Pitching is a fascinating aspect of the game of baseball. Talent is required, but a lot of the results that come after the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand are luck. Defense plays an important role as well. Rosters are not constructed in the same way, so defense isn’t uniform accross the league. Many pitchers that don’t miss many bats need the help of the defense behind them in order to get solid results. Other pitchers, such as Matt Harvey, can rely on themselves a little more due to their ability to strike out more batters. I decided to look at which pitchers have been fortunate in 2013 and the ones whose fate has been a little less positive. I took xFIP and subtracted ERA from it to get my data. The range was from 2.1 to -1.85.
Jeff Locke – J.P. Breen has a good post up about how fortunate Locke has been to pitch with the Pittsburgh Pirates defense behind him. He had the largest gap in xFIP and ERA of anyone in the 2013 sample at 2.10. His ERA currently sits at 2.15 while xFIP sees him at 4.25. While he does pitch in front of a very good defense he has also been very lucky regarding the home-run ball. His HR/FB rate currently sits at 6.7%. I’d bet on that regressing to at least the 10% xFIP uses in the second half. Luckily for him, the defense isn’t going anywhere.
Travis Wood – Wood essentially came out of career purgatory for the 2013 campaign. After spending most of his career being yo-yoed back and forth between AAA and the bigs he put together a solid first half. Currently his xFIP is 1.61 points higher than his ERA. Like Locke, Wood also has seen his HR/FB rate decrease dramatically this season to 5.7%. While that looks extremely low he posted HR/FB percentages of 6.3% and 6.7% in 2010 and 2011 before it jumped to 12.7% last season. I’m not quite sure what to make of this. I lean towards his home-run rate settling in closer to 12.7% than I do the rates in other seasons. He might have a knack for keeping the ball in the park though. The Cubs defense is actually quite good according to their UZR so that also helps Wood keep his stats much lower than his peripherals. I’m interested to see how he fares in the 2nd half.
Mike Leake – Leake’s put together another Mike Leake-type season. His ERA is currently at 2.69, which will definitely regress to his career norms. Unlike the two pitchers above we have plenty of Major League data on Leake. His LOB% is at a career high along with a HR/FB that would be the best of his career. Leake’s 2013 campaign looks pretty similar to his 2011 except he is striking out less batters while also getting a few more fly balls. Leake is hurt by his home park and the Great American’s effect on his ability to keep balls in the yard is pretty incredible. His HR/FB rate at home is 5% higher than it is away, but this season the split is nearly 13 percentage points. His 4.6% HR/FB rate away from home this year should regress to settle a little closer to his career split of 11.0%.
I won’t go straight down the list of the unluckiest because the first few names are, to put it mildly, not very good pitchers currently. Those pitchers were: Wade Davis, Joe Blanton, and Edinson Volquez.
Rick Porcello – Porcello checked in at number 3 on the unluckiest pitchers. His xFIP sits at 3.07 compared to his 4.80 ERA. He’s seemingly made a habit out of his peripherals constantly being much better than the stats that show in their traditional form. It’s no secret that the Tigers are not very good on defense. Porcello has shown some signs of life this season with his K% trending up while his BB% is trending down a tad. He’s gotten a little unlucky with his HR/FB% this season (15.7%) compared with his career average coming into 2013 (11.4%). Porcello does get a ton of groundballs though, and it’s likely we’ll always consider him “unlucky” as long as he has the Tigers defense behind him.
Edwin Jackson – Jackson is an interesting case to me. Every year I’ll watch him have a few electric games and expect him to finally make a jump into a more consistent front of the rotation of the starter, but it never happens. Jackson is simply who he is at this point. This season his xFIP is 3.74 compared to his ERA of 5.11. The first thing I noticed was his LOB%; currently at 62.3% this season compared with 70.8% in his career. His batted-ball profile is very strange. He’s actually getting more groundballs than any time in his career. He has come around of late, so maybe his luck is turning more in his favor.
Matt Cain – Cain’s struggles have been well documented this season, by many people including Fangraphs’ own Eno Sarris. Cain’s ERA is currently1.16 points worse than his xFIP. Unlike Porcello, Cain has made a career out of always outperforming his peripheral stats. Eno’s piece can explain the reasoning on why 2013 has been somewhat of a bust for Cain infinitely better than I would be able to. The Giants continue to insist that Cain is healthy, so unless something changes it’s safe to assume they’ll keep running him out there every fifth day. Hopefully adjustments can be made to get back his career norms.