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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: Season Review

No awards show is more star-studded than the TPIITP Gala, which rewards outstanding achievements in the field of excellence.  Forget the Cy Young or the MVP, every ballplayer dreams of taking home one of these coveted prizes...uh, except the negative ones.  Okay, this entire thing is a sham.  Not quite as much of a sham as the Golden Globes, but still.

BABIP Buster Of The Year: Any number of sluggers have to be excused from this list since BABIP doesn't count homers, so why am I citing Brian Dozier, he of the 23 long balls this season?  It's because Dozier breaks the mold of the slow-moving slugger and is a force on the basepaths -- he racked up 21 steals in 2014 and ranked fourth amongst all qualified hitters under Fangraphs' Base Running (BsR) metric.

All that speed and shrewd baserunning, however, didn't help Dozier produce more than a .269 BABIP.  He still had a terrific season (23 homers, 71 RBI, 112 runs, 21 steals and a .242/.345/.416 slash line) but something even better could be on the horizon if Dozier gets a bit more batted-ball luck and improves his contact.  I'd also point the finger at the Home Run Derby for his midseason slump, as that contest is notorious for ruining players' swings for weeks at a time.  Dozier was already one of the top fantasy second baseman on the board for 2015, so it's scary to think what he could do if the BABIP fairy turns his way.

BABIP Squanderer Of The Year: We have our first multi-time TPIITP award winner, as Chris Johnson takes home this prize after winning the 'creation of the year' honor in 2013.  The difference is that last season, Johnson rode a high BABIP to a nice year at the plate, whereas in 2014, not even his .345 BABIP could make him even a league-average hitter.  Johnson hit .262/.292/.361 with 10 homers, 58 RBI, 43 runs scored and a measly 82 wRC+ over 611 PA, making him a lacking option both in the Braves lineup and on your fantasy roster.  It should be noted that Johnson now has a .357 BABIP for his career (2476 PA), which is the 15th-highest BABIP of any player in the history of baseball (!) with at least 2000 plate appearances.  In short, Johnson's career is going to be a unique gem for sabermetric analysts to study for years to come.

BABIP Creation Of The Year: This category forces me to eliminate several speedsters, since they help "create" their own high BABIP due to their ability to beat out grounders.  Superstars also generally have a high BABIP since they're just really good at hitting, so while Jose Abreu, Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton all finished top-eight in the BABIP standings, they're certainly not mirages. 

No, I'm going to single out the Marlins' Casey McGehee, who returned from a season in Japan to make himself fantasy-relevant by hitting .287/.355/.357 with four homers, 76 RBIs and 56 runs scored.  It was a nice little comeback that was underwritten by a .335 BABIP, and I'm not sure anyone should be too keen on picking up McGehee in next spring's fantasy draft.  Honorable (dishonorable?) mention goes to Joe Mauer, who I'm giving a pass due to an injury-riddled season.  Mauer did, however, post the highest strikeout rate of his career and his lowest wRC+ since 2005, so if it wasn't for his typically high BABIP (.342), you might hear a lot more about his decline rate.  I'm not keen on drafting Mauer in 2015 either, but I'd still feel better with him in a regular role than McGehee.

The Lucky Hurler Award: This award goes to the pitcher who had the lowest BABIP, highest strand rate and biggest negative gap between his ERA and his FIP, and so technically, it should go to Doug Fister, who ranked first in strand rate and ERA/FIP, plus the fifth-lowest BABIP.  The actual winner, however, is the Mariners' Chris Young, whose .238 BABIP (just percentage points behind Johnny Cueto for the lowest in baseball), 80.2% strand rate (sixth) and ERA/FIP gap (3.65 ERA, 5.02 FIP) earns him the nod since were it not for these peripherals, Young wouldn't have had any value whatsoever.

Fister's peripherals are to be expected, given that he's a low-strikeout guy and a groundball specialist (48.9% GBR in 2014).  Young, however, doesn't just not miss bats, he doesn't get grounders either --- his 22.3% grounder rate was by far the lowest of any qualifed pitcher in baseball.  His ERA predictor peripherals were off the charts (not just a 5.02 FIP, but a 5.19 xFIP and 5.24 SIERA) and you can just about entirely chalk Young's 2014 campaign up to pitching at Safeco Field.  Tip your cap to Young for a fine season and keep him away from your 2015 fantasy roster.

The Unlucky Hurler Award: This was a very tricky award to parse this season since we had several distinguished candidates.  Let's check out the top 10 finishers in each of the BABIP, strand rate and ERA/FIP categories, and feel free to sing along if you wish...

BABIP: Colby Lewis, Brandon McCarthy, Phil Hughes, Nathan Eovaldi, Travis Wood, Ervin Santana, Aaron Harang, Jose Quintana, Justin Verlander, Wade Miley

Strand rate: Clay Buchholz, Eovaldi, Dan Haren, Kyle Gibson, Wood, Matt Garza, Verlander, A.J. Burnett, Lewis, Quintana

ERA/FIP: Buchholz, Eovaldi, Hughes, Verlander, Lewis, Gibson, Wood, Drew Hutchison, Santana, Bartolo Colon

So right away we have four guys (Lewis, Eovaldi, Wood, Verlander) who finished in the top 10 in every category, and several more just missed; Buchholz, for instance, was 16th in BABIP with a .315 mark.  I hesitate to call pitchers like Hughes or Quintana "unlucky" since everyone agrees they had awesome seasons even without much peripheral luck, and this even extends to McCarthy, who revived his fortunes after being traded to the Yankees.  As for Buchholz, knee problems might've played a role in his lack of success, so he might've been hampered by a different kind of bad luck.

Let's focus on our unfantastic four, and of this bunch, Eovaldi had the lowest home run rate, lowest walk rate and highest grounder rate.  His 4.37 ERA was boosted by a .323 BABIP and 65.5% strand rate, as his ERA indicators (3.37 FIP, 3.78 xFIP, 3.91 SIERA) are more forgiving.  Out of a deep field, I give Eovaldi the slight nod, though if "internet photo scandals" were a stat category, Verlander would've had a strong case.




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