An In Depth Look at Batted Balls and the Blue Jays Pitching Staff

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In the offseason I wrote a pair of pieces that reviewed the 2013 Blue Jays pitching staff using the advanced metric bbFIP.  If you click either of the two links above, you’ll get a good picture of what bbFIP is and why it’s important, but I’ve also included a brief synopsis of what bbFIP includes…taken from the two aforementioned pieces.

For those of you who have read my work before, either at or Halo Hangout on the Fansided network, you are likely aware of bbFIP and the methodology behind the new metric. For those of you who aren’t aware, here is a link to a more detailed breakdown. For now, here is a simple breakdown: bbFIP is predicated on the belief that not all pitchers induce the same type of contact that other fielding independent pitching metrics tend to infer by regressing BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play). Regular FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) looks at unintentional free bases, strikeouts and homeruns to evaluate a pitchers performance, bbFIP uses 6: unintentional free bases, strikeouts, groundballs, linedrives, flyballs and popups.

Fairly obvious is that strikeouts and popups are good results and that free bases and linedrives are bad results. In the middle are groundballs and flyballs. These are taken into account, but not with the same severity as the previously mentioned results, with groundballs being good and flyballs being evil. The one problem with bbFIP is that even though groundballs and flyballs are viewed correctly in a general sense, it doesn’t work perfectly for all pitchers. Pitchers who induce lots of lazy flyballs are penalized for something that isn’t necessarily a bad result, while the inverse is true for groundballs. With groundballs, some pitchers get good credit for hard hit groundballs that actually go for hits. Unfortunately, at the moment there is no good way around this as the public does not have access to Hit F/x.

With that out of the way, here is a quick table of the Blue Jays pitchers and how they rate in bbFIP, ERA and FIP.

Kyle Drabek20.0%42.9%14.3%42.9%0.0%0.0%0.22
Aaron Sanchez153.9%23.5%45.1%9.8%13.7%2.0%2.16
Brett Cecil39.210.6%29.6%32.4%12.3%13.4%0.0%2.86
Marcus Stroman876.4%20.4%36.9%19.8%13.4%2.5%3.23
Aaron Loup56.211.2%20.4%32.5%13.4%12.6%4.8%3.37
Chad Jenkins31.24.4%13.2%46.3%21.3%11.7%1.5%3.49
Rob Rasmussen11.118%26%24%20%10%2.0%3.96
Bobby Korecky3.17.1%14.2%35.7%7.1%21.4%7.1%4.01
Drew Hutchison1448.3%20.6%24.8%28.7%13.5%2.6%4.04
Brandon Morrow27.113.8%21.1%34.2%18.7%11.4%0.0%4.06
R.A. Dickey1649.5%19.4%29.4%22.0%15.0%3.3%4.06
Dustin McGowan7210.4%17.2%26.9%29.1%11.0%4.9%4.08
Steve Tolleson0.10.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%50.0%50%4.08
Todd Redmond66.17.6%18.8%24.3%30.8%13.0%2.9%4.16
Sergio Santos19.215.5%26.8%23.7%17.5%14.4%0.0%4.23
J.A. Happ112.29.0%19.0%28.2%27.0%14.1%1.8%4.29
Casey Janssen33.13.7%14.1%28.2%32.6%17.0%3.7%4.54
Mark Buehrle154.26.3%13.8%32.2%24.5%18.4%3.5%4.66
Liam Hendriks13.110.5%14.0%26.3%36.8%10.5%1.8%4.97
Steve Delabar25.219.3%18.4%19.3%22.8%14.9%3.5%5.54
Neil Wagner1010.2%12.2%20.4%26.5%22.5%8.1%5.61

When you first look at the numbers, what jumps out are the young arms. While Sanchez hasn’t pitched in the rotation, his trademark high strikeout and high groundout rates have been evident out of the bullpen. In Stroman’s case however, the high groundball rate is kind of shocking. Historically, shorter starting pitchers have a lower groundball rate due to lack of downhill plane on the fastball, yet the young righthander has kept the ball on the ground and out of the seats.

Following the groundball trend have been lefties Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil. Both have posted very solid groundball rates and haven’t given up many flyballs. When playing in a park that gives up a large number of homeruns, due to park design alone, it is important to have pitchers who can keep the ball on the ground. While some may argue the turf speeds up the balls hit on the ground, the impact is likely negligible when it comes to pitchers who routinely induce groundballs as the contact tends to be weaker than the average ground ball.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t add in a comment on one of my personal favourites, Chad Jenkins. While he doesn’t strikeout many, he keeps the walks down and doesn’t allow hard contact. In one of the greatest pitching performances of the season for the Blue Jays, in my humble opinion, Over 6 shutout innings; Jenkins struck out 4, walked only 1 and generated 15 groundballs in a span of 26 hitters while throwing first pitch strikes to 23 of 26. This led to the Blue Jays exhilarating win in 19 innings over the Detroit Tigers.

Continuing down the spectrum we come to a cluster of starting pitchers where R.A. Dickey, Drew Hutchison and Brandon Morrow all cluster together. Despite being three very different pitchers, their results are surprisingly similar in terms of batted ball distribution.

Hitting the lower half of the list we see more and more of the middling pitchers who have defined the Jays season more or less. The Santos, Redmond, Happ tier leads into some effective pitchers who have been able to outperform their batted ball periferals. Casey Janssen and Mark Buehrle have posted 4.54 and 4.66 bbFIP’s respectively. Buehrle is understandable, FIP metrics have never been correctly able to encapsulate his style of pitching, lots of contact and lots of weak contact in terms of flyballs and groundballs. Casey Janssen is a more curious case though. His strikeout rate is significantly down this year, and his linedrive and flyball rates are up. Perhaps the bubble is breaking on the soft tossing closer who lives and dies with his ability to locate.

Overall the Blue Jays don’t rate very well in terms of playoff teams when it comes to bbFIP which isn’t surprising, its been the offense carrying the team for most of the season outside of a few spurts where the rotation has flashed its potential. On the other hand the regression of the staff as a whole is unsurprising.  The other reason the pitchers have mostly outperformed their bbFIP could be Dioner Navarro’s pitchcalling as the sequencing of events has turned out very well for the team.

Picture from James G via Flickr