Buy ‘Em or Deny ‘Em: Identifying Potential 2020 Bust Candidates Based On BABIP (Jack Flaherty & More)

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We always want to look for those who have benefited (or not benefited) from luck and try to determine if there is a regression coming. Last season there were five pitchers who posted BABIP of .260 or lower, so it’s fair to wonder if they can maintain any success they had. First let’s take a look at the names:

  1. Justin Verlander (HOU) – .218
  2. Jeff Samardzija (SF) – .240
  3. Jack Flaherty (STL) – .242
  4. Mike Fiers (OAK) – .254
  5. Sonny Gray (CIN) – .255

Outside of Justin Verlander (and even if we think he’s going to regress we all know he’s going to be a strong option), the names don’t necessarily elicit thoughts of the elite. Let’s take a quick look at their BABIP success and try to determine if we are buying or selling:

Sony Gray – Cincinnati Reds

Gray is the only person on this list to post the solid BABIP with a strong groundball rate (50.8%). That helps to support his BABIP, as does a Hard% that isn’t going to completely scare you off (37.9%). That said it’s easy to point towards a split that can’t be ignored:

  • First Half – .289
  • Second Half – .215

Obviously the first half is more believable, but with strikeouts (10.52 K/9, courtesy of an 11.3% SwStr%), groundballs and enough control (3.49 BB/9) that would be enough. Maybe he truly just did need to get out of New York, but Gray is a buyable option (and one we’ll dive into more closely as we draw closer to Draft Day).

Verdict – Buy ‘Em

Mike Fiers – Oakland A’s

He owns a 4.02 career ERA, has never been a significant strikeout artist (7.92 career K/9) or one who generates a lot of groundballs (39.0%). Obviously pitching in a favorable home ballpark helps a little bit, but it’s hardly enough as the strikeouts have regressed over the past two years (7.27 and 6.14 K/9).

Couple the lack of strikeouts with a 39.0% Hard% (39.1% last season) and why is there reason to believe?

Verdict – Deny ‘Em

Jack Flaherty – St. Louis Cardinals

It was a tale of two halves for Flaherty, hardly an understatement when you look at the ERA:

  • First Half – 4.64
  • Second Half – 0.91

He benefited from an improvement in his BABIP (.274 to .206) and strand rate (75.3% to 94.2%), though obviously the first half marks are far more realistic. He did improve his Hard% in the second half (40.0% to 33.6%), as well as his groundball rate (36.3% to 43.5%), but do those two adjustments justify this dramatic of an improvement?

Of course you could easily argue that he has more upside than the first half ERA, as he showed both strikeouts (10.59 K/9) and control (2.52 BB/9). The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but with those skills that’s more than enough to consider him a buy.

Verdict – Buy ‘Em

Jeff Samardzija – San Francisco Giants

Samardzija has often shown elite control throughout his career, and that was no different in ’19 (2.43 BB/9). However what else did he show us last season to make us think he’s a good buy? Just look at some of these numbers:

  • Strikeouts – 6.95 K/9
  • Groundballs – 36.4%
  • Hard% – 40.2%

So there weren’t strikeouts, he’s going to be home run prone and there’s little chance that he comes close to maintaining the BABIP. He has disaster written all over him and is an easy sell.

Verdict – Deny ‘Em

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

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