The BABIP Question

February 28, 2013

The Nats starting pitching staff was perhaps the best in MLB in 2012. Some of that was expected, Stephen Strasburg for sure, and Jordan Zimmermann was repeating past performance. Edwin Jackson was good, and had been good before. Gio Gonzalez was a question mark, but was spectacular. And to many, especially those outside of the Nats fanbase, Ross Detwiler was a big surprise.

The question for 2013 is whether this success is sustainable. One stat that might raise eyebrows regarding Gio and Detwiler is their BABIP. BABIP is defined here – pitchers with a low BABIP in any given year are red flags, at least in your fantasy draft. Keeping in mind that a .300 BABIP, give or take, is league average, below is the list of the 16 pitchers with the lowest BABIP in 2013, using a minimum of 125 IP to weed out the relievers:

SP BABIP 125+ IP top 16

There were a total of 117 pitchers with the 125+ IP, and one thing I can tell you is I’d be worried about Jered Weaver as Cy Young candidate next year. And considering how well things went for Ervin Santana despite being #2 in BABIP, it might not be a longshot to think he’d be even worse (just based on these two stats). But let’s get back to that later, and examine the Nats that are on this list.

Gio and Detwiler are both on this list, and the first reaction is to worry. Detwiler definitely had his best year, and didn’t have very many strikeouts. The interesting thing about his numbers are that his BABIP have improved by around .020 every year. Interesting, but probably not particularly meaningful. More meaningful would be that he does rank very high on this list, and some sort of regression wouldn’t be surprising.

Gio ranked in the middle of the pack with a .287 in 2011, which isn’t exactly high. But was also low in 2010 with a .274, ranking 29th out of 122 on that same list. It may be that Gio is one of those pitchers that is an exception to the rule of pitcher’s not being able to sustain low BABIPs a la Matt Cain. Perhaps there is something about Gio that makes hitters have a tough time squaring up the ball and hitting it well. Or maybe it is just luck, and we should expect a regression.

There is a reason I listed the 16 lowest BABIPs and not the 15 – with 16, there are three Braves on this list. Does that mean the Braves are also in line for a major regression? Tim Hudson isn’t one of those guys who has a low BABIP every year, his career number of .282 is a little low, but is very far, on this scale, from .270. So should you take consolation in the fact that if Gio and Det suck, so will Hudson, Medlen and Minor? Well, sure, you could, but there’s more at play here.

The Other Factor

The one thing that goes into BABIP other than luck is team defense. Pitchers in front of great defenses tend to have good BABIPs. And according to fangraphs, guess who were #1 and #2 in team defense? The Braves and the Angels. The Nats defense ranks 12th on that list, which is above average, and relatively strong compared to those below it. And that is just one measurement. Baseball Prospectus’ defensive efficiency measurement puts the Angels at #1, the Nationals at #5 and the Braves at #7.

The defense does aid this team’s BABIP. Edwin Jackson ranked 30th, and Jordan Zimmermann ranked 47th. That’s 4/5 starters in the top half of the league. Strasburg, on the other hand, ranked all the way down at 100 out of 117. I wonder if that means he has room for ERA improvement, or if it’s hard to play defense behind him, or if players hit the ball hard when they guess fastball and actually hit it. I’m just not sure about that one.

But I am sure that while Detwiler’s BABIP is probably a sign that some sort of regression is in order, that’s not the whole story. The fact that Gio usually has pretty low BABIPs helps his case for next year. And more importantly, this team’s good defense has helped these pitchers have low BABIPs, and consequently low ERAs. The defense should should be even better in 2013 with the addition of Span, more PT for Werth, and much more time for Suzuki and Ramos.

I do not expect Detwiler to have an ERA of 3.40 again, and Gio’s 2.89 might not happen again either. But if you think that their low BABIPs relegate them to serious regression, you’re not seeing the whole story.


On Strasburg

August 16, 2012

I haven’t said much in this space about Stephen Strasburg‘s innings limit, and that is on purpose. I’m not sure why people would think that Mike Rizzo, after assuring us that Strasburg would be shut down, would change his tack. But here we are with the end of his season staring us in the face (OMG it’s only 20-40 IP away! OHNOZ!) so the discussion begins anew. Or it never ended.

I figured as a responsible blogger it was a requirement for me to give me opinion on this subject. Otherwise they might not invite me back to Blogger Day, and that’s half the reason I still do this thing. So I’ll lay it out in simple terms: I AGREE WITH MIKE RIZZO. I’m not saying that this decision is an easy one, or that it is going to definitely work out, but I truly believe it is the safest opinion. The only time (I think) I addressed this situation in the last few months was around the trade deadline, when I compared the Nationals to Apple Stock

I got mine at $200. It’s worth $600 now. I could have sold it at $300 or $400, and made money. But I believe in the future of the company, so I’ll keep going with it, because I believe there will be a better payoff for me in the end. And that’s how I feel about this Nats team.

If my analogy wasn’t perfect, I apologize, I studied engineering not English in college. My point is that, it’s easy to say “hey, the Nats are in first place, THAT MAY NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN! Pitch Strasburg and win the damn thing!” And maybe they’d win the World Series, and flags fly forever. So you wouldn’t fault them for doing that. And if I traded in my Apple stock for a $200 per share profit, you wouldn’t have faulted me for doing that either.

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Bringing Back the Pitcher’s Win

July 24, 2012

Most baseball fans know that the pitcher’s W doesn’t mean as much these days (as opposed to the team W, which means everything). At least, logically, we all understand that a pitcher getting a W is dependent on too many things outside of his control to be a good indicator of his ability. But there is something ingrained in our psyche, perhaps, that makes us appreciate the numbers. Yes, most people were ok with Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young in 2010 with a paltry 13-12 record. But the W still holds a special place in our hearts, and Nats fans get to appreciate them, despite their obsolescence, this year more than ever.

Yes the pitcher’s W is a dated measurement, but it’s not completely useless. You can glean some very important information by looking at it. It does give you at least a general idea of the health and productivity of your starting pitching staff. Take a look at the list of Nats pitchers with 10 Ws or more since they’ve been in town:

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Nationals Have alot of Options at the Deadline

July 18, 2012

Yesterday, I made the case for the Nats holding on to their stock of players, rather than trying to cash in this season. No major trade for another top line starter (if they even have the prospects to do that) and keep with Strasburg‘s innings limit. So that’s that, right? Well, not really, there are other options that people might be interested in going after.

What about other positions the team may need help with? Maybe you don’t like the idea of Danny Espinosa as a starter on a championship caliber team. Myself, I think his .262/.324/.442 since May 4 (when he hit his low water OPS mark), or 72% of his PAs this year, is plenty from him.

What about CF? Do you like Bryce Harper there? Because Jayson Werth is supposedly coming back in less than a month, and whether you like Werth or not, he’s probably going to RF. So CF is where Bryce would presumably go. Maybe you’d like to trade Adam LaRoche, move Mike Morse (or Werth) over to first, or play Tyler Moore full time, and not have Harper in a corner spot.

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A Praiseworthy Start for the Starters

April 18, 2012

The Nats pitching staff has started out very strong this year. They lead the majors in ERA with 1.91, the #2 team is Texas at 2.36. While their bullpen has been excellent, it is the starters that have really impressed. Their starters’ ERA is 1.69, and in that Texas is in a more distant second place at 2.43. As a testament to how well they’ve pitched, they are #2 in IP with 74 2/3 (Oakland’s in first with 75 1/3). But more importantly, they lead the majors in Ks with 70 as a starting staff, with several teams tied for the #2 slot at 64.

After 12 games, you don’t worry too much about the stats. This shouldn’t be thought of as a pattern that will hold up for the year, it still is a pretty remarkable start. So yes, that 1.69 ERA is nice to look at, but it will go away. However, this can be thought of as a very impressive two week run. Even if this occurred in July, while we might not notice the incredible ERA, it would still be thought of as a very impressive two week run. It’s something that could repeat itself, and it is a good indicator of how strong this staff can be.

Here’s a look at these twelve games, start by start, to see just how good they’ve been, with the only starts allowed more than 2 ER highlighted:

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2012 NL East Rankings Part 2: The Pitchers

March 28, 2012

Yesterday, we examined the position players for each team in the NL East, giving out 5 points for the best player at each position, 1 point for the worst. Here’s where we stand:

SCORE: PHI (28), DC (26), MIA (25), ATL (23), NYM (18)

The Nats did so well because of strong showings in C, 3B and LF, while ranking middle of the road for the rest, and only taking the dreaded #5 slot for first base. Comparing starting pitchers is even tougher than the position players, not because it’s hard to know who’s best, but because it’s a little subjective to name the #2 or 3 guy for a team. At least the #1s are pretty clear. I’ve tried to use Baseball Prospectus as my guide to order, and I continue pick a great British rock to guide the text.

#1 STARTER (The Stone Roses)

1. Phillies – Roy Halladay
2. Nationals – Stephen Strasburg
3. Marlins – Josh Johnson
4. Mets – Johan Santana
5. Braves – Tim Hudson

Roy Halladay is still an ace of aces, he finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting last year after winning it in 2010, and is still the best here. Strasburg is projected by PECOTA to have the lowest ERA of any starting pitcher in the league, and we all know that peace reigns and Love Spreads in Washington whenever Baseball Jesus starts, but he’s not pitching more than 160 or so innings this year. He’s no lower on this list despite the inning cap, because the next two guys have some question marks. Josh Johnson is a true ace, but he was hurt most of last year and has only started one full season so far. Santana is also coming off injury, and probably doesn’t have the fastball he used to have, although he was still incredible without it in 2010. Tim Hudson is a very good pitcher, but he probably isn’t in the league of what the other 4 guys can bring.

SCORE: PHI (33), DC (30), MIA (28), ATL (24), NYM (20)

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