Jeremy Horst’s Bad Luck Continues

We discussed Jeremy Horst‘s bad luck two and a half weeks ago and it looked like things were starting to turn around. In his next four appearances, he allowed just one earned run over five innings and held the opposition to a .176 average on balls in play. Last night against the Indians, Horst’s bad luck returned. The lefty allowed one run, which was considered fortunate since he allowed four base runners, three of which were infield singles and the other was a bloop into shallow left field.

When people talk about a pitcher’s bad luck on balls in play, we are referring essentially to anything that happens after contact. So many variables come into play beyond the pitcher’s ability to hit his location and fool the opposing hitter. The ball may be hit hard, but right at a fielder. Or it may be hit three feet to his side for a hit. The ball may be hit softly, but slowly enough down the line that the third baseman can’t make a play on it. Or it can be hit softly but right to the pitcher, who throws to first for an easy out. The batter can pop the ball right over the shortstop’s head, or it can go a few feet further out where a play is unable to be made. Despite the pitcher’s lack of control, a run of bad luck on balls in play still gets counted against his ERA and thus he is judged for it throughout the year, long after the circumstances have been forgotten.

Let’s take a look at the hits Horst allowed last night after the jump.

Horst hits his spot well and makes a good pitch, jamming Carlos Santana inside for a weak ground ball. Unfortunately, the swinging bunt travels far too slowly for third baseman Michael Young, playing on the edge of the infield dirt, to charge in and make a play. Additionally, it is hit too far to Horst’s right for him to grab the ball, pivot, and fire to first. Horst was victimized by a similar swinging bunt in the  game against Cincinnati discussed in mid-April — click here to see it.

Horst misses his spot, placing his fastball a few inches higher than called for, but it is still a good pitch — similar to the one he made against Santana, Horst jams Ryan Raburn inside. If Raburn swings a little earlier, he pops out lazily to Young at third base; if he swings later, he pops out lazily to Chase Utley. There is nothing more Horst could have done about this.

This is when you knew it just wasn’t Horst’s night. Horst hits his spot, but Yan Gomes grounds it right back up the middle. It hits Horst on the leg and is redirected to Jimmy Rollins, who had already taken his momentum up the middle for a double play attempt. Rollins has to redirect himself to his right, then throw across his body from his knees.

Horst hits his spot again, and Drew Stubbs grounds it up the middle just like Gomes did. This time, it is perfectly placed between Rollins and Utley. Rollins, with his momentum taking him towards first base, fields the ball and is forced to spin and throw, but he really had no chance to get an out here.

A run scored on the play, and Horst’s night ended with his ERA rising to 6.17. Between the Cincinnati game and last night’s Cleveland game, Horst recorded four outs, allowed six hits, and allowed three runs (all earned). Those two outings alone account for 17 percent of the total outs he has recorded this year, 35 percent of hits, and 50 percent of runs. This is why being mindful of small samples and defense-independent statistics are so important early in the season.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t anything to be concerned about with Horst, however. His fastball velocity is down more than two MPH compared to last year. He is recording swings and misses at nearly half the rate of last season (7.7 percent; 13.2 percent). On a batters faced basis, he has struck out only 13 percent of hitters this year compared to 32 percent last year. When you aren’t recording strikeouts as often, you are allowing more balls to be put into play, which makes you subject to the whims of randomness on a more frequent basis. If Horst had his 32 percent strikeout rate instead of 13 percent, he would have seen ten fewer balls put in play, three or four of which were hits.

On the whole, though, Horst hasn’t pitched nearly as badly as his results would make it seem. Unfortunately, he seems to be under a black cloud to start the year, but sunnier skies should await him as the season progresses.

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17 comments

  1. James K.

    May 02, 2013 07:45 AM

    Yes, his BABIP is .372, but his xFIP is 5.71 and his SIERA is 5.02. Hasn’t exactly been lights out.

  2. Richard

    May 02, 2013 08:55 AM

    James, note the penultimate paragraph in which Bill refers to Horst’s declining strikeout rate.

    And, Bill, the other thing I noticed about these plays is there isn’t anything a better defensive team could have done about these balls either.

  3. Ryan

    May 02, 2013 09:04 AM

    You could just sum it up…”he hasn’t pitched well, but he’s gotten screwed on top of it”. How many innings does it take for strikeout and walk rates to normalize?

  4. TomG

    May 02, 2013 09:04 AM

    Or to put it another way, the difference between Chad Durbin and Jeremy Horst is watching Chad Durbin pitch makes you want to pimp-slap Chad Durbin whereas watching Jeremy Horst pitch makes you want to pimp-slap God because WTF, God? Horst is pitching better than that! What’s with all these crappy outcomes? His name is “Jeremy” not “Job”. Quit picking on the guy and make yourself useful by giving Chipper Jones boils or anal fissures or something because that would be totally righteous. All due respect, as we say in Joisey. Far be it from me to tell you how to do your job (lowercase “j”).

    It is depressing enough to have the face the fact that the Phillies not only got swept by a Cleveland club that was missing both The Michael Bourn Identity and Swiss Knickers – they were beaten by an order of magnitude, 20-2.

    Today, truly, we are all – all of us Phillies fans – Job Horst.

    The only thing that made watching the series bearable (I happened to get the Cleveland feed both nights) was noting how much Astrubal Cabrera resembles the racist Cleveland logo.

    www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/7483443786/

  5. Richard

    May 02, 2013 09:26 AM

    Indians have a pretty good offense even without Swisher or Bourn. Still, wow what a drubbing.

  6. AdifferentSteve

    May 02, 2013 09:52 AM

    I know he’s been unlucky but Valdes hasn’t been all that fantastic either. At what point do they consider bringing up De Fratus and see what happens with him because it seriously can’t be any worse.
    And while we are on the topic of luck, how unlucky are we that we are 2-2 when it comes to the “tale of two Chads” over the past 2 offseasons. Can Ruben be that unlucky or is this proof that perhaps the evaluation of these guys was wrong?

  7. Phillie697

    May 02, 2013 10:11 AM

    Bill, there is also another reason for “back luck” when it comes to BABIP: Since hitters CAN control their BABIP somewhat, but pitchers generally can’t, sometimes you get inflated BABIP just because you happen to pitch to a string of batters who have above-average BABIP. Pitcher BABIP regress to the mean given enough at bats as they pitch to both good and bad hitters, but in small samples, besides the usual true-luck reasons, there could also be reasons that are sample-composition based.

  8. Richard

    May 02, 2013 10:18 AM

    and hitters “controlling” their BABIP has more to do with speed (which in this game is really only relevant, possibly, to the Stubbs hit) and line drives (not relevant at all)…

  9. Phillie697

    May 02, 2013 10:39 AM

    @BB and Richard,

    I wasn’t talking specifically about the Indians :) I was commenting in general. I want people to know that sometimes the bad luck is also because of the hitters they face. People don’t generally talk about that. Horst, he’s just cursed.

  10. Bill Baer

    May 02, 2013 10:43 AM

    Certainly that’s something to keep in mind, but there are also two diminishing factors: 1) that a hitter’s individual BABIP means less and less to an individual pitcher as the sample size grows; and 2) batting order will tend to even out the BABIP even in the short-term.

    Also, as Richard pointed out, speed and line drives are the driving forces behind hitter BABIP.

  11. Phillie697

    May 02, 2013 10:48 AM

    Bill, for a reliever, for a short period, those factors don’t apply because 1) small samples, and 2) not having the opportunity to pitch to the entire lineup. Imagine having to come into the game and pitch to Joey Votto three games straight. This is less of a problem for starters.

  12. Phillie697

    May 02, 2013 11:12 AM

    In general for relievers LOL.

  13. BobSmith77

    May 02, 2013 09:51 PM

    Horst isn’t pitching well and hasn’t pitched well since the start of spring training.

    His fastball velocity is down over ~2 MPH and most nights he is topping out at 88 MPH. His slider also doesn’t have the same velocity or movement it did last fall either.

  14. Steve

    May 03, 2013 06:17 AM

    same thought concerning BABIP, it’s why you love what Bastardo, Paps and Adams are doing, when you K at a 30% rate it knocks the hell out of the BABIP %. Even if you are really unlucky as JH has been, if you K 1/3 of the lineup, it helps mitigate the bad luck. Of course, it does help if the one hit doesn’t go out of the ball park.
    Is it me, or do the Phils seem to be having an unusual number of infield hits in the early season? Is this a factor of an aging infield whose defensive metrics are down causing them to get to the balls but not in position to make the throw or just bad luck? I would have to believe this is a combination of both. From my personnel view, it affects Lee and KK the most and I think Lee, in the early going, has seen his K/BB rate drop which means more balls are in play. Last 3 games BABIP .381. K/BB 2.67. KK – Last 3 games BABIP .250, K/BB 4.00
    A sobering STAT Roy last 5 games – BABIP .221 K/BB 2.20 (includes last game BABIP .426).

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