Stranded! Selling high on high strand rates

The average major league strand rate (left on base percentage) for the past few seasons has stood around 71-72 percent. Last season, the highest strand rate in baseball was 82.7 percent, shared by Cole Hammels and Roy Halladay. Only eight pitchers in baseball held strand rates of over 80 percent (min 100 IP). Only six pitchers did so in 2009.

Small sample size is one thing, but when a pitcher is walking a high number of hitters and those hitters are being left on base at a high clip, something has got to give sooner or later.

Below are a few pitchers who have seen success, as far as their ERA is concerned, despite high walk rates. They have also stranded an abnormal amount of their base-runners, which is something bound to regress as the season moves along.

Gio Gonzalez – 0.47 ERA
6.3 K/9, 5.7 BB/9, 100% LOB%
Gio had himself a breakout season in 2010, posting a 3.23 ERA and 15 wins. However, one of his biggest issues has been control, something that he has struggled with early in the 2011 season. With 12 walks and 12 hits allowed on the year, Gio has put 24 runners on base and none have scored. If he continues to put runners on base via the walk, his numbers are destined to head in the wrong direction and could do so in a big way. Given the preseason hype, his current 2-0 record and 0.47 ERA, you may be able to get a tremendous bounty in return for selling while his perceived value is peaking.

Charlie Morton – 1.64 ERA
2.5 K/9, 4.9 BB/9, 90% LOB%
Nothing about Morton’s K/BB numbers suggest that he’ll continue to be a successful fantasy pitcher in 2011. He has walked 12 batters in 22 innings while striking out only 6. Then again, he has added a couple inches of sink to his two-seam fastball, which has resulted in 46 ground balls to 15 fly balls and 6 line drives. The problem is relying on that pitch to continue to generate ground balls at such an incredible rate (almost 69 percent). Of the top five ground ball pitchers of 2010, two saw great success (Tim Hudson and Trevor Cahill) while the three others all ended with ERA’s of 4.00 or higher.

Morton’s track record suggests that he’s nothing more than an average pitcher (1.2 career fWAR) and his current 90 percent strand rate simply won’t last. He’s 2-0 with a 1.63 ERA. Sell high if you can.

Mitch Talbot – 1.46 ERA
8 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 87.5% LOB%
Two starts, 12.1 innings and 16 runners on base. Only two of those runners have scored. This is a clear-cut case of “12 innings doesn’t tell us anything”. Talbot has 181.1 career innings under his belt and a 1.22 K/BB rate in those innings. His average fastball this season has been 89.3 MPH. While the Indians have been a fun storyline to watch this April, Talbot is going to be one of the reasons that sustained success might be difficult.

Chris Narveson – 1.45 ERA
9.5 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 86% LOB%
When Ubaldo Jimenez landed on the DL, Narveson was one of the pitchers I suggested as a temporary replacement. He was excellent in his start against the Cubs, but couldn’t find his command against the Nationals. This is the type of up-and-down season I think we’ll ultimately get from Narveson in 2011. He has an excellent curveball and his changeup has been effective as well, but his fastball lacks velocity and he has allowed over one home run per nine innings for the past two seasons.

Kyle Drabek – 3.00 ERA
7.1 K/9, 5.6 BB/9, 80% LOB%
Drabek has big-league stuff, there is no doubt about that, but the problems he has had with control so far this season are echoing what he did in the minor leagues. Over five minor league seasons, Drabek posted a mediocre 2.18 K/BB rate and he walked 3.8 per nine at double-A last season. It’s always risky to rely on rookie pitchers and Drabek’s lack of command only heightens that risk. If you can sell now and get some value from his 3.00 ERA and prospect hype, you’ll probably end up walking away with the winning end of the deal.