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The Keys to Pitcher BABIP and HR/FB, Perhaps

Long has the relationship between pitcher performance and batted ball metrics been dubious. The Sabermetric community has a solid understanding of why, fundamentally, a pitcher is good or bad. Strikeouts are good. Walks are bad. Hits by pitch are also bad. Home runs allowed are especially bad. So on, so forth. And by no means are batted ball metrics useless. It’s how we know ground balls allowed are superior to fly balls allowed, for example.

The community had hoped, however, that more granular batted ball metrics would help us better explain some of the more nuanced elements of pitcher performance, including those related to luck, such as batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and the percentage of home runs per fly ball (HR/FB). Since their introduction to the public sphere in 2015, and even with the inclusion of more granular Statcast data in 2016, any relationships that might exist between the physics and outcomes for batted balls during an individual pitcher’s season are still poorly explained. The following table depicts the correlations between pitcher BABIP and various batted ball metrics, sorted by the strength of the relationship (all qualified seasons, 2007-17, n = 898):

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Prospect Stock Watch: Biggio, Davis, Luzardo, Armenteros

Today at the Stock Watch we look prospects in the Oakland, Toronto and Houston minor league systems.

Cavan Biggio, 2B, Blue Jays: As the son of Craig Biggio, Cavan’s name stuck out when he was selected in the fifth round of the 2016. He wasn’t really on many people’s radar, though, and was seen as more of a way for the Jays to keep the budget down so they could afford second rounder Bo Bichette (son of Dante Bichette). Now, he’s more than just a name. He’s a legitimate prospect leading the double-A Eastern League in homers and tying for the third overall in the entire minor leagues. Along with the pop, Biggio also has 25 walks in 36 games. His 39 strikeouts are an issue and could prevent him from hitting for average at higher levels where the pitching will pick apart the holes. Defensively, he’s stiff as a middle infielder but the power will play at first base or maybe even left field. He might eventually become a platoon or part-time player in The Show but that’s still a crazy increase in value from a year ago.

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Bullpen Report: May 21, 2018

In the span of two days, Jace Fry has gone from being an emerging lefty getting his first taste of some setup work to being firmly in the saves mix for the White Sox. On Saturday, Fry was used in the eighth inning with a two-run lead against the Rangers. Brought in to face Nomar Mazara, Jurickson Profar and Joey Gallo — a pair of lefties sandwiching a switch-hitter — and he came back for the ninth inning to handle left-handed Rougned Odor. Rick Renteria did not opt to give Fry a two-inning save, as he let Nate Jones handle right-handed Robinson Chirinos, even with lefty Ronald Guzman on deck.

On Sunday, the trio of Profar, Mazara and Gallo were due up in the ninth inning, and Renteria let Fry have an encore performance — this time with a 3-0 lead and a save at stake. Fry set the trio down in order, retiring the latter two with strikeouts. Through the first seven performances of his major league career, Fry has yet to allow a hit or a run, and over 8.1 innings, he has 12 strikeouts and two walks. While he has been highly adept at inducing whiffs, posting a 15.9 percent swinging strike rate, he has been even more impressive in his ability to freeze batters, inducing called strikes at a 24.3 percent rate.
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The Daily Grind: Back, Back, Back

I’m back! (Did you know I was gone?)

You may recall I posted a small job last week. I’m still in the process of reviewing candidates. Since I received applications from about five people I want to work with, I’m trying to let some ideas percolate. No promises.

AGENDA

  1. TDG Invitational
  2. Weather Reports
  3. Pitchers to Use and Abuse
  4. SaberSim Says…
  5. Counting to Six

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Roto Riteup: May 21, 2018

It appears the Giants have finally found their left fielder!

<blockquoteclass=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”>

All heroes don’t wear capes. pic.twitter.com/xWue9uJ3AB

— Cut4 (@Cut4) May 20, 2018

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The Sleeper and the Bust Episode: 553 – RankCast Fireyside Chat w/Nick Pollack

5/21/18

The latest episode of “The Sleeper and the Bust” is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 19, the best baseball strategy game ever made – available NOW on PC, Mac, and Linux platforms! Go to ootpdevelopments.com to order now and save 10% with the code SLEEPER19!

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GET THE SLEEPER & THE BUST T-SHIRT FROM ROTOWEAR!

Biggest Ranking Disputes

Nick Higher:

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Sunday FAAB & Waiver Wire Chat

7:29

Jeff Zimmerman: Sorry for the late notice. First, here are this week’s FAAB reports for the two 15-team Tout Wars leagues:

7:29

Jeff Zimmerman: Auction

7:29

Jeff Zimmerman: JSoto: 412
NJones: 222
FReyes: 213
JLyles: 159
DWinkler: 114
RStripling: 92
SDominguez: 87
JDyson: 47
JChacin: 46
VGuerreroJr: 43
DDescalso: 36
COwings: 36
WDifo: 26
GHeredia: 25
AMeadows: 20
JAnderson: 17
ACashner: 11
IKinerFalefa: 11
NGoodrum: 11
JDDavis: 8
SOh: 3
CRichard: 0

7:29

Jeff Zimmerman: Draft:

7:29

Jeff Zimmerman: JSoto: 235
LGohara: 208
GHeredia: 69
FPeralta: 67
SDominguez: 63
ERamos: 63
JLyles: 61
AMeadows: 59
RStripling: 45
DDavis: 44
JDDavis: 44
MJoyce: 38
DMengden: 38
NGoodrum: 38
FReyes: 32
DWinkler: 23
HPerez: 18
BParker: 18
JHellickson: 16
RYarbrough: 14
BRondon: 14
JMercer: 5
WFlores: 5
YSanchez: 3
BColon: 0

7:30

Jeff Zimmerman: I’m buying Lyles where possible. His pitch mix has changed (dumped sinker) for the better.

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The Sleeper and the Bust Episode: 552 – Two-Starts & Twitter

5/20/18

The latest episode of “The Sleeper and the Bust” is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 19, the best baseball strategy game ever made – available NOW on PC, Mac, and Linux platforms! Go to ootpdevelopments.com to order now and save 10% with the code SLEEPER19!

Follow us on Twitter

GET THE SLEEPER & THE BUST T-SHIRT FROM ROTOWEAR!

Notable Transactions/Rumors/Articles

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Bullpen Report: May 20, 2018

The Cardinals-Phillies matchup yielded some interesting results on Saturday. Jordan Hicks – who was covered at length by Al Mechior on May 18th – hurled a scoreless seventh frame in a tie game, throwing 10-of-12 pitches for strikes and getting three ground ball outs. Tommy Hunter replaced Luis Garcia (who gave up a home run to Tyler O’Neil in the sixth) in the bottom of the inning. The first hitter to come to the plate – Tommy Pham – hit a slow dribbler to Scott Kingery at third base and he made an errant throw to first base to advance Pham to second base. Matt Carpenter was up next, doubling on the second pitch he saw to give the Cardinals a one-run lead. Hunter was able to escape the inning without giving up another run, but he started behind three-of-the-five hitters he faced and didn’t record a strikeout. With the Cardinals up a run, they turned to Greg Holland in the eighth to hold the lead. He was unable to oblige. After getting Carlos Santana and Aaron Altherr to ground out and strike out to start the frame, he yielded a walk, triple, and single to give the Phillies a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

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Pitcher Spotlight: The Tyler Skaggs Myth

It would be very easy for me to be a fan of Tyler Skaggs. He’s more than a sparkling 2.88 ERA or 25% strikeout rate, he’s someone who boosted his groundball clip comfortably over 50%, buffed his swinging-strike rate 2.5 points to 10.7%b and not even DIPS metrics such as his 3.34 FIP or 3.58 SIERA suggest a mask hiding an ugly truth. It shouts a popular sentiment in the fantasy world:

Tyler Skaggs has figured it out.

I’m here today to tell you that this is a myth.

Those numbers, they’re all great. Simple, elegant descriptions of a player to help us quickly grasp their performance. But you know me. With these articles, I like to answer how a pitcher is getting their results, showcasing their recipe for success. Thing is, even though Skaggs has “figured it out,” I’m not exactly sure what he has figured out.

So let’s explore the popular solutions. Detailing the myths and legends, seeking the true catalyst that has turned Skaggs from his poor 4.55 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, and 21% K rate from last season to this year’s bliss.

Theory #1: His new changeup is the final piece of the puzzle

This is easily the most popular response when questioning Skaggs’ success and at quick glance, it makes a lot of sense. Here’s a quick comparison of the slow ball from 2017 to 2018:

Tyler Skaggs’ Changeup
Year Usage % Strikeout % LD % BAA BABIP O-Swing % Zone % Whiff % zMov pVal
2017 8.8% 11.5% 31.8% .400 .429 26.7% 50.8% 7.4% 6.0 -2.4
2018 10.2% 28.0% 47.1% .167 .188 32.2% 35.9% 16.3% 3.9 1.5

Aha! His whiff rate has gone up! And it’s fueled by a few extra inches of vertical drop! Clearly, there’s your source of strikeouts and boom! We’re done here. (Note: I adjusted for a consistent drop in zMov across all of Skaggs’ pitches – this usually dictates a consistent data recording tweak, not an actual change in mechanics or performance)

…not so fast. Look at the usage rates. Skaggs barely throws this changeup with just 92 thrown this season. Entering Thursday’s start, he had only featured the pitch 80 times, resulting in just 11 total whiffs (13.2% whiff rate). He earned four whiffs on 12 thrown on Thursday and let’s break them down.

These two changeups were as mediocre as you’ll find:

And here are two well-executed ones that came from the same at-bat:

There’s no denying that those final two were effective, but you’d be hard-pressed to convince me that these four changeups were the difference maker across the entire start.

Along with the whiffs, Skaggs is getting a pedestrian amount of chases off the plate – near 30% – while he’s dramatically reduced its zone rate by 15 points. Meanwhile, he’s allowed worse contact with a staggering 47% line drive rate, yet the pitch’s .188 BABIP fuels its lovely 1.5 pVal.

While Skaggs is getting more whiffs with his changeup this year, he’s getting awfully lucky on batted balls and his combination of chase + zone rates dictate little sustainability. This isn’t it.

Verdict: BUSTED

Theory #2: His Curveball’s zone rate fixed everything

The book on Skaggs has been consistent through his career – good curveball, mediocre arsenal. And there’s nothing incorrect about this theory:

Tyler Skaggs’ Curveball
Year Usage % Strikeout % GB % BAA BABIP O-Swing % Zone % Whiff % pVal
2017 31.0% 32.7% 64.7% .208 .299 37.5% 36.3% 10.7% 0.4
2018 31.3% 29.0% 74.4% .262 .364 33.6% 46.1% 11.4% -0.9

Skaggs is throwing plenty more curveballs for strikes and there is a chance that despite its low whiff rate, he’s striking batters out looking and not swinging…

…except that Skaggs is currently 102nd out of 129 qualified starters in the majors with a low 17.0% called strikeout rate.

The actual outcomes of his hooks have also been plenty worse as well, with a 50 point jump in batting average allowed. We’re searching for how Skaggs is performing better and his curveball has actually returned worse results overall thus far, while recording a lower strikeout rate across the same usage.

The argument could be that even though his curveball itself isn’t as effective, being able to get strikes consistently is having a greater positive effect on his other pitches. That would imply that Skaggs has a pitch that is wildly better than his curveball, a pitch that he get the spotlight and do all the dirty work for him. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t and this theory doesn’t hold water.

Verdict: BUSTED

Theory #3: His Four-Seamer has taken a leap forward

Ignore that spoiler and let’s actually dive into it. I just talked about Skaggs’ curveball possibly setting the table for another pitch in his arsenal and maybe, just maybe, that is his four-seamer – it sure isn’t his changeup that he throws just 10% of the time. Let’s compare the numbers from last season:

Tyler Skaggs’ Four-Seamer
Year Usage % Strikeout % ISO BAA BABIP O-Swing % Zone % Whiff % pVal
2017 55.1% 14.8% .208 .290 .303 25.5% 55.0% 6.8% 1.3
2018 41.6% 23.3% .136 .259 .316 20.5% 58.3% 8.6% 2.3

Skaggs has thrown fewer four-seamers, and throwing them more in the zone, getting a few extra whiffs and saving his heat for deeper counts. It looks like a good idea considering the .300+ BABIP in both seasons suggests plenty of mediocrity. Furthermore, its low 20.5% O-Swing dictates an offering that is far from a weapon.

To his credit, Skaggs is doing a better job of locating heaters to right-handed batters, spotting four-seamers closer to the outer edge in 2018 than he was in 2017, and it’s possible this is the cause for his boosted whiff rate (still below average) and fewer extra-base hits. And at the end of the day, a .259 BAA with a four-seamer worksIt’s not great. It doesn’t detail a pitch that makes batters shake in the box, and it’s not the bullet in the chamber Skaggs is hoping to set up during at-bats. It’s just…fine. But to say that this pitch equates to Skaggs figuring it out is to say that getting your driver’s license equates to starring in Fast and the Furious. You’ve done something that most others have achieved, that doesn’t mean you’re a superstar now.

Verdict: BUSTED

Theory #4: Sinkers & Grounders

I’ve saved the most apparent one for last, with Skaggs featuring a sizeable boost in sinkers as he pulled back on his four-seamer usage:

Tyler Skaggs’ Sinker
Year Usage % Strikeout % G B% BAA BABIP O-Swing % Zone % Whiff % pVal
2017 5.1% 31.3% 50.0% .333 .444 21.1% 46.5% 8.5% -1.1
2018 14.8% 14.3% 66.7% .167 .200 13.6% 50.4% 8.3% 2.6

It’s a pretty clear effect. Skaggs has gotten better at throwing sinkers for strikes, which have raised his groundball rates. What is odd, though, is its .200 BABIP. Groundballs innately have higher BABIPs than flyballs and seeing this low of a number is a bit startling, especially when it propels an unsustainable .167 BAA. This is a small sample of just 133 total pitches, and you have to think this number rises through the year.

Would you say that this increased groundball rate and low BAA is the secret ingredient to Skaggs’ success? It’s a bit far-fetched given that it’s had little effect on strikeouts, holds a low usage rate, and is overperforming in the short term. There’s no denying it’s a benefit, but we’re far from saying this defines a new pitcher ready to dominate. If anything, it’s an indication of how regressions is sure to come. And least we’ve figured that out.

Verdict: BUSTED

Conclusion

There is one commonality in all of these theories: honing in on one element of Skaggs’ repertoire to suggest it alone is fueling all of his success. As you can tell, I don’t believe that is the case and here’s what I think is actaully happening. His curveball and four-seamer are finding the zone more often, while not punishing him mightily – something he has struggled with in the past (1.38 Hr/9 in 2017) – while his sinker and changeup have overperformed vastly in their small samples. His success is relying on 25% of his arsenal (changeup and sinker) returning BABIPs at or below the .200 mark in about 230 total pitches thrown. I know it sounds basic, but that’s the point. Skaggs isn’t much more than a basic pitcher, one without a strikeout rate above 30% on any of his pitches, and does an overall poor job of inducing weak contact.

Oh right! I knew I was forgetting something. Here’s one last table for the road:

Tyler Skaggs’ 2017 vs. 2018
Year Soft Contact % Hard Contact % GB % BAA Whiff % Strikeout %
2017 20.8% 32.2% 41.8% .272 8.1% 20.8%
2018 10.8% 38.8% 51.4% .240 10.7% 25.4%

Not only has Skaggs allowed more hard contact in 2018 by a sizeable amount, he’s also cut his soft-contact induced in half. That’s not a good sign of a pitcher taking a step forward, and remember, Skaggs has figured it out. This is the absolute opposite.

After going through each pitch in his repertoire, are you convinced that Skaggs deserves that 25% strikeout rate with his average whiff rate and below average called strikeouts? Do you think he should be inducing that low .240 average given his poor batted ball and increased grounders that dictate a higher BABIP floor?

I went through this article detailing the four myths of Tyler Skaggs’ 2018 success, but the headline suggests there is just one. Let me lay it out for you, despite being incredibly cheesy and terribly predictable:

Tyler Skagg’s 2018 success is a myth.