The Mariners and Cardinals have the sixth- and seventh-lowest BABIPs, respectively, yet both teams are among the four worst defenses as measured by UZR/150. This is a particularly alarming development for Felix Hernandez and Carlos Martinez, especially since both are ground ball pitchers, and both team’s infields have struggled defensively. Hernandez has looked better in his last two starts, pitching with better control, but if the Mariners’ defense doesn’t improve, it might be for naught. Somehow, Hernandez has papered over his earlier struggles with a .239 BABIP, but an upward correction to that rate could overshadow any progress that he makes on his walk rate.
Martinez has not been getting swings and misses in the way he did last season, and his aversion to whiffing has intensified lately. He has induced only seven swings-and-misses in his last two starts. That trend is a troubling one for someone pitching in front of a porous defense.
Perhaps no pitcher is more deserving of a red flag than Matt Wisler. Though far from universally owned in CBSSports.com leagues, Wisler’s ownership rate is now a healthy 45 percent, as owners are starting to buy into his 3.14 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. His strong flyball tendencies should lead him to a lower-than-average BABIP, but a .224 rate goes a bit too far, especially given that the Braves have not had good defenders in the outfield corners.
The Cubs have the second-highest UZR/150 in the majors, but their staff’s .254 BABIP can’t be chalked up to great “D” alone. Jake Arrieta (.203 BABIP) and Jon Lester (.256 BABIP) have overperformed, but they will still be Fantasy aces when correction comes. John Lackey (.264 BABIP) may not be so lucky, especially as the season wears on, and he sees less of teams like the Braves, Padres and Reds.
As Heath mentioned in his piece, the potential for a chronically-high BABIP for Sonny Gray makes it hard to pursue him as a buy-low candidate, but he’s not the only early-rounder with that status. Even if Dallas Keuchel can get hitters to chase pitches out of the zone like he did last season, he could continue to suffer as a result of hits on balls in play. Keuchel is still good at inducing grounders, but the Astros’ strong outfield defense won’t be of much assistance. Their infield has been far less dependable, and there may not be much hope for Keuchel to reduce the .264 batting average he is allowing on ground balls. Even if Colin Moran supplants Luis Valbuena at third base, don’t expect an upgrade large enough to salvage Keuchel’s BABIP.
Just two years ago, the Indians had one of the worst defenses in the majors, but now they have one of the best. They are particularly strong in the infield, and that could only benefit Corey Kluber. Opponents are hitting just .205 against him on ground balls, and if he can lower his 23.4 percent line drive rate, he could sustain a lower-than-average BABIP rate.
The pitcher who may stand to gain the most Fantasy relevance thanks to his outfield is merely a stash option for now. A.J. Griffin (shoulder) could still be at least a couple of weeks away from getting activated, but as a fly-ball pitcher with a strong defensive outfield behind him, a .237 BABIP doesn’t look as unsustainable as it would for any pitcher not named Chris Young. If Griffin can rediscover the good control he had prior to Tommy John surgery, he could improve on an already-low 1.13 WHIP. Even though he’s on the DL, it’s worth checking in on Griffin’s price (or claiming him off waivers) and stashing him.
Earlier this season, I wrote that the Braves shouldn’t fire obvious lame-duck manager Fredi Gonzalez because it wouldn’t really accomplish anything. I stand by that. He’s playing the few prospect-type players they have every day and otherwise has a stale roster that isn’t equipped to win. The fact that he got fired Tuesday doesn’t really accomplish anything, outside maybe some PR to please the few disgruntled fans who are still paying attention this season.
That doesn’t mean I think he’s a great manager who should never have been fired, however. In fact, I count at least three other specific dates where it made a lot more sense to fire Gonzalez than right now. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.
Gonzalez was coming off a season in which his Braves went 96-66 and won the NL East by 10 games. You can’t fire a guy coming off that, right? Well, we need to look at the context. The Nationals completely tanked that season and the rest of the NL East was terrible. In and of itself, Gonzalez couldn’t help that. His team merely took advantage.
Still, egregious playoff mishaps can lead to change for the better. Just ask the 2003-04 Boston Red Sox. This wasn’t exactly Game 7 of the ALCS for an at-the-time tortured franchise, but it was still pretty bad:
David Carpenter had a very good season in 2013, but he’s not Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel was arguably the most dominant closer on the face of the Earth at the time, and he was left helplessly watching the defining moment of the Braves season:
Had the Braves won this game, they still might have lost the series. A win would’ve only tied the series, 2-2. The Braves were set to play that game at home, however, where they were 56-25 during the regular season, compared to 40-41 on the road. They would have also survived Clayton Kershaw, who worked on short rest in Game 4. Sure, they were set to face Zack Greinke, but they beat him in Game 2 at home.
Holding Kimbrel back for the flawed logic of “what if he can’t finish two innings?” is a mentality tied to a stat (the vaunted save) that has long needed to be changed. If Kimbrel can’t finish two, then you go to Carpenter. But don’t do it backward and lose with your best watching from the bullpen. Not with the season on the line. If you lose, you lose with your best.
I’d have fired Gonzalez for this, but not just because of one mistake. Instead, it would be due to wanting to hire a manager who isn’t so rigid as to think he has to “save” his closer to ensure he gets the last out of the game. That shouldn’t be the mindset in a do-or-die game and it could have — you never know! — cost them a World Series championship.