The Effects of Luck: Lucky Pitchers

Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

In this series, Tyler Wasserman takes a look at the players most affected by luck in 2011. In the final part of this 4 Part series, he examines which pitchers should see significant declines in 2012 due to exceptional luck in 2011. Each player’s stats shown are 2011 (ERA/FIP/xFIP).

Part 1 - Unlucky Hitters | Part 2 - Lucky Hitters | Part 3 – Unlucky Pitchers

Jeremy Hellickson (2.95/4.44/4.72)

When Hellickson was in the minors, his K/9 was consistently above 9. In 2011, his first full major league season, it fell to 5.57, with 3.43 BB/9, leading to a terrible 1.63 K/BB ratio. His GB % was a very low 35 %. So how did Hellickson post such a great ERA? The answer lies in a .223 BABIP, the lowest of any pitcher last year. He benefited from having good defense behind him, and many balls in play simply did not fall in for hits. His HR/FB rate was also low at 8.1 %, another sign of luck. His BABIP is very likely to rise in 2012, and if his strikeout and walk numbers don’t improve dramatically, his numbers will be very mediocre.

Jered Weaver (2.41/3.20/3.80)

Weaver has consistently been a top starting pitcher throughout his career, but his emergence as one of the very best in the game was due to outliers in BABIP, HR/FB, and stranding runners on base. His strikeout and walk rates were not significantly different from his career averages, so they were not the cause of the better results. His 2011 BABIP was .250 compared to his .276 career BABIP, and his HR/FB rate was a career low 6.3 %. He also stranded 82.6 % of runners on base, which doesn’t look to be sustainable, compared to the 76.8 % runners stranded for his career. With these three stats likely to regress towards his career averages, this 2012 ERA should be back above 3.

Matt Cain (2.88/2.91/3.78)

Similarly to Weaver, Cain should see a return to an ERA in the mid-3s rather than below 3. He mainly benefited from an obscenely low 3.7 % HR/FB ratio. A rate this low is simply unsustainable, it was the lowest in all of baseball last year, and nobody else had a ratio under 5 %. Many would believe that this low ratio is in part due to pitching in the spacious AT&T Park, but his HR/FB rate at home was 3.6 % compared to 3.7 % on the road. Although Cain has historically been very good at keeping the ball in the park, a regression of his HR/FB rate to close to his career average of 6.5 % should bring his ERA back to around his career number of 3.35.

Kyle Lohse (3.39/3.67/4.04)

Lohse’s career best ERA in 2011 was over a full run better than his career 4.64. However, his K/9 (5.3) was worse than his career average, and his BB/9 was only marginally better than his norm. Once again, he benefited from a significant fall in his BABIP and HR/FB rate. His career BABIP is .302 and his previous career best was .280, which happened 10 years ago. Last year, his BABIP was .269, and his HR/FB rate was a career best 7.2 % compared to a career average 9.7%. His ERA should be much higher in 2012 if his BABIP and HR/FB rate regress to his career averages.

Ryan Vogelsong (2.71/3.67/3.85)

Vogelsong finished 2011 with a 6.96 K/9 and 3.06 BB/9. Neither of these rates stands out from a league-average pitcher. His BABIP and HR/FB rate were both fairly low at .280 and 8.2 %, respectively. He also stranded a great amount of baserunners in 2011, at 80.6 %, which is likely unsustainable. Vogelsong’s 2012 performance should shadow his 2011 FIP and xFIP, leading to an ERA in the mid- to high-3s, rather than the mid- to high-2s.

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