One thing we sometimes forget to look at when dealing with small samples is the quality of competition each player has faced. There are plenty of pitchers who have traditionally been solid, but who have struggled during the first half of 2009, and in some cases you can blame their having to face stiff competition. Thankfully, Baseball Prospectus has an easily accessed custom statistic report for just this very thing. The report displays standard information such as innings pitched and number of opponents faced, but also shows the aggregate batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS of all the batters faced by that pitcher. This list shows the top 20 in opponent OPS, minimum 50 innings pitched:
Name IP AVG/ OBP/ SLG OPS A.J. Burnett 80.2 .271/.351/.449 800 Brad Penny 66.0 .273/.348/.436 784 Fausto Carmona 60.2 .265/.341/.440 781 Koji Uehara 55.2 .265/.340/.440 780 Jeremy Guthrie 73.1 .265/.340/.437 777 Josh Beckett 82.1 .268/.345/.432 777 Andy Sonnanstine 70.1 .269/.347/.426 773 Dallas Braden 81.0 .269/.340/.433 773 Andy Pettitte 79.2 .265/.344/.427 771 Jon Lester 81.1 .264/.338/.430 769 Joba Chamberlain 63.1 .263/.344/.423 767 J.A. Happ 51.0 .259/.345/.422 766 Armando Galarraga 69.2 .263/.338/.424 763 Gil Meche 75.1 .265/.341/.421 762 Jered Weaver 90.2 .260/.336/.422 758 Brett Anderson 64.0 .262/.333/.425 758 Tim Wakefield 76.0 .264/.342/.416 758 Justin Verlander 86.1 .264/.336/.421 756 Matt Garza 84.1 .258/.341/.415 756 Bartolo Colon 55.1 .263/.335/.420 756
A.J. Burnett was supposed to avoid being a victim of Yankee Stadium v2.0, but that was before he stopped inducing significantly more grounders than fly balls. This year has seen Burnett’s G/F drop to its lowest point since 2002, and to go along with that he has also stopped getting hitters to pop up on fly balls. Sure, it doesn’t help that he’s faced the stiffest competition in the league according to this stat report, but at the same time, Burnett’s not doing himself any favors by handing out free passes to 4.6 hitters per nine. Combine that with the homer rate, and it’s easy to see why Burnett hasn’t had an easy time of it for his new team. I’m not so sure Burnett is going to have a serious rebound during this season, as he’s fooling fewer hitters-his strikeouts have dropped by over one full K per nine, and opponents are swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone while making more contact. Getting his walk rates back under control would be a good first step, but as it is he has actually been a little lucky, as his FIP is over a half-run higher than his ERA; improvement would move him from the level of a 5.00 ERA pitcher down to his current level.
Brad Penny is an intriguing name on this list for two reasons. First, he hasn’t been that bad since a bad April: since May 3, Penny has thrown 48
It’s somewhat shocking that J.A. Happ’s numbers are not worse than they are, considering the opposition he has faced. Despite the 12th-highest opponent OPS in the majors, he’s allowed a line of just .210/.308/.387. You can thank Philadelphia’s defense for that, as they rank 10th in Defensive Efficiency. Happ certainly isn’t doing it with style on his own: his 6.5 K/9 is fine, but his UIBB/9 is an unhealthy 4.1 per, and he’s giving up 1.4 homers every nine as well. His home park is somewhat to blame, as he’s given up five homers in 82 at-bats there (or one every 16.4 at-bats), but he’s got enough good luck going in his favor to superficially balance that out. Happ has an FIP of 5.25, 1.72 runs worse than his actual ERA. He’s stranded 83.6 percent of his baserunners (the league average is 71.7 percent, and below-average starters are not my first pick to significantly and deservingly beat out the average) and has been worse since moving into the rotation (.229/.333/.333/.476, 105 at-bats) from the bullpen (.184/.273/.263, 76 at-bats). Do not be fooled into thinking that he can sustain that ERA, especially not as a full-time starter in that park.
Jered Weaver has been fantastic the past two months, despite being stuck against some of the most difficult competition in either league during that stretch. He’s piled up 90
Gil Meche has been one of the top starters in baseball this year according to his FIP of 3.00; sadly, between the quality of his opponents and the Royals‘ poor defense (25th in Defensive Efficiency), he hasn’t been able to get his actual ERA in that area. Still, there’s nothing wrong with his 3.70 mark for fantasy purposes, especially if he continues to strike out as many hitters as he is while Kauffman acts as a tough place for hitters (1.45 HR/G on the season). Meche has allowed a .445 slugging percentage at home, but just one home run; this shouldn’t be a surprising turn of events, given the people manning the outfield spots for the Royals. Willie Bloomquist hasn’t been very good in center, while Jose Guillen has been awful in right, and it shows in Meche’s splits. A few more balls landing in outfield gloves would allow for his strand rate to climb toward the league average and put his ERA closer to his FIP, but unless the Royals add new outfield personnel, the chances of that working out are slim. Even so, if the level of his competition goes down some he may be able to improve. He’s one Royal starter you don’t want to give up on, no matter how inept the defense behind him is.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .