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Statcast Pitcher Studs and Duds: Hard-Hit Rate for Week 23


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. I wrote about this stat in week 18 and it is one that can help indicate overall pitcher performance; that stat is hard-hit rate.

Hard-hit rate is defined as a ball hit 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.

The fantasy playoffs are upon us and each start is very important. Getting hit hard increases the chance of a poor start, so it is important to identify who has avoided hard contact. Let's get going identifying two hard-hit studs and two hard-hit duds!

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Hard-Hit Rate Studs

All stats current as of Monday, September 2, courtesy of Baseballsavant.com.

 

Anibal Sanchez - Washington Nationals

(8-6, 3.80 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 27.1% 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 400 batted-ball events. 35-year-old Anibal Sanchez has a 3.80 ERA and 1.32 WHIP with a mere 27.1% 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 (86.3-MPH average exit velocity, 14.5-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 1.32 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 makes things even more puzzling. However, at this point in the season, I think he will continue to outperform his SIERA. He will face a surging Mets offense this week, but, given his performance all season long, I would be starting him.

 

Eduardo Rodriguez - Boston Red Sox

(16-5, 3.97 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 28.4% hard-hit rate)

Our second hard-hit rate stud has put together a solid season throughout, posting a 3.97 ERA, 28.4% hard-hit rate, and 22.8% strikeout rate. Eduardo Rodriguez has had some control issues this season but has pitched much better over the past 30 days with a 2.78 ERA, all the while avoiding hard contact. Let's take a look at E Rod's performance.

While his control has been poor at times, he has managed to post decent strikeout numbers and has avoided damaging contact (28.4% hard-hit rate, 85.7-MPH average exit velocity, 8.5-degree launch angle). His 2.78 ERA of late has been solid, but his 1.35 WHIP and 4.87 SIERA indicate that he has outperformed himself and has gotten lucky.

Like Sanchez, Rodriguez has shown some conflicting signs throughout the season. However, given the upside he has shown and the strong team he pitches on, I would continue to rely on him this week, even against a tough Twins matchup. 

 

Hard-Hit Rate Duds

All stats current as of Monday, September 2, courtesy of Baseballsavant.com.

 

Shane Bieber - Cleveland Indians

(12-7, 3.278 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 44% hard-hit rate)

My battle trying to understand this pitcher continues. 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% mark is fifth-highest among pitchers with at least 400 batted-ball events. Given all the positives, should fantasy owners even think of questioning sitting him in the playoffs?

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% strikeout rate. I still haven't been able to find a good explanation for this, but feel like this should continue given its track record.

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 (90.4-MPH exit velocity, 11.8-degree launch angle). Even more puzzling is his 3.30 SIERA, which measures a pitcher's individual performance with batted-ball profile in mind.

I am done questioning Bieber. He has been great despite contradictory underlying stats and fantasy owners have gotten to the playoffs because of him. He'll face the White Sox this week, who have been hitting well lately, but I consider him to be matchup-proof for the rest of the season.

 

Madison Bumgarner - San Francisco Giants

(9-8, 3.62 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 41.1% 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 in the second half of the season. However, his hard-hit rate is in the bottom 13 percent of the league. Is this something that fantasy owners should be worried about down the stretch?

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, especially when it matters most. His command has been there (1.09 WHIP, 5.1% walk rate), his velocity has bounced back some since last season (91.4-MPH fastball), and he has continued to rack up strikeouts (24.9% strikeout 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'll face the Cardinals on the road this week, a mediocre matchup, but I would never consider sitting him if I owned him. 

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