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A Look at Luck: Scott Olsen, Robinson Cano, Justin Upton, Tigers pitching, and more

Sorry about my lack of posts this week - I will pick up the pace again after graduation tomorrow. For now, I am going to take a look around the league and examine several players who have been particularly lucky and unlucky, as well as look at some interesting things that have occurred thus far this season.

*Is there any pitcher who has been more lucky than Scott Olsen this year? Olsen currently sports a 2.64 ERA through 54 2/3 innings, despite a 24/21 K/BB ratio. How has he done it? Simple: Olsen has a .194 BABIP against him this year. Sure, his line-drive percentage is only 11.4%, but that BABIP is absurdly low (especially considering the fact that the Marlins’ defense isn’t particularly good). He also has stranded an extremely high percentage of his baserunners (83%) and only 8.1% of fly balls hit against him have become homers (as compared to over 14% in each of the past two seasons). Olsen is due for some serious regression to the mean.

*Justin Upton is going to be a fantastic player. But this year, he has been lucky. His line-drive percentage of 19.4% suggests an expected BABIP of .314. His actual BABIP has been .404. If we regress this (and assume that he’s only “losing” singles), his actual line of .322/.394/.538 becomes .259/.339/.475. That’s fantastic for a guy who won’t be able to legally buy a drink until August 25; however, for this season, Upton is due for some regression.

*On the other end of the spectrum lies Robinson Cano. Cano’s LD% is 17.2%, leading to an expected BABIP of .292. However, his actual BABIP is .208. If we account for his lost hits (and again assume they were all singles), Cano’s actual line of .208/.256/.320 becomes .280/.325/.393. Not exactly all-star caliber, but still a heck of a lot better than his actual line.

*13 of the top 16 hitters, in terms of runs created, are in the National League, including the top seven. Can you guess which three AL hitters made the list? (Answer at the end)

*The A’s and the Rays are for real. Tampa Bay has the American League’s best record and Oakland has the third best, and both teams’ runs scored and runs allowed numbers suggest that neither has been lucky. Additionally, both teams have gotten very few innings from their best pitcher (Scott Kazmir and Rich Harden, respectively), although Harden can hardly be counted on for anything at all. Before the season, Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projection system pegged the Rays for 88 wins, thanks in large part to a vastly improved defense. So far, that analysis has been spot on, as the Rays have the second best defensive efficiency in baseball.

Oakland just keeps chugging along, sporting the eighth best defensive efficiency and a team full of cast-offs and nobodies that have scored more runs than the Tigers, Yankees, White Sox, and Indians. While Oakland is due for some regression – some of their pitchers have pitched over their heads so far – the Rays are for real, and are going to be in the playoff race all season long.

*Speaking of Oakland, Jack “One Season Wonder” Cust is proving that his middle name may not be appropriate after all. Sure, he’s hitting .237 and he has only four homers, but he also has a .416 OBP. For all of the talk of his strikeout rate, Cust has struck out the same amount of times as Manny Ramirez this year, and has shown that he can still take a walk even when his power stroke deserts him.

It makes me wonder why other teams don’t take a chance on supposedly “4-A” players currently languishing in the minor leagues. There is very little risk and potentially a high reward.

*The Tigers are digging themselves deeper and deeper into a hole in the American League. However, Tigers fans can take some solace in the fact that three of their starters have been particularly unlucky this season. Nate Robertson, Kenny Rogers, and Justin Verlander are all in the top ten of unluckiest American League starters, as measured by the difference between their actual ERA and their Fielding Independent Pitching ERA (which regresses factors that are out of a pitcher’s control and measures how he has truly pitched). Robertson’s actual ERA is 5.81 while his FIP is 3.87; Rogers’s actual ERA is 6.55 and his FIP is 5.06; Verlander’s actual ERA is 6.05 while his FIP is 5.00.

*Reds rookie sensation Edinson Volquez currently has the highest strand percentage of any National League pitcher (90.8%). Meanwhile, fellow Reds rookie Johnny Cueto has the lowest strand percentage of any National League pitcher (58.2%). As each of these numbers regress to the mean, so will each pitcher’s ERA.

*Lance Berkman is hitting .394/.473/.800 with 15 homers and 16 doubles (and seven stolen bases). That’s incredible.

*But not as incredible as Cliff Lee. You’ve probably heard about Lee, but it bears repeating: it’s May 17, and Cliff Lee has a 0.67 ERA in 53 2/3 innings. He has surrendered 32 hits and four walks (that’s a 0.67 WHIP to match his ERA) and has struck out 44 hitters. Absolutely amazing.


Answer: Kevin Youkilis, Justin Morneau, and Carlos Quentin. Strange, eh?