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Pitcher Studs and Duds - BABIP for Week 22

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 have written about this stat several times in various capacities this season, but it is worth revisiting now that we have much more data and clear trends. 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.

Given how far we are into the season, it is more likely that trends in stats will reflect what a pitcher's final season stat mark will be. Therefore, it is important to consider whether a pitcher has gotten lucky or unlucky overall as you decide whether or not to start him in a potential playoff week. Let's take a look at two BABIP studs and two duds with an emphasis on those pitchers' next starts.

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All stats current as of Monday, August 26.

Mike Fiers - Oakland Athletics

(2019 BABIP: .241, career BABIP: .282)

Our first BABIP stud has been a huge surprise this season in terms of his overall success. Veteran Mike Fiers is having his second-straight solid season, going 12-3 with a 3.46 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 158 2/3 innings pitched. Even more impressive is his .241 BABIP, which is much lower than his .282 career mark. Could Fiers actually be a guy who could help carry teams to a fantasy championship?

Fiers has pitched quite well in August, compiling a 3.00 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in four tough starts against the Cardinals, Astros, and Yankees and at the hot White Sox. However, there are several main things that Fiers has enjoyed outside of his skills that have helped him. The first is his home park. Oakland Coliseum is one of baseball's most pitcher-friendly parks given its deep outfield and massive foul territory, so Fiers has a big advantage in that regard. Further, his recent 4.43 SIERA in that time matches his bloated season-long 5.23 SIERA, which suggests that luck has been on his side in addition to his home field.

Overall, Fiers has pitched quite well but makes me nervous given his perceived actual skill. He doesn't offer high strikeout upside and seems to have gotten by on luck and a favorable park. He does have two starts this week, but I would only be willing to start him at the Royals and not at the Yankees. If you own him and play with weekly rosters, I would only be willing to start him if the rest of your pitchers' matchups are strong.



Kenta Maeda - Los Angeles Dodgers

(2019 BABIP: .253, career BABIP: .283)

Our second BABIP stud has quietly put together another decent season to this point. Kenta Maeda has gone 8-8 with a 4.13 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 26.8% strikeout rate in 133 IP. He currently has one of baseball's best BABIPs among qualified starters, but that mark was at .228 last month when I wrote about him. Regression has hit him some already, and while he has still pitched well overall, should fantasy owners be worried?   

Fortunately, most of the positives I found in Maeda's game last month still hold true. The main thing that stands out has been Maeda's amazing batted-ball profile. He has done a great job limiting hard contact (85.2-MPH average exit velocity, 28.8% hard-hit rate, 14.4-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. Finally, while Maeda's 4.43 ERA in August has been lackluster, his 3.25 SIERA supports that his batted-ball profile has been legitimate.

In sum, Maeda has still pitched well and is a fantasy asset for the playoffs. He gets a nice two-start slate this week at the Padres and Diamondbacks. I would not be worried as a fantasy owner using Maeda this week or the rest of the season.





All stats current as of Monday, August 26.

Max Fried - Atlanta Braves

(2019 BABIP: .345, career BABIP: .340)

Our first BABIP dud has been a useful fantasy option this season despite posting a very high BABIP. Max Fried has gone 14-4 with a 4.03 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, and 23.7% strikeout rate in 136 1/3 IP this season. He has pitched much better lately, compiling a 3.29 ERA in August, but he is also a young pitcher without a ton of experience. Should fantasy owners feel comfortable relying on him down the stretch?

Fried's August ERA looks good, as does his 3.69 SIERA, but he was inconsistent in those five starts. He allowed two combined runs against the Reds, Twins, and Mets but then allowed eight runs against the Mets and Dodgers. In a way, August was a nice representation of his whole season, showing skill at times but also showing a lack of command. His batted-ball profile has been below-average both in terms of exit velocity and hard-hit rate, so it makes sense that his BABIP would be high.  

I would be a little nervous about Fried down the stretch. It seems like Fried could equally pitch a dud or a gem each week. His next matchup is a deceptively tough one against the White Sox. I would probably start him in a points league but would have to check the standings before starting him in a roto league.



Lance Lynn - Texas Rangers

(2019 BABIP: .332, career BABIP: .306)

Our second BABIP dud has actually been a nice fantasy value this season. Lance Lynn has been solid this season, going 14-9 with a 3.85 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 27.4% strikeout rate in 170 2/3 IP. However, his .332 BABIP is currently one of baseball's highest among qualified starters. This has been the case all season, yet Lynn has continued to pitch well. Could this finally catch up to him now?

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.

Lynn has indeed pitched quite well this season. His last five starts, however, have been mediocre. His 3.95 ERA  and 28% strikeout rate are ok, but his 1.42 WHIP and 4.40 SIERA are not. The bottom line is that Lynn has an above-average batted-ball profile all season, which has helped him pitch well despite his BABIP. Both his exit velocity and hard-hit rate have been in the top 30 percent of pitchers and he has added strikeouts as well.

Lynn has made things work all season long and has offered more than enough upside to make him worth trusting. He gets a decent matchup against the Mariners at home this week and I would be starting him in that matchup, as well as the rest of his matchups this season.

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