Can Yorman Bazardo contribute positively to the Astros in 2009?

via cdn1.sbnation.com

Yorman Bazardo has generated quite a bit of excitement for himself over the last few weeks.  He has been mentioned several times on this site (admittedly a dubious distinction), but also getting a nod from Drayton McLane, JD and Brownie, and some buzz in the RotoWorld fantasy updates as a player to keep an eye on.  

With the Astros rotation seemingly penetrable by such a young arm with this much hype, I think it's not a bad idea to dissect Bazardo to see if he really has the stuff to help the Astros starting rotation this season.  For the season, Bazardo has posted 2.59 ERA over 59 IP at AAA Round Rock.  That's an eye popping ERA, but ERA's are deceptive so let's jump into what's driving Bazardo's ERA down to call up worthy status.

Before I start picking apart Yorman Bazardo's break out campaign in 2009, I'll point you to a piece I wrote when I first got here summarizing the findings of Defensive Independent Pitching Statistics and use a little quote just justify why it I'm looking at what I'm looking at with Barzardo:

[P]itchers can control the kinds of balls in play they allow, just not there outcomes.  While the outcome of batted balls are out of a pitcher’s hands, except for line-drives, they can control the type of ball put in play.  Since certain kinds of batted balls go for differing levels of hits/outs more often than others, pitchers can -- in a sense -- control their destinies. All they can do however is increase or decrease the probability that ball in play goes for an out, because (as I noted earlier) Litchman’s work indicates that increasing or decreasing outs on balls in play is not a skill pitcher’s possess. Instead, it is one that the defense backing him possess.  Thus, DIPS corrects the outcomes of batted-ball types to league average, in order to neutralize the role that defense plays in a pitcher’s skill domain.

So we're preceding with Mr. Bazardo with the understanding that there's a general level of variance in an ERA that is impacted by too much factors external to a pitcher's actual skill level.  Thus, the question that remains is Bazardo's ERA luck deflated or not?

All of this however, after the jump.

The logical place to start this inquiry is to look at Bazardo's BABIP, for which league average is generally in the range of .290 to .310.  Being below .290, of course, indicates that a regression to the mean in likely in order and Bazardo, in 2009, is currently the owner of a .224 BABIP.*  That's significantly below the league average, but doesn't necessarily mean that Bazardo is performing way too much over his head because extreme ground ball pitchers can have deflated BABIP just because ground balls go for outs at higher clip than any other batted ball.

Bazardo's 2009 GB% of 53.7 is definitely high and well above his career average of 50.3%, but not high enough to sustain a .224 BABIP when contrasted with a career BABIP of .310.  There's obviously more going on in 2009 for Bazardo than just an increase in GB%.  Indeed, Bazardo's 2009 campaign seems to be being buoyed by a 12.4 LD% which is far lower than league average, and well below his career average of 16.7%.  While LD% can fluctuate rather wildly from year to year, 12.4% is unsustainably low, should he be called up, and unlikely to persist for the rest of the season at AAA.  As a caveat, Bazardo did maintain a 12.3 LD% in 2005 at the AA level and is a ground ball pitcher by trade, but I expect that the line drives will pick up, and with that, his BABIP.

Another area of DIPS research that has been shown to hold fairly constant around a league average, is LOB% (72%).  In 2009, Bazardo has stranded runners at an outstanding rate of 82.1%, something that not even being a ground ball pitcher can account for.  While there is evidence that clutch pitching actually does exist at the statistical level, an 82.1% strand rate is absurd.  My guess is that his BABIP is driving his high strand rate, and both are driving his ERA down as well.  But does this mean that Bazardo's break out campaign has been entirely predicated on luck?

The standard rates stats I like to go to next are K/9, BB/9, K/BB, and HR/FB because these are the rate stats that are defense independent, although HR/FB is largely influenced by luck.

K/9 BB/9 K:BB HR/FB
2009 5.64 2.14 2.64 10.5%
Career 6.35 3.81 1.67 9.1%

Bazardo's K/9 is down for his career, but he is buoyed by a much improved control reflected in his K:BB ratio.  Keeping runners off the base paths will obviously lead to stronger performances for a pitcher and Bazardo is doing a much better job of that in 2009.  Oddly enough, his HR/FB is actually up from it's career average.  When I decided to sit down and do this study, I figured that Bazardo probably would have a very low HR/FB that was due for an uptick, but Bazardo's performance is clearly not being driven by a lucky HR/FB rate.  All of these things are an indicator that Bazardo is pitching better, and perhaps he is earning part of his luck, but not a .224 BABIP or an 81.2% LOB% kind of luck.

Which leads us to the DIPS stats themselves.  The three that I could readily locate are FIP and tRA and tRA*. FIP and tRA are attempting to measure the same thing: what a pitcher's current rates stats should result in on a scale that equivalent to an ERA.  tRA is a little more in depth because it uses expected values for batted ball outcomes to determine a relative runs allowed, wheres as FIP just converts rates stats into a equivalent of ERA.  tRA* goes one step farther and regresses batted ball rates to the mean and then converts the outcomes into estimated run values, which can, I think, distort some of a pitcher's own skill slightly.

FIP tRA tRA*
4.18 4.54 5.13

It's important to keep in mind that these stats are attempting to quantify how a pitcher has pitch independent of the defense backing them and removing any luck and they are scaled to RA, instead of ERA, so you can shave a little off of each.  While it appears that Yorman Bazardo has clearly improved himself this year, his raw numbers seem to be a little misleading and makes me question how much Bazardo can contribute to the Astros in 2009.  However, with a back of the rotation like the Astros possess, if Bazardo can keep this up for another month or so, it'd be hard to argue against giving him a shot.  Either way, at just 24 years old, he's an enticing prospect to keep an eye on.

*There is a descrepency between FanGraphs, Minor League Splits, and Stat Corner on Bazardo's BABIP, .227 and .224, .214 respectively.  I just chose the middle number.

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