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Fantasy Baseball Pitchers Due For Regression In the 2nd Half


Watch Out For Pyrite When Mining For Gold

This is the fourth in a series of articles in which we will evaluate potential fantasy baseball sleepers or slumpers by looking at deeper statistics and advanced sabermetrics. Today we are going to try and project four pitchers that should see decreased production in any or all pitching categories, leading to more losses for their fantasy owners.  Most, if not all of these pitchers are household names and are heavily owned in all leagues.  If you own any of these pitchers, consider yourself on notice to trade them now for high value.  If you don’t own any of these guys, stay away from them if they’re offered to you.

 

Masahiro Tanaka – New York Yankees

Masahiro TanakaJust like that, about half of you have stopped reading this article because you’ve come to the conclusion that I’m clinically insane.  You may be right.  At least hear me out before you call me crazy.  Yes, Tanaka is so far the surefire AL Rookie of the Year because of what he’s done and, let’s face it, he’s the best pitcher in New York. But look deeper; right now, Tanaka’s 84.8% LOB rate (percentage of runners stranded on base) is the second highest (best) in the bigs. That’s good considering that the normal LOB rate is between 70-72%. He will likely end somewhere between 75-77% this season.

Tanaka is due to let some of those runners score per the law of averages, thus raising his ERA, which is of course bad. Of course we need more evidence than just weak LOB rates.  Of all qualified pitchers, Tanaka’s 24.5% LD rate is the fourth highest, but his .281 BABIP ties him with Tyson Ross for the 34th best.  To quantify that, the guys around him that are giving up line drives around the same rates are giving up hits on batted balls at a much higher pace: Edwin Jackson (27% LD rate, .342 BABIP), Ervin Santana (25.3%, .321), Ryan Vogelsong (25.1%, .318) and Chris Archer (23.5%, .310), to name a few.  Of the 25 qualified position players that are hitting line drives at the rate Tanaka is giving them up, 19 have a BABIP of at least .301.  Trust the line drive rate.

The last piece of troubling evidence against Tanaka is his already-too-high 13.4% HR/FB rate.  That’s the 10th highest of all qualified pitchers.  You can expect that number to rise in the hot air of July, August and September, especially when he’s at home facing big left-handed bats.  He’ll get his strikeouts, still, to be sure. Each individual piece of evidence is not necessarily an indictment on Tanaka’s expected fall, but when combined it’s enough to convict. So, are you willing to read on or am I still clinically insane?

 

Mark Buehrle – Toronto Jays

By Keith Allison on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as "Mark Buehrle") [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsReally?  He’s going to put a guy who has a 10-6 record and 2.60 ERA on this list?  Surely he’s crazy!  I’m not crazy and don’t call me Shirley.  On the surface Buehrle seems like a fantasy owner’s dream, but this is why we at RotoBaller like to go deeper.

For starters, Buehrle has lost velocity on all his pitches over the course of the season, but he’s worked with that by disguising his change-up better than he ever has in his career.  This has led to a lot of infield pop-ups, a smattering of home runs and not a lot of strikeouts.  For a pitcher to rely on change-ups in the majors it’s best to get a lot of strikeouts.  His 5.19 K/9 isn’t bad, but his 13.9% K rate indicates that his K/9 should be somewhere in the high 5.00s.  This implies that he’s seeing more batters than he actually should be.

Hitters own a .256 BA against Buehrle, but own only a .285 BABIP against the leftie.  Some of that is luck, but his low BABIP is most likely the result of solid Toronto defense as shown by his 3.74 FIP and 4.25 xFIP.  They’re going to have to continue to play good defense, as hitters are making contact with Buehrle’s pitches--a whopping 90.4% of his strikes are swung at.  Even scarier for Toronto fans is that hitters only own a 6.0% whiff rate, which would tie Buehrle for 89th best of all qualified pitchers.

He’s not striking out enough batters, Toronto is playing exceptional defense behind him, and hitters are making solid contact against him. But the most compelling reason that Buehrle will begin to falter is that he is on pace to give up the most line drives in a season in over a decade (22.4% LD rate) and he’s never allowed fewer than 75.7% of base runners score.  His 81.2% LOB rate is well above his career best and you can expect more of those runners to find the promised land as the season progresses.  Trade Buehrle now for maximum value.

 

Ryan Vogelsong – San Francisco Giants

This is a little bit of an easier sell. Although he is pitching better than he did last season, Vogelsong is not anywhere near his earlier years with the Giants.  He has impressive strikeout and walk numbers which are always good indicators of consistent pitching.  He’s also finding the zone and forcing batters to swing and miss at good rates.  However, his true value lies in the batted ball.

Vogelsong is on pace to allow the most line drives and fly balls in a season for his career and if you've been paying attention, you know to trust in the line drive rate.  He hasn’t allowed too many home runs this season, thanks mostly to pitching at AT&T Park, but that should change considering over half his batted balls are going in the air (24.1% LD and 38.1% FB rates). Balls travel farther during the hot summer months especially in San Francisco during day games.

The biggest cause for concern is how terrible Vogelsong is pitching on the road.  In twenty fewer innings pitched on the road, he has three more earned runs (+3 ER), +7 HR, +8 BB, + .048 BA, +.086 OBP and +.165 SLG).  If his numbers are that high on the road already after a cool spring and through a so-far mostly cool summer, what will happen over the next two months?

 

Homer Bailey – Cincinnati Reds

He’s going to put a guy who’s thrown two no-hitters and signed a $105 million contract?  Who does he think he is?  In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a big Jim Gaffigan fan.  For some reason, fantasy owners absolutely love Homer Bailey.  Other than having an amazing first name that is shared with perhaps one of the greatest cartoon characters ever, Bailey really is rather average.

Anywhere you go where people are talking about projected pitchers, Bailey’s name will inevitably show up as someone who will have a great second half.  This has been the case for quite some time.  Sorry, I'm not drinking the Bailey Kool-Aid.  Much like Vogelsong, Bailey is striking out his fair share and is, for the most part, not walking a lot of hitters.  Also similar to Vogelsong though, Bailey’s real value lies in the batted ball.  Though he is mostly a ground ball pitcher, Bailey’s 14.1% HR/FB rate is the seventh highest among all qualified pitchers.

That doesn’t bode well for a pitcher wearing a Reds uniform, as Great American Ballpark is among the most hitter friendly parks in the bigs.  His 22.1% LD rate places him right alongside Ubaldo Jimenez and Ricky Nolasco, and no pitcher wants to rub elbows with those two. Hitters are hitting .265 against him, he has a 1.35 WHIP, and his fastball and curveball are getting hit the hardest they’ve been hit in over three seasons.  It’s actually rather amazing that a guy who has a career 4.24 ERA is held in such high regard.  The good news for his owners is that because of his name alone, Bailey could give you very solid value on any trade.  Of course, he is capable of pitching a no-hitter and if he does, his former fantasy owners will be left with a giant “d’oh!”

 




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