Good Luck/Bad Luck: NL Version
June 28, 2007

Well, here we are almost to the half way point in the season and I'm finally writing my first column.  OK, not my first column but it's been a while since I posted a typical Long Gandhi type column here (read: long) and the masses were growing restless.  I heard my peeps and so, voila.  

Last year I wrote a piece here that turned out to be somewhat prophetic.  I used batting average on balls in play (BABIP) to determine whether or not a pitcher's performance was exceeding what should be expected of him, but instead of comparing him to a mythical league average I used both his team context and his own history.  So what I'd like to do is go team by team, NL today and AL either tomorrow or the next day, and look at who has been lucky and who has not.  This should offer you a decent idea of who is on the upswing and who might be falling off the proverbial cliff in the second half.

The D-backs have a team BABIP of .2975, so guys like Dustin Nippert (.227) and Edgar Gonzales (.274) can be expected to fall back to the rest of the pack and maybe in a big way.  Very rarely do pitchers go a full season with a BABIP under .250 and only guys with tremendous stuff and at least one legendary pitch, guys like Santana and Pedro Martinez, consistently hover around the .265 range.  Last year Gonzales posted a .292 BABIP so even if he is better at preventing hits than just about anyone on the staff, he'll probably be giving up more in the second half.  Normally I wouldn't make a really big deal of a difference of less than 20 points, but with Gonzales many of those extra hits will be home runs.  He has one of the highest home runs allowed rates in the majors (11 in 55 innings this year).  Those extra hits could mean a lot more runs than normal.

Conversely, Randy Johnson (.331) is way over his usual performance so a correction in his favor is due.  Both Livan Hernandez and Doug Davis are well over the team average but both have a consistent history of high BABIP so not much improvement should be expected.

The Braves' team BABIP is .2973 so it's easy to understand why Tim Hudson (.280) is having a good year.  Hudson has been in this territory before so even though he is exceeding the team performance, he might not experience much of a drop-off.  More good news for Braves fans: John Smoltz (.320) has been extremely unlucky to date so a nice second half is in the offing if he can stay healthy.

The Cubs' team BABIP is .277.  Given how much turn-over they've had because of injuries and performance-related turnover, that's remarkably good.  Both Rich Hill (.234) and Jason Marquis (.244) are significantly below the team mark but neither are so far beyond their career rates that a seismic shift can be expected.  Hill posted a .259 last year and Marquis, while a contact pitcher, has posted years of .268 and .269.  Granted, he's normally around .295 so there will be some second half regression.  The guy who's been unlucky, suprisingly, is Bobby Howry.  Relievers are notoriously unpredictable in this regard and it's not uncommon for a guy to exceed or fail expectation by more than 30 points, but Howry is currently sitting at .316 and his career rate has been around .260 with a personal best of .221 in 2005.  I expect he'll take control of the closer's job after the Break.

The Reds are one of the worst defensive teams in the NL and their BABIP (.3142) reflects that.  So when guys like David Weathers (.240) and Aaron Harang (.295) are posting good numbers, it could be that they've been a little lucky.  Harang doesn't look that lucky on the surface but when you factor that his career average is near .320 and only once has he posted a BABIP under .311, you can see that this year the outs have been falling in his favor.  

The guy who hasn't been lucky is Bronson Arroyo (.334).  I guess this is just a correction from last year when he posted a .271 BABIP.  

The Rockies BABIP is .304.  Jason Hirsch's BABIP is .264.  His BABIP last year was .264.  I don't know what to make of that.  Is he just really lucky or really good?  I guess we'll find out in the second half.  

The Marlins' BABIP is a surprisingly high .3142.  Before I started this exercise I thought that maybe Dontrelle Willis' performance had been tainted by some bad luck when it came to the number of hits he's allowed, but he's pretty close to team average (.316) and his career average.  Unless he gets traded to a team that is really good at preventing hits like the Mets, there really isn't any reason to expect his season to get markedly better.  The guy who got hosed by the Marlins' defense and the guy I think should get a real shot is Rick VandenHurk.  His BABIP was .354 and I can think of about half a dozen of those hits falling in front of Josh Willingham.  

The Marlins bullpen, for all it's turnover, has been remarkably good at preventing hits.  Armando Benitez (.207), Kevin Gregg (.252) and Henry Owens (.232) are all having surprisingly good years.  Gregg is especially notable because he has never posted a BABIP under .316.   Expect a change at closer sometime this summer.  

The Astros' BABIP is .3104.  Chris Sampson's BABIP is .277.  He's a rookie so we really don't know what to expect but a betting man would wager that he doesn't finish the season with a better BABIP than Roy Oswalt (.300, which is pretty much his career average).  One guy that has been on the wrong end of a few extra balls in play is Chad Qualls (.337).  Trever Miller (.423) has also had some terrible luck but unlike Qualls there's really no chance he'll finish the season as the Astros' closer.

Los Angeles
The Dodger's BABIP is .3024.  So when Derek Lowe (.268), Chad Billingsley (.268) and Brad Penny (.283) are doing as well as they are, there's a good reason why you might have that feeling that the other shoe is going to drop soon.  In Lowe's miracle year of 2002 he posted a .238, but the rest of his career he's been around .300.  Penny is also around .300 for his career, but he was remarkably unlucky last year (.327) so this might just be a little bounce back.  Billingsley is for all intents and purposes a rookie but when he did pitch last year he posted a BABIP of .313.  Penny is the only one of those three that I would hold on to but with his history of bad second halves I would at least listen to offers.  

There is hope in Chavez Ravine.  Randy Wolf (.338) has had some bad luck and his career rate is around .300.

For all their reputation as being a poor defensive team, the Milwaukee Brewers have been surprisingly average at turning balls in play into outs (.2983).  Ben Sheets (.271) is the only regular starter who is well below the team average but he's been below league average in three of the last four years and last year he was extremely unlucky (.342).  The guy to keep an eye on in the second half is Claudio Vargas.  Currently with a BABIP of .311, his career rate is in the .280 range.  He still needs to improve his mental fortitude when bad things happen, but if the team could catch enough balls to give him a little more confidence, this guy could snowball into a really nice second half find.  Another guy to buy low is David Bush.  He's been extremely unlucky when it comes to balls in play (.336) and with a career average of .282 he's almost a mortal lock to have a big second half.  

New York
The Mets are the best team in the NL at preventing hits on balls in play (.2646).  In fact, I can't remember a team being this good.  So when guys like Tom Glavine (.279), John Maine (.257) and Jorge Sosa (.257) are seemingly way out their depth, it's really that they are benefitting from a remarkably efficient defense.  That's not to say that there aren't some outliers here.  Orlando Hernandez (.233) and Oliver Perez (.241) have been stellar, and both have a history of being better than league average when it comes to balls in play ,but this is a little ridiculous.  Of those two, I'd venture that Perez will do a better job of keeping this up only because he was unbelievably unlucky the last two years (.336 and .358) and was due some good fortune.  As for someone who might surprise because he was betrayed by the defense, keep an eye on Mike Pelfrey (.333) if he returns.

The Phillies BABIP is .3103.  Jamie Moyer's BABIP is .269.  However, Moyer posted a .255 with Philadephia last year and has twice been under .260 since 2001.  As unlikely as it sounds, he might just continue to be pretty good.  Amazing for a guy who's nearly eligible for AARP and couldn't break glass with his fastball.  On a personal note, early this season in NL Tout Wars I picked up Francisco Rosario as Tom Gordon insurance.  That didn't work out so well particularly when Rosario also went down with injury.  However, I do feel a little better about my choice because Rosario's BABIP is .415.  Catch the ball, guys, and the Phillies will have an elite closer.  I promise.

The Pirates have not improved much since last year when their defense was one of the worst in baseball.  Their BABIP this year is .3122.  Standouts Matt Capps (.271) and Ian Snell (.285) have been on the lucky end of the defensive scale; Zake Duke (.366) has not.  Capps posted a .292 last year but as a closer there really isn't enough of a sample to say one way or the other if he's exceeding expectation.  However, I don't doubt that his defense will let him down a number of times the way it did Salomon Torres (.300) earlier this year.  Snell's career BABIP is well over .300 so we should see some regression in the second half.  Duke's is also well over .300 so I don't think we'll see as much improvement as one might expect just looking at how poorly he's performed this season.  

San Diego
You want to know something scary?  Jake Peavy's BABIP this season is .305.  The Padres' team BABIP is .2822.  Peavy's career rate is below .300 and he has posted years of .281 and .260.  Everything points to Peavy getting even better in the second half.  Try to get your mind around the concept of a guy with a 2.14 ERA getting even better.  Justin Germano (.233) and Chris Young (.245) have been lucky, but Young has not been as lucky as you might imagine.  From 2004-2006 he posted BABIP of .264, .294 and .232.  He might just be this good.  Germano, on the other hand, posted a .389 last year.  He won't be as bad as falling out of a plane without a parachute, but he will be as bad as falling off the roof of your house.  Ouch!

San Francisco
This one caught me off guard.  The Giants have a team BABIP of .2831 and have no one either exceeding or failing by 20 or more points beyond expectation.  Basically what you see is what to expect over the second half.

St. Louis
As I mentioned earlier, closers enjoy a small sample and so it's not unusual for one to exceed the league average by a sizeable amount.  But Jason Isringhausen has just taken this a little too far.  His BABIP is .169.  His next best season is .247 with a career rate around .270.  The Cardinals' team BABIP is .2944.  He's in for a huge correction.  A lot of people might think that Braden Looper has been too good, but his BABIP is perfectly even with the team's (.294) and is actually slightly worse than his career average.  I had hopes that KipWells had been the victim of bad defense or bad luck but unfortunately his BABIP (.304) is pretty much in line with expectation.  It looks like he's just one of those guys with great stuff who can't learn how to pitch. 

Two guys to keep an eye on, however, are Todd Wellemeyer and Adam Wainwright.  Wellemeyer has been used primarily as a reliever for his career so it's hard to judge this year, but his .320 BABIP should come down.  Likewise, Wainwright's .329 should drop closer to the .290 he posted last year.

I'm not sure how much of the National's success has been due to the excellent play of Cristian Guzman to date, but their .2907 BABIP is one of the better marks in the NL.  Now that Guzman is out for the year it will be interesting to see how much that changes, if at all.  Regardless, obviously Jason Bergman's luck (.197 BABIP) will change for the worse in the second half, as well as Shawn Hill's (.240).   Jason Simontacci (.339) and, if he ever gets healthy, John Patterson (.320) will benefit from better luck.  Those thinking (or hoping) that Chad Cordero's off-year is due to bad luck... well, maybe a little.  His BABIP of .299 is not far off the team's but much higher than his own career rate which is around .250.  

I'll do the AL next column.