By The Numbers: Chris Paddack, Eduardo Rodriguez, Tommy La Stella
Chris Paddack has both the lowest BABIP and highest hard-hit rate of all qualified starting pitchers.
Contrary to earlier beliefs, we know that some pitchers can make some of their own good fortune on batted balls. Nobody, however, can sustain a .179 BABIP for a full season. Julio Teheran benefited from MLB’s lowest mark at .217 last year. Clayton Kershaw, who has finished three seasons with an ERA below 2.00, has never coaxed a BABIP below .250. (Expect his current .238 clip to rise above that barometer by October.) Pedro Martinez produced a 0.6 H/9 and 0.74 WHIP — the lowest ever in a single season — with a .236 BABIP in 200o.
There’s more room for pushback regarding Paddack’s hard-hit rate. While FanGraphs has him ceding hard contact on 49.1% of his balls in play, Baseball Savant paints a prettier portrait. The number of balls smacked at least 95 mph faded to 31.8%, narrowly placing him among the top quarter of starters, as of Wednesday. He has yielded just six barrels, and a .194 xBA suggests the rookie’s stellar start isn’t entirely a fluke.
Before Statcast added more nuance to the conversation, Paddack would have stood out as a blatantly obvious sell-high candidate. It’s now not entirely so clear. While his 1.99 ERA is bound to drop, pitching to his 2.95 FIP or 3.48 SIERA would still make him a fantasy ace alongside his 28.5% strikeout rate. Perhaps the fly balls generated with his Vulcan changeup are listless enough to keep pitching a bit above his peripherals.
The 23-year-old righty shouldn’t fall off a cliff entirely. Yielding six runs (three earned) against the Dodgers on Tuesday night is hardly an “I told you so” moment either; the defending NL champs lead the Senior Circuit in wRC+ versus righties. Yet regression to the mean is inevitable, and it will sting even more when paired with a probable innings limit for the former Tommy John surgery recipient. Try to exchange him for a Zack Wheeler or Charlie Morton — both of whom I have higher in my rest-of-season rankings –while attaining an extra upgrade in a two-for-two trade.
Eduardo Rodriguez: .364 BABIP, 26.4% Hard-Hit Rate
Rodriguez could also work as a target in a larger deal involving Paddack. He conversely possesses the second-highest BABIP with the third-lowest hard-hit rate following Wednesday night’s start.
Since two dismal turns at Seattle and at Oakland to open 2019, the 26-year-old righty has registered a 3.45 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 41.2 innings. Although it dipped in last week’s successful rematch against Seattle, his velocity had gone up from a 92-93 to 93-94 average range.
The same caveats as always still apply to Rodriguez. We’ve already seen the inconsistency that has led to an underwhelming 4.19 ERA over his career. He has also yet to work 25 starts or 140 innings in a single season, so his durability remains a lingering question mark despite avoiding the injury bug thus far.
His topsy-turvy beginning might be as simple as struggling against tough opponents and dominating weaker ones in the Orioles, White Sox, and Tigers. Don’t buy fully into a 2.99 FIP and expect a leap to top-tier billing, but Rodriguez should hover around last year’s 3.82 ERA rather than his current 4.89 mark with an elite strikeout rate and manageable control.
Tommy La Stella: 937 Plate Appearances
La Stella scattered those plate appearances across five years prior to 2019. Across that time, he amassed 10 combined home runs.
He has 11 this season.
There’s plenty of more fun to have with his mind-boggling numbers. A feeble bench bat throughout his career, the 30-year-old has as many home runs as Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Ramirez, Matt Carpenter, Daniel Murphy, and Miguel Cabrera combined.
He’s certainly not selling out for that power. La Stella absurdly has more long balls and walks (13) than strikeouts (eight). Among hitters with at least 75 plate appearances, only teammate David Fletcher has a lower strikeout rate. He’s fourth in contact rate behind Fletcher, Eric Sogard, and Michael Brantley, and only 10 batters have chased fewer pitches off the plate.
By the way, he’s batting .301/.388/.611 with a higher wRC+ (169) than Mike Trout. He’s doing this with a .245 BABIP, which doesn’t pass the sniff test considering all of those impressive bat-to-ball trends. This makes no sense. It might not last with such fervor all season, but let’s stop fighting the improbable. La Stella looks like this year’s Scooter Gennett or Max Muncy style breakout, so grab him if he’s still available in any leagues. He’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Miguel Cabrera: .060 ISO
Here are some other players besides La Stella with more home runs this season than Miguel Cabrera: Melky Cabrera, Jarrod Dyson, Jose Rondon, Thairo Estrada, J.T. Riddle, Charlie Culberson, Jose Iglesias, Joe Panik, Zack Greinke, and Noah Syndergaard.
The former Triple Crown winner is still batting a solid .282 with a .349 on-base percentage. But with a lower slugging percentage (.342) than his 2013 batting average (.348), the first baseman has a lower ISO (SLG – BA) than every qualified hitter beyond Jackie Bradley Jr. and Miguel Rojas.
He has nine home runs in 134 games since 2017’s All-Star break.
Even if his .407 xSLG suggests some modest improvement is impossible, nobody can get too excited about a 36-year-old with seven barrels. The lowest contact rate (75.8%) of Cabrera’s career has led to a personal-high 24.1% strikeout rate, so he’s unlikely to start hitting .300 again either. Drafters who gambled on a return to stardom with better health will now settle for a serviceable corner infielder. With all the power circulating the majors, even those tempered expectations could be too grand in shallow mixed leagues.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.: 34
That’s how many games it took his father to hit two home runs in the majors. He wound up scorching 447 more en route to Cooperstown enshrinement. After concerning some investors with a 13-game drought to commence his career, his highly touted son blasted two bombs on Tuesday night.
Take a deep breath. The 20-year-old is going to be just fine. Maybe he won’t meet preseason expectations and immediately morph into a first-round fantasy mainstay, but Guerrero Jr. is still a top-50 batter worth buying if his manager got cold feet from a slow start.