Tipping pitches: Half a season does not a starting pitcher make
This is his strangest season yet. Sure, there are some numbers suggesting his 4.65 earned run average (ERA) is largely the product of crummy luck, like his .342 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). However, by far the biggest problem is his 1.48 home runs per nine innings rate (HR/9).
That figure is 0.52 higher than last season and 0.51 higher than his career rate. His home runs per fly ball (HR/FB) is also at a career-high, 14.1 percent.
The good news is Haren's poor performance seems isolated to homers. His K/BB is a magnificent 5.19 (third year in a row with a rate above 5.00). His 4.10 Fielding Independent Pitching rate (FIP) is also well higher than his 3.46 xFIP (expected FIP, which normalizes home run rates), meaning, with an average HR/FB, his ERA would be much prettier.
The bad news is Haren usually makes his fantasy owners a profit with his outstanding first halves, so it's hard to have faith that he can turn things around when he traditionally struggles more and more as the season progresses.
As in Haren's case, home runs are notoriously hard to predict or figure out. Where is the line between luck and skill?
Here are some pitchers who have been at the opposite end of the spectrum from Haren -- their HR/FB rates are among the lowest in baseball. Which ones can keep it up, and which ones do fantasy owners need to worry about?
Tipping Pitches has doled out plenty of love for Paulino in recent weeks because of his solid 3.27 FIP and 7.95 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9), but the dude is bound to serve up many more gopher balls heading forward.
Paulino's HR/FB is 1.9 percent. He's allowed two home runs in 86 innings this season. For comparison's sake, he allowed 20 in 97.2 innings last season (16.9 percent HR/FB). Toss in the fact that Paulino plays in a homer-friendly park -- Minute Maid is 11th in home runs -- and he looks like a solid bet for a big HR/FB increase moving forward.
As solid as Buchholz has looked, he has an unsustainable 3.7 percent HR/FB rate so far this season. Since his K/9 is rapidly evaporating (it's down to a career-low 6.13), he will be even more dependent on the whims of batted balls. Buchholz could be due for a harsh correction in HR/FB simply because his low K/9 keeps a lot of balls in play.
Buchholz produced 14.7 and 15.7 HR/FB rates his first two seasons. It looks like this year is the aberration.
Lee has the league's second lowest ratio at 2.3 percent. So why shouldn't you worry about him? Because he's produced rates of 5.1 and 6.5 percent the past two seasons. That means a small correction is possible, but he's proven the ability to maintain a very low HR/FB through an entire season.
Liriano is another low-rate, low-worry guy, and if for no other reason than his best pitch (slider) is nearly impossible for batters to drive far. Now distanced from Tommy John surgery, it appears he has the slider back and working well. It's rated at 13.1 runs above average so far in 2010.
Liriano's home field (Target Field) is 28th in home runs this season, so for now, there's little reason to think a big HR/FB correction is looming.
Other low-worry guys:
Statistics are current through June 22.
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