Running with the BABIP/LD% theme, we’ll take a look at Starting Pitchers who have experienced some bad luck in baseball’s first half. We’re looking for pitchers who have a high BABIP with a low Line Drive percentage. Pitchers who are giving up a lot of hits, but are not allowing batters to make a lot of solid contact. Guys like Wandy Rodríguez, James Shields, Jason Hammel, Aaron Harang and Randy Wells will not be found here. They are the starting rotation for the Aaron Hill All-Stars. Instead we have pitchers who are not creating their own back luck, but are victims to the randomness that is life. Some of them make for good Buy Low targets and some of them have just had some bad luck.
Dan Haren: if it weren’t for bad luck, Dan wouldn’t have any luck at all. The strike outs are there (8.65 K/9), the walk total is still low (1.80 BB/9) and the Line Drive rate (19.8%) is the best it’s been since he joined ARI. So what gives? Where does this 1.33 WHIP come from? Haren has an ugly .346 BABIP. His career average for BABIP is .304. This makes Haren a great Buy Low target if you can find someone willing to part with him. You can use the “second half drop off” myth as a negotiating tool. Good luck.
Tommy Hanson has improved as a pitcher, but his numbers do no reflect this growth. His velocity is up, the strike outs are up, the walks are down and his LD% is up ever so slightly at 18.7%. Hanson should be rocking a 1.15-1.20 WHIP, not this 1.37 garbage. He makes for a good Buy Low target. Hanson was hit hard in June (25.3% LD%, 6.31 ERA) so now is the time to get your offers in before he starts making up ground on his ugly numbers.
Francisco Liriano has the leagues highest BABIP (.361). His 20.9% LD% is not low by any means, but he shouldn’t be saddled with a BABIP like that. I would label him a nice Buy Low target, but he has been getting tagged lately. His June LD% was 24.1% and his July LD% is 23.8%. He isn’t losing velocity and his strikeouts are more than fine in recent weeks so I don’t want to say he is fading or slowing down. If you do not fear Liriano’s history of injuries, now may be the best time to acquire his services. He should get back into the groove and continue dominating hitters, fingers crossed.
Chad Billingsley has pitched well this season. His K/9 is steady (8.37), his walks are down a bit (3.20 BB/9) and his Line Drive percentage is in line with his career norm. The reason he has an ugly 1.39 WHIP is because his BABIP has reached .337 heights, or nearly 30 points above his career average for BABIP. Billingsley should have a WHIP nearing 1.30 and he makes for a good Buy Low target. His recent DL trip should be used as ammunition during negotiations.
Brandon Morrow is second only to Liriano when it comes to BABIP (.350). Morrow’s 18.7% LD% is below average and in line for what has has averaged during his career. His BABIP however, is about 50 points above his norm. Morrow’s WHIP should be closer to the 1.35 range instead of 1.46. His problem lies with walking too many batters (4.23 BB/9), but he is already showing improvement in that department. Morrow’s K/9 was 2.73 in June and is currently 2.70 in July. Any pitcher who has a 9.99 K/9 and a 2.70 BB/9 is going to be valuable. Let’s not forget, Morrow was the 5th overall pick in the 2006 draft. I’m sure Morrow will be on everyone’s sleeper/breakout lists next season.
Hiroki Kuroda is a good pitcher. He is definitely better than your typical 1.37 whipped pitcher. Kuroda has an above average K/9 (7.21), a below average BB/9 (2.55), he induces ground balls (1.90 GB/FB) and he limits Line Drives (18.4% LD%). His .331 BABIP is what is holding his back from being a great SP5. If you just want to solidify the back end of your rotation with a cheap buy, Hiroki makes for a great Buy Low target.
John Lackey has been trending downward (slowly) since 2005, so it is no surprise to see him struggling in Boston. The strike outs are going down, the walks up, but the .333 BABIP is uncalled for. Lackey’s 17.7% LD% is three percent below his career average so you would expect his BABIP to be better than his career norm, not 22 points above it. No, I do not think Lackey is a good Buy Low target. I’m just saying he doesn’t quite deserve the 1.60 WHIP. I’m not saying… I’m just saying.
Justin Masterson has the lowest LD% among of these pitchers (15.1%). His LD% is actually the 13th lowest in the entire league. His BABIP however, is the third highest (.349). Masterson is a strange case. He could be a great pitcher, but he walks a few too many batters (4.11 BB/9) and gets killed by Left Handed Batters (career 1.80 WHIP). His strike outs have taken a dive recently. His K/9 on the season is 7.03, but his month-to-month numbers are trending downward [11.37 in April, 7.79 in May, 4.96 in June, 4.82 in July]. He is a high maintenance pitcher (avoid LHB heavy lineups), but if his K/9 continues to be in the fours, he is nothing but an occasional spot starter.
Scott Feldman: if I told you Feldman’s 1.60 WHIP was unlucky would you believe me? Last year his BABIP was nearly 75 points below what it is today. His LD% hasn’t changed, basically he was lucky last year and is unlucky this year. He would have been pretty fortunate to match last season’s 1.28 WHIP. He should be pushing something close to the 1.35-1.40 range. Nothing special about Feldman, move along.