said on Monday, if he falls into some real playing time then he can put up some nice stats for a fantasy catcher.

Roberto Osuna – Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said that Brett Cecil has been removed as the team’s closer and the team will go to a committee in the 9th inning.  Well doesn’t this sound oddly familiar?  I have been saying the last couple of days that Cecil could be on his way out and Osuna could take the job, and I gave it a headline article on Monday in “Jays to Have New Closer Osuna or Later.”  I can’t make this stuff up.  For now, I would expect Osuna to get the bulk of the chances and I think he will do well enough to not relinquish the role unless the team acquires a proven closer via trade.

Asdrubal Cabrera – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R.  Asdrubal is not having a great season at the plate as he is just failing to drive the ball with any authority with a paltry 23.5% hard hit rate.  However, he had a nice matchup on Tuesday against R.A. Dickey who he has done well against in his career.  He got a hit off Dickey and then later hit a HR off a relief pitcher for some DFS goodness.  He’s now hitting just .210 with 5 HR, 17 RBI, 21 R, and 3 SB.

Chris Archer – 8 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K with the W.  Archer was able to hold down those Jays bats pretty well as I suggested him as one of my favorite DFS pitcher plays of the day.  Archer improved to 9-4 with a 2.10 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 123 K/24 BB in 103 IP, and he is one of the frontrunners for the AL Cy Young.

Brad Boxberger – 1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K with the SV.  Boxberger sat out a few days a couple weeks ago with a biceps injury, but he is showing to still be very effective as the Rays primary closer as he has locked down the team’s last 4 save opportunities.  His save on Tuesday wasn’t clean as he served up a home run to Encarnacion, but he’s still got a nice 2.93 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 12.36 K/9 while converting 19 of 21 save chances.

Jason Heyward – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 K.  Heyward stayed hot on Tuesday by hitting his 8th HR of the season.  He’s looking like he can finally be a contributor for the rest of the season and we all know what kind of potential he has.

Carlos Martinez – 7 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 9 K with the W.  I highlighted this start for Martinez as one of the best DFS pitcher plays of the day.  It didn’t start out too great, but he only made one real mistake early on.  He settled down and came back to whiff a lot of Marlins hitters and came away with his 8th victory of the season.  He now has a 2.89 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 94 K/36 BB in 87.1 IP.  He does struggle with his control from time to time, so we need to be careful using him against teams that are patient and walk a lot — that means his next start against the Cubs who walk a lot.

Giancarlo Stanton – 1 for 3, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K.  Stanton caught a hanger, sarge.  A hanging slider from Carlos Martinez that is.  And he belted it deep into the night for yet another Mike drop HR.  He now has 26 HR and 66 RBI in 71 games.

Travis d’Arnaud – D’arnaud was placed on the DL after hyperextending his elbow the other day.  Tough break for d’Arnaud as he just recently came off the DL.

Mike Fiers – 6  IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K.  In Tuesday’s DFS strategy post, I said that Fiers was in a nice spot against the Mets and he fared pretty well for his best start since June 1.  It was an encouraging start for Fiers, who has been hit hard this year with the highest hard hit rate in the league, but he’s definitely not out of dangerous waters just yet.  His next start is against the Twins, which is not a terrible spot.  But exercise caution.

Zack Greinke – 6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K.  I didn’t really think this was a superb spot for Greinke, but he held the Cubs down for 6 shutout innings.  I keep waiting for him to hit that regression, but it just isn’t coming yet.  His 1.70 ERA and 0.93 WHIP are sterling, but he’s just not likely to maintain a .250 BABIP and 88.3% strand rate.

Jason Hammel – 7.2 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K.  Hammel was up against the top hitting team in the league against right-handed pitchers and he blanked them for almost 8 innings.  Very impressive.  I said earlier in the season in “U Can’t Touch This, Hammel Time!” that Hammel should be able to continue the success that he was having and he is doing just that.  He has a 2.65 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 92 K/16 BB in 91.2 IP, which is fantasy ace material.

Jeff Samardzija – 7 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 K with the W.  I labeled Samardzija’s start on Tuesday against the Twins a spot where he could potentially do well and that’s what he did.  I still don’t like his outlook for the rest of the season though and he could have his hands full when he visits Detroit in his next start.

Andrew McCutchen – 2 for 3, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB.  Remember when McCutchen was hitting .194 at the end of April?  Well now he is hitting .292 and is producing nicely across the board.  He’s still not doing much in terms of stolen bases though, which makes him a little less attractive.

Billy Hamilton – 2 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 R, 2 SB, 1 K.  Hamilton swiped another 2 bases on Tuesday and now has 33 on the season.  Unfortunately all those SB’s are still paired with an ugly looking AVG at .227.

Brett Gardner – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB, 2 K.  In the last 6 games, Gardner is 15 for 27 with 4 HR and 9 RBI.  On fire.

Stephen Strasburg – 5 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K with the W.  Strasburg returned from the DL to go 5 shutout frames, but I wouldn’t get too excited because it was against a Freeman-less Braves offense.  His next start will come at Philly, which is another nice matchup on paper, but the Phillies have been putting up a phight lately.  I’d be interested to see what he does in his next start before recommending him again as an option.

Alex Rodriguez – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R.  He keeps on hitting the home runs.  He now has 15.

Maikel Franco – 2 for 3, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB.  Well, this is just getting ridiculous now.  In his last 5 games, Franco is 13 for 21 with 3 HR and 10 RBI (with all 10 of those RBI coming in the last two games).  I would venture to say that this guy is pretty studly and is surely someone the Phillies might be able to build around.  Now if only they can rid themselves of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley‘s big contracts.

Rougned Odor – 3 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB.  Odor is now 9 for 19 since his recall a week ago and he’s looking like he’s going to be a nice fantasy option for the rest of the season.  I wrote about him in “Rougned Bringing a Nice Odor to the Texas Air.”  So follow the link to learn more about Odor and what he can do.

Adrian Beltre – 1 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 R.  Beltre finally returned from the DL and was slotted right back into his usual cleanup spot for the Rangers.  The Rangers really missed a right-handed presence in the middle of their lineup, so this should do good things for the Rangers offense as a whole.  For DFS purposes, it makes it tricky to stack the Rangers because both Joey Gallo and Beltre are only 3B eligible on DraftKings, and both Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland are only 1B eligible on DraftKings.

Chi Chi Gonzalez – 5.2 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 1 K with the L.  Finally!  Gonzalez actually got knocked around.  This could be the start of a swift downfall for the rookie righty.  He might still be able to fool some teams who haven’t faced him yet, but this was the A’s second time seeing him so they were able to do much better.  Abandon ship before it gets ugly.

Jesse Chavez – 5 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 3 K with the W.  I said in the DFS strategy post that this wasn’t a great spot for Chavez due to the weather, stadium, and him much preferring to pitch at home.  He managed to escape with the win, and I still like Chavez as an underrated option and he should fare better against the Royals at home in his next start.  He’ll take a 2.90 ERA and 1.15 WHIP into that start.

A.J. Pollock – 3 for 5, 1 H, 1 RBI, 1 R.  Pollock became the 8th players this season to reach double digits in both HR and SB. The guy is developing into a true stud.

Nolan Arenado – 2 for 4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R.  Arenado went double dong on Tuesday to set a new career high in HR with 19 in just his 68th game of the season.  His previous career high was 18 in 111 games set last year.  Though I loved him coming into the year, he’s surely exceeding my expectations for him regarding his power.

Carlos Correa – 3 for 6, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, 1 K.  Correa continuing to do amazing things as a rookie.  It would be nice to see him improve his walk and strikeout rates, but it’s hard to complain with the type of show that he’s putting on.

Luis Valbuena – 3 for 5, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R.  This was Valbuena’s 3rd multi-HR game of the season to give him 19 on the season.  This type of power outburst is a bit unexpected from him, but the Astros are probably very happy that they acquired him over the off-season.  He’s still hitting under .200, so he’s not that attractive in fantasy leagues, but for DFS he’s good to go on a lot of nights.

C.J. Wilson – 3.1 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 3 K with the L.  Wilson was due for a game like this.  He’s been working with a career best walk rate this year, but he wasn’t able to locate his pitches on Tuesday and this should be happening more often for the veteran lefty.  He has a 3.92 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, but his numbers should continue to get worse as he loses grip on his control.

Madison Bumgarner – 7.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 14 K.  It was a truly masterful game from Bumgarner for 7 innings, but then he got rattled in the 8th to end up with a tough luck no-decision.  Although he has been very good this season, this was his first true big time strikeout performance of the season and it was a career high.  There were some around the fantasy community that felt that all of Bumgarner’s innings last season would take a toll on him this year, but I never really truly bought into that and that is just not the case.  He is a true ace and a true workhorse that the Giants and fantasy squads can lean on.

Mike Montgomery – 9 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 10 K with the W.  Oddly enough, Montgomery entered the game with just 4.10 K/9, but he was able to strikeout 10 in a complete game shutout against the team that strikes out the least in all of baseball.  I wouldn’t expect him to repeat this type of performance, but he is showing to be a decent option for the Mariners rotation.  Montgomery improved to 2-2 with a 2.04 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 22 K/8 BB in IP.  Give him a whirl if you need pitching as he is a former 1st round pick with some talent.  He gets a decent matchup in his next start at Petco Park.

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11 thoughts on “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense (and other notes from 6/23/15)

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