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Statcast Pitcher Studs and Duds: Hard-Hit Rate for Week 18


Welcome back to RotoBaller’s pitchers Statcast studs and duds 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. This stat is one that is similar to one I have written about before (exit velocity), and that stat is hard-hit rate.

Hard-hit rate is defined as the rate at which balls get hit at at least 95 MPH. The reasoning behind that mark can be found here. It is important to note that exit velocity is a better stat for hitters than pitchers because hitters have a greater influence on the measure. That being said, hard-hit rate (and batted-ball profile overall) is very important for pitchers. Generally speaking, pitchers don’t want to give up hard contact as it improves the hitter’s chance of getting a hit.

Batted-ball profiles can be used as a good indicator for future performance, and with just days left until trade deadlines,  now is the time to buy low and sell high. Let's get into it and see which hard-hit rate studs and duds you should be looking for or avoiding!

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Hard-Hit Rate Studs

All stats current as of Monday, July 29, courtesy of Baseballsavant.com.

 

Anibal Sanchez - Washington Nationals

(6-6, 3.63 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 26.1% hard-hit rate) 

Our first hard-hit rate stud, despite his age, has put together his second consecutive strong season and currently has the lowest hard-hit rate among pitchers with at least 250 batted-ball events. 35-year-old Anibal Sanchez has a 3.63 ERA and 1.30 WHIP with a mere 26.1% hard-hit rate. Let's see how the veteran has found his success. 

Sanchez presents a bit of a puzzling case here. His batted-ball profile has been excellent overall as it was last season (85.7-MPH average exit velocity, 14.8-degree launch angle). However, Sanchez's arsenal is nothing special; he doesn't throw hard (fastball velocity is in the bottom seven percent of baseball) and his offspeed pitches don't have a ton of spin on them. He does throw a cutter, split-finger fastball, and sinker, yet his launch angle is not that of a groundball pitcher. Finally, his 1.30 WHIP and 8.8% walk rate do not indicate that he has had pinpoint command, which you would think would be needed to avoid hard contact without great pitches.

Sanchez currently has a 5.05 SIERA, which puts the final touches on what I was just saying. I would not be surprised to see regression come his way at some point this season. While some pitchers manage to defy their underlying stats, most cannot avoid them forever. I consider Sanchez to be a sell-high candidate.

 

Kenta Maeda - Los Angeles Dodgers

(7-7, 3.81 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 28% hard-hit rate)

Our second hard-hit rate stud has been quietly great all season long, thanks in part to his fantastic batted-ball profile. Kenta Maeda has cemented himself in the Dodgers' rotation, going 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. His 28% hard-hit rate is the second-lowest among pitchers with at least 250 batted-ball events. Is Maeda's batted-ball profile legit?

Maeda has done a great job limiting hard contact this season (84.8-MPH average exit velocity, 15.8-degree launch angle). His launch angle isn't great, but he has the benefit of pitching his home games in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, which helps him out. Like Sanchez, Maeda doesn't throw that hard (91.9-MPH average exit velocity) but unlike him, he has a strong arsenal of secondary pitches, getting good spin on his slider, changeup, and curveball. Further, Maeda's WHIP suggests that his command supports his batted-ball profile. Finally, his 4.25 SIERA, while higher than his ERA, is much closer in comparison to Sanchez's.

I think that Maeda's success appears legitimate based on his underlying stats. He pitches for one of baseball's best teams, which further increases his fantasy value. I would look to ride Maeda down the fantasy home stretch.

 

Hard-Hit Rate Duds

All stats current as of Monday, July 29, courtesy of Baseballsavant.com.

 

Shane Bieber - Cleveland Indians

(10-3, 3.44 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 44.2% hard-hit rate)

I once again find myself puzzling over this All-Star pitcher. Shane Bieber has been fantastic this season in terms of his peripherals and strikeout numbers. However, he also has a bunch of not-so-great underlying stats, including his hard-hit rate; Bieber's 44.2% mark is second-highest among pitchers with at least 250 batted-ball events. Surely fantasy owners would not want to sell him, but should they expect any negative regression?

The concerns I have voiced throughout the season regarding Bieber still hold true. His pitch arsenal in itself isn't all that impressive; his fastball sits at 93.1 MPH and his slider and curveball don't have a ton on spin on them. Despite this, he has managed a strong 31.3% strikeout rate. I still haven't been able to find a good explanation for this.

Further, Bieber had managed to keep his ERA and WHIP down despite a poor batted-ball profile. He has gotten hit quite hard this season (90.6-MPH exit velocity, 12.4-degree launch angle). Even more puzzling is his 3.31 SIERA, which measures a pitcher's individual performance with batted-ball profile in mind.

I am done attempting to wrap my head around Bieber. He has been great despite contradictory underlying stats. His value is almost too high to sell high on him and he has carried fantasy teams all season long, but I would not be surprised to see some regression at some point.

 

Madison Bumgarner - San Francisco Giants

(6-7, 3.74 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 41.7% hard-hit rate)

Our second hard-hit rate dud is a veteran who has been a fantasy staple for many seasons and is still getting it done. Madison Bumgarner has been solid for the Giants this season, particularly during the team's hot stretch leading up to the trade deadline. However, his hard-hit rate is in the bottom 14 percent of the league. Is this something that fantasy owners should be worried about?

There isn't a ton of analysis to be done here; simply put, Bumgarner has been one of baseball's best pitchers for a long time and can be trusted. His command has been there (1.15 WHIP, 5.1% walk rate), his velocity has bounced back some since last season (91.6-MPH fastball), and he has continued to rack up strikeouts (24.5% K rate). His batted-ball profile isn't great, but he pitches his home games in one of the best pitcher-friendly parks, which helps mitigate the results.

Overall, MadBum is a fantasy player that always provides in the clutch. He has such a track record of success that fantasy players can rely on him despite his less-than-average batted-ball profile. A trade to a different park may hurt him, but even so, he is a pitcher that owners can stick with for the rest of the season. 

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