Ball In Play Leaders And Laggards: NL Pitchers

Earlier this week, we took a look at AL pitcher ball-in-play leaders and laggards. Today it’s time for the AL pitchers as we complete our offseason look at 2014 hitter and pitcher BIP data.

Below are the top and bottom 10 National 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 %
Estrada 13.35% Estrada 37.00% Cumpton 29.20% Maness 55.79%
Teheran 12.22% Petit 34.78% E.Jackson 26.46% T.Hudson 54.42%
Roark 11.94% Villanueva 34.20% Stammen 25.70% Hale 54.24%
Zimmermann 11.43% Nuno 33.92% C.Lee 25.30% T.Ross 54.10%
Matsuzaka 11.16% Teheran 33.60% Belisle 25.12% H.Alvarez 53.17%
S.Miller 11.11% Latos 33.01% Zimmermann 25.05% Morton 53.15%
Wacha 10.26% Colon 32.28% Cahill 24.84% Familia 52.55%
Collmenter 10.15% Koehler 32.23% Greinke 24.81% Wheeler 52.28%
Villanueva 9.96% T.Wood 32.11% McCarthy 24.71% Leake 51.96%
T.Wood 9.86% Hammel 32.08% Wainwright 24.65% Maholm 51.50%
————– ———– ————– ———– ————– ———– ————– ———–
Leake 4.08% Wheeler 22.41% Cueto 18.41% Collmenter 37.45%
Morton 4.05% H.Alvarez 22.33% Despaigne 18.40% Colon 37.32%
J.Turner 3.94% C.Martinez 22.18% J.De la Rosa 18.37% Nuno 37.03%
Burnett 3.63% Arroyo 22.10% Hale 18.31% E.Jackson 37.00%
C.Lee 3.61% Maness 21.90% Maness 18.18% Villanueva 35.93%
Miley 3.49% Kershaw 21.71% Worley 18.10% Petit 35.51%
Maholm 3.43% T.Ross 21.48% Gee 18.02% Latos 35.29%
H.Alvarez 3.33% Morton 21.40% Familia 17.86% T.Wood 34.43%
Lincecum 3.18% T.Hudson 20.80% Fister 17.65% Teheran 34.24%
T.Hudson 2.95% McCarthy 20.56% C.Torres 17.46% Estrada 30.68%
————– ———– ————– ———– ————– ———– ————– ———–
AVG 6.75% 27.11% 21.29% 44.85%

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. The average popup rate for NL pitching qualifiers (6.75%) was actually quite lower than the AL’s average of 8.21%. This is due both to the extreme popup-friendliness of O.Co Coliseum, and the presence of by far 2014’s three most prolific popup inducers, Chris Young, Scott Baker and Danny Duffy, in the junior circuit.

Marco Estrada’s 13.35% popup rate was the highest in the NL last season. While his 2014 performance was sullied by a bunch of homers allowed, Estrada still brings a great deal to the table. His K/BB rates are always strong, and the popups are a constant. He will help his new team, the Blue Jays, this season. Two of the NL best hurlers, Julio Teheran and Jordan Zimmermann, are also among the popup leaders. Given their strong K rates, and in Zimmermann’s case, an exceptional BB rate, their respective popup tendencies give them extremely high floors to go with their considerable ceilings.

Popup laggards can still excel; many are ground ball generators who don’t allow the ball to be elevated often. You really don’t like to see fairly neutral ground ball generators on the laggard list, however; guys like Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum struggled on balls in play in 2014 in part due to their inability to generate popups.

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. This is especially true in the NL, where the pitchers bat, and as a group have a very tough time hitting the ball in the air. NL qualifiers allowed an average 27.11% fly ball and 44.85% ground ball rate, compared to the AL averages of 28.51% and 42.44%. There were 11 AL qualifying pitchers who yielded more fly balls than grounders in 2014; only one pitcher, Estrada, by a comfortable margin, did so in the NL.

Allowing lots of fly balls is not necessarily a bad thing, but it helps to have a big home park and a strong outfield defense; pitchers like Yusmeiro Petit and Teheran had excellent years despite being among the fly ball percentage leaders. As we shall see later, managing fly ball authority is also a key trait.

In a league full of ground ball generators, six guys who carried a full season starter’s load — Tim Hudson, Tyson Ross, Henderson Alvarez, Charlie Morton, Zack Wheeler and Mike Leake — led the way. While authority allowed is also a key factor here, these pitchers elevate their respective floors with their significant grounder tendencies. A grounder can’t leave the yard.

Liner rates fluctuate much more than those of other BIP types, so one doesn’t want to get too worked up about the leaders and laggards in that category. Still, we’ve now seen Cliff Lee on the popup laggards and liner leaders; not a desirable combo. Also, Zack Greinke and Adam Wainwright sure had solid 2014 seasons, didn’t they? Imagine how much better they could have been if they hadn’t yielded such sizeable liner rates. We’ll talk more about both pitchers later.

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:

FLY AVG FLY SLG REL FLY LD AVG LD SLG REL LD
Nicasio 0.375 1.188 235 Cahill 0.766 1.000 128
Beckett 0.363 1.055 197 Matsuzaka 0.721 1.070 127
McCarthy 0.355 1.024 187 J.Williams 0.763 0.974 124
J.Nelson 0.400 0.940 185 Lincecum 0.710 1.028 121
E.Jackson 0.383 0.945 180 C.Lee 0.730 0.984 120
Cain 0.358 0.985 179 G.Cole 0.734 0.975 119
W.Peralta 0.350 0.912 160 Hale 0.741 0.926 115
Greinke 0.370 0.874 160 Nuno 0.707 0.978 115
Haren 0.327 0.933 157 Maness 0.773 0.864 114
Lincecum 0.316 0.923 151 Wheeler 0.729 0.927 113
————– ———– ———– ———– ————– ———– ———– ———–
Lynn 0.227 0.528 59 A.Wood 0.621 0.770 80
Koehler 0.216 0.540 58 Greinke 0.609 0.782 80
Garza 0.211 0.500 52 W.Peralta 0.613 0.773 80
Despaigne 0.205 0.507 52 Wacha 0.594 0.783 78
Harang 0.212 0.451 46 Cain 0.577 0.808 77
Wainwright 0.206 0.451 45 Despaigne 0.604 0.755 77
Latos 0.168 0.465 40 Niese 0.573 0.790 75
Arrieta 0.200 0.411 40 Wainwright 0.594 0.744 74
Cashner 0.175 0.433 38 Stammen 0.582 0.745 73
Cumpton 0.185 0.370 33 R.Hernandez 0.570 0.719 69
————– ———– ———– ———– ————– ———– ———– ———–
AVG 0.274 0.703 100 0.665 0.877 100
GB AVG GB SLG REL GB BIP AVG BIP SLG REL BIP
T.Wood 0.331 0.376 177 E.Jackson 0.379 0.624 137
J.Turner 0.309 0.348 153 J.Turner 0.372 0.552 120
C.Torres 0.299 0.350 148 Nicasio 0.333 0.613 119
C.Anderson 0.298 0.351 147 Villanueva 0.366 0.557 119
Stammen 0.304 0.326 143 Minor 0.355 0.570 118
Petit 0.296 0.337 141 C.Lee 0.375 0.536 118
Villanueva 0.301 0.325 141 F.Morales 0.349 0.577 117
Matzek 0.289 0.343 140 C.Anderson 0.346 0.580 117
Harang 0.302 0.310 136 Cahill 0.363 0.546 116
C.Lee 0.298 0.316 136 J.Nelson 0.361 0.546 115
————– ———– ———– ———– ————– ———– ———– ———–
Hammel 0.195 0.201 57 Cashner 0.292 0.426 73
Vogelsong 0.189 0.209 56 Garza 0.286 0.429 72
Collmenter 0.192 0.202 56 Roark 0.287 0.424 71
Familia 0.194 0.194 55 Volquez 0.280 0.427 70
Wainwright 0.185 0.207 55 Cueto 0.270 0.431 68
Volquez 0.185 0.207 55 Arrieta 0.283 0.386 64
A.Simon 0.190 0.197 54 Despaigne 0.280 0.390 64
Haren 0.181 0.204 52 Wainwright 0.278 0.389 64
Lincecum 0.178 0.188 48 K.Hendricks 0.283 0.378 63
Beckett 0.168 0.185 44 Familia 0.274 0.386 62
————– ———– ———– ———– ————– ———– ———– ———–
0.238 0.260 100 0.317 0.487 100

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 92 to 106 for fly balls, from 94 to 104 for liners and from 93 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.

Three of the 10 pitchers who allowed the most fly ball damage, Jimmy Nelson, Wily Peralta and Greinke, actually allowed weaker than average fly ball authority. The two Brewers were just below average at 99; Miller Park is a stealth hitters’ park, with homers easily attainable to all fields. Greinke, however, is a very interesting case. His fly ball authority score is a meager 95, which actually would have tied for lowest among the fly ball production laggards. While Dodger Stadium did play like a hitters’ park in 2014, Greinke was both unlucky and plagued by subpar outfield defense. There are many reasons to expect a big year from Greinke in 2015, but the departure of Matt Kemp from the Dodger outfield is one that can easily be overlooked.

Two who allowed little fly ball damage actually allowed harder than average fly ball authority. Andrew Cashner (101 authority score) had the benefit of pitcher-friendly Petco Park, and Aaron Harang (102) had both a friendly home park and an exceptional outfield defense behind him. Expect Harang to allow substantially more damage in the air in his new Philadelphia surroundings.

There really isn’t much to see in the liner production leaders and laggards, as in almost all cases, the leaders allowed average or harder, and the laggards allowed lower than average liner authority. One exception is Jon Niese, who was fairly lucky on liners, as he allowed relatively little production despite a 102 liner authority score.

The 10 pitchers who allowed the most production on grounders all allowed average or harder grounder authority, and three of them, Tyler Matzek (107), Jacob Turner (106) and Travis Wood (105), had grounder authority scores among the very highest in the NL. High authority scores are as much or more attributable to an inability to generate weak contact as they are to a tendency to allow hard contact. These three pitchers were unable to generate, weak, roll-over pull grounder contact with any regularity last season.

Five of the pitchers who allowed relatively little production on grounders — Jason Hammel (106), Ryan Vogelsong (103), Alfredo Simon (102), Lincecum (102) and Josh Collmenter (101) — actually allowed harder than average grounder contact. Hammel, Vogelsong and Simon, in particular, were very lucky to experience the success they did in 2014; they just as easily could have ranked among the 10 pitchers allowing the most damage on grounders, which would have led to very different overall results.

The bottom right table puts it all together. These are the pitchers who allowed the most, and least damage on all BIP types combined. Edwin Jackson, if anything, is consistent. He allowed harder than average contact (authority scores of 102, 102 and 104) on all three major BIP types, and to top it off, was unlucky as well. If Cliff Lee is going to continue to allow relatively hard contact moving forward, he is going to need to remain a K/BB god just to remain a good, let alone great pitcher. I’m pretty bullish on Jimmy Nelson. Solid K/BB in his first NL tour, and his authority scores (99, 101, 96 across the board) were solid. Bad luck on fly balls undermined his season.

Among those who suppressed batted-ball damage last season, three veteran starters deserve special mention. Matt Garza allowed weaker than average contact on all BIP types, and his 93 grounder authority score was one of the best in the NL. Johnny Cueto’s authority scores were 97, 96, 93 across the board; he suffocated contact of all types, was exceptionally durable and ran a stellar K/BB to boot. Wainwright just might be the contact manager of the year in the NL, however. He needed to be, as his K and BB rates are finally showing signs of breakdown. He ranked among the bottom 10 in terms of production allowed in all three major BIP types, and while luck and defense played some role, his authority scores were strong overall, 95 on fly balls, 97 on liners and 96 on grounders.





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Oldie Younger
7 years ago

High authority scores are as much or more attributable to an inability to generate weak contact as they are to a tendency to allow hard contact.

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