Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
St. Louis Cardinals starter Shelby Miller has a 1.41 WHIP this season, but his ERA is just 2.79.
The key: he has a strand rate (LOB%) of 90.9 percent.
The major league average LOB% is 73 this season. When a pitcher comes in well above that number, it can cause his ERA to skew and make him look better than he's actually pitched (Miller is due for some big-time regression, but that's another story).
The opposite is true for pitchers who register a strand rate below the average.
Sometimes, a low strand rate is the fault of the pitcher for giving up too much hard contact with men on base. Other times, a pitcher just has some bad batted-ball luck that causes runners to circle the bases.
Below, I'll put some of baseball's worst strand rates under a microscope and determine which pitchers are buy-low candidates.
Zach McAllister, Cleveland Indians: 59.2 LOB% - We can point to McAllister's last start Friday against the Oakland Athletics as the reason why his strand rate is so low. He allowed five hits and walked three batters in 1 1/3 innings, and all eight runners scored. He's allowed just three homers all season, but they resulted in nine runs. His line-drive rate with men on base isn't particularly high, but he has a .339 BABIP in those situations. Meanwhile, McAllister's fielding-independent numbers are outstanding (3.25 FIP). Because he doesn't allow too many homers overall, he should improve with men on base going forward and get his ERA back in the 3.80 range. VERDICT: Buy
Brandon McCarthy, Arizona Diamondbacks: 59.6 LOB% - Working with improved velocity, McCarthy has a career-high 8.41 K/9, and he's done that while walking just 1.62 batters per nine innings. However, his ERA is 5.01. With men on base, McCarthy's line-drive rate is 24.6 percent and he has permitted four homers totaling 11 runs. Unlike McAllister, however, he's also allowed five homers with no one on base and his HR/FB is 21.4 percent. While his HR/FB won't stay that high, he can't be trusted. VERDICT: Avoid
Tyler Skaggs, Los Angeles Angels: 61.1 LOB% - I had high hopes for Skaggs, a former top-10 prospect, because he threw eight scoreless innings in his first start and showed improved velocity. However, he has a 4.53 ERA in 51 2/3 innings so far. With men on base, the left-hander has tallied just six strikeouts this season and recorded a K/BB of 0.86. He's also induced ground balls at a rate of 56.5 percent and allowed line drives at a 16.1 percent rate in those situations, so he should improve slightly. But we really can't expect dominant results from Skaggs with such a low strikeout rate. VERDICT: Avoid
Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians: 61.3 LOB% - This is the one guy on this list that's a sure thing to turn his season around. He's an extreme ground- ball pitcher who has allowed four homers in 58 2/3 innings, none with men on base. With runners on, Masterson has a line-drive rate of 18.5 percent, but his BABIP is .365 in those situations. The right-hander's 4.30 BB/9 is ugly, but he mostly has the same contact and swing rates as he did in 2013 with a higher swinging-strike rate. VERDICT: Buy
Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees: 61.6 LOB% - Kuroda hasn't been terrible with men on base, but he's fanned just 4.87 batters per nine innings in those situations. The right-hander also has put himself in tough spots by giving up eight doubles, three triples and five home runs with the bases empty. It's much tougher to strand runners when they are starting off on third base, and solo homers count against strand rate too. Nothing else is really out of the ordinary for Kuroda, but he also has a 5.51 ERA and a 1.42 HR/9 over his last 101 1/3 innings going back to last season. VERDICT: Avoid
Matt Garza, Milwaukee Brewers: 62.9 LOB% - Garza's fielding-independent numbers are fine (3.44 FIP), but his ERA is near five because he's been all- around terrible with runners in scoring position (RISP). In those situations, Garza has an 11/10 K/BB, a 23.7 percent line-drive rate and a 20 percent HR/FB. He's only given up 0.67 HR/9 overall and has a 7.67 K/9 and a 3.17 BB/9, so he should at least get his ERA down in the high threes, where it has been for most of his career. VERDICT: Buy