The Luckiest Pitchers of 2009

Every year, several pitchers across the league get extremely lucky and end up being signed to contracts worth far more than they deserve.  I figured I would find out who the luckiest of the lucky was in 2009.

Listed below are the starting pitchers with the lowest BABIPs of 2009.

Jarrod Washburn Randy Wolf Ross Ohlendorf Matt Cain J.A. Happ
BABIP .257 .257 .265 .268 .270

None of you should be surprised to see Jarrod Washburn’s name on that list.  That man benefited massively from the likes of Ichiro, Franklin Gutierrez, and Endy Chavez patrolling the Mariners outfield, robbing opposing batters of home runs, line drives, and gappers alike.  But even then, Washburn was very, very lucky.  Wolf ran up a 3.23 ERA in 214.1 innings, which actually wasn’t so far off from a 3.86 tRA and 3.96 FIP.  Ohlendorf’s luck changed dramatically from what it was in 2008 (his BABIP dropped over .115 points), and a 5.55 K/9 doesn’t say much for his true talent level. Matt Cain, who pitched quite well in 2009, was unarguably pretty lucky, as he ended up with an ERA a full run below his FIP.  For reference, his teammate Tim Lincecum’s FIP was just about level with his ERA.  And then there’s J. A. Happ.  We’ll get to him later.

Now, here are the starting pitchers with the lowest HR/FB ratios in 2009.

Clayton Kershaw Zack Greinke Chris Carpenter Tim Lincecum Carlos Zambrano
HR/FB 4.1% 4.5% 4.6% 5.5% 5.6%

This list shows that even really good pitchers can get lucky.  Or, one could extrapolate, that really good pitchers tend not to give up very many home runs. Although one could argue that better pitchers induce weaker contact which leads to more weak fly ball outs instead of hard-hit home runs, for the most part, running a HR/FB ratio around 4-5 is very flukey, no matter what ballpark you’re playing in.  For reference, the league average percentage of fly balls allowed that turn into home runs was around 11.

Zack Greinke may have gotten off easily in the HR/FB department, but for the most part, he pitched to his true talent level in 2009.  Opponents hit .313 on balls in play against him, a far cry from the .274 mark run up by Clayton Kershaw.  However, Kershaw’s 3.29 tRA indicates that perhaps he wasn’t that lucky.

And last but certainly not least are the starters who stranded the most base-runners of 2009.

J.A. Happ Matt Cain Adam Wainwright Chris Carpenter Jair Jurrjens
LOB% 85.2 81.6 80.4 79.5 79.4

Notice that Matt Cain, Chris Carpenter, and J. A. Happ are all listed on two of these charts.  For some illogical reason, this amuses me.

And now we can talk about J.A. Happ.  Happ was lucky to a Washburn-esque degree in 2009.  He stranded a ridiculous amount of baserunners and allowed a relatively tiny number of homers (considering he pitches in the miniscule, hitter-friendly Citizen’s Bank Park).  His K-BB ratio was only 2-1, his BABIP was way lower than the Major League average, and was only worth 1.8 WAR in165+ innings.  And yet he ended up with a shiny 12-4 record and 2.93 ERA.  Fortunately for Phillies fans, Happ has a ton of potential, and there’s a very real possibility he puts up similar numbers for years to come.  But at that point luck may not have anything to do with it.

Congratulations to all the aforementioned pitchers for not ending up like Ricky Nolasco.

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Tags: Adam Wainwright Carlos Zambrano Chris Carpenter Clayton Kershaw Endy Chavez Franklin Gutierrez Ichiro Ja Happ Jair Jurrjens Jarrod Washburn Matt Cain Randy Wolf Ricky Nolasco Ross Ohlendorf Tim Lincecum Zack Greinke

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