Some people like to endlessly point out when the Cubs get lucky, and there’s nothing wrong with that: it’s good to know when you might be about to fall off a cliff. But looking at team-wide luck-indicator stats like BAbip (batting average on balls in play) sometimes obscures individual performances. I want to look at the three Cubs starters with significant track records (Z, Lilly, and Marquis), compare their important 2007 stats (Ks, BBs, HRs, and BAbip) to their career numbers, and then assess whether they’ve been lucky or good (or both). I’ll start with Z:

2007: K/9=7.68, BB/9=3.90, HR/9=1.07, BAbip=.262

Career: K/9=7.93, BB/9=4.09, HR/9=.74, BAbip=.272

The strikeouts are down a little, though not too much, and the walks are down a little as well, compared to career numbers. Compared to last year, when Carlos struck out 8.83 and walked 4.84 per 9 IP, both numbers are pretty low. The HR/9 number is strikingly higher than his career norm, though last year’s .84 HR/9 was also a little high. The BAbip indicates that Carlos has been a little lucky, but not that much; were he having a “normal” Carlos year, he would have given up about 4 more hits to this point. (Incidentally, I think for pitchers with a significant track record, it’s more useful to compare BAbip to career norms rather than current league numbers. I realize that offensive contexts change and that there is some evidence that pitchers have little control over BAbip, but I also believe that very good pitchers–Carlos, Maddux, some others–do have some control. Carlos has posted BAbips well below league average for the last four years, and I don’t think that’s just luck. When coupled with his K numbers, it points to a pitcher whose movement on the ball makes it hard for hitters to make solid contact, leading to a lot of misses and weakly hit balls in play.)

What to make of this? Well, I think it should be pretty clear that Carlos is (mostly) being Carlos. Since the Barrett punching incident, Carlos has posted the following rates in 10 starts and 69.1 IP:

K/9=9.22, BB/9=3.63, HR/9=.52, BAbip=.193

He should have given up a few more hits in this time (about 12), but the home run, strikeout, and walk rates are great, and sort of indicate that last year’s walk-fest may have been an aberration. So while there will probably be a bit of a regression in BAbip, I expect Carlos to finish the year with great numbers–maybe Cy Young great. Conclusion: mostly good, a little lucky.

Onto Ted Lilly:

2007: K/9=7.33, BB/9=2.17, HR/9=.95, BAbip=.263

Career: K/9=7.64, BB/9=3.49, HR/9=1.33, BAbip=.280

The obvious differences here are the walk and homer numbers. The BAbip indicates a certain degree of luck, though not much,–Lilly “should” have given up something like 6 or 7 more hits all year so far–and the strikeout numbers are right in line with career norms. So what to make of this? Has Lilly, at 31, really learned better control, and thus cut down on his walk and home run numbers? My (perhaps naive) hypothesis is this: in moving from a tough league and a somewhat tough division to a bad league and really bad division, Lilly has been facing lesser competition, and has had to be less “fine” with his pitches, challenging hitters more often. As a result, he hasn’t walked as many people. The drop in home runs is attributable to the weaker competition. Now, is this true? I don’t have the time to definitively answer this question, but I can tell you this: last year, Lilly gave up 28 homers in 181.2 IP–a rate of 1.39 HR/9. He gave up 21 of those to the Angels, Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers, Twins, Yankees, A’s, and Blue Jays–in other words, to the good AL teams. His HR/9 rate against all other opponents was .62. I think Ted Lilly is the answer to the question “what happens when a slightly-better-than-average AL pitcher moves to the NL?” Conclusion: good, and smart for changing leagues.

Now for Marquis:

2007: K/9=5.15, BB/9=3.46, HR/9=1.08, BAbip=.249

Career: K/9=5.42, BB/9=3.48, HR/9=1.26, BAbip=.282

Uh oh. Same strikeout and walk numbers, pretty much, as he has shown in the past. The homer numbers are down–could it be the persistent incoming wind at Wrigley?

HR/9 at home in 2007: .67

HR/9 on road in 2007: 1.64

So, yes. Actually, Marquis has been pretty terrible on the road, walking more than he’s struck out in 49.1 IP. His BAbip also indicates that he’s been very lucky; he should have given up about 12 more hits over the course of the season. I have to think that Jason should be thanking his lucky stars for that Wrigley wind blowing in. Still, I’ll take him as a fifth starter. Conclusion: lucky, lucky, lucky.

So there you have it: our 1-2 veteran punch is “for real,” while our #5 starter is a little flukey. Hill and Marshall don’t have enough innings pitched in the majors to say too much, although Hill’s .251 BAbip seems to be a little lucky. Still, we have a rotation with three pitchers of solidly above-average ability, one with average ability, and one whose ability is not yet clear. I’ll take that.

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