How Strand Rate Contributes To Pitcher’s Luck

By Eriq Gardner
All good pitchers are alike; all unlucky pitchers are unlucky in their own way.
A
good pitcher will usually strike out a lot of batters, limit the number
of batters put on base via walks, and induce a lot of ground balls.
An
unlucky pitcher can be unfortunate in a number of ways: The quality of
opposition. The ballpark. A high percentage of balls hit into play
finding the gaps between fielders. A high percentage of fly balls
ending up as home runs. And perhaps the most under-appreciated form of
misfortune — a low strand rate.
Some of this
is the pitcher’s fault. If a pitcher is pitching to contact, a lot of
balls are going to go for hits. It stands to reason that some of those
hits will be back-to-back-to-back, ending up as earned runs. But some
pitchers are lucky enough to space out those hits as to avoid damage.
And some pitchers play on teams that have relievers who can come into
the game and clean up a mess.
Research shows
that the major league average for strand rate (also known as LOB%) is
about 72%. Those who are much higher are getting lucky. Those who are
much lower are unlucky.
Here’s a graph that
shows some pitchers who are relevant in most fantasy leagues who to
date who are well above or well below the norm:
strandrate.png
Now, a closer look at the pitchers.
First the “lucky” bunch:

strandlucky.png


Livan Hernandez:
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this grizzled veteran
doesn’t deserve an ERA under 1. He’s a pitch-to-contact guy who has
always been prone to giving up home runs. Much of his great fortune
this year is based on a hit rate under 19%, when the norm is more like
30%. But Hernandez has also been counting his blessings about the
batters he has allowed on base. Less than 3% have scored, the lowest
rate in baseball.
Roy Oswalt: Oswalt’s
strand rate of 87.2% ranks near among the highest figures in the
National League. But his home runs allowed rate is worse than the
average pitcher (without an excessively high HR/FB rate to suggest
that’s a fluke) and he’s also getting lucky on hit rates. He may be
sporting a 2.48 ERA at the moment — and many might assume he’s back to
dominant form — but Oswalt looks more like a good but not quite great
pitcher.
Francisco Liriano: The Twins ace is
doing almost everything right this year. He’s striking out a batter per
inning. He’s slashed one full walk per 9 IP off last season’s free pass
rate. He hasn’t allowed a home run yet. But still, Liriano figures to
regress at least somewhat, given his 84.6% strand rate; the Twins
somewhat iffy bullpen raises the risk of regression. Liriano still
figures to have strong numbers. Just not a sub-2 ERA.
Tommy Hanson:
Striking out more than a batter per inning solves most problems, such
as a mediocre walk rate. Hanson hasn’t allowed many home runs either,
but he has an 84% strand rate, which means a bit of regression
forthcoming.
Wade Davis: The rookie has
a poor strikeout-to-walk rate. His low hit rate and high strand rate
will make that 2.79 ERA go up quickly. His xFIP is a scary 4.59 at the
moment.

James Shields: Shields’ strand rate is a sky-high 87.7%.
He’s also surrendered seven home runs in his first 40 innings pitched.
So far, those home runs aren’t killing Shields, because he’s giving
them up when opposing batters aren’t on base. And when opposing batters
do get on base, he’s getting out of the inning without much
damage. On the plus side, though, the Tampa Bay pitcher is whiffing
9.68 batters per 9 IP, tops in
the American League. His 2.25 per 9 IP walk rate also ranks among the
top 10 in baseball.

Shields’ strand rate points to a pitcher who’s had a lucky season. But
the Rays righty has also posted a flukishly high 16.6% HR/FB rate.
Shields’ ERA is an impressive 3.15; his xFIP is also 3.15, suggesting
that his good and bad luck are evening out. He’s the outlier of the
strand-lucky group.

Now the “unlucky” bunch:
strandunlucky.png

Justin Verlander:
Striking out a lot of batters? Check. Not walking too many batters?
Check. Not allowing an obscene amount of home runs? Check. How’s his
hit rate? Also reasonable. Despite all that, Verlander has a 4.50 ERA,
when his FIP is just 3.34. A low strand rate (61.9%) is owed much of
the blame. If the Tigers can continue to play strong defense and throw
up good relief pitching numbers, that would only help Verlander even
more.

Gavin Floyd: Few pitchers have hurt owners
worse this year than Floyd, who currently sports an ugly 6.89 ERA. But
his strikeout rate is actually better than his career average. He’s
also allowing fewer home runs per inning than usual. He’s become a
little more friendly to batters in the walks department, but it doesn’t
explain the wide gap between his ERA and his respectable 4.30 xFIP. We
can at least pin much of the blame on misfortune from a 58.4% strand
rate, seventh-worst in the majors.
Luke Hochevar:
The Royals youngster doesn’t have a particularly good strikeout-to-walk
rate, but he’s fantastic in keeping the ball on the ground and in the
ballpark. That’s because he’s been doubly cursed with a high BABIP and
a low strand rate. Once those hit balls go for outs more often, and
runners become stranded on base, his ERA will come down. One caveat,
though: Hochevar owes much of his low home run rate to a microscopic
3.3% HR/FB rate, making his 4.49 xFIP not far from his5.03 ERA.
Josh Beckett: We can’t sugarcoat this — Beckett’s skills have declined (at least on the evidence so far) and
he’s getting unlucky too. The Red Sox ace is whiffing fewer batters and
allowing more walks than in past years. But his hit rate is high and
strand rate is low as well. There’s a lot of reasons why Beckett has a
6.31 ERA. A 61% strand rate just exacerbates the situation.
Aaron Harang:
A pitcher who allows seven home runs in just over 33 innings is asking
for trouble. But six of those home runs have come with the bases empty.
That’s about the only piece of good luck he’s seen. Harang has been
cursed in a number of ways: A higher-than-normal HR-to-fly-ball rate, a
high BABIP, and of course, a low strand rate. There’s good reason to
expect much better from Harang going forward: His ERA to date is 6.68,
vs. a solid xFIP of 3.83.
Felipe Paulino: The Astros pitcher has
cut his home runs allowed and is striking out 7.48 batter per 9 IP -
down from last year but still above league average. His two biggest
downfalls are a terrible 5.86/9 IP walk rate and a 50.4% strand rate,
worst in the majors. That strand rate should improve dramatically. But
Paulino also needs to get his control in check to be
worth rostering in mixed leagues.
(statistics as of 5/5/10)
For more on pitchers with high or low strand rates, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools

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