Wednesday, May 14, 2008

High and Dry

About a month ago we took a look at some pitchers who were sporting low (read: unlucky) strand rates. Now that we have one quarter of the MLB schedule in the books we can attempt to draw solid conclusions about the underlying numbers for both pitchers and hitters.

Below is a list of the top five and other notable pitchers that have not found any luck with runners on base. The statistics next to each pitcher are their 2008 LOB%, their career LOB%, their 2008 ERA, and their 2008 xFIP.

Justin Verlander 56.4% 75.9% 6.43 5.11
Mark Buehrle 58.0% 72.29% 5.81 3.67
Barry Zito 58.2% 74.26% 6.58 5.50
Johnny Cueto 58.2% N/A 5.91 3.75
Boof Bonser 58.5% 71.64% 5.09 4.46
Bronson Arroyo 58.5% 69.65% 7.14 4.22
James Shields 61.9% 72.1% 3.14 3.86
Josh Beckett 63.9% 72.42% 3.70 3.06
Randy Wolf 65.3% 73.43% 5.16 4.16
AJ Burnett 66.3% 71.5% 4.94 4.13

Verlander was atop this list back on April 18th. Since then his strand rate has improved 20.3% but his ERA has shown only slight improvement. There is some concern that he is hiding an injury but if he is healthy then his ERA should move closer to his xFIP over the next few months (xFIP is Fielding Independent Pitching with a normalized HR component and can be found at The Hardball Times).

Buehrle, Zito, Bonser and Arroyo are all in similar situations in that they have strand rates in the high 50s (at least 10 percentage points lower than their respective career averages), high ERAs and lower xFIP. We are not endorsing any of these arms, but rather suggesting that each is in line to see some improvement in the ERAs as the season goes on, assuming their luck evens out.

Cueto is a special case because he is a rookie. Back in mid-April we warned that although his strand rate was low we should not expect a dramatic improvement in his ERA. Well, since then his ERA has risen over 2.5 runs. Cueto will be frustrating to own as he figures out the majors this season but he is certainly worth owning while he irons out the wrinkles.

Shields is the only pitcher on this list whose xFIP is higher than his ERA. Shields will likely end up with an ERA in the mid to high 3's and will provide incredible value relative to his ADP (which was way too low to begin with).

Beckett, Wolf and Burnett are due for some good fortune too. Wolf especially, considering that his strand rate is 8 percentage points lower than his career average and his xFIP is a full run lower than his ERA.

It is important to note that LOB% is only one component of many that you can/should use to evaluate pitchers. The next time we revisit this topic we will look at the flipside - pitchers who have been lucky.

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