When the Hard Hit Rates Don’t Match the BABIP (and other notes from 6/29/15)

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Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox kept the bats of a powerful Blue Jays offense in check all evening on Monday and he defeated them by posting a line of 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K.  He improved to 6-6 with a 3.48 ERA and 1.24 WHIP with both healthy strikeout and walk rates (8.55 K/9, 2.05 BB/9).  Buchholz’ issue this season is that he has the occasional blow up game to cancel out some of the great work that he does.  And as I said after his last start, if he can receive some better fortune then he could have better looking stats.  It’s probably too late now, but he would have been in a position to be the Red Sox All-Star representative if he had some better luck up to this point.  To see how Buchholz is sitting on the wrong side of things, we look at league stats for pitchers hard hit rate and BABIP.

Hard hit rate is a statistic that is becoming more prevalent in the conversation in the performance of players, similar to the way that BABIP (batting average on balls in play) did several years ago.  Hard hit rate is just what it sounds like — it is the rate at which a ball is hit at a “hard” impact and it can be used for evaluating both hitters and pitchers alike.  For hitters, the harder a ball is hit, the more that it shows that they are squaring up the ball with good contact and the greater likelihood of a hit and positive offensive production.  For pitchers, the harder the ball is hit against them would suggest that they are more likely to have poor results, giving up more hits and runs.  BABIP for hitters is the rate at which balls that are put in play (i.e. any official at-bat that does not result in a home run or strikeout) go for hits.  For pitchers, BABIP is the rate at which they allow hits on balls that are playable by a defense.

So using the stats provided by FanGraphs, looking at the top 15 in lowest hard hit rate for pitchers entering June 30, 2015, we find Buchholz come in at the 11th lowest with 23.9%.  So with a pretty low hard hit rate, we would expect that Buchholz would have a pretty low BABIP or at least around the league average in BABIP, which is generally somewhere around .300. But it is the exact opposite that we are seeing from the Red Sox righty.  Buchholz actually has the 12th highest BABIP at .332.  So the fact that he has been one of the better pitchers in limiting hard contact but has one of the higher BABIP marks in the league would suggest one of two things (or both): 1.) Poor defense behind him  2.) Lots of bad luck

So now we turn to defensive statistics, yet again on FanGraphs, to see what the Red Sox defense has been doing this season.  They come in below the league midpoint in DEF (defense rating) and UZR (ultimate zone rating), but they are not ranked too low in either — 17th in DEF at 0.3 and 19th in UZR at -6.4 — so they can more or less be classified as a league average defensive team as opposed to a poor defensive team.  Because of this, we would have to lean towards attributing Buchholz’ contradictory hard hit rate and BABIP to bad luck, and it can further be shown in the fact that his xFIP of 3.19 and SIERA of 3.22 sit a bit lower than his 3.48 ERA.  As we approach the season’s official 81-games played halfway point (the All-Star break is commonly given the misnomer as the halfway point), Buchholz could be in for some better times if he keeps pitching at the level that he is (or better) and receives some added luck on his side.

Using this same method, there are a few other pitchers whose hard hit rates don’t match up with their BABIP.  Let’s take a look at the following:

  • Gio Gonzalez – .354 BABIP (2nd highest), 25.6% hard hit (21st lowest) / Nationals: -8.7 DEF (22nd), -10.7 UZR (22nd)
  • Tyson Ross – .346 BABIP (5th highest), 24.1% hard hit (13th lowest) / Padres -31.6 DEF (29th), -34.6 UZR (29th)
  • Jose Quintana – .335 BABIP (10th highest), 24.7% hard hit (15th lowest) / White Sox: -37.6 DEF (30th), -34.6 UZR (30th)
  • Jeff Samardzija – .329 BABIP (16th highest), 26.1% hard hit (24th lowest) / White Sox: -37.6 DEF (30th), -34.6 UZR (30th)
  • Mike Pelfrey – .315 BABIP (29th highest), 20.5% hard hit (1st lowest) / Twins: -6.2 DEF (19th), -4.2 UZR (18th)

Gonzalez comes up ten thousandths of a point shy of having the highest BABIP in all of the Majors (Nate Eovaldi currently has the highest), but he isn’t getting hit all that hard.  However, his Nationals defense has been pretty bad.  I would expect some regression here just given how high his BABIP is, but with the poor defense and career high line drive and ground ball rates, it’s not necessarily all bad luck that he is receiving.

Moving on to Ross, I talked about bad defenses and how they can affect pitchers in “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense,” and his defense has been the second worst in all of baseball.  So while he should improve some, his 62.8% ground ball rate is not conducive for the poor infield defense that he has behind him and things may not get too much better.

Then both Quintana and Samardzija pitch in front of the league’s absolute worst defense (also mentioned in “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense”), so it is no surprise that we see them appear in this statistical review.  Like with Ross, some improvement should be seen, but if the White Sox keep deploying the same defensive players and strategy then it might be tough sledding for them to show drastic improvements in their overall stats.

Then there is Pelfrey who got obliterated for the second time in four starts on Monday to give him a much uglier stat line and to push him up the BABIP charts a lot.  He’s more in the same boat as Buchholz with a mediocre defense rather than a poor one.  So he could see some better days, but because of his minimal strikeout appeal, he is not a great fantasy target to begin with.  But with some better luck, he can provide decently in ERA.

Something interesting though that all six of the aforementioned pitchers have in common is that they all appear in the top 21 highest medium hit rates.  So while they may not be allowing a lot of hard hit balls, they all give up a lot of medium hit ones.  So perhaps it is these medium hit balls that these average or below average defenses are struggling to defend due to either poor range or misguided defensive alignments.  Nonetheless, I would still expect Buchholz to have some better days ahead of him if he continues to pitch at the level he has been.

Let’s now look at the remainder of Monday’s action!

Jonathan Lucroy – 4 for 5, 2 RBI, 2 R.  Lucroy was on the DL for about 6 weeks, but it’s been a month since he’s been back and he still has yet to really get things going.  However, a 4 hit night on Monday could change things.  He’s been one of the better hitting catchers in the last three seasons, so at age 29 there’s no reason to think that he has just fallen off a cliff.  He’s hitting .235 with 1 HR and 14 RBI in 38 games, but should be on the upswing soon.  Be patient.

Jimmy Nelson – 5 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 K with the W.  Nelson got the win on Monday, but he did put up a bit of a dud against a weak Phillies offense to further show that he is one of the most inconsistent pitchers there is — something that I’ve been saying for a while now.  His 4.48 ERA and 1.30 WHIP are rather mediocre at best, but he should be capable of better.

Shin-Soo Choo – 3 for 5, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 K.  After a pretty nice May, Choo had been in quite a funk in June until Monday evening when he hit his 9th HR of the season.  Even during his hot streak in May, I said that I wouldn’t want to own him.  So here we are just about halfway through the season and Choo has a weak .232 AVG and has still yet to steal a base all season long.  If you want a low AVG with average power and no speed then Choo is your guy.

Mitch Moreland – 2 for 5, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, 2 K.  I’m still waiting for Moreland’s batting average to come down to the .270 range or lower (currently at .300 with a .342 BABIP), but the power should keep on coming as long as he stays healthy.  He proved it with the double dong game on Monday to give him 12 HR and 39 RBI in 57 games.

Jason Kipnis – 3 for 4, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB.  It’s been a while since I mentioned Kipnis, probably since he hasn’t hit any HR this month, but he is batting .367 in June after he tore through May with a .429 AVG.  Overall for the season, Kipnis is hitting .348 with 5 HR, 32 RBI, 51 R, and 10 SB.  Yes, Kipnis does have a high BABIP at .394, but he is also spraying line drives all over the place at over 29% (4th highest in the league).  So until he stops hitting line drives, then he’s going to be able to keep up the great AVG and high BABIP.

Michael Brantley – 3 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 SB, 1 BB.  It’s also been a while since I mentioned Brantley as he has now gone 39 straight games without a home run.  Brantley set a career high with 20 HR last season, which doubled his previous career high of 10, so there was going to be some doubt that he would be able to match that power output from last season. But up until he had a back injury that began to hamper his play, he was showing good pop and on his way to another 20 HR season.  So it’s probably safe to say that his back is still limiting him in some way and his power may not be returning. He is not likely to be selected to the All-Star festivities, so perhaps the few days of rest will do him some good.

Cody Anderson – 8 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K with the W.  Anderson made his 2nd Major League start on Monday against the same Rays team that he silenced in his debut.  I said after his debut that he has good control with moderate strikeout potential, and the good control part he has so far lived up to, but the strikeout potential that he is displaying can best be labeled as “non-existent.”  He still could have some sticking power in his first tour of the league, but it figures that he soon will begin to get knocked around.  His next two scheduled starts are against the Pirates and Astros, which represent as more dangerous offenses than the Rays so he is likely to have a more difficult time.

Brian Dozier – 1 for 5, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R, 3 K.  Bull-Dozier-ing once more for his 16th HR of the season.  He is the Todd Frazier of second basemen.

Billy Hamilton – 2 for 4, 3 R, 4 SB, 2 BB.  Hamilton stole 4 bases on Monday, which marks the 4th time this season that he has stolen at least 3 bases in a game.  Some guys don’t even get 3 SB’s in their career, let alone a single game.  He now has 40 SB in 46 attempts and if he can improve on that very low .273 OBP and/or work his way back up to the leadoff spot (he hit leadoff on Monday with Brandon Phillips having the day off), then he would have a legitimate shot at getting 100 SB for the season.

Tucker Barnhart – 4 for 5, 2 RBI, 1 R.  Barnhart is the backup catcher to Brayan Pena on the Reds and he has been doing a very serviceable job in the role with a .308 AVG and 3 HR in 24 games.  However, he is no barn burner, nothing special, but he did have a 4 hit day on Monday.  If something were to happen to Pena, Barnhart would presumably take over as the starting catcher and most likely not be too exciting.

Eugenio Suarez – 3 for 5, 3 RBI, 1 R, 2 SB, 1 K.  Suarez was acquired by the Reds when they traded Alfredo Simon to the Tigers in the off-season.  Suarez has been collecting regular starts at shortstop with Zack Cozart suffering a season-ending injury, so Suarez will continue to have the chance to establish himself as the team’s shortstop of the future.  He actually probably has similar offensive potential to Cozart as a 10 HR/10 SB type of player with a mediocre AVG.  But at just 23 years old, Suarez has room for growth.  He is hitting .316 with 1 HR and 3 SB in 16 games so far.

Mike Leake – 4 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 5 K.  Leake was in the battle of the Mike’s with Mr. Pelfrey in a game of “who can suck the least?”  Leake won that battle, but is someone that really should not be used all that often in fantasy.  He gets the Brewers next and then the Marlins.  The Brewers would be a toss up on whether or not to use him, but the Marlins figures to be a better spot since they are without Giancarlo Stanton and it’s a team that he shutout for 7 innings earlier this season.

Lance McCullers – 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K with the W.  McCullers put together a nice performance against a fiesty Royals offense and he continues to have better overall performances at home with a 1.20 ERA and 0.90 WHIP, though he is still pretty decent on the road.  He is scheduled to close out the first half of the season with road starts at Boston and Tampa Bay.  The future looks bright for the 21-year old Astro.

Joe Blanton – 2.2 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 2 K with the L.  Blanton had done well in his first two starts since joining the rotation, but those starts were against the Brewers and Mariners and his start on Monday against the Astros was surely not a good spot for him and he should have been avoided.  He got rocked early on for a quick exit, but he still could be a decent play against the poor offenses.  He’ll get his next two starts against the Twins and Rays, which aren’t that horrible spots.  I wouldn’t necessarily start him for those, but in deep leagues and/or DFS there could be a case made for it.

Yasmany Tomas – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K.  It’s a bit odd given his bulky size (6’2″/255 lbs.) that at not one point this season has Tomas had more HR than SB.  But the Cuban import was able to even it out on Monday by launching his 4th HR to match his 4 SB.  He’s also hitting a cool .314, but I would be somewhat surprised if he finished the season with an batting average of .300.  His BABIP is .391 and it figures to come down some.  But he could surely provide more power in the second half of the season and I would imagine that he finishes the season with 15+ HR.

Nick Ahmed – 2 for 3, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 SB.  Believe it or not, there are probably worse options for a fantasy shortstop than Ahmed.  Ahmed is not much of a power hitter at all, so while 5 HR isn’t a lot, it’s a lot for him to have at this point in the season.  I wouldn’t expect many more HR from him, but he could get to 10 SB (currrently has 3 SB).

Joc Pederson – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K.  With a home run on Monday, Pederson now has 20 HR nearly halfway through the season.  Not many people could have seen this coming.

Andre Ethier – 3 for 5, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 K.  Even with Yasiel Puig back from the DL, Ethier is still finding regular starts against right-handed pitching.  However, he has been in a slump in June, entering Monday with a .207 AVG in the month. But a 3 hit game with his 10th HR of the season helped to improve his line.  He’s going to have to put together some sort of consistently good performances if he wants to maintain at least regular at-bats as part of a platoon because the Dodgers have other guys that can be capable of taking over should Ethier hit a prolonged slump.

Yasmani Grandal – 2 for 3, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 2 BB.  Grandal has been an amazing pick up for the Dodgers and the switch hitter is proving to be a masher against righties as he has a .900 OPS against them.  It took a few years, but Grandal is finally on his way to his breakout year.

Mike Bolsinger – 4 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K.  Bolsinger did pretty well against his former team the first time around, and he was on his way to another solid game before he exited early with food poisoning.  If 4 shutout innings with 4 K’s is what a pitcher with food poisoning looks like, then sign me up for some food poisoning.  I still figure that Bolsinger will begin to get hit harder once teams get more look at him because of his lack of a third good pitch offering.  For now he’s still got a nice looking 2.76 ERA and 1.21 WHIP while striking out almost a batter per inning.

Charlie Blackmon – 1 for 5, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 K.  Blackmon’s road HR gave him 10 for the season to go with his 20 SB. He is currently the only player in baseball with at least 10 HR and 20 SB.

Josh Reddick – 1 for 3, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K.  Reddick had been hitting over .300 for most of the season, but he recently fell under.  However, he still figures to be pretty decent because of his vastly improved strikeout rate of 9.5%.  He belted his 11th HR of the year and also now has 48 RBI.

Billy Butler – 3 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 3 R.  Butler has been having these kinds of outburst on rare occasions this season.  He’s certainly not the player that the A’s envisioned him to be and it doesn’t figure to get a whole lot better.  He is now hitting .254 with 6 HR and 34 RBI.

Kendall Graveman – 7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 3 K with the W.  Graveman blanked the Rockies for 7 innings on Sunday and now has tossed 7 quality starts in 8 starts since being recalled from AAA, and in the one that didn’t qualify as a quality start, he was just one out away from it.  During those 8 starts, Graveman is 4-2 with a 2.01 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 37 K/14 BB in 53.2 IP.  This is a very nice run for Graveman as a rookie and he does have the chance to be a successful mid-rotation starting pitcher, but he’s certainly not a flashy pitcher that is going to rack up a lot of strikeouts, which limits his fantasy upside.  Instead, Graveman is a pitcher that relies more on good location of his pitches and pitching to contact to induce ground balls.  If you don’t mind the lack of strikeouts, then he can be a useful option.

Mike Trout – 1 for 3, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 SB, 1 BB, 1 K.  Trout doing something of everything on Monday, and what’s not in the box score is the indication that he had 3 great catches on hard hit fly balls to the gap on either side of him.  Such a beastly creature.

Brett Gardner – 3 for 5.  Gardner is still unconscious at the plate with a .511 AVG in his last 11 games where he has had 8 multi-hit games.  He needs to be an All-Star.

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2 thoughts on “When the Hard Hit Rates Don’t Match the BABIP (and other notes from 6/29/15)

  1. Pingback: Car-Car Finally Goes Vroom-Vroom With a Near No-No (and other notes from 7/1/15) | The Backwards K

  2. Pingback: Soft Hit Rate Leaders (and other notes from 7/19/15) | The Backwards K

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