Six starting pitchers poised for a summer turnaround
If you’re a sabermetrics geek, you’ve probably heard of Voros McCracken’s seminal 2001 essay on “Pitching and Defense,” a study of how much control pitchers have over batted balls. If not, you should read it. Since then, the study of defense-independent pitching, the merits of particular statistics, and all of DIPS theory has blossomed, and there have been myriads theories proposed that attempt to isolate the perfect pitching metric.
While just about all of these algorithmic stats have their individual flaws, including FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching), we can look at a number of statistics simultaneously to get a feel for what exactly is happening to turn the tide of success for or against a particular pitcher. I’m drawn to the pitcher’s version of the triple slash (ERA/FIP/xFIP), as well as LOB% (the percentage of runners who are stranded on base), K/9, BB/9, HR/FB rate and BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play). As a whole, these numbers can tell us who is poised to put up better results – as well as who is bound for regression.
Here, I’ve highlighted six pitchers who should see better numbers (and probably more wins) in the second half of the season.
Matt Garza, CHC –While he did spend some time on the DL, Garza’s failures this season can be easily explained. He’s just 3-6 with a 4.14 ERA, but the rest of his numbers portray a much better pitcher. His FIP is just 2.75, and his xFIP is only a shade higher at 2.90. The former Twins and Rays starter is striking out a lot more batters since his switch to the NL (9.80 K/9) and he’s walking 3.64 – a few more than normal. What stands out is a career-low strand rate (63.7%) and abnormally high .340 BABIP. In plain terms, it’s timely, unusually lucky hitting that’s beating Garza. He’s a great buy-low candidate.
Chris Carpenter, STL – The veteran Carpenter has seen a decline in his ground ball rate (career: 51.8%, 2011: 45.3%), and his WHIP is 1.39 – the highest it’s been since his days in Toronto. His win-loss record is similarly abysmal at 1-7. But despite all that, he’s still a good pitcher – at least, according to his 3.50 FIP and 3.33 xFIP. I’m betting that the 4.47 ERA comes down slowly but surely in the second half. He’s still missing bats (7.11 K/9) and he’s not walking a ton of batters (2.19 BB/9). Again, the main culprits are a poor LOB rate (67.5%) and a .327 BABIP that’s got to regress toward his career average of .297.
Edwin Jackson, CHW – Jackson currently has a 4-6 record and 4.47 ERA. But the 3.20/3.35 FIP-xFIP slash shows he’s not that bad. Like Carpenter, Jackson doesn’t get a ton of ground balls (45.9%), but that’s actually higher than his career rate. With 7.58 K/9 and 3.12 BB/9, Jackson looks to be in an okay spot, and his 70.4 LOB% is only marginally lower than his career average. So what gives? The .352 BABIP. Hitters are finding holes against the lanky right-hander, who’s still posting a 2.1 WAR through 14 starts. After the All-Star break, he should rock out.
Ryan Dempster, CHC – No major leaguer does a better impromptu impression of Harry Caray, and nobody has a wider ERA-xFIP gap (5.46-3.37) than Dempster. The affable Cubbie whiffs 8.58 dudes per nine innings, and while his walk rate (3.51 BB/9) is a little high, he’s been undeservedly smacked around this season. Part of it is a strand rate under 70% (Dempster is at 68.1%) and the rest can be explained by his .331 BABIP. If your league mates have Dempster on the block, it’s a good time to pounce.
Ricky Nolasco, FLA – Nolasco actually has a winning record (4-3), but his 4.48 ERA belies a superior FIP-xFIP combo (3.54-3.37). His peripherals (6.96 K/9, 2.10 BB/9) are on target, but his 67.8 LOB% and .333 BABIP point to the problem. The next 15 starts should be kinder, especially when the Marlins get their act together.
Chad Billingsley, LAD – He’s currently 5-6 with a 4.65 ERA, but we all know that Billingley can be a lights-out pitcher. The 3.44/3.60 FIP/xFIP only supports that. He needs to get control of his walk rate, which is at 3.84 per nine innings, but he’s fanning over eight batters per nine innings and has been marginally unlucky with runners on base (69.7 LOB%). The .336 BABIP is over 30 points higher than his career number (.304). I’m banking on a solid second half for this Dodgers hurler.
Antonio D’Arcangelis is a fantasy baseball and football writer from Upstate New York. He’s written for Fanhouse.com and Rotoexperts.com, among several other sites, with columns syndicated on SI.com and Yahoo.com. Antonio has 10 years experience as a fantasy writer and currently provides content for DraftBuddy.com, FFToday.com and FanDuel.com.
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