While watching MLB Network this morning it is noticeable on the ticker that Jon Lester had just won MLB’s honor of NL Pitcher of the Month for June. At the surface Lester is having a nice season. He has an 11-2 record with a 2.25 ERA. Pitching can be a game of luck to a certain extent. Even position players can enter in a game an get an All-star to pop out. On the other side, another Jon, Jon Gray, was recently demoted while he may have been getting unlucky to an extent. There are a handful of pitchers who have been on the lucky side and the unlucky.
While looking at the leader-board, we have ERA and FIP or xFIP to observe. To observe how lucky or unlucky a pitcher has been, xFIP (adjusted for ballpark effects) is subtracted from ERA. The lowest numbers are the luckiest pitchers while the higher or positive numbers are having a bit of bad luck. Here are the results of the luckiest pitchers. These are the pitchers who, based on xFIP, should have a much worse ERA.
As previewed at the beginning, Jon Lester has been very fortunate. Some of these names are ace pitchers such as Lester, Verlander, Snell, and Severino. Folty is having a breakout year with the Braves, and fellow Brave Sean Newcomb also find themselves on this list. Of the ten, Lester has the 3rd lowest K/9 only ahead of Reynoldo Lopez and Miles Mikolas who are probably the two least recognizable pitchers on this list. What is in common of many of the players on this list is that they strand runners. Snell, Lester, Verlander, Folty, and Severino are all in the top 10 in LOB% among qualifiers. While this can definitely be a trait of an elite pitcher to strand runners, there is a difference between Lester and the rest of these names.
All of these pitchers are able to work their way out of trouble by way of the strikeout. Lester, on the other hand has a much lower strikeout rate than the other four. Lester is having a great bounce-back season this year. Cubs fans should be aware of the fact that his luck could turn around and he could fall back to Earth.
Now onto the pitchers who have been on the wrong side of luck.
As mentioned above, Jon Gray has been incredibly unlucky this season and that ultimately led to his demotion just a couple days ago. In addition to having the highest ERA-xFIP, he also has the highest BABIP by over 40 points of the next highest, Lance Lynn, who also finds himself on this list. This list is good news for the Phillies, however, as both Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are on here and both have also shown a handful of really good starts. To make of for the two names on the other list, the Yankees have Sonny Gray who’s numbers could see a boost.
I am not trying to put a damper on Lester’s great start or to make an excuse for Jon Gray, but this is important in forecasting the future of these pitchers. For another similar article, read Craig Edward’s piece on Fangraphs (I started this piece before that was even posted) where he discusses this in a historical context as well.