Ball-In-Play Leaders and Laggards: AL Pitchers

A few weeks back, we took a look at the 2014 offensive ball-in-play leaders and laggards from both leagues. As the second half of the offseason kicks into gear, let’s now take a look at the same information from the pitcher’s perspective. Today: the American League.

Below are the top and bottom 10 American Leaguers in popup, fly ball, line drive and ground ball percentage, for pitchers who allowed a minimum of 215 balls in play last season:

POP % FLY % LD % GB %
C.Young 21.25% Santiago 38.62% Capuano 26.53% Keuchel 60.72%
S.Baker 17.89% Bedard 37.02% Otero 25.40% Petricka 60.49%
Duffy 16.26% Odorizzi 36.72% Tomlin 25.00% Badenhop 60.00%
Odorizzi 12.96% Redmond 36.32% Salazar 24.92% Masterson 58.60%
P.Hughes 12.58% C.Young 36.25% Tepesch 24.33% House 57.77%
Milone 12.30% Hutchison 36.08% R.De la Rosa 23.90% Belisario 57.07%
Santiago 12.28% McGowan 35.97% Tanaka 23.86% Kelly 55.44%
Maurer 12.24% Jr.Weaver 35.87% S.Baker 23.58% F.Hernandez 55.17%
C.Lewis 12.10% N.Martinez 35.79% Warren 23.26% Cobb 54.47%
N.Martinez 12.08% E.Ramirez 35.44% S.Greene 23.26% Gray 53.89%
————– ———– ————– ———– ————– ———– ————– ———–
Masterson 4.84% Gray 21.38% Duffy 18.47% Jr.Weaver 33.92%
S.Greene 4.65% Deduno 20.07% K.Gibson 18.47% Bauer 33.87%
F.Hernandez 4.55% Otero 19.84% Skaggs 18.36% N.Martinez 33.33%
Badenhop 4.55% Kelly 19.39% Peavy 18.20% C.Lewis 33.27%
Keuchel 4.50% Petricka 18.05% F.Hernandez 17.86% Redmond 33.02%
Rienzo 4.33% Keuchel 17.66% Petricka 17.56% Bedard 32.34%
Carrasco 4.06% Belisario 17.56% Cobb 17.21% Santiago 30.24%
Petricka 3.90% House 17.23% Keuchel 17.12% Odorizzi 28.29%
Otero 3.57% Badenhop 16.82% Sale 16.12% S.Baker 24.80%
House 3.38% Masterson 16.40% McGowan 15.42% C.Young 22.29%
————– ———– ————– ———– ————– ———– ————– ———–
AVG 8.21% 28.51% 20.83% 42.44%

As we did with the hitters, let’s move through the frequency data relatively quickly. From a pitcher’s perspective, a popup is a very good thing, as major league hitters batted .015 AVG-.019 SLG on them last year. Inducing popups is a skill, as pitchers’ popup rates correlate very highly from one season to the next. By far, the three most prolific popup inducers were in the AL last season. Chris Young is an outlier among outliers in this regard, with his silly 21.25% popup rate — more than two-and-one-half times the AL average. Scott Baker and Danny Duffy weren’t all that far behind. We’ll talk about those two a little more later on.

Having a low popup rate isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, as one might deduce from the presence of a guy named Felix Hernandez on the popup laggard list. You just have to do other things really well, and as one might expect, Felix does just that in myriad areas, even once you take the Ks and BBs out of the equation, as we’re doing today.

As with the hitters, you see a lot of the same names on the fly ball leaders/ground ball laggards, and vice versa. As with the hitters, there are not many pitchers who yield more fly balls than grounders. While this combination is generally negative for hitters moving forward, it isn’t necessarily so for pitchers, provided they manage fly ball authority to some extent. There were 11 AL qualifying pitchers who yielded more fly balls than grounders in 2014; the 10 fly ball percentage leaders, less Dustin McGowan and Erasmo Ramirez, plus Trevor Bauer, Colby Lewis and Baker.

Despite his rough season, Justin Masterson had the lowest fly ball rate and the second highest grounder rate, behind Dallas Keuchel, among AL starters.

Line drive rates fluctuate more from season to season than other BIP frequencies. Still, it can be quite instructive to observe pitchers who had great seasons despite high liner rates. Dan Otero has been a lifesaver in Oakland for two seasons now; how good could his 2014 been if he hadn’t allowed a 25.4% liner rate? Ditto Masahiro Tanaka, with his lofty 23.86% mark. From another perspective, low liner rates were a contributing factor to the exceptional seasons of both Hernandez and Chris Sale last season; in 2012 and 2013, both pitchers had above league average liner rates.

Next, let’s look at the production by BIP type data. For each major BIP type, each leader and laggard’s AVG and SLG allowed is listed, as well as their production allowed relative to the league average for that BIP type, scaled to 100:

Masterson 0.410 1.164 244 Whitley 0.811 1.057 149
S.Baker 0.361 1.024 189 E.Ramirez 0.773 0.977 131
Tomlin 0.353 1.010 183 Peavy 0.729 1.037 130
House 0.333 1.020 178 Verlander 0.711 1.067 130
R.Ross 0.391 0.884 169 Bedard 0.740 0.980 125
Nolasco 0.350 0.885 155 Kluber 0.722 0.970 121
Dickey 0.335 0.888 150 C.Lewis 0.729 0.924 117
Doubront 0.341 0.875 149 N.Martinez 0.690 0.988 117
Salazar 0.330 0.862 143 Rienzo 0.683 1.000 117
Lackey 0.314 0.858 137 Keuchel 0.726 0.916 116
————– ———– ———– ———– ————– ———– ———– ———–
Santiago 0.209 0.550 58 Duffy 0.560 0.787 76
Archer 0.211 0.517 54 Gausman 0.592 0.724 75
An.Sanchez 0.230 0.470 52 Deduno 0.581 0.710 72
Cosart 0.217 0.492 52 Badenhop 0.561 0.732 71
Warren 0.197 0.525 52 C.Ramos 0.553 0.702 68
Duffy 0.183 0.500 46 Petricka 0.528 0.722 66
Carrasco 0.184 0.483 45 Carrasco 0.548 0.671 64
G.Richards 0.221 0.404 43 Otero 0.563 0.641 64
B.Shaw 0.159 0.508 43 B.Shaw 0.537 0.634 60
Pineda 0.155 0.423 33 Tepesch 0.510 0.670 59
————– ———– ———– ———– ————– ———– ———– ———–
AVG 0.276 0.701 100 0.656 0.852 100
C.Lewis 0.326 0.396 191 Nolasco 0.379 0.606 140
McAllister 0.333 0.377 188 Tomlin 0.360 0.613 134
Odorizzi 0.344 0.359 188 Whitley 0.377 0.583 134
Nolasco 0.327 0.386 187 C.Lewis 0.368 0.592 132
Santiago 0.337 0.366 186 Salazar 0.370 0.576 130
Oberholtzer 0.322 0.368 177 Rienzo 0.358 0.573 125
N.Martinez 0.329 0.356 177 Masterson 0.357 0.556 121
Belisario 0.325 0.350 172 R.Ross 0.367 0.538 121
Peacock 0.317 0.353 168 Peacock 0.345 0.575 121
P.Hughes 0.305 0.357 162 E.Ramirez 0.349 0.567 120
————– ———– ———– ———– ————– ———– ———– ———–
Kazmir 0.210 0.215 69 Gray 0.295 0.415 75
Keuchel 0.199 0.223 66 McHugh 0.283 0.437 75
U.Jimenez 0.197 0.218 65 An.Sanchez 0.288 0.409 72
Kelly 0.196 0.209 62 F.Hernandez 0.279 0.423 72
K.Gibson 0.190 0.207 59 Carrasco 0.291 0.399 71
Dickey 0.188 0.200 57 B.Shaw 0.267 0.403 66
J.Chavez 0.190 0.196 57 Otero 0.280 0.371 64
Pineda 0.174 0.174 47 Duffy 0.254 0.390 60
G.Richards 0.162 0.162 40 G.Richards 0.270 0.352 59
Otero 0.155 0.155 37 Pineda 0.243 0.378 56
————– ———– ———– ———– ————– ———– ———– ———–
0.254 0.278 100 0.320 0.491 100

It should be noted that SH and SF are counted as outs for the purposes of this presentation, and homers allowed are included in all of the data, so the figures above do not line up with actual 2014 BABIP.

For each BIP type, I have assigned each player an authority score, based on the relative authority of contact allowed. The scale ranges from 89 to 105 for fly balls, from 91 to 105 for liners and from 91 to 107 for grounders. In most cases, the players on the leader lists had high authority scores, and the laggards had low ones. Not all of them, though.

In light of the Indians’ defensive struggles last season, it might not be surprising to see four Indians’ pitchers among the 10 allowing the most fly ball damage in the AL last season. Danny Salazar and Masterson, however, contributed by allowing very high fly ball authority scores in the air of 105 and 103, respectively. Only the aforementioned popup generator Scott Baker among the top 10 could match Salazar’s poor authority score.

On the other hand, T.J. House allowed significant fly ball damage despite a low fly ball authority score of 97. House is a very interesting pitcher, an under-the-radar type prospect who walks no one, has a decent K rate, induces a ton of grounders, and allows weaker than average authority in the air. He’s a player to watch in 2015.

Like House, Robbie Ross was unlucky on fly balls last year, allowing significant damage despite a solid 96 fly ball authority score. And like the Indians, the Red Sox are well represented (by the since-traded Felix Doubront and John Lackey) on the list of those allowing the most fly ball damage, largely due to the offense-inflating tendencies of the Green Monster.

Danny Duffy is an interesting case. As we saw earlier, he allows a ton of popups and fly balls. Among the pitchers allowing the least fly ball damage in 2014, he by far allowed the most authoritative contact in the air, with a 104 authority score. He is a perfect fit for his ballpark and outfield defense. Only Salazar and Baker of those allowing the most fly ball damage allowed more authoritative contact in the air.

Jarred Cosart also rates a mention. He just missed the top 10 grounder frequency list, ranking 11th, and allowed the 4th least damage on fly balls, with a solid 99 authority score. Lots of grounders plus limitation of fly ball authority equals upside, especially if he can whittle down his walk rate.

In general, you don’t want to read too much into line drive production allowed, as an awful lot of luck is involved. The above liner lists do offer constructive information on a couple of pitchers, however. Two of the 10 pitchers allowing the most production on liners last season actually allowed less than league average authority on liners. They were Erasmo Ramirez and Dallas Keuchel.

Ramirez’ raw numbers were not good last season, as he resided in the doghouse of the Mariners’ Manager Lloyd McClendon. While most Mariner pitchers fared quite well on fly balls and liners last season, thanks in large part to Safeco Field, Ramirez did not. He allowed the second most damage of AL qualifiers on liners, and narrowly missed the fly ball top 10. His authority score on fly balls was a bit high at 102, but that’s nothing Safeco wouldn’t generally obscure, and his liner authority score was a low 97. Ramirez drew the short straw luck-wise in 2014, and should be an attractive spring training target for clubs, as he is out of options and not really in the Mariners’ plans.

Keuchel, very quietly, has become a good pitcher. He ranked No. 1 — even ahead of the barely qualifying, low-K reliever grounder specialists like Jake Petricka and Burke Badenhop — in grounder frequency in the AL last season. Like House, he walks no one and has a respectable K rate for a grounder specialist. Oh, and we’ll revisit Keuchel once more regarding his ability to limit grounder authority.

Only two of the pitchers allowing the most production on grounders, Jake Odorizzi and Ronald Belisario, allowed weaker than average grounder authority. Belisario is an intriguing minor league free agent, albeit one with a limited upside. Odorizzi is much more than that, however. He’s a top 10 popup rate guy playing in a pitchers’ park for a club that values defense. He struck out over a batter per inning at age 24 last season, and the only reason his ERA was an uninspiring 4.13 was the fluky production he allowed on grounders. It wasn’t real, and he’s a good bet for a huge 2015 breakout.

The list of pitchers who allow the least grounder production in 2014 features four of the AL hurlers with the lowest grounder authority scores. Otero had the lowest at 91, and he was closely followed by Keuchel (93), Joe Kelly (95) and Garrett Richards (95). They all induce plenty of grounders, and they are often weakly pounded straight into the ground. Not all grounders are created equal.

The bottom right lists show the pitchers allowing the most and least damage on all BIP types combined last season. How’s that Ricky Nolasco long-term deal working out? He has higher than average authority scores on all BIP types, including a massive 106 on grounders. Salazar is a stud stuff-wise, but he needs to better manage contact in the air, and he needs more help from his defense. I still believe in him. Masterson wasn’t right health-wise in 2014, and should benefit by getting away from the Indians’ defense. His grounder tendency, the core of his skill set, remains intact. And then there’s Ramirez, a big breakout change of scenery pick for this season who was extremely unlucky on BIP in 2014 — he also had a grounder authority score of 98.

The list of the 10 pitchers who allowed the least production on balls in play contains many interesting names. There’s Felix, who maximizes Ks, minimizes BBs, and allows loads of weak ground ball contact. He’s hit hard in the air and on the line, but hey, he’s human, and Safeco. Anibal Sanchez suffocates contact, especially in the air. If he were more durable, he might be mentioned in the same breath as Felix. Richards was on the verge of becoming elite himself before his late 2014 injury. Otero is no fluke; he strikes out no one, but had the lowest fly ball and grounder authority scores in the AL last season.

The last words shall be devoted to Michael Pineda. He was a Mariner for most of the time I worked there, and while his K/BB ratio was always exceptional, he generally allowed fairly hard contact. He did have luck on his side in 2014, allowing the least damage on all BIP and on fly balls, and third least on grounders among AL qualifiers despite authority scores of 98 on fly balls and 100 on liners and grounders. Still, the stuff appears to be almost all of the way back. His control is impeccable; his command much improved. A healthy Michael Pineda with even average contact management skill is a star. He should be fun to watch.

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