Royals Pitchers and Home Runs: The Good, the Okay, and the Ugly

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals pitchers have done both a good and bad job of preventing home runs, but who's doing which?

While drinking my morning coffee and looking at the market news I generally always get distracted by baseball. This isn't a bad thing, but at times it can be. Not because it's baseball, but because the distractions can sometimes be unpleasant things. On the other hand though an unpleasant distraction, like the one I'll soon tell you about, has led me to write this article. That could be a pleasant or unpleasant distraction to you though... I apologize if it is unpleasant.

This should be a brief article without super intensive data, but there will be some visualizations and then self-interpreting what this data does or doesn't mean. You have some homework here.

First we'll present the Royals pitching rotation, specifically those who qualify for the ERA crown, and their HR/9 and HR/FB% with their league ranking.

Yordano Ventura 0.70 HR/9 (33rd) 9.4 HR/FB% (49th)

Jason Vargas 0.99 HR/9 (60th) 9.3 HR/FB% (46th)

James Shields 1.11 HR/9 (76th) 12.0 HR/FB% (70th)

Jeremy Guthrie 1.29 HR/9 (90th) 11.1 HR/FB% (65th)

Some differences are there. Ventura is better than league average in home runs per 9 (nearly in the first quartile), but average when it comes to home runs as a percentage of his fly balls.

Jason Vargas is the opposite of Ventura almost. Below average (between second and third quartile) in home runs per 9, but better (between first and second quartile but leaning second) as a percentage of fly balls.

Shields below average in both metrics.

Guthrie is in the fourth quartile and bottom 10 of pitchers in HR/9, but as a percentage of fly balls he's closer to the average pack yet still below average.

I think I'd categorize it as Ventura is doing a good job on home runs (front half on both metrics), Vargas is doing okay, Shields borderline on ugly, and Guthrie is ugly.

Now for the visuals.

Ventura:

Ventura

Ventura's not getting beat on cheap home runs. All of the home runs he's allowed have been basically in the strike zone.

The middle most edged fastball was against Carlos Corporan, a switch hitter batting lefty, so it was an inside pitch.

The lower edged fastball came against lefty Justin Smoak; another inside pitch.

The lower edged curveball was against Yasmani Grandal, another switch hitter batting lefty, and was an inside pitch.

The other home runs?

Changeup - Dustin Ackley: lefty

High fastball - Nelson Cruz: righty

High curveball - Tyler Flowers: righty

So predominately most of Ventura's home runs have been against left handed hitters or switch hitters batting left handed, which as a right handed pitcher makes some sense.

Shields:

Shields

Shields has been very democratic with his home run pitches.

Four given up on change ups.

Four given up on cutters.

Four given up on four/two seamers.

Vargas:

Vargas

Looks like Vargas is giving up the long ball on the upper half of the zone.

The two edge fastballs homers were from Josmil Pinto and Jose Bautista, both right handers (outside pitches).

The high fastball was also to Jose Bautista and was borderline middle-up to inside-up and was classified as Zone 2 (middle-up). Bautista crushes this pitch.

Guthrie:

Guthrie

Guthrie just getting crushed everywhere on every pitch.

The out of the zone change up was and outside pitch to lefty Jason Castro that he chipped into the extended left field porch at Minute Maid.

The sinker out of the zone was an inside pitch to JD Martinez, a right handed hitter.

The low curveball was to Ackley, a left handed hitter, which he golfed into the right field stands at Safeco. It was a 1-1 count and this wasn't a good ball to swing at theoretically, but Ackley has a sweet swing (if you ask me) and got under it.

The Royals are 12th in HR/9 (as in lower HR/9) and 7th in HR/FB%.

Okay, remember when I said this should be a brief article without super intensive data? I kinda lied. The data won't be that super intensive nor the article brief, but it's not-not brief and not-not data intensive.

I really like xFIP as a metric as well so as long as we are talking home run rates that's something to bring up.

Ventura: FIP - 3.30 xFIP - 3.37

Shields: FIP - 3.89 xFIP - 3.63

Vargas: FIP - 4.01 xFIP - 4.11

Guthrie: FIP - 4.76 xFIP - 4.57

Ventura and Vargas' home run rate isn't hurting or helping their FIP much compared to a league average one. Shields and Guthrie are being hit a little harder by home runs than a league average counterpart.

I was initially thinking that perhaps Kauffman Stadium is suppressing some home runs for the pitching staff as opposed to a league standard, but the starting rotations FIP is 4.06 and xFIP is 4.09. I expected the spread to be a bit larger.

Of course their is a metric to include park factors into pitching peripherals; SIERA. As above I was expecting SIERA to correct any home run differences between FIP and xFIP when it comes to Kauffman. The rotations SIERA: 4.07. Interesting. Of course SIERA isn't just FIP with park factors included, but it has a higher prediction value and mixes ERA/FIP when it comes to strikeouts, walks, and batted balls, but I was thinking there would be a larger difference between FIP and SIERA.

So how about just straight park adjusted FIP, FIP-? 103

Park adjusted xFIP, xFIP-? 106

So there you go. Given park neutralized league average home run rates, the Royals are 6% worse than league average. Historically they've hovered around that level the past few years.

2013: 104 xFIP-

2012: 111 xFIP-

2011: 108 xFIP-

2010: 106 xFIP-

One interesting thing I've found in the data diving is the difference between ERA- and FIP- over the years.

2014: ERA- 93 FIP- 103

2013: ERA- 95 FIP- 102

2012: ERA- 120 FIP- 109

2011: ERA- 116 FIP- 106

2010: ERA- 126 FIP- 108

Remember how bad some of those late-00's early-teens rotations were and how good the starting staff has been the past two years?

That can be seen in the ERA-, but FIP- doesn't see that large of a swing. At first I wondered if the standard deviation for FIP- on a team level was just small to begin with, but looking at other team data in the same time span there are some heavy swings.

For instance the 2011 Phillies staff (the one that featured Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt) had a 77 FIP- then three years later the current staff has a 107 FIP-. A -30% swing.

That's an extreme example of a team who went from obviously elite (tied with the 2013 Tigers as the best FIP- in 20 something years) to not so much once two of the pitchers retired and two poor pitches came into their spots.

The Angels had a 99 to 110 FIP- swing in that span, and a 92 to 112 ERA- swing in that time.

The Indians a 102 to 133 FIP- and 97 to 119 ERA- range.

The Yankees a 97 to 102 ERA- and 96 to 105 FIP- range.

Maybe the volatility on FIP- is larger than I thought, but for a team that went from an ugly ERA- to a good ERA- it doesn't reflect that in FIP- swings. Certainly the metrics are measuring different aspects when it comes to batted ball data and liability, but the gap is very large in the 2010 team and the team FIP- didn't improve that much despite the ERA- dropping 33%.

DIPS theory is a fun thing ain't it.

Chart data courtesy of the wonderful Darren Williams at Baseball Savant


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