Cole Hamels on the Cy Young Award Ballot?

The National League Cy Young award is Roy Halladay‘s to lose, but teammate Cole Hamels could earn some third-place votes with his remarkable 2010 campaign. Halladay leads the NL with a 2.90 SIERA but Hamels isn’t far behind at 3.21, good for fifth-best in the league.

As regular readers of this blog are no doubt aware, Hamels was written off after a disappointing ’09 season in which his ERA ballooned to 4.32. His ineffectiveness cost the Phillies Game 3 of the World Series and Phillies fans were wondering if the young lefty may have received a bit too much hype after helping lead the Phillies to a World Series championship, their first since 1980. Everything he did was scrutinized, every word he uttered dissected.

We found out that much of what ailed Cole last season was entirely out of his control, namely the results of batted balls. His .325 BABIP was tenth-highest in the NL among starters with at least 100 innings of work. Going off of only what was in his control — strikeouts, walks, and ground/fly balls — Hamels still had the 20th-best SIERA in all of Major League Baseball.

The stat-savvy among us called for a rebound for Hamels, but he has exceeded even those expectations. After adding a cut fastball and tacking on two MPH of velocity on his four-seam fastball, Hamels bolstered his strikeout rate to an average of over one per inning and slightly increased his rate of inducing ground balls. Per FanGraphs’ pitch-type linear weights, all of Hamels’ pitches have been above-average.

The results have been phenomenal but, unfortunately, he does not have the sparkling won-lost record to earn him widespread praise and potential Cy Young votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America. Hamels’ 8-10 record is a testament to the Phillies’ futile offense, not to poor performances on his part. Using support-neutral wins and losses from Baseball Prospectus, his winning percentage jumps from .444 (eight wins out of 18 decisions) to .560 (15 wins in 27 decisions; it assigns a win or a loss to every start, leaving out no-decisions), essentially a three-game jump.

How does Hamels stack up against the rest of the competition? I have identified seven other pitchers likely to get widespread attention for the award. Of course, there are many others deserving of mention including Rookie of the Year candidate Jaime Garcia, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, and even Roy Oswalt.

Pitcher CG SHO IP K/9 BB/9 SIERA
Halladay 8 3 214.0 8.0 1.1 2.90
Latos 1 1 155.7 9.2 2.5 3.04
Johnson 1 0 177.7 8.8 2.3 3.13
Wainwright 5 2 195.3 8.2 2.3 3.16
Hamels 1 0 174.0 9.1 2.6 3.21
Jimenez 4 2 184.3 8.3 3.5 3.60
Hudson 1 0 184.7 6.7 2.8 3.69
Carpenter 0 0 197.3 5.3 2.5 3.78

As mentioned, it’s impossible to argue that Hamels is more worthy of the award than Halladay and Wainwright for that matter as well. But Hamels’ numbers are almost duplicates of Mat Latos‘ and he’s pitched 20 more innings. Hamels and Josh Johnson are a wash.

The debate becomes a bit tricky with Jimenez, Hudson, and Carpenter. With Jimenez, do you weigh his most recent 13 starts (4.55 ERA) less than his first 14 starts (1.15 ERA)? If so, he is a legit top-five candidate. After all, most of us thought he was going to do match Bob Gibson the way he pitched in the first half.

With Hudson and Carpenter, the debate becomes more philosophical. Dave Cameron touched on this at FanGraphs last week:

[Defense-independent pitching statistics were] never designed to be a backward-looking metric designed to tell us what actually did happen. And there’s a decent argument to be made that the Cy Young award should be awarded based on what did happen, not on what should have happened or what will happen in the future.

Hudson and Carpenter have clearly been very fortunate on batted balls. In fact, most Cy Young candidates every year will be very fortunate BABIP-wise. Hudson has the second-lowest BABIP in the league (.244); Latos is fourth, Jimenez and Wainwright seventh and eighth respectively. Carpenter’s .280 BABIP is still flukishly low. On the SIERA leaderboard, you have to go to around #30-40 to find Hudson and Carp. Voters with a Sabermetric bent are likely to leave the two off for this reason. The luddites of the BBWAA will look at Hudson’s 2.24 ERA and wonder how he can possibly be left off anyone’s ballot.

Sabermetrically, Hamels is arguably the third-best on the list at the moment. A realistic Sabermetric top-five could go: Halladay, Wainwright, Hamels, Johnson, Latos. With a month left in the season, a lot may change. But for now, it’s nice to realize that the Phillies have two top-three Cy Young candidates in their starting rotation. Given Hamels’ fall from grace and the Cliff Lee trade, the phrase “the Phillies have two top-three Cy Young candidates in their starting rotation” was never expected to be uttered in September 2010.

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42 comments

  1. kmart

    September 02, 2010 02:17 PM

    I’d be willing to bet that Hamels gets very few Cy Young votes this year, even if he does deserve them.

  2. MplsPhilsFan

    September 02, 2010 02:18 PM

    Bill,

    While I am in no way denigrating Cole’s tremendous year, I think it a stretch to palce him on the top 3 or even top 5 ballot for the Cy Young. SIERA is an excellent measure, but there are other tools out there where Cole does not come out quite so high.

    His WAR, according to BP, is at 3.6 and not among the top 10 in the NL, nor is his Win Probability added nor his adjusted ERA.

    Cole has been great this year, and I would place him among the top 10 pitchers in the NL this year, but not any higher

    If I had a vote, the top 3 would be Halladay, Josh Johnson and Wainwright, with any of those three being a worthy candidate to win the Cy Young. Hudson would not be somoene Cy worthy, as his BABIP is completely unsustainable, especially with the low strikeout rate he has

  3. Jeff

    September 02, 2010 02:23 PM

    Hamels is arguably the third-best on the list at the moment… if Bill Baer is the one arguing. Hamels is behind Latos and Johnson in just about every sabermetric measurement. He’s 3 WAR behind Johnson and 2 WAR behind Jimenez. Honestly I couldn’t care less about how many third place votes Hamels gets, but this article makes me scratch my head a little.

  4. Bill Baer

    September 02, 2010 02:34 PM

    Which WAR are you using, Jeff? If it’s from FanGraphs, pitcher WAR is based on FIP. FIP incorrectly assumes a pitcher controls his HR/FB rate, thus Hamels only grades out at 3.84.

    Overall, I’m not a fan of using WAR for pitchers, even from Baseball Reference. It’s essentially glorified ERA. Consider their methodology:

    www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/6405

    Pitcher WAR considers how many runs a pitcher allowed and then compares that to the number a replacement pitcher would allow.

  5. Ted

    September 02, 2010 02:34 PM

    I agree Cole is having a great year, but more than likely he gets overlooked simply because of his W-L record.

    @MplsPhilsFan:

    I have been saying this all season about Tim Hudson that his BABIP is way too low, his strand rate is ridiculously high (83.6% 2nd best in ML), and he doesn’t get regular strikeouts. While I agree this is all completely unsustainable long term, I just don’t him regressing toward his career, or even more average, numbers this season. He kind of reminds me of J.A. Happ in the sense that this is just going to be one of these unbelievably lucky years for him.

    Completely unrelated, my other gripe with Hudson is that he accidentally hit Polanco earlier in the year, an injury we all know that has plagued Polly throughout the season and one that will require off-season surgery.

  6. Jeff

    September 02, 2010 03:18 PM

    Yes I was looking at fangraphs, and I see what you’re saying, I’d now be inclined to move Hamels in front of Latos. Johnson’s 4.3 HR/FB rate is unsustainably low as well. Interesting. I think IP should weigh heavily into the Cy voting also. Which is why relievers should never win. And why Halladay is clearly ahead of Wainwright.

  7. Bill Baer

    September 02, 2010 03:20 PM

    Yeah, I definitely agree with you on innings. There’s something to be said for letting the entire bullpen rest in 30 percent of the starts, as Halladay has done so far.

  8. Scott G

    September 03, 2010 01:06 AM

    Is BABIP really completely a metric of things out of a pitcher’s control though? If Hamels’ pitches are better (faster or with more movement) this year than last year, than when batters make contact, it is likely to be less solid. This would usually make it easier for the defense to defend, thus lowering the BA for balls in play. I like BABIP, but if a guy’s BABIP is high for a whole season, maybe his shit really was weaker than usual.

    Please correct me if I’m not understanding this correctly.

  9. hk

    September 03, 2010 08:53 AM

    “The debate becomes a bit tricky with Jimenez…After all, most of us thought he was going to do match Bob Gibson the way he pitched in the first half.”

    Bill, your quote above seems contradictory with your (accurate) analysis of Hamels from last year and the first two months of this. Just like Cole’s high BABIP predicted better results were forthcoming, didn’t Jimenez’s sub-.230 BABIP in the first two months suggest that his flirtation with a Gibson-like ERA would surely not last?

  10. Richard

    September 03, 2010 09:55 AM

    Bill, I don’t think you’re quite addressing Scott’s question/point, but I don’t really think it’s your fault. I think it’s an area that needs some fine-tuning, SABR-wise.

    You mention the “only about 12%” control pitchers have over their BABIP. Isn’t that not far from the difference between Hamels’ figures from the last two years? That is, we can observe that Hamels has been sharper this year, based on his stuff (K rate is up, ground ball rate up). And we also observe that his BABIP is back to around normal. Perhaps Hamels last year was both unlucky and hurting himself making poor pitches (that is, his BABIP was inflated both because of luck and stuff under his “control”).

    I think this is an area that could do with some research by SABR-minded and statistically adept folks.

    I wondered about it a lot with Jamie Moyer’s season. His raw peripherals seem to be in line with his .500 record and 4.88 ERA. But we Phillies fans all know that his ERA was heavily impacted by just a handful of innings. People pointed to his quite low BABIP as evidence that his success otherwise was unsustainable. But–watch out for it–watching the games, it was clear he was getting a lot of poor contact when he was successful [hitting his marks]. Now, it strikes me that there has to be better way to account for that kind of thing, than simply invoking luck, broadly speaking. As I’ve suggested in many previous comments, I am not averse to luck as an explanation. However, making a poor meatball pitch on a 1-2 count is not luck, it’s bad pitching. Granted, a small element of luck comes into play even there–maybe the batter misses it? or fails to swing at it? or pops it up? or it dies at the warning track? Regarding Hamels, there were some figures from a few weeks back showing that his newfound cutter had been a very poor pitch for him to that point [hitters were batting something like .412 with gaudy OBP & SLG numbers]. If it’s not a good pitch, it’s going to get hammered. That’s not luck (unless, again, someone misses it).

    Ok, sorry for the long comment, but I’ve been thinking about these matters most of the season, and this thread gave me the opportunity to frame some of those thoughts. Thanks.

  11. Dan

    September 03, 2010 10:44 AM

    To the people wondering about BABIP:

    There’s a reason why the pitcher has little to no control of BABIP; hitters. A pitcher can make an absolutely astounding pitch, but a good hitter can still make decent contact. Likewise, a pitcher could throw a fastball right down the middle, and a bad hitter would make very poor contact.

    HR/FB ratios are affected in the same way. That’s why we can come up with an average. The pitcher has a tiny bit of control (keeping the ball low USUALLY induces ground balls), but then again he can not control where the ball goes, how well the batter makes contact, or even if his fielders can get to it.

    I assure you, the minds behind Sabermetrics are probably looking for better methods of evaluation all the time, but these statistics are not nearly as flawed as you think they are.

    A pitcher has control of his SO/BB rate… other than that, it’s pretty much up to the hitter.

  12. Richard

    September 03, 2010 11:01 AM

    Yes, Dan, I’m aware of that. I’m interested in that 12%… and the ways in which a poor pitch (a new cutter) or an injury (Lee’s back, perhaps causing him to leave the ball up, etc) impacts it. I have no doubt the gang is working on it; just throwing my two cents on what it seems to me are factors.

  13. hk

    September 03, 2010 11:04 AM

    “A pitcher has control of his SO/BB rate… other than that, it’s pretty much up to the hitter.”

    And it’s up to other things that the pitcher can’t control like luck. Last night, Bastardo faced seven hitters. He K’d two of them. Of the other five, only one made good contact and that one accounted for the only out of the inning other than the K’s. The other four reached on a bloop single that Victorino just missed, back-to-back bunt singles and an infield single that would have been a DP. In other words, if you look at the box score, you’d think Bastardo pitched poorly (and you might even think he got lucky) giving up a run and four hits in one inning (9.00 ERA and 4.00 WHIP). The truth was that he was extremely unlucky (.800 BABIP) and deserved a better fate. Obviously, one inning is a small sample size, but that inning was a great example of the BABIP argument.

  14. Scott G

    September 03, 2010 11:21 AM

    Don’t take what I’m saying here the wrong way. I kind of feel like people are missing my point. If I go out on the mound and pitch to Utley, Howard, and Werth, and they mash my 80 mph fastball (assuming I throw it for strikes), are you going to chalk that up to bad luck?

    Yes I took an extreme here, but I look at it like this. Bill recently pointed out that Hamels has gained some velocity on his fastball within the last year. He has CLEARLY been getting better results this year. I understand that a lot of his problems last year were probably luck-related, but he has physically improved at least 1 of his pitches since last season.

    Isn’t there some sort of weighted average (obviously MUCH closer to Cole this year than my abilities as a pitcher) that account for the fact that he probably wasn’t as sharp last year? The quality of his pitches this year > quality of last year’s pitches >>> my abilities that say, “Ok, maybe he’s not pitching up to his potential right now.” Could have been attributed to pitching an absurd amount of innings more than his younger left arm is accustomed to last year?

  15. hk

    September 03, 2010 12:05 PM

    Scott,

    If a pitcher is doing something different from year-to-year, you would expect to see the difference show up in his K, BB and HR rates. However, if you compare Hamels’s 2008 and 2009 seasons, you’d see nearly identical results in K/9, BB/9 and HR/9, yet his ERA was 3.09 in 2008 and 4.32 in 2009. The big difference between the two years was his .270 BABIP in 2008 and .325 BABIP in 2009.

  16. Richard

    September 03, 2010 12:08 PM

    hk, that’s fine; what about this year compared to last? there are distinct differences in those rates.

  17. hk

    September 03, 2010 12:19 PM

    Richard,

    I would say that he’s pitching differently this year, but not necessarily better or worse as he’s striking out more, but also walking more and giving up slightly more HR’s. However, his BABIP is almost at the mid-point of his BABIP’s of the last two years meaning he’s been neither lucky nor unlucky. My take is that 2010 (in Cole’s traditional stats like ERA) is the most representative of his true talent level.

  18. Richard

    September 03, 2010 12:40 PM

    Sure, ok. But often it gets framed as “Hamels’ BABIP is more normal [aka, league-average], therefore he’s less lucky or unlucky than years past” etc… but it doesn’t tell the whole story; sometimes it gets presented as if it does tell the whole story (or certainly more than it really does). This is where you can get some facile analysis using advanced metrics. The numbers get reified, made to do more than they can, especially by writers not inclined to think more about what [assumptions, etc] goes into those metrics. This will probably happen more and more as SABR-basics get more widely accepted. But acceptance doesn’t mean understanding.

  19. Morton

    September 03, 2010 02:27 PM

    Whether you agree with it or not, wins and losses constitute a large portion of the rationale behind many votes for the Cy Young winner.

    Despite a high SIERA, Hamels is almost undoubtedly not in consideration as a front runner for the award by the majority of the voters.

    Of the Philadelphia pitchers, Halladay has the best opportunity to win the award. However, due to the importance of wins and losses to many of the voters, I believe that he needs to get to 20 wins before the season is over. It’s especially crucial that the team helps him win at least four more games in his next six starts. Not only would he be one of the first 20 game winners in Phillies history in a long time (how many years has it been?), but, assuming his ERA remains about the same and neither one of Wainwright/Latos/Johnson/Jimenez exceed 20 wins, he would assuredly be the overwhelming favorite to win the NL Cy Young award.

  20. Bill Baer

    September 03, 2010 02:59 PM

    One thing to note about Hamels this year is his strand rate — it’s really good. Last year, I said that J.A. Happ’s league-leading 85% strand rate was unsustainable, and it was. Hamels’ so far is 81.5%. The league average is around 72% and stranding runners isn’t something pitchers control; it is heavily tied to BABIP. Hamels’ BABIP is normal (.299) so it’s really just a matter of good timing, or luck if you prefer.

    ___

    Scott wrote: Isn’t there some sort of weighted average […] that account for the fact that he probably wasn’t as sharp last year?

    If Cole wasn’t as sharp last year, we would see it in the metrics we know pitchers control: strikeouts, walks, and batted ball splits. Cole from 2008 to ’09 was eerily similar. Since he had a lot of success in ’08 and very little in ’09, we would expect differences but there are none. Believe me, I looked in a lot of areas and could not find anything of note.

    There are, however, differences this year, as hk pointed out. His strikeouts and walks are up a bit, and he’s inducing a few more ground balls percentage-wise. This could be attributed to a “sharper” hypothesis, along with the addition of the cutter.

  21. Jon

    September 03, 2010 08:32 PM

    Ryan Madson… ABC!

  22. Jim

    September 04, 2010 07:06 AM

    @Scott G, you say you have no problems attributing luck as a reason for pitcher’s performance, but you keep saying, “well Cole Hamels didn’t do so well last year but really well this year, and he did add a new pitch and 1MPH to his fastball, isn’t it possible that luck has nothing to do with it?”

    Well, here is news for ya. There is VERY little doubt his 1MPH increase in velocity is making a difference, as evidenced by his increased strikeout rate. No one here would ever argue otherwise. However, isn’t it JUST as likely if not more so, and the numbers definitely backs this up, that his phenomenal success this year is due to BOTH him pitching better AND having better luck? Why do you feel the need to attribute it to just one thing and not the other?

    Trying to find some explanation for the differences in his “performance” over the last three years only suggest that you really do believe Hamels was a worse pitcher in 2009 than he was in 2008 or is in 2010. Not unlucky, but worse. Well, some of us like our Cole Hamels just the way he is and always has been. Don’t change a thing Cole, don’t change a thing.

    On a side note… While I admit I was equally puzzled by the Cliff Lee trade as the next guy (okay, we need prospects… but you call those bodies we got from Seattle “prospects,” really?), things have worked out almost perfectly for Amaro. Cliff Lee hasn’t exactly been a maven of health, is pitching quite poorly down the stretch, while we gave up next to nothing to get Oswalt, and he’s only been lights out since joining the Phillies. AND, get this, we have him for 2011 at a salary that will be a LOT less than what Cliff Lee will get in his next contract, whether he had stayed a Phillie or not. Granted, if we kept Lee we might be up a few games as opposed to being 1 game back atm… But Amaro always said the trade was about the future and not just the one year. Maybe he’s on to something, no? If only he didn’t give Howard that ridiculous contract, perhaps I would have more faith in him…

  23. Scott G

    September 04, 2010 10:43 AM

    Jim,

    Learn how to read. If that’s how you interpreted what I wrote, then you’re an idiot.

    On another note: It’s a shame Ryan Madson can’t handle the 9th inning closer’s psychology. He just converted a 1 run save against some very tough batters (Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder). It took him 11 pitches. I hope all the haters record this to memory.

  24. Jim

    September 04, 2010 06:40 PM

    @Scott G,

    “Isn’t there some sort of weighted average (obviously MUCH closer to Cole this year than my abilities as a pitcher) that account for the fact that he probably wasn’t as sharp last year? The quality of his pitches this year > quality of last year’s pitches >>> my abilities”

    Please explain to me how those statements translate to, “Oh I think Hamels is pretty much the same pitcher in 2008, 2009, or 2010.” I think I read just fine. As with all people, we tend to have a problem attributing things to luck. Don’t take it as criticism; most of us here suffer from the same trait, otherwise we wouldn’t be stats geeks. But when you look to the numbers and it tells you something, like it or not, you accept it. Otherwise why look to the numbers for answers in the first place?

    And I’m pretty sure most people here don’t have a problem with Ryan Madson either :)

  25. Scott G

    September 05, 2010 09:59 AM

    If you read my first comment, I think you’ll understand that I get the luck portion. I was simply trying to gauge something like this.

    Naturally, I would expect Roy Halladay to have a much lower BABIP than Kyle Kendrick. I would believe this because I know Roy Halladay is a better pitcher. Due to his better pitches and because he has more Ks and fewer BBs, I would expect that when batters actually do make contact with his pitches that they would not be hit as hard. If that’s true, the defense should tend to have an easier time getting to balls). Anyway, all you need to do is go to Bill’s post on “Lidge tipping his pitches”, and you will see that there are some people here that don’t think he can be a “closer”.

    Hamels also isn’t the same pitcher this year as the last two years though, right? His K/9 and his BB/9 are up.

  26. mratfink

    September 05, 2010 03:21 PM

    Bill, I love you but I think you don’t adequately address the Dave Cameron quote when saying that Hamels should receive top 5 votes. Just saying that those who vote for Hudson are luddites seems an obvious disconnect with the idea that Cameron proposes that DIPS are not really meant to be backward looking and that to reward people for what should have happened seems to be inferring a lot, some of which we likely still do not know. Now I certainly think DIPS are extremely interesting and useful tools, but I do not think they should be the first thing looked at for awards. I do not believe I am a luddite for thinking this way.

  27. Bill Baer

    September 05, 2010 06:40 PM

    I’m actually against using DIPS for voting for the awards. I was simply painting a Sabermetric case for Hamels — not necessarily saying I ascribe to it wholeheartedly. I actually argued with Colin Wyers and Keith Law about this a few weeks ago. So, believe it or not, I’m with you.

  28. Jim

    September 05, 2010 09:37 PM

    @Scott G,

    Sigh, since you insist…

    Roy Halladay, BABIP, 2007-2010: .304, .293, .313, .300

    Kyle Kendrick, BABIP, 2007-2010: .279, .316, .305, .290

    I certainly hope this ends the debate. No one is going to confuse Kyle Kendrick for Roy Halladay, but in the land of BABIP, all men (or more accurately pitchers) are created equal. Forgive me if I can’t but draw the inescapable conclusion that your continued belief is due to at least some bias. I mean, I certainly can’t attribute it to luck, can I?

  29. Ryan

    September 07, 2010 10:25 AM

    Jim,

    I’ve done this in other comments sections (when dealing with Hamels) and I’m sure Bill has as well.

    There are some pitchers who consistently pitch at a lower babip for their career than the league average. I’ve seen .300 and .290 used as standard measuring sticks – and some guys who have either specific skills, or outstanding stuff, have pitched below those numbers consistently.

    But at the end of the day, you are right. The best way I can explain it to the people who want to attribute these things to skill is that if someone is truly sharper, better, or added a better pitch – they will get swings and misses, not induce more outs in play. If their “sharpness” or improvement still has the bat finding the ball, then they will continue to be at the mercy of luck.

    Cole commanding the ball in the strike zone better (even if his control of the zone has regressed according to his walk rate, a counter intuitive argument in itself)and even if he’s throwing harder, or making the ball move more – once the bat strikes it, there is no control.

    We’ve all witnessed outings where broken bat swings result in hits, where swinging bunts result in hits, where balls off the end of bats result in hits, and where outfielders turn outs into extra base hits. None of those things are within the pitchers control.

    We’ve all also witnessed line drives at fielders, hard hit balls that result in double plays, balls scorched that are right at fielders guarding lines that would have been hits an inning earlier, and great defensive plays.

    In the end, over 30 starts, you CAN have entire seasons where these things bunch together. Hamels HR rate has been stable throughout his career – 1.11 to 1.29 – he gives up home runs (this year no exception). But another factor that has luck involved is WHEN they come. He’s going to make mistakes in any given outing, but if those mistakes come with 2 runners on or no runners on is still a function of luck. Pitchers don’t care more or less in given situations, so to say “he should give up fewer hr’s with runners on base because he should focus more” is stupid – he should always be 100% focused.

    So to recap – even a sharper, better pitcher is still going to be influenced the same by luck, unless, that sharpness, improvement is shining through in fewer walks and more k’s.

    Outside of that BABIP is always going to play a role, and if a pitcher runs into a season where in a couple starts he give up hrs with runners on base, and a couple of starts where good pitches turn into hits, then even a good pitcher (like hamels) is going to see some big changes in ERA, even if his stuff is still the same (or even better).

  30. Jim

    September 07, 2010 04:24 PM

    @Ryan,

    Agreed. I can see an extreme flyball pitcher in a ballpark that has significant HR depression rates ending up with a consistently lower BABIP. However, I think since we’re confining the discussion to just Hamels here, I don’t think we’re talking about a pitcher along those lines. For him, it is pretty much luck, and that’s what I’m trying to get at. Halladay is good not because he has “above-average” BAPIP (he doesn’t); he is good because he has godly K/BB ratios. In other words, BABIP is NOT a good predictor or indicator of good performance.

  31. Ryan

    September 08, 2010 08:06 AM

    Jim – I couldn’t agree more. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a fly ball pitcher in a big park, but you are right – given certain circumstances, and guys with generationaly great stuff (Nolan Ryan career babip – .275)it is POSSIBLE, but as we are saying here, very unlikely.

    And in Cole’s case, he has great stuff, but not anything better than the upper echelon in the game, and as you said guys like Halladay, Sabathia, even back to back cy young winner Timmy Lincecum (career .308 babip) are subject to luck.

    You could make the argument that Lincecum has the best pure stuff in baseball. His k rates are through the roof, he’s almost impossible to take out of the yard, and yet, his .325 babip this year is what? Him regressing? No way… Its bad luck just as Hamels’ abnormally high rate was last year.

    What it boils down to is people NEED tangible reasoning. Saying “he had an unlucky season” doesn’t fly. They need something to blame or something to credit when there is a good season.

    Cole’s era is down this year because of 2 things – his K rate has jumped and his babip has normalized to dead on his career number (.295). He’s gotten a little lucky stranding runners, but his xfip at 3.46 shows this is no fluke. Had he kept his walk rate at his career number (hurt by walks earlier in the season) we could be talking about a guy that you can reasonably expect 3.25 era’s out of moving forward.

  32. Jim

    September 08, 2010 10:53 AM

    Well I don’t know if I am ready to say that lower, consistent BABIP has anything to do with dominating stuff. I will concede that certain STYLE of pitching might result in lower BABIP (like my flyball pitcher example), and obviously that’s a “skill” that will help the pitcher (lower BABIP = more walks you can allow), but so is throwing 98 mph, and neither, as we have seen, are guarantees for success. In the end, it is still about throwing strikes and making batters miss.

  33. Bill Baer

    September 08, 2010 02:04 PM

    Studies have shown that pitchers with high strikeout rates tend to have lower-than-average BABIP (e.g. Nolan Ryan). As far as I know, no pitcher has complete mastery of fly balls to where it would drastically affect BABIP on a consistent basis.

  34. Jim

    September 08, 2010 02:48 PM

    I haven’t read those articles in depth, but I still question the overall usefulness of those studies, as I think it might be a case of selection bias. For example, Roger Clemens, no one can argue that he isn’t one of the best strikeout pitchers of all time… Career BABIP? .294. Randy Johnson career BABIP? .302. Took me all but 5 minutes to look up these two examples, and those are the #2 and #3 career K leaders of all time behind said Nolan Ryan. I still think it’s something else, not dominating stuff.

  35. Scott G

    September 08, 2010 04:53 PM

    If it took you 5 minutes to look that up, you might want to upgrade your dial-up modem. :)

  36. Bill Baer

    September 08, 2010 08:14 PM

    Here’s a study by the great J.C. Bradbury:

    www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/another-look-at-dips1/

    For every one-strikeout increase per game, the BABIP decreases by 0.00172. Multiply that by 18.56 and every strikeout is worth 0.03 earned runs per game. That’s small, right? Well, yes and no. Let’s use Randy Johnson’s 2004 as an example.

    In 2004, Randy Johnson struck out 10.6 batters per game. According to the estimates above, this rate would lower Johnson’s expected 2005 BABIP by 0.018 (10.6 x 0.00172 = 0.018) and his ERA by 0.34 (18.56 x 0.018 = 0.34); an impact on earned run prevention equal to about two additional strikeouts (2 x 0.17 = 0.34) according to the estimate in Table 1. This translates to 9.3 earned runs saved on decreasing hits on balls in play over the number of innings he pitched in 2004 (0.34 x [245.67/9] = 9.3), which is 13% of his 2004 total of 71 earned runs.

    A pitcher with the average strikeout-rate for the sample would gain the ERA benefit of about one extra strikeout per game through his effect on BABIP. This would lower his predicted ERA by 0.18 and result in 3.25 fewer earned runs a season (about 4%). Johnson saves approximately 6 earned runs per season more than the average strikeout pitcher through his ability to prevent hits on balls in play. That is a very real effect. So, why doesn’t BABIP correlate very well from year-to-year when strikeouts do? Well, there’s just a lot more noise generated by random bounces from year-to-year in BABIP than there is in strikeouts.

  37. Jim

    September 08, 2010 08:37 PM

    Bill,

    Within the same article the author states:

    “These findings also fit with some recent research by Tom Tippett. In Can Pitchers Prevent Hits on Balls in Play?, Tippett looks at a rather large sample of pitchers’ BABIP over their careers and finds that several pitchers seemed to have had a consistent impact over hits on balls in play. It would be an interesting project to see how much of this difference is predicted by pitcher strikeout rates.” Doesn’t seem like he himself is convinced there is a correlation.

    Given Johnson’s (who Bradbury himself used as an example) and Clemens’ career BABIP, I would be skeptical about strikeout rates having a correlation over BABIP. Obviously more investigation is needed. But if what Bradbury credits as “random bounces” over the years seem to have “erased” any evidence of their abilities to influence BABIP, my question is, how would any research be able to separate the random from the able?

  38. Bill Baer

    September 08, 2010 08:57 PM

    I don’t interpret that blurb in the same way that you do. It sounds like he’s just asking a question he would like to research further.

    Johnson and Clemens are part of the sample of pitchers taken, and that sample was tested for a correlation between K-rate and BABIP. Not all samples have to correlate.

    As an example, if I polled a bunch of kids about their eating habits when they watched TV, I would probably find a high correlation between hours watched and fatty/sugary foods consumed. But in the sample, we’re still probably going to get a few kids who eat carrot sticks instead of fruit roll-ups and the correlation won’t matter to them. Their existence does not negate the findings; they are simply part of the sample but ultimately not indicative of the correlation.

  39. Jim

    September 08, 2010 09:40 PM

    When I have more time this weekend I will try to compile a list of BABIPs for the top 100 career strikeout leaders. I understand random fluctuations within the sample, so that’s why I stated more investigation on my part is necessary. However, given people love to point out Nolan Ryan as the poster boy for this explanation (#1 career strikeout leader, .275 career BABIP), I find it a little odd you lose the correlation immediately when you look at #2 and #3 on the list.

  40. Jim

    September 11, 2010 04:07 PM

    Trying to do some research on my aforementioned project, and I come across this old article:

    royalsblog.kansascity.com/?q=node/230

    Sometimes, I really want to just slap people who write an article bashing something without understanding exactly what it is they are bashing. Seriously, comparing BABIP for batters to pitchers??? And not only that, is there a great case of selection bias when it comes to the list of pitchers he “chose” for his “examples”?

    On a side note, does anyone know how to obtain yearly league average BABIP data somewhere? Tried to find it on FanGraph and couldn’t find it. My theory is that Nolan Ryan’s BABIP is .275 and Clemens is .294 is at least due to difference in era, since it’s generally known league average BABIP was lower in the 1970s and 80s.

  41. sean

    September 16, 2010 12:23 PM

    jim in hopes you somehow see this on a player page on fangraphs go to the advanced section. there is a show averages button next to the quick glossary. gives the league avg

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