A Few More tRA* Leaderboard Surprises

In my most recent dispatch, I — once I got past the crap — I looked at a couple of pitchers in Gio Gonzalez and Felipe Paulino whose Regressed tRAs (see: tRA*, courtesy of Matthew Carruth’s and Graham MacAree’s StatCorner) suggest a level of skill considerably beyond what their 2009 numbers might otherwise indicate.

Here are three more tRA* surprises from the 183 starting pitchers who recorded at least 150 xOuts (xFIP and xFIP rank — also out of 183 — in parentheses):

55. Garrett Mock, 4.55 (4.25/62)
In 54 career major league appearances, Mock has only 18 starts. Fifteen of them came last season in a total of 28 appearances. Here’s something strange about Mock: Despite being jerked around between levels and roles, he’s actually posted great peripherals these past two years. In addition to the strong 2009, he posted a 4.77/3.90 (tRA*/xFIP) in 2008 and, in 155.2 combined minor league IP over the last two seasons, has 144 K, 38 BB, a ground-ball rate around 45% and a line-drive rate below 20%.

Nor was this a case of being exposed as a starter, either: Mock posted a 18.4% K-rate and 10% BB-rate as a starter versus only rates of 9.5% and 12.7%, respectively, as a reliever (albeit in only 63 opponent PAs).

In this case, the culprit appears to be BABIP, which checks in at a robust .347 over his first 132.1 MLB IP. That might be bad luck. It might be that Mock’s BABIP-prone (although that’d still be high). Also, it could just be what happens when you play for the Washington Natinals Nationals. However it is, Mock’s 3-10, 5.62 season probably isn’t representative of his talents.

58. Billy Buckner, 4.58 (3.77/29)
Who the what?! In the event that you’re not acquainted with Buckner — which, I don’t entirely blame you — here’s a brief summary: He was drafted by the Royals out of the University of South Carolina in 2004. He made his debut with said depressing franchise in August of 2007. In December of that same year, he was traded to Arizona for Alberto Callaspo. Overall, he’s had a few decent minor league seasons, posting a K per IP every now and then, but nothing very promising.

Last year, however, Buckner showed signs of life, producing his best-ever minor league FIP, a 3.31 mark, on the strength of an 8.39 K/9 and 3.93 BB/9 in 103 IP (13/16 GS/G). Moreover, his major league returns, distributed predominately over two month-long call-ups (5/22 – 6/26 and 9/3-10/2), were excellent: 77.1 IP, 64 K, 29 BB, 48.8% GB, 21.3% LD. The line drives are a touch high, maybe, but not dangerously so. And like Mock, he excelled as a starter, recording a 19.1% K-rate and 7.8% BB-rate over 320 opponent plate appearances.

His 4-6 record and 6.40 ERA are unlikely to get him any attention, but a 63.% LOB-rate, 16.7% HR/FB, and .347 BABIP all suggest that Buckner is better than that.

63. Mitchell Boggs, 4.61 (4.67/121)
Boggs is a little bit different than the two other guys here, because he actually benefited from some good luck last year. His HR/FB came in at a friendly 5.7%, his ERA was a perfectly reasonable 4.19, and he did it all with an underwhelming 46/33 K/BB situation going on. Of course, those numbers are mitigated largely by his ugly .366 opponent BABIP. Anyway, whatever his apparent success, though, you’d be hard-pressed to say he was highly regarded — a fact to which his multiple demotions can attest. Nor did St. Louis ever really find a specific role for him, as his 9/16 (GS/G) split suggests.

What we can say about Boggs is that, given his peripherals from last season, there appears to be a chance of him becoming a useful starter in the Cardinal mold. His starting and relieving K/BB were almost identical (1.40 v. 1.38), as were his GB%s (both right around his season mark of 52.7%). If that doesn’t necessarily correspond with your impression of Boggs over the season, here’s why, probably: His opponent BABIP was .389 when he started versus only .292 when he relieved.

Ideally for Boggs, he’ll continue to develop in the direction of his last four starts, over which period he posted a 58.0% GB-rate and 12.3% BB-rate. Which is to say, he’s not Joel Pineiro yet (60.5% and 3.1% in those cats, respectively). But then again, before last year, not even Joel Pineiro was Joel Pineiro.

How well do you think Mock, Buckner, and Boggs will perform in 2010? Enter your Fan Projection here.

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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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Great work, I appreciate how you found those potentially underrated pitchers that most observers would bypass.