Sunday’s matinee slate of games included a slew of ace pitchers taking the hill, but by the end of the day there were two performances that stood tall from all the others, and they were Zack Greinke shutting down the Nationals and Dallas Keuchel reigning supreme in Texas. Greinke was masterful in 8 shutout innings of work and a season high 11 strikeouts, as he extended his scoreless innings streak to an outstanding 43.2 innings over the last 6 starts. Keuchel was just as untouchable as he worked 7 shutout innings with a career high 13 strikeouts. These two pitchers have been getting the job done all season long and each of them leads their respective league in ERA. They also have another thing in common, and that is they both appear among the league leaders in soft hit rate.
A few weeks ago in “When the Hard Hit Rate Doesn’t Match the BABIP,” I examined some pitchers who had very high BABIP (batting average on balls in play) marks but who also held lower than average hard hit rates. That particular scenario would suggest that those pitchers were either the victims of poor luck or poor defenses, or both. So now we will take a look at the league’s best in allowing soft contact on batted balls and see what we can find in the results.
According to FanGraphs, entering Sunday, the top 15 in soft hit rate are as follows along with their BABIP:
- Francisco Liriano – 28.8% soft hit rate, .248 BABIP
- Dallas Keuchel – 24.8% soft hit rate, .255 BABIP
- Brett Anderson – 24.6% soft hit rate, .318 BABIP
- Cole Hamels – 24.0% soft hit rate, .297 BABIP
- Jeff Locke – 23.8% soft hit rate, .315 BABIP
- Max Scherzer – 22.9% soft hit rate, .242 BABIP
- Chris Sale – 22.8% soft hit rate, .292 BABIP
- Drew Hutchison – 22.8% soft hit rate, .350 BABIP
- Carlos Martinez – 22.3% soft hit rate, .287 BABIP
- Zack Greinke – 22.3% soft hit rate, .233 BABIP
- Trevor Bauer – 22.0% soft hit rate, .268 BABIP
- Wei-Yin Chen – 21.7% soft hit rate, .255 BABIP
- Chris Archer – 21.5% soft hit rate, .287 BABIP
- Gerrit Cole – 21.4% soft hit rate, .305 BABIP
- Shelby Miller – 21.4% soft hit rate, .276 BABIP
Balls that have softer impact off a hitter’s bat are more likely to go for easy outs, whether it is a lazy fly ball or a slow rolling ground ball, which will prevent base hits and also prevent runs from scoring. So it should come as no surprise that on this list we find several pitchers who have been among the league’s best this season, and it includes 7 pitchers who appear in the current top 15 in ERA and 6 pitchers who appear in the current top 15 in WHIP in the Majors. So clearly there is at least some correlation with higher soft hit rates translating to better overall stats.
Because balls that are softly hit generally go for easier outs more often, that should also translate to pitchers with higher soft hit rates to also have lower BABIP marks. This is reflected in the list above where 11 of the 15 pitchers all have BABIP marks that are under .300, and 5 of the pitchers appear in the top 15 of lowest BABIP’s in the league. So this provides some validation to the low BABIP’s of many of these pitchers and suggests that we shouldn’t necessarily expect a whole lot of regression for these players.
On the flip side, there are a few player on this list that have higher than average BABIP marks. So let’s look at those players and see if maybe we can expect some overall improvement from them as we are progress into the second half of the season.
First up is Brett Anderson of the Dodgers. Anderson’s high soft hit rate is backed up by the fact that he also has the lowest line drive rate in the league at 13.5%. Line drives are usually categorized as hard hit balls, so the less line drives a pitcher allows, the higher his soft hit rate should be. But despite having the knack of preventing line drives and inducing soft contact a lot, Anderson’s BABIP is a bit inflated at .318, which is higher than his career mark at .309. The Dodgers defense ranks 13th in the league in DEF rating, so they aren’t a bad defensive team by any means, which gives even more curiosity as to why Anderson would be stuck with the higher BABIP. So it would be reasonable to expect that Anderson can improve over the rest of the season if he can continue pitching the way that he has so far. He currently has a 3.17 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, but he may be more deserving of an ERA under 3.00 and a WHIP closer to 1.20. He’s not a huge strikeout pitcher (6.42 K/9) and he has a long history of injuries, but he could make for a nice trade target in season long fantasy leagues due to this discovery.
Next up is Jeff Locke of the Pirates. Locke has a decent 3.68 ERA, but his 1.42 WHIP is a bit brutal and it is odd to see him currently posting a career high BABIP at .315 despite also currently having a career best soft hit rate. His line drive rate at 22.9% is one of the highest out of the pitchers on the above list and is the 20th highest in the league, so that could be a stumbling block for him and a reason why he has the higher BABIP despite the good soft hit rate. While Locke could be in for some better fortune in hit prevention, it probably should not be expected.
Drew Hutchison of the Blue Jays is an interesting case here. He has the 8th best soft hit rate in the league, yet he has the 2nd highest BABIP. Immediately it might be assumed that Hutchison has just been a victim of bad luck to have a BABIP at .350, but looking further into it, Hutchison also has the 4th highest line drive rate in the league at 25.0% and his hard hit rate of 31.1% is on the higher side as well at 24th highest in the league. So despite being among the leaders in soft hit rate, he does appear to be giving up his fair share of well struck balls as well. He should improve on his 5.19 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, but he’s no slam dunk to have a complete turnaround in the second half.
Finally, there is Pirates ace Gerrit Cole who has a .305 BABIP despite ranking 14th in soft hit rate. Both Cole’s line drive rate at 21.1% and his hard hit rate at 25.8% are not very high marks, so the thought would be that he should be able to post a lower BABIP having one of the better soft hit rates in the league. But his defense ranks 25th in DEF rating, so that could be the primary reason why his BABIP is a tad higher than average. However, Cole has been able to pitch very effectively as one of the better pitchers in the league up to this point in the season, and he should continue to. But there is room for more upside if he can get some better defense behind him.
So all in all, it appears that Anderson is the lone pitcher on this list that we could reasonably say has been on the unlucky side of things and could see some overall improvements as the season goes on. And all the other pitchers on the list should all be considered candidates to maintain their current performance level, though some regression will come for some of these pitchers.
Let’s take a look at the rest of Sunday’s slate now.
Jesus Montero – 2 for 2, 1 R, 1 BB. After being recalled earlier this month for the first time this season, Montero was sent back down to AAA after Sunday’s game. Once a top prospect and an impact player as a rookie in 2012, Montero has not done much in the Majors since then, but he has nothing left to prove in the Minors. This season at AAA, he is hitting .332 with 15 HR and 68 RBI in 84 games and he should get another opportunity with the Mariners later this season. Still just 25 years old, he will have the chance to develop into a quality Major Leaguer and he makes for an intriguing option in dynasty leagues.
Fernando Rodney – 0.2 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K with the L. Ousted from the closer’s role earlier this season, Rodney was able to put together a 9 outing streak where he did not allow a run, but he has now allowed a run in 4 of his last 5 appearances. Manager Lloyd McClendon expressed a couple weeks ago that he wanted Rodney to earn the job back, but at this point it does not look like it’s going to happen. Carson Smith is very much capable of handling closing duties and should be the man for now and for the future for the Mariners.
Mark Teixeira – 3 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R. Teixeira slugged his 23rd HR of the season on Sunday and is showing zero signs of slowing down, just like I expressed in “Tex Marks the Spot.” He also is tied for the AL lead in RBI at 63.
Jose Bautista – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R. Bautista skipped the All-Star Game to rest up for the second half and it appears that it has done him well as he now has HR in back to back games to bring his total to 19 on the season.. His AVG isn’t very pretty at .241 because of a .232 BABIP, but he’s never been one to post good BABIP marks because of his low line drive rate and his high fly ball rate. Although, that AVG should at least come up a little. He is tied with Mark Teixeira for the AL lead in RBI with 63.
Chris Colabello – 1 for 2, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 K. Colabello hit a HR on Sunday and his season line is now at a .324 AVG, 10 HR, 35 RBI, 38 R, and 2 SB in 58 games. He’s been quite a surprise this season and is not slowing down much at all. He is drilling the ball at a very good 25.8% line drive rate, but his .413 BABIP still is not sustainable and will be coming down over the rest of the season. As the BABIP comes down, his AVG should dip below .300 finally.
Marco Estrada – 8 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K with the W. It was against the Rays that Estrada had his near perfect game against earlier this season and he dominated them once again on Sunday to improve to 7-5 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. He’s been enjoying a fine season being able to keep the ball in the park much better. As long as he isn’t giving up home runs at a super high rate, Estrada makes for a fine play in fantasy leagues against weaker offenses. He will get the Royals in his next start.
Adam Jones – 3 for 5, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R. Jones has come out of the All-Star break on fire going 7 for 14 with 1 HR in the weekend series against the Tigers. Right before the All-Star break in “Jonesing for More,” I outlined how we can expect more out of Jones in the second half in the batting average area, with the possibility of him notching his first .300 AVG season of his career. The mini hot streak now has his AVG up to .291 and it can keep trending upward.
Jonathan Schoop – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R, 2 K. Schoop came off the DL for the Orioles a couple a weeks ago and he has been swinging a hot stick in his return and is now 9 for his last 19 with 2 HR. He is now hitting .305 with 6 HR and 14 RBI in 18 games, and as a second baseman, he definitely can provide some nice pop. He’s not likely to be a great hitter for AVG, but he can be much better than the .209 AVG that he had a season ago. In deeper leagues, Schoop is a recommended power source at a shallow position.
Jose Iglesias – 4 for 4, 3 R. Iglesias had another good game on Saturday with a perfect day at the plate and is now hitting .321 on the season. He has no power, but AVG and SB is his game.
Justin Verlander – 3.2 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 4 K with the L. Verlander had an unexpected nice game in his previous outing, but he got back to getting roughed up on Sunday against the Orioles. That’s more like it. Verlander should not be trusted at all in fantasy leagues as I’ve been saying all along.
Eugenio Suarez – 3 for 5, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 K. Suarez is still swinging a nice bat and with a HR on Sunday, he is now hitting .314 with 5 HR, 15 RBI, 9 R, and 3 SB in 29 games played and is proving to be a viable replacement for the Reds after Zack Cozart had a season-ending injury. He’s not likely to keep hitting for a high AVG due to a high .380 BABIP that is not supported with strong line drive nor hard hit rates, but he’s got some decent pop and speed and that should be useful out of a fantasy shortstop.
Johnny Cueto – 4 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 6 BB, 2 K. Cueto couldn’t find the strike zone on Sunday as he issued a season high 6 walks. It was very uncharacteristic of Cueto who entered the game with a very excellent walk rate of 1.67 BB/9 and it won’t get any easier for him in his next start at Coors Field.
Cole Hamels – 3 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 0 BB, 1 K. Hamels took another beating on Sunday and it is the 4th time in his last 7 starts where he has given up at least 5 earned runs. With trade rumors swirling around him, Hamels just isn’t pitching like he is capable of, which has to have the Phillies worrying that they won’t be able to get as good of a package in return.
Cole Gillespie – 3 for 5, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 SB. Gillespie is a 31-year old player who has been mostly a career Minor Leaguer, but he is currently being given a shot to start for the Marlins with Giancarlo Stanton on the DL and the struggling Marcell Ozuna being sent to the Minors a couple weeks ago. With the opportunity, Gillespie is making the most of it hitting .370 in 16 game so far. However, he shouldn’t be considered much of a fantasy option as this is just a little hot streak and he’ll be returning to the Minors or a reserve role eventually.
Dan Haren – 6 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 K. After his last start, I noted Haren’s diminished velocity this season and how his HR allowed rate wasn’t likely realistic due to the fact that he has transformed into a heavy fly ball pitcher. So with that, I also said that Haren’s ERA should rise dramatically in the second half. Consider his start on Sunday against the Phillies the beginning of that as he got rocked and allowed 2 HR.
Lorenzo Cain – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R. There’s no stopping Cain right now as he is batting .321 with 10 HR, 45 RBI, 57 R, and 17 SB. It’s been a great breakout season for him and his wonderful hitting performance is substantiated by career highs in line drive rate at 24.2% and hard hit rate at 31.3% (well above his career 26.7% rate).
Danny Duffy – 8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K with the W. Duffy managed to outduel Chris Sale on Sunday and has now had a few good starts in a row, but he shouldn’t be trusted in fantasy with his unspectacular 5.79 K/9.
Chris Sale – 6.1 IP, 11 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 6 K with the L. With the Royals being the toughest team to strikeout in the Majors, Sale had his hands full on Sunday and gave up a season high 11 hits. It was just a difficult matchup for the White Sox ace, but he should return to dominance in his next start against Cleveland.
Taylor Jungmann – 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K with the W. Jungmann is on a role right now. He is bound to regress at some point, but he’s certainly usable at the moment.
Shin-Soo Choo – On Saturday, both Rougned Odor and Choo were present in the Rangers lineup with Odor hitting 2nd and Choo 8th. I said before the All-Star break that they should be flip flopped in the batting order because of Odor’s hotness and Choo’s declining skills, so it looks like the change has finally occurred. Fire up Odor in all fantasy leagues because he’s a goodie.
Yovani Gallardo – 4 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 1 K with the L. The Gallardo regression is slowly taking place as he struggled with his control for the third straight game in a row. His ERA is still below 3.00, but I’ve been hinting all along that he is just not as good as his ERA and WHIP have indicated so far. Pitching in the Texas heat, Gallardo should finish the season in the realm of a 4.00 ERA and 1.35 WHIP.
Preston Tucker – 3 for 5, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 3 R. Tucker had a nice game on Sunday and is now hitting .259 with 6 HR, 23 RBI, and 24 R in 57 games for the Astros. It hasn’t been a spectacular rookie season for the 25-year old, but he’s going to have the chance to develop into a pretty decent hitter if he can trim his strikeouts a bit. His current 20.4% strikeout rate isn’t terribly high, but in his Minor League career he had a much better 16.4% strikeout rate. With more experience, he can improve in that area to allow himself to hit for a more respectable batting average to go along with his 25+ HR power.
Luis Valbuena – 4 for 5, 4 RBI. 4-hit games are few and far between for Valbuena, but with one on Sunday, his AVG is up to .207, the highest point it’s been at since May 21. He makes for a nice source of power, especially against righties, but the poor batting average is the downside.
Tommy Milone – 2.2 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, 0 BB, 4 K with the L. Milone struggled on Sunday as he allowed three home runs. This is his first poor outing since his return to the Majors after being demoted earlier this season. However, I noted a couple weeks ago that Milone made adjustments after he was demoted and he has been pitching extremely well ever since then. But if he doesn’t bounce back in his next outing against the Yankees, then it may be time to hop off the Milone train for a bit.
Josh Phegley – 2 for 3, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R. Phegley got the start on Sunday for the A’s and he rewarded them with a nice day at the plate. He’s now hitting .276 with 6 HR and 21 RBI in 41 games, and if he ever falls into a starting role then he can be a nice power hitting catcher. Last season he hit 26 HR between AAA and the Majors, and this year he is showing nice improvements at the Major League level. Be sure to keep tabs on him.
Josh Reddick – 1 for 3, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 R, 1 K. Reddick has slowed down after a hot start to the season, but he’s still got a nice line of a .281 AVG, 12 HR, 55 RBI, 41 R, and 3 SB after hitting a grand slam on Sunday. Probably most important for Reddick is that he has been able to maintain an improved strikeout rate all season long. His rate is currently at 10.8%, which is well below his career rate of 18.6%, so he is going to have the opportunity to hit for a career high in AVG at this pace.
Jesse Chavez – 6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K with the W. Chavez was excellent on Sunday to improve to 5-9 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 84 K/26 BB in 100.2 IP. I’ve said before how he loves to pitch at home in Oakland, so it is no surprise that this start was a home start. He now has a 2.33 ERA and 1.09 WHIP at home, and he should be used in fantasy for all home starts and can be benched for the tough road ones.
Kolten Wong – 1 for 8, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 3 K. It’s been a bit of a breakout season for Wong and he hit his 10th HR of the year on Sunday. He has cooled off as the season has gone one, but he has much higher upside than the .275 AVG that he is currently sporting. With a solid 24.4% line drive rate and hard hit rate near the league average, he would be expected to have better than a .305 BABIP. But what is holding his BABIP down, and consequently his AVG as well, is his high infield fly ball rate of 15.7%. If he can avoid hitting those infield fly balls that go for easy outs, then he would be capable of hitting for a .300 AVG.
Carlos Martinez – 4 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 2 K with the L. Martinez came on in relief in an extra innings game that lasted 18 innings. He had poor control and took the loss, and he is now at a career high in innings pitched. A few weeks ago in “Attention C-Mart Shoppers: Red Light Special,” I described how it could be a good idea to begin to shop around Martinez if you own him in redraft fantasy leagues because of him approaching uncharted territory in innings pitched and the possibility of him being on an innings limit.
Lucas Duda – 0 for 7, 2 BB, 4 K. Duda had back to back games with a HR before the All-Star break, so it looked like he could be busting out of his prolonged slump. But I wasn’t completely buying into it and needed to see more to officially say he was no longer in a slump. With an 0-fer in an 18 inning affair on Sunday, it’s safe to say that he is still having his struggles. His batting average is all the way down to .235 and at this point, it wouldn’t be wrong to drop him in fantasy leagues.
Shelby Miller – 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 8 K with the L. Miller now has logged 4 straight games where he has more strikeouts than innings pitched, and it has come with an increase in velocity over that same time frame. So as I’ve been saying, even though he’s going to have some regression in his ERA and WHIP, the boost in strikeouts will help to offset that and I would consider Miller as solid of an option that he was early on in the season.
Jorge Soler – 1 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 SB, 1 BB, 1 K. It’s been a struggle this season for Soler as he landed on the DL for a while and he has been striking out a ton at a 31.6% rate. However he notched both a HR and a SB on Sunday, so maybe he can build off of that. When Soler hits the ball though, he absolutely drills it as he has both a high line drive rate at 29.1% and a high hard hit rate at 38.4%. So if he can just make contact more often then he’s going to become quite the force. I just wouldn’t expect it to happen in the second half of the season.
Jake Arrieta – 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 10 K with the W. Just another excellent game from the Cubs ace. He is now 11-5 with a 2.52 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 123 K/25 BB in 121.2 IP. Roll him out there every time he starts.