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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: Season In Review

Another fantasy season is in the books and with it, the first season of the "Proof Is In The Peripherals" column.  We've had a few laughs, shed a few tears, made a few obscure pop culture references that nobody understood, and overall, had more fun than a termite at a lumberyard.  Now that we've come to the end of the year, however, let's dip back into the advanced metrics one more time and see which players gained the most (and least) benefit from all those beloved peripherals...

BABIP Buster Of The Year: I think we can safely say Edwin Encarnacion is for real.  Double-E followed up his 42-homer performance from 2012 by hitting .272/.370/.534 with 36 long balls in 2013, and that's even with missing the last couple of weeks with a wrist injury.  Encarnacion did all this despite being tied (with Andrelton Simmons and Matt Wieters) for the third-lowest BABIP in all of baseball -- only Darwin Barney and Dan Uggla produced lower BABIPs this season than Encarnacion's .247 mark.  Imagine what this guy could do if he had more batted-ball luck on his side, eh?  Provided that this wrist injury isn't anything too serious, Encarnacion looks like a solid late-first round/early-second round pick in next year's fantasy drafts, especially since he'll retain his 3B eligibility.

BABIP Squanderer Of The Year:  I touched on Michael Bourn's declining steals numbers back in July and things didn't pick up for the Cleveland outfielder over the season's last two months.  He ended the year with only 23 stolen bases, by far his lowest total since becoming a regular in 2008, and not much else 5x5 help at the plate with his .263/.316/.360 line, six homers, 50 RBI and 75 runs scored.  You have to look pretty far down the list of the league's highest BABIPs to find a fantasy dud since, by the statistic's very nature, guys with high BABIPs will likely be big producers, but Bourn's .338 BABIP (tied for 24th-best in baseball) should've produced more pop.

Bourn's overall numbers aren't terrible for a fourth outfielder, but I'm guessing you drafted Bourn expecting a heck of a lot more than solid bench production.  If he's losing his speed, then frankly, Bourn's fantasy usefulness becomes extremely limited.  I'm putting a big red flag next to his name for my 2014 draft. 

BABIP Creation Of The Year: Look no further than Chris Johnson, the man with the league's highest BABIP.  Johnson had been kissed by the BABIP gods in the past (he had a .351 BABIP from 2010-12) but Johnson hit .321/.358/.457 this season despite swing and contact rates that were largely in line with his career totals.  Johnson was definitely hitting the ball hard, as his 27% line drive rate ranked eighth in baseball, but let's be honest, it was the .391 BABIP that really sealed the deal in making him into an offensive force. 

Johnson's ability to score consistently high BABIPs make him more than a one-year wonder, but since he lacks the power and run-scoring abilities of other top-tier fantasy third basemen, I'd hold off on taking him relatively early in a draft.  I'll need to see him do it again first, since y'know, four straight high BABIP years apparently isn't enough for me.  "Okay Superman, the rest of my criminal buddies have punched you in the stomach and broken their hands, but I'm sure that if MY punch hits you just right, I can....ouch, yep, that's a broken hand."

The Lucky Hurler Award: This one has to be shared between two pitchers, Travis Wood and Hisashi Iwakuma.  My criteria was to give this trophy to the pitcher(s) who had the lowest BABIP, highest strand rate and the biggest negative gap between their FIP and their ERA, and technically only Iwakuma fit the bill.  His 81.9% strand rate was second-highest in baseball, his .252 BABIP was the sixth-lowest and he posted a 2.66 ERA and a 3.44 FIP, tying the Mariners righty for the largest favorable swing in that category.  Iwakuma was tied with Wood, whose .248 BABIP was third-lowest in baseball and whose strand rate was a *bit* short of elite level, at only 77.4% (18th-highest). 

So if Wood wasn't quite up there with Iwakuma, why am I giving him a share of the award?  It's because if Iwakuma had pitched to his 3.44 FIP/3.28 xFIP/3.40 SIERA, he's still a good pitcher.  Wood, on the other hand, threw up a 4.50 xFIP and 4.50 SIERA to go with his 3.89 FIP --- if the normal regression had taken place, Wood wouldn't have been worth keeping in a fantasy rotation given his unimpressive strikeout and win totals.  So, in the spirit of John Castino and Alfredo Griffin's tied Rookie Of The Year vote in 1979, I'm just going to split the difference and give Wood and Iwakuma each a share of the award.  Double stars, everybody wins!  As for next year's fantasy drafts, I'd avoid Wood but keep an eye out for Iwakuma, who's been an underrated force out in the Seattle rotation for two years in a row now.

The Unlucky Hurler Award: It's another split vote, as Edinson Volquez and Edwin Jackson were the only two pitchers to rank in the top ten in the categories of largest BABIP, lowest strand rate and biggest gap between an ERA and FIP.  Volquez and Jackson actually both finished one-two in the ERA/FIP gap and strand rate categories, with Volquez posting a 5.71 ERA/4.24 FIP and 64.5% strand rate and Jackson stranding just 63.3% of baserunners and posting a 4.98 ERA/3.79 FIP.  Volquez also had a .325 BABIP (fourth in the league) while Jackson was right behind at .322.

Now, "unlucky" may be a bit of a relative term here since by now, fantasy owners should know what to expect from both guys.  Jackson is your prototypical fifth starter in a fantasy rotation that could easily be dropped out for a good streaming option.  Volquez had a bit of sleeper buzz last spring since he was pitching out of Petco Park, but he couldn't even get it together there, and has probably spent his last bit of fantasy capital.  It's not like either guy was counted on as a heavy option for fantasy owners but still, you can't deny that both pitchers' bad seasons weren't quite as bad as their statistics would indicate.

The Pitching Fortune Squanderer Award: Let me unleash the Colbert balloons for this one since I CALLED IT.  Hey, Jarrod Parker!  You had a .260 BABIP, 73.2% strand rate, you pitch in Oakland and you still couldn't do better than a 3.97 ERA, only 6.12 K/9 and a blergh peripherals line of 4.40 FIP/4.41 xFIP/4.48 SIERA?  It's almost like you were hampered by pitching an increased number of innings in 2012 or something.  Let me dust off my hands triumphantly for that call, one of the few many that went my way this year.  Parker threw 197 innings this season and is bound to pitch at least a few more during the Athletics' playoff run, so if arm fatigue is an issue, next year could also be shaky.  Or, since the kid doesn't even turn 25 until November, maybe he's building up that arm strength and next season he'll morph into a workhorse ace.  Parker is worth a slot as a fourth or fifth starter in your 2014 fantasy rotation but don't rely on him for any more than that...yet.



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