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Pitcher Studs and Duds - BABIP for Week 17

Welcome back to RotoBaller’s pitchers risers and fallers article series! Each week we will select an advanced stat, choose two risers and two fallers, and analyze what those stats could mean for future fantasy output. I wrote about this stat early in the season, but it is worth revisiting now that we have much more data. That stat is BABIP, or batting average on balls in play.

BABIP is rooted in three main components: defense, luck, and talent. Two of these three pieces are out of players' control, so BABIP can cause deviations between expected and reported outcomes. By looking at pitchers with higher or lower BABIPs compared to their career marks, we can identify players who are more likely to see regression the rest of the season.

Now is the time to make those last key roster moves heading down the stretch towards the fantasy playoffs, so let's take a look at some BABIP studs and duds!

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All stats current as of Monday, July 22.

Kenta Maeda - Los Angeles Dodgers

(2019 BABIP: .228, career BABIP: .280)

Our first BABIP stud has quietly put together another solid season to this point. Kenta Maeda has cemented himself in the Dodgers' rotation, going 7-6 with a 3.71 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 106 strikeouts in 104 1/3 innings pitched. One of the more impressive aspects of his game has been his tidy .228 BABIP. This mark is much lower than his career mark, so could there be negative regression in his future?  

The main thing that stands out has been Maeda's amazing batted-ball profile. He has done a great job limiting hard contact (84.6-MPH average exit velocity, 27.3% hard-hit rate, 15.9-degree launch angle), which has helped keep his BABIP down. He also has the benefit of pitching his home games in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, but his BABIP would not be what it is without his personal performance. The one note is his 4.28 SIERA, which suggests that his batted-ball profile is not as great as it seems. However, I think there is too much positive evidence to overturn the idea that he has been legit.

This case is pretty straightforward; Maeda has pitched very well this season and his BABIP reflects that. I would feel confident relying on Maeda as a number three or even two pitcher the rest of the way.



Wade Miley - Houston Astros

(2019 BABIP: .241, career BABIP: .303)

I have written a lot about Wade Miley this season, mostly because he has turned in an unexpectedly great fantasy season to this point. I don't think anyone, even those taking a late-round flyer on him would have expected a 3.25 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 113 2/3 IP. He is also posting a career-low BABIP as an added bonus. Miley seems to have reinvented himself, but can fantasy owners fully get behind his BABIP?

There are a couple of conflicting signs that suggest that owners could second-guess his BABIP. First, it is important to note that the Astros have a great defense. Miley has had two consecutive seasons of career-low BABIPs since joining the team. This will continue to benefit him regardless of how he pitches. Second, and more in his control, Miley has done a great job at limiting hard contact. His 87.5-MPH average exit velocity, 32.6% hard-hit rate, and 7.9-degree launch angle create a solid batted-ball profile which would certainly help his BABIP.

The one point of concern, like Maeda, is his SIERA. Miley's 4.58 SIERA is significantly higher than his ERA, suggesting that he has been over-performing. I don't think that Miley's skill set is as strong as Maeda's, making negative regression more likely. That being said, I think fantasy owners would take Miley in their rotation even if he were to regress some. He seems to have luck and defense going his way and has objectively pitched much better than anyone expected, so owners should continue to get great value out of him. They could try to sell high, but I would be fine with holding and using him.

BABIP Fallers

All stats current as of Monday, July 22.

Lance Lynn - Texas Rangers

(2019 BABIP: .335, career BABIP: .306)

Our first BABIP dud has actually been a fantasy All-Star this season. Lance Lynn has been great so far, going 12-6 with a 3.93 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 27% strikeout rate. However, his .335 BABIP is currently the third-highest among qualified starters. This is an unwelcome sight in an otherwise solid season, but should fantasy owners worry?

It is important to note that Lynn has always had higher BABIPs and is now pitching his home games in hitter-friendly Globe Life Park. As such, it is not all that surprising to see his BABIP jump even higher despite him pitching well.

Despite this, Lynn has pitched quite well. First, he has had some of the best control in his career. His 1.23 WHIP is tied for its lowest mark since 2011. Consequently, his batted-ball profile has been great. Lynn's 86.4-MPH average exit velocity and 30.7% hard-hit rate are both in the top 14% of baseball and he has kept the ball on the ground for the most part with a launch angle of 12.7 degrees. This is the kind of batted-ball profile needed to succeed in Arlington. Toss in the strikeout upside, and fantasy owners can easily overlook his BABIP. 

Lynn has made things work all season long even with his high BABIP. Again, BABIP is not solely based on pitcher skill, so fantasy owners will have to deal with things outside of the pitcher's control. Lynn is a good example of this, and also a good example of a great fantasy option despite less-than-favorable conditions.



Brandon Woodruff - Milwaukee Brewers

(2019 BABIP: .326, career BABIP: .311)

Our second BABIP dud came up big in the 2018 playoffs and is carrying that over into this season. Brandon Woodruff has proven to be a strong fantasy rotation piece, going 11-3 with a 3.75 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 28.3% strikeout rate. His one blemish has been his bloated BABIP, which is currently eighth-highest among qualified starters. The bigger concern at the moment is Woodruff's oblique injury, which could sideline him for up to six weeks. Despite this, it is worth investigating his performance so far, as he should be back in time for the fantasy playoffs.

Woodruff has a lot in common with Lynn in terms of understanding his BABIP. His home ballpark isn't quite as hitter-friendly as Lynn's, but he has posted a stellar batted-ball profile despite his BABIP. His 85.7-MPH average exit velocity and 30.3% hard-hit rate are both in the top 11% of baseball and he has a respectable 12.8-degree launch angle to go with them. A 96-MPH fastball/sinker combo and a nice changeup and slider complete the package of a solid overall pitcher. 

Fantasy players will have to wait and see what comes of Woodruff's injury. His injury makes him a buy-low candidate for teams that have a big enough lead in their division. Woodruff is worth monitoring over the next few weeks, as he has been too good to ignore. He would be a great piece to have in fantasy players' rotations come playoff time.

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