Second Half BABIP Starting Pitchers to trade or target

TARGET

Jon Gray: .376 BABIP, 5.44 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 2.84 xFIP

The former first round draft pick was touted as a sleeper coming into the season – apparently Gray didn’t get the memo. I know Colorado pitchers can be risky, but given the pedigree an ERA in the mid to low fours was assumed to be a worst case scenario. The good news is that Gray has actually performed much better than his ERA and WHIP suggest.

First off his strikeout rate (11.33 K/9) ranks 7th among qualified starters – five of the six starters ahead of him all have an ERA under 3.00. His 13.1% swinging strike rate is tied for 13th with Trevor Bauer, and his F-Strike% (63.8) ranks just outside the top-20, also tied with Bauer and Gerrit Cole. The walk rate is a respectable 2.72. He is still inducing a good number of ground balls (47.3%). Finally only six pitchers have limited contact at a better rate than Gray.

Part of his bad luck can be tied to his LOB%; his 64% ranks behind Jason Hammel as the worst in the league. Then there is the BABIP which is the worst in the league, but when you look at the rest of his metrics it’s hard to fathom why things are so bad. Having the second highest line drive percentage can explain some of this, but not all. Another factor is his fastball. The velocity is there (only down a tic), but for some reason it has not been as effective this year which has taken away some of the value of his slider.

Gray is due for some better defensive luck, some BABIP love, and should see a decline in line drives. Then again maybe he isn’t, but the odds are with him in regards to a stronger second half. Gray should not cost you much in a trade, and there is close to a 50% chance he is on waivers.

Nick Pivetta: .329 BABIP, 4.58 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 3.41 xFIP

OK, I’m a Pivetta fan and an owners as well so there may be a little bias here; I’ll try to keep things impartial though. You can basically paraphrase everything I said about Gray in the second paragraph and apply it to Pivetta. He is just below Gray with strikeouts, has a similar respectable walk rate, generates a decent number of ground balls. If his contact rate were just a little lower their seasons would be a mirror image. Even their arsenal is similar with the same three pitch mix (with a different pitch allocation), similar velocity, and the same bad luck with the fastball. And while Citizens Bank Park is no Coors field, it is still a very friendly hitters environment.

The difference between Gray and Pivetta is that Pivetta has enjoyed some success this season. Prior to June he held a 3.26 ERA. Since then we have seen an increase in both walks and home runs – not a good combination given his home park. He also saw his strand rate, which is now league average, drop in June and his BABIP spike up to .390. This is the primary reason Pivetta has gone from being a decent mid-rotation arm to the waiver wire in a good number of leagues.

The good news is the velocity and strikeouts remain unchanged. His team is challenging for the NL East and being tied to a contender can give pitchers that extra boost of confidence. His ERA should be a full-point lower than it is, and there is little reason to believe he can’t get back to being the arm we saw over the first two months. Inexperience and typical struggles associated with youth is the only thing that could derail a Pivetta bounce back.

TRADE

Julio Teheran: .221 BABIP, 4.00 ERA, 5.08 FIP, 4.67 xFIP

You would think a pitcher with a .221 BABIP would have better numbers. There are a lot of similarities between his 2017 and 2018 season, but let’s look at what has gone right. First off he is posting the highest K/9 (8.35) and SwStr% (11.1) of his career. The contact rate (74.0%) is also the lowest of his career, although so is the swing rate. Finally, his line drive rate (18.9%) is also a career best. You can use all these things as selling points along with the fact his team is battling the Phillies for the NL East – remember what I said about contenders and confidence.

Right now his stock is on the rise with quality starts in four of his last six starts (most will forgive or overlook his seven run shelling at Yankees Stadium). In those four starts he allowed a total of one run over 25 innings and he had two double-digit strikeout games during that span. Again, all good selling points. The reason you are selling, though, are obvious. The .221 BABIP screams regression. A career high 39.3% hard hit rate suggests an increase for that career low line drive rate. The increase in hard hits also spells trouble for his highest fly ball rate (41.8) since 2012. Teheran is also posting a career high HR/FB (15.4%). When you combine that with a career high 4.34 BB/9 and one has to wonder why his ERA isn’t higher than it is.

All that bad and I didn’t even mention the decline in velocity on both his fastball (below 90 MPH) and slider which account for 85.9% of his pitchers. I am a Teheran owners and for years I have stood behind him. However, I want no part of him in the second half. You may not get much for him straight up, but he could be that throw in piece on a bigger deal that pushes a trade through.

Blake Snell: .243 BABIP, 2.27 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 3.57 xFIP

Snell came in at 60 in our preseason pitcher ranks and 200 overall. The early results suggest we were all wrong, but how wrong were we? First off you have to love the strikeout rate (10.13) which was one of the few things we all agreed he does well. The contact rate is elite, sitting in the top five sandwiched between deGrom and Scherzer. All of his pitchers grade-out to positive. The batted ball data is all pretty neutral in my opinion; nothing stands out as too high or low. Even his walk rate (3.55 BB/9) which is high has shown improvement over what we’ve seen throughout his career, both major and minor). So why sell?

Well, Snell isn’t necessarily someone to sell. It’s not like he will be completely useless in the second half. He is a sell because his stock will not finish as high as it is right now. He has the highest strand rate (86.3%) among the 79 qualified pitchers. Only 5 pitchers finished with a LOB% over 80% last season, Kershaw, Kluber, Scherzer, Ray and G.Gonzalez. Unless Snell pulls a Gio he will start to give some runs back in the second half. Sticking with 2017, only 5 qualified pitchers finished the season with a BABIP below .250, and of those 5 only Scherzer finished with an ERA below 3.00 (Gio was 6th with a ,258 so there is hope).

Given his numbers you’d be silly not to at least entertain offers for Snell.

Jon Lester: .258 BABIP, 3.14 ERA, 4.66 FIP, 4.74 xFIP

I recently traded Lester away in my 30 team dynasty league, getting back Luis Perdomo, Cavan Biggio and a first round pick in next years draft. Not sure what you think of that return, but it was one of the best offers I received. Given his age, numbers last year, and troublesome trends in his underlying metrics I think I did OK.

Unlike the players above I cannot point to Lester’s strikeouts as a positive. He hasn’t had a lower K/9 (6.99) since 2008. Both his F-Strike% and SwStr% are near career lows matching what he produced in 2011 and 2012 with Boston. His contact rate is also above 80% for the first time with the Cubs (81.1%). The BB/9 (3.61) is the highest we’ve seen since 2007, which coincides with the chase rate with swings outside the zone dropping four percentage points below his Cubs average. Hard contact is up (33.5%) and is over 30% for the first time since 2007. Then there is the fly ball rate (37.7%) which coincidentally is the highest since 2007. Also the line drive rate is at a career high, soft contact and infield fly balls are at a career low.

Lester owned a 2.18 ERA and 1.08 WHIP prior to July 1st. Since then he has made it to the sixth inning once over four starts and given up 19 runs (17 earned) over 19.2 innings. Lester is a professional so maybe this is just a bump in the road. Then again, at 34 years of age and signs of a decline starting last season – I’m not so sure. Unlike the players above Lester still has that brand name appeal and his current numbers should fetch you a decent return.

 

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Jim Finch

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The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball. You can also find me at FanRagSports.com