On the surface it has not been the greatest third season in Reading for Jesse Biddle, his 4.60 ERA is ugly and he is posting his lowest strikeout numbers of his career. However, that doesn’t tell the entire story here. Fangraphs has Biddle at a 2.77 FIP thanks to his zero home runs on the year. We dig a little deeper at we see that he has only allowed 6 extra base hits all year (.049 ISO), which had me wondering what wasn’t adding up.
Here is Biddle’s spray chart for the 2015 season:
Even with batted ball small sample size, it is not exactly the spray chart of a guy getting rocked while on the mound. But let’s just start with the infield. There are 7 infield hits, 3 errors, and 0 double plays. Having no double plays can be a bit of a fluke because they are context dependent. So I went back to the video and the box score and found 6 occasions where there was a chance at a double play and the fielder either didn’t attempt to turn the double play (1) or the play died in a forceout at second base (5). One of these plays was actually for Hoby Milner with Biddle’s baserunners. These occasions directly lead to 3 runs scoring that would not have scored had the double play been turned (would have caused the 3rd out of the inning).
On top of what happened in the infield we have 10 ground balls that reached the outfield for hits giving hitters a .340 BABIP on ground balls against Biddle (17 of 50). This is a product of luck (hit placement), but also some range concerns for the Reading fielders. Last year the major league BABIP on ground balls was .239, which is likely lower than the AA BABIP on ground balls, but still we can see the difference in “luck” here.
Now this isn’t just about runs, it is about outs and extra batters. Each mistake by a fielder is another batter the pitcher must face leading to fatigue as they throw more pitches an inning, as well as shorten their starts overall. On to the negatives here for Biddle, he has also been especially susceptible to carrying one AB into another (at least to the eye, no hard evidence) and it has caused some innings to spiral on him. But overall it is frustrating to a pitcher to have outings cut short because they are working to extra batters and increasing their workload.
So we see the extra runners, now what does this mean for the context of Biddle? So far the numbers look small to the eye, but percentage wise they can have a big impact. So let’s make up some scenarios and play with numbers to show just how big an impact these numbers can have. We are going to assume that a single is worth 0.3 runs on average for our calculations, and for now lets call a double play worth 0.5 runs. We will keep walks and strikeouts constant
- A – 3 infield hits are converted to outs
- B – 3 double plays are completed
- C – 3 infield hits converted as outs, 3 double plays completed
- D – We regress Biddle’s BABIP on GBs which means 5 more groundouts
We see some definite drops in ERA and H/9 (we see drops in BB/9 and K/9 based on extra outs). There is enough here to say that ERA is far from our best measure of Biddle’s success on the field.
The point of all of this isn’t to say that Biddle has been amazing, because he hasn’t. The point here is that we need to look at some of the context especially in small sample sizes before declaring a player as struggling based on single things like ERA. Development is non-linear and multivariable, and in the minor leagues there are a lot of factors that can make things appear different from expected. Biddle is just fine, his control is better than the past two seasons, his release point has much more consistency. He still needs a lot of work with his changeup, but he is now working the slider in more as a 4th pitch. There is no pressure on him to contribute to the majors in 2015, and we are only 6 games into a long minor league season.