Room for the Starting Rotation to Improve?

This statistical nugget was posted by @Slap_Bet on Twitter during Wednesday’s Phillies/Nationals game:

Phillies starters have the second highest babip in the majors

And it’s true! Via Baseball Reference:

Team G BAbip
CHC 54 .337
PHI 56 .324
HOU 56 .306
MIL 56 .301
FLA 54 .300
SDP 56 .300
WSN 55 .299
CIN 57 .298
LAD 57 .296
STL 57 .295
NYM 55 .295
SFG 55 .289
PIT 54 .285
ARI 56 .283
ATL 57 .275
COL 55 .273
TOT 890 .297
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/2/2011.

The breakdown by starter:

Pitcher G BAbip
Joe Blanton 6 .376
Vance Worley 4 .358
Cliff Lee 12 .344
Roy Halladay 12 .316
Roy Oswalt 9 .302
Cole Hamels 11 .296
Kyle Kendrick 2 .280
Team Total 56 .324
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/2/2011.

The Phillies’ staff as a whole allows the fourth-fewest line drives in baseball (17.4 percent) and gives up hits on them at nearly the National League average (72.1 percent to the NL’s 71.4 percent). They also allow the fifth-fewest fly balls (34.2 percent) as well and give up hits on those at exactly the NL average (13.8 percent).

By the process of elimination, or sheer knowledge of the staff, you may be able to deduce that Phillies pitchers must induce a lot of ground balls. They do, at the third-highest clip in the Majors (48 percent). Those have not been converted into outs at a 27 percent rate, 3.4 percent above the NL average. With 723 ground balls induced, the additional 3.4 percent accounts for about 25 hits, or roughly 13 percent of the 195 total ground ball hits.

Using the current distribution on ground ball hits (93 percent singles, seven percent doubles), and the linear weights assigned to events in wOBA, we can get a general idea of how harmful the below-average conversion of ground balls into outs has been so far.

(.93 * 25) = 23 singles, (.07 * 25) = 2 doubles

(23 * .77) = 18 runs for singles, (2 * 1.08) = 2 runs for doubles; 20 runs total (or roughly two wins)

Is the culprit just bad luck? The Phillies have the third-worst defensive efficiency in the Majors at .698. They also have the ninth-worst UZR at -8.2. Looking at specific players reveals that only the second basemen (Wilson Valdez, Pete Orr, Chase Utley) have been harmful defensively among the infielders. The trio combine for a -3.6 UZR which is negated by Placido Polanco (+3.5), Ryan Howard (+0.1), and Jimmy Rollins (0.0). So, no, the infield is not truly to blame.

So, let’s take a look at Phillies’ pitchers’ BABIP on ground balls.

Pitcher G BAbip
Roy Halladay 12 .309
Cliff Lee 12 .308
Joe Blanton 6 .297
Roy Oswalt 9 .286
Cole Hamels 11 .245
Kyle Kendrick 12 .220
Vance Worley 6 .182
Team Total 56 .270
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/2/2011.

Remember, the NL average is .236, so everyone but Kendrick and Worley has been unfortunate in this regard. Halladay, Lee, Blanton (if and when he returns), and Oswalt should not be this unlucky on grounders going forward. That means that tweets like this and this should become more and more infrequent. In combination with this information and comparing their ERA to your retrodictor of choice (mine is SIERA), we can set our expectations for the rotation going forward.

  • Halladay: 2.56 ERA / 2.66 SIERA
  • Lee: 3.94 ERA / 2.81 SIERA
  • Hamels: 3.01 ERA / 2.62 SIERA
  • Oswalt: 2.70 ERA / 4.13 SIERA

In the big picture, Hamels should continue to be great, Halladay should improve slightly, Lee should improve greatly (assuming his cutter isn’t a problem, which would run contrary to many popular theories floating around), and Oswalt should get a bit worse despite BABIP regression as his strikeout rate is way down. Assuming Kendrick doesn’t make two to three complete disaster starts, the Phillies rotation appears to have better things in store as the 2011 season moves along.

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13 comments

  1. Dan

    June 03, 2011 07:05 AM

    I love your analysis.

  2. Richard

    June 03, 2011 08:08 AM

    Yeah, much was made about the double-figures in hits Halladay has given up the last two times out, but against the Reds I swear not a single ball was hit hard, and against the Nats, very few were (like the trouble he wiggled out of in the 7th? totally cheap bloop double on the line and a bunt?). As that one tweet said, Lee gave up a bunch of BS hits to the Nats, then the two homers.

    The only thing that give me pause with Lee is that he’s definitely not been commanding his pitches in his famous manner, and when you miss with your pitches, I imagine that negatively impacts your luck. (On the other hand, sometimes the other guys miss your mistakes, or they’re hit right at someone.)

  3. Bill Pettti

    June 03, 2011 08:41 AM

    It’s amazing what a few hits can do.

    Halladay and Lee are having the biggest impact on starter BABIP (25% and 21% respectively).

    Five less hits against each of them brings the BABIP down to .314. Still above league average, but it’s still better than .324.

    And even though he’s only accounting for 10% of the total, Blanton’s astronomical BABIP is having an effect. If were to be at his career average (.299), and you add in 10 less hits between Lee and Halladay, the staff is down to .304 BABIP against.

  4. Css228

    June 03, 2011 09:07 AM

    I’m confident once the flukes stop falling in and Chase is back to his Fielding Bible award winning D, along with putting Brown out there instead of Francisco, things would be just as we expected if not more excellent.

  5. Jonny

    June 03, 2011 12:19 PM

    I linked this on NBC’s HBT. If you do not approve let me know, and I won’t slip up again.

  6. KB

    June 03, 2011 03:45 PM

    Assuming the BABIP is correctly predicting the future, this pitching staff may be better than hoped.

  7. hk

    June 04, 2011 06:19 AM

    Scott G.,

    Lineup optimization is so far out of reach for this manager…I’d settle for bullpen optimization or at least using his best reliever before his worst in a tie game on the road. It is amazing that some (most?) managers still save their closers in a tie game on the road for a chance to “close” that more times than not doesn’t come. You would have thought Joe Torre making this blunder in the 2003 Series would have been the tipping point in exposing the utter stupidity of trusting a significantly worse reliever in a tie game.

  8. Scott G

    June 04, 2011 10:03 AM

    hk,

    I’ve noticed that you sometimes frequent my site, and I assume you know I agree with the ridiculous lack of bullpen optimization as well.

  9. hk

    June 04, 2011 11:15 AM

    Scott G,

    Of course I do. I was just looking for a chance to vent after last night’s debacle and your comment about lineup optimization opened the door. Between the front office decisions and Charlie’s in-game ones, this team gives away too many games during the season. While their talent is again probably good enough to overcome the mismanagement and get them into the post-season, it is always a concern about how Charlie could again cost them in the post-season. Someone (Bill) needs to come up with a new metric to assess manager performance, maybe WAWTM for Wins Above a Well Trained Monkey. I have Charlie at -2.0 WAWTM this year.

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