Arroyo and Burnett’s Batted Ball Profiles

The Super Bowl is over, spring training is nearly upon us, and a whole bunch of potentially valuable free agents remain unsigned. Previously in this space, we already took a look at Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana from a batted-ball profile perspective; yesterday and today, five others went/are going under the microscope – starting pitchers Bronson Arroyo and A.J. Burnett, and position players Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales and Nelson Cruz. Today, we’ll look at the pitchers.

Below you will see Arroyo and Burnett’s K and BB rates, as well as their batted ball breakdowns by type, all expressed relative to MLB averages, both in a scaled to 100 and percentile (within the population of MLB ERA qualifiers) form.

Arroyo % REL PCT
K 16% 79 3
BB 4% 55 6
POP 9% 117 85
FLY 26% 92 38
LD 23% 108 73
GB 42% 98 29
—— —— —— ——
Burnett % REL PCT
K 27% 136 92
BB 9% 110 73
POP 3% 34 1
FLY 22% 77 1
LD 21% 97 24
GB 55% 129 99

Bronson Arroyo, who turns 37 later this month, is a pure pitch-to-contact hurler, and is quite reliant on limiting the quality of contact he allows. His K rate ranks at very nearly the bottom of MLB ERA qualifiers, and his percentile rank has been below 30 for five consecutive seasons. He obviously compensates somewhat by walking almost nobody. In fact, I could basically write the same exact sentence about his BB rate that I did about his K’s. Arroyo has been prone to the gopher ball over the years, a direct result of the high fly ball totals he has allowed – his percentile rank for fly ball rate was 70 or higher from 2010-12. He cut that mark to 38 in 2013, but there is no reason to believe at this point that this is a newly developed skill – expect his fly ball percentage to regress upward in 2014. This should be directly mitigated by a corresponding decrease in his line drive percentage – his percentile rank of 73 is well above his career norms.

Line drive rates are the most likely of the batted ball categories to fluctuate from year to year, and Arroyo, like many other pitchers, has been all over the place in this category over the years. He has also limited the overall batted ball damage by becoming an above average popup generator – his popup percentile rank of 85 was his best in the last six years, an area in which he has been above average six years running. Arroyo’s low groundball rate is no surprise – he has been below league average percentile-wise in five of the last six seasons.

A.J Burnett, who just turned 37 last month, couldn’t possibly have a more different K/BB and batted-ball profile than Arroyo. In each of the last six seasons, Burnett’s K and BB rates have been higher than league average. His 2013 K rate percentile rank of 92 is right near the top of his range over that span, while his BB percentile rank of 73 is right about at his mean. Always a fairly extreme ground ball pitcher, Burnett took matters to a new level last season, finishing at the very bottom of ERA-qualifying MLB starters in popup and fly ball rate, and at the very top in ground ball rate. He has also yielded a below MLB-average line drive percentage for five consecutive seasons, with his 2013 percentile rank of 24 virtually matching his best mark over that span. While it is true that line drive rates don’t correlate very well from year to year, five straight above average seasons constitutes a trend.

Now that we’ve covered their batted-ball frequencies by type, let’s look at the production they allowed by batted-ball type.

FLY 0.280   0.884 123 109      
LD 0.660   0.924 107 99      
GB 0.198   0.214 70 99      
ALL BIP 0.302   0.519 96 98      
ALL PA 0.254 0.285 0.436 97 98 3.79 3.74 3.79
—— —— —— —— —— —— —— —— ——
FLY 0.269   0.704 90 109      
LD 0.657   0.853 99 107      
GB 0.233   0.256 98 97      
ALL BIP 0.322   0.466 92 99      
ALL PA 0.229 0.294 0.331 79 84 3.30 3.05 3.24

For both pitchers, their actual AVG and SLG allowed by batted-ball type is listed, and the resulting run value allowed is expressed relative to MLB average, scaled to 100. For each batted-ball type, an adjusted relative run value is listed, which incorporates park factors, team defense, luck, etc.. The “ALL BIP” line item aggregates the relative run values for all batted-ball types, and the “ALL PA” line item incorporates the K and BB information. (SH and SF are included as outs, and HBP is excluded from the slash line for purposes of this exercise.) The three rightmost columns include each pitcher’s actual ERA, their calculated ERA based on their actual OBP and SLG allowed (which weeds out sequencing), and their “tru” ERA, which adjusts for park factors, team defense, luck, etc.

Arroyo’s actual relative fly ball production mark of 123 is well above league average, but adjustment for his relatively cozy home park reduces that figure to a more acceptable 109. He allowed only a .198 AVG and .214 SLG on grounders last season, for a very low relative production figure of 70. There’s a whole lot of luck in that number, which is adjusted upward to 99. Taking it all into consideration, Arroyo allowed a relative run value of 98 on all BIP, and it remains at 98 once the K’s and BB’s are added in. All of Arroyo’s ERA calculations weigh in at just better than league average.

Burnett doesn’t allow a lot of fly balls or line drives, but the ones he does allow are hit harder than the league average. His relative fly ball run value allowed spikes up from 90 to 109 once you take the Pirates’ ballpark and outfield defense out of the equation. Ditto his line drive run value, up from 99 to 107. His relative ground ball production allowed is right near league average at 97, but the high frequency of grounders allowed (and low fly ball and line drive totals) works heavily in his favor. Like Arroyo, Burnett allowed about league average production on BIP (99) once adjusted for team defense, park, etc., but with K’s and BB’s added back in, Burnett’s ERA totals are over a half-run better across the board, a shiny 84 on a relative basis.

Arroyo has been a durable workhorse, basically not missing a start for the last decade. He has the standard four-pitch repertoire, with below average fastball velocity causing him to pitch backwards quite often. His slider is his most effective offering, and he possesses a fairly significant normal platoon split. His overall profile has been quite stable for years now, but his age, lack of a true out pitch, and utter reliance on keeping batted ball authority in check makes him a difficult guy to rely upon for a material period going forward. He projects as a nice one or at most two-year fit for a club with a big ballpark, that doesn’t have a high percentage of lefthanded power hitters in their division. Anything more than two years, $16M would scare me.

Burnett, along with Ubaldo Jimenez, is the most attractive starting pitcher remaining on the market. His fastball velocity is not what it used to be, but he has gotten more mileage out of it the last couple of seasons as his downward plane has become more consistent. His knuckle-curve is a true out pitch, and his changeup must at least be respected. His platoon split is generally minimal. The only things Burnett has going against him are his age, and his seemingly wavering commitment to continuing his career.

Pittsburgh is an absolutely spectacular fit for him – solid team defense, big park, competitive club. I would find it very difficult to go past one year with Burnett, but a vesting option with a relatively high innings bar to clear could make sense. He’s worth $15M plus for 2014, and could be an attractive short-term alternative to the Jimenez/Santana duo, who have draft pick compensation attached to them.

Lots of player movement is likely to happen in the coming days, with either or both of these two pitchers likely to find homes before too long. Breaking their 2013 stat lines into smaller building blocks can often yield insights that aren’t obvious on the surface. If you need short-term, league average innings at a (hopefully) affordable price – Bronson Arroyo just might be your man. If you’re sitting at a hopeful, pivotal spot on the win curve, A.J. Burnett could be the piece that puts you over the top in 2014.

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