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The Fantasy Lookout: You Create Your Own Luck

Most starting pitchers have had three starts, so we can start to take an early look at how 2015 is shaping up. It is still very early, but some trends seem to be developing.

A pitcher’s velocity can be a great leading indicator this early in the year. If it is down, it could mean an injury and poor performances are on the horizon. If it is up, it could mean domination and improvements are coming.

The sample sizes are still quite small to read too much into the other stats on their own, but as a whole and in combination with all the stats, a trend can be found.

First off this week we will take a look at some closer news around the league. Then we will dig into a newsworthy hitter playing in the desert.

Next, we will see if a Detroit pitcher’s bad luck will continue to haunt him. Finally, we will take a deep dive into the world of BABIP.

Fantasy Lookout: Closers

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New York Mets manager Terry Collins stated that Bobby Parnell would not close initially when he finally joins the Mets’ bullpen in the near future. He hinted that if Parnell looks like his old self, that the closer role would eventually be an option. Jeurys Familia has been solid in the role thus far, and that should continue for at least the next couple of weeks.

Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus will have to make a decision soon as Joe Nathan is nearing a return. Ausmus has continued to say that the closer role belongs to Nathan. Joakim Soria has been great as the closer during Nathan’s absence. Nathan may be given another chance; however, performance will win out and I think Soria will lead the team in saves this year.

A couple of closers off to rough starts bears watching as velocity declines are present. Mark Melancon’s velocity on his cutter, a pitch that he has thrown over 70% of the time this year, is off over three MPH. Steve Cishek’s velocity on his sinker, a pitch that he has thrown nearly 55% of the time this year, is off two and half MPH.

These closers may be hiding injuries or it could just be a time of year thing. Either way, this needs to be monitored, as a recovery of the stats probably will not occur unless the velocity recovers.

Ender Inciarte, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

Ender Inciarte of the Arizona Diamondbacks has been getting a lot of buzz so far this year. His manager, Chip Hale, has stated that he will probably be an everyday player in the crowded Arizona outfield. Inciarte has been hitting in the leadoff spot this year and he became the Diamondbacks leadoff hitter in late June last year.

His second-half numbers were significantly better than his first half numbers, when he was bouncing around the batting order.

Year PA R HR RBI SB  AVG BABIP BB% K% LD% GB/FB
2014 1H 176 22 1 8 6 .235 .259 4.0% 10.2% 20.6%   2.20
2014 2H 271 32 3 19 13 .306 .346 6.6% 12.9% 26.0%   2.02
2015 55 11 0 6 2 .327 .347 1.8% 5.5% 16.7%   4.00

Over a full season, his 2014 numbers would have projected out to roughly 80 R, 7 HR, 47 RBI, 32 SB, and .306 AVG, solid stats. The top of the Diamondbacks lineup should be better than last year with full seasons from A.J. Pollock, Paul Goldschmidt, and Mark Trumbo.

Inciarte’s minor-league numbers further support his second half 2014 figures. I think the buzz is warranted; Inciarte should hit for a solid average, score a bunch of runs, and provide plenty of stolen bases. His Yahoo ownership percentage is very close to that of Adam Eaton and Denard Span and I think those players are fair comparisons.

Anibal Sanchez, SP, Detroit Tigers

Anibal Sanchez has not had a good start to the 2015 season when you look at his headline numbers. This has primarily been due to poor luck.

Year ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 BABIP LD% GB% FB% HR/FB SwStr% LOB%
2015 7.71 1.47 9.37 2.20 .319 21.6% 29.4% 49.0% 20.0% 11.2% 58.8%
Career 3.59 1.29 7.95 3.08 .299 19.6% 44.6% 35.9% 7.8% 10.0% 73.1%

He has great strikeout-vs.-walk numbers and these have been supported by solid swinging strike and first pitch strike rates. His LD% and BABIP are both relatively close to his career norms. Also, his velocity thus far in 2015 is right inline with his career average.

The bad luck starts to show itself when you look at his HR/FB ratio. Sanchez has also allowed an abnormally greater percentage of fly balls so far this year, further magnifying the HR/FB ratio. His LOB% of 58.8% is not sustainable and it should work its way back to his career average of over 70%. Health has been the main concern for Sanchez, as long as that holds up this is a great buy low opportunity.

BABIP Deep Dive

I often talk about batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. The different types of batted balls have noticeably different batting averages associated with them. As you can see in the 2014 chart below, line drives have the highest batting average of all the batted ball types.

Type AVG League Average
GB .239 44.8%
LD .685 20.8%
FB .207 34.4%
IFFB% 9.6%
BABIP .299

Historically for the league as a whole, over large sample sizes, it tends to average close to .300. However, for a given player, it may deviate greatly from .300, especially in smaller sample sizes. The deviation can be caused by both skill and luck.

A higher BABIP usually coincides with a higher LD% and fewer popups. Also, faster runners tend to leg out more infield hits, further bolstering their BABIP. Luck plays a role too. Certain balls that are put into play sometimes just find holes, whether it is a grounder or a fly ball. Over large sample sizes these types of hits tend to even out, thus the luck component.

BABIP LD% IFFB%
Top 30 LD% .318 25.3% 6.4%
Top 30 BABIP .347 22.2% 6.2%
Bottom 30 LD% .294 17.5% 10.2%
Bottom 30 BABIP .264 19.7% 10.1%

The chart above shows 2014 data of the top and bottom 30 finishers of all qualified (min 502 PA) hitters for the corresponding statistic. For example, the first line shows the average BABIP, average LD%, and average IFFB% of the top 30 hitters ranked in terms of LD%.

You can see that a higher LD% and lower IFFB% corresponds with a higher BABIP. You can also use BABIP to gauge a pitcher’s luck and skill. Limiting line drives and inducing popups allows a pitcher to maintain a lower BABIP against.

The unluckiest BABIP hitters so far in 2015 appear to be Ben Revere and Curtis Granderson. Keep in mind that both these hitters have decent speed.

Player LD% IFFB% BABIP
Ben Revere 36.8% 0.0% .205
Curtis Granderson 31.6% 6.7% .237

The unluckiest BABIP pitchers so far in 2015 appear to be Andrew Cashner and Madison Bumgarner (before Wednesday’s start).

Player LD% IFFB% BABIP
Andrew Cashner 15.4% 11.8% .347
Madison Bumgarner 15.8% 21.7% .351

The year is still young, the trends and signals from the data are not very strong, yet. As the season progresses, the meaning and significance of the data gets stronger and stronger. Until next week, enjoy the games.

Data courtesy of www.fangraphs.com

Anibal Sanchez Photo Credit: Tom Hagerty

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