Using Strand Rates to Snag Value (Yet Again)
Last week I wrote about a few pitchers that could see serious regression in 2017 due to their inflated strand rates. As a follow-up, I wanted to touch on some guys that could see substantial improvement in their numbers if their ability to leave runners on base bounces back to around even league average. Without further ado, the thrilling conclusion to “Using Strand Rates to Snag Value”: Using Strand Rates to Snag Value 2: The Awakening (Ok, that may be overselling just a touch).
I wrote a little about Aaron Nola a few weeks ago, and why I think he’s poised for a huge 2017, if healthy. Of course, he also had really bad luck when it came to stranding runners in 2016. Nola only kept 60.6 percent of baserunners from scoring last season, a number that ranked second worst in all of baseball for starting pitchers. He’s going to be better, I stake my reputation on it (That’s questionable in value, sure, but still.). Here are some other names who can expect improvement:
Corbin really struggled in his first full season coming off of Tommy John surgery, serving as a reminder that not everyone can seamlessly hit the ground running after going under the knife. In 132.1 innings as a starter, Corbin put up a whopping 5.58 ERA and 1.65 WHIP, barely striking out seven per nine innings. His trademark control (career 2.62 walks per nine innings) waned as well, as he issued almost a full walk and a half more per nine than his career rate. His comeback season was so, well, less than good that the Diamondbacks moved him to the bullpen. The shift was likely a preservation measure, but also probably a way for Corbin to get his swag back (#swag).
The good news is that I don’t think he was as awful as his 2016 numbers may indicate (*as* awful is the key indicator). Corbin only managed to strand 63.2 percent of baserunners, a number well below league average. In addition, while his ERA was a trainwreck, Corbin’s DRA was nearly two full runs better at 3.89. Add a .333 BABIP, and you have the recipe for Ricky Vaughn vs Jack Parkman type numbers, not those of the former All-Star Corbin was. His true talent answer is likely somewhere between those of his breakout season and last year, but it’s easy to see how Corbin could take a huge leap forward again next year, in his age-27 season.
To say Gray had a disappointing 2016 would be like saying Daniel Day-Lewis takes acting sort of seriously. Coming off a third place finish in the 2015 AL Cy Young voting, Gray followed up with his worst season as a professional, putting up a 5.69 ERA (more than double his career ERA) in 117 innings. His 1.50 WHIP was 15th worst in the league for pitchers with at least 100 innings. A whopping 17.5 percent of all fly balls hit against Gray left the yard. It was a nightmare year. His season was riddled with injury and poor performance, but it was also caked in bad luck.
Gray only stranded runners at a 63.9 percent clip, fourth worst in all of baseball for pitchers with at least 100 innings. The number was almost ten percent below league average and 12 percent lower than Gray’s own career average. Batters also posted a .319 average on balls in play against him, further contributing to his troubles.
An interesting note can be uncovered, though, when diving deep into Gray’s exit velocity numbers. Although batters hit the ball harder against him in 2016 than any other year, Gray’s average exit velocity (per Statcast) in 2016 was 90.8 mph, not all that different from his 2015 total of 89.2 mph. However on fly balls and line drives, hitters averaged 94.3 mph in exit velocity, compared to 92.2 mph in 2015. This explains the high rate of home runs, and makes Gray’s case a bit harder to decipher. While this bump could this bump have been the result of Gray’s injuries, it’s impossible to say for sure.
That said, there are real reasons to believe that Gray’s 2016 from hell could be chalked up mostly to injury. Because of this, it seems silly to give up on a 27-year-old just one year removed from being one of the best pitchers in the American League. And after the season he just produced, it’s very likely that Gray’s value in dynasty leagues will never be lower. If he comes at a big enough discount, using the words of the great American poets, N’Sync, it might sound crazy, but it ain’t no lie. You know the rest.
Who is Tyler Duffey, you might ask? That’s a great question, and one that is difficult to answer. Not in like, an existential sort of way, but more of a “tale of two seasons” type way. Duffey made his big league debut in 2015, garnering a little buzz by tossing 58 innings and putting up a 3.10 ERA with around 8.5 strikeouts per nine. As a rookie, those numbers are promising. The wheels of the hype train fell off in 2016, however. In 133 innings, Duffey fanned only 114, en route to a monstrous 6.43 ERA.
As is the theme, Duffey’s strand rate was bad…as in 60 percent bad. The number was worst in the league for a pitcher with at least 100 innings. To reiterate, FOURTY PERCENT of all Duffey’s baserunners crossed the plate. Here are some more numbers that will rival Jason and Freddy and Leatherface for most haunting: .339 BABIP (8th highest in the league), 19.5 percent of fly balls went for home runs (4th highest in the league), and 1.69 home runs per nine innings (10th highest in the league). Also bad, Duffey gave up hard contact on 33.6 percent of all batted balls (I know the batted ball data is often provided without context, but there’s a larger point here.). While that number is certainly high, it ranked 39th highest in the league, a total that doesn’t exactly line up with the rest of his woes.
By no means am I advocating to rush out and blow someone away with an offer for Duffey, but he will very likely be better in 2017. A very minimal package, or even a pickup from the free agent list could be worth it as a flier on a 26-year-old prime for a rebound.