Searching for regression candidates with xFIP

No pitcher in baseball has had better luck than Chris Young. (USATSI)
No pitcher in baseball has had better luck than Chris Young. (USATSI)

On Tuesday, I took a look at the most snake-bitten pitchers in the league, in an effort to find who might be the best buy-low candidates for Fantasy owners looking for some help on the staff.

Today, I will look at the other side of the coin; those pitchers who have been helped out most by factors beyond their control.

Though the pitcher literally stands alone in baseball mound, he isn't as in control of his performance as we have long thought. As I showed last night, Brandon McCarthy's terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad season has been as much the result of bad luck (and I mean really bad luck) as anything else.  

Pitchers can control what happens to the ball when it leaves their hand only to a certain extent. Though some pitchers get hit a bit harder, or give up different types of batted balls, their control of the outcome of a batted ball only goes so far. That is why I like xFIP for judging pitchers; it is probably our best available attempt to remove the impact of luck or defense in pitching.

Below is a list of the 10 pitchers who, according to xFIP, have had the best luck in the league: 

Chris Young 3.15 5.55 2.40
Mark Buehrle 2.50 4.16 1.66
Julio Teheran 2.34 3.56 1.22
Henderson Alvarez 2.33 3.49 1.16
Alfredo Simon 2.81 3.97 1.16
Johnny Cueto 1.88 2.97 1.09
Anibal Sanchez 2.63 3.68 1.05
Adam Wainwright 2.01 3.05 1.04
Josh Beckett 2.46 3.45 0.99
Jonathon Niese 2.88 3.79 0.91

As with Tuesday's list, some context is needed. Just like you wouldn't be adding Eric Stults or Ricky Nolasco just because their xFIP suggests improvement is in store, you won't be trading Adam Wainwright just because this suggests some regression is in the future for him.

However, there are some intriguing names to consider as sell-high candidates, highlighted by Chris Young and Alfredo Simon. 

Young, in particular seems to be getting a ton of help thanks to a .203 BABIP that ranks as the lowest in baseball through 16 starts. His always-subpar strikeout rate has plummeted to career-low levels, even after an out of character eight-strikeout game against the Astros Wednesday.

Young is an extreme flyball pitcher who doesn't strike batters out or have pinpoint control. More than almost any pitcher in baseball, he relies on the defense behind him for help, and that does not bode well for his continued success. Given his lack of a successful track record, Young is owned in just 31 percent of leagues, and is unlikely to have much trade value. Just be ready to part ways with him when things inevitably go south.

Simon has been a prime candidate for regression all season long, but has stubbornly refused to give in. He has an active streak of six quality starts in a row, and is now starting in 71 percent of leagues. Fantasy owners are buying in, in spite of his low strikeout rate.

Simon has long been a low BABIP player, posting a .279 mark in his career, but his current .235 mark is even lower than should be reasonably expected. The gap between his ERA and xFIP is by no means a death knell. He has outperformed that mark in three straight seasons -- though the last two came as a reliever, but he had a 4.90 ERA (4.23 xFIP) in his last extended run as a starter in 2011.

The rest of the list is littered with solidly above-average pitchers who have gotten more help than would otherwise be expected. Still, guys like Julio Teheran, Anibal Sanchez and Johnny Cueto might be the beneficiaries of a bit of good fortune, but there isn't much of a chance the bottom falls out for any of them. 

Fantasy Writer

Though he can be found covering three different sports depending on the time of year, there is one unifying theme in how Chris Towers approaches sports; "Where's the evidence?" It doesn't matter how outlandish... Full Bio

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