2012 Phillies Player Preview: Antonio Bastardo

"You must be new here." Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

You saw that coming, right? For a team that posted 102 regular season victories, it's doubtful you can find any player on the roster whose performance was more surprising, in a good way, than that of Antonio Bastardo.

The 5'11" 25 year old lefty entered the season coming off an injury shortened but promising 2010. In 18 innings, he accumulated 26 strikeouts and nine walks. His 2011 performance, though, was off the charts. Almost literally.

Bastardo's BAbip (batting average on balls in play) in 2011 was .182. League average is generally between .290 and .300. Bastardo's .182 was the sixth lowest in modern Major League history (minimum 50 innings) (more after the jump)...

Rk Player BAbip IP Year Age Tm Lg G GS CG SHO GF W L W-L% SV H R ER BB SO ERA ERA+ HR BF
1 Vicente Romo .169 84.1 1968 25 TOT ML 41 1 0 0 30 5 3 .625 12 44 16 15 32 54 1.60 188 5 326
2 Carlos Marmol .171 87.1 2008 25 CHC NL 82 0 0 0 22 2 4 .333 7 40 30 26 41 114 2.68 172 10 348
3 Armando Benitez .176 69.2 2004 31 FLA NL 64 0 0 0 59 2 2 .500 47 36 11 10 21 62 1.29 319 6 262
4 Jeff Zimmerman .177 87.2 1999 26 TEX AL 65 0 0 0 14 9 3 .750 3 50 24 23 23 67 2.36 217 9 336
5 Willie Ramsdell .178 67.0 1952 36 CHC NL 19 4 0 0 8 2 3 .400 0 41 22 18 24 30 2.42 160 5 271
6 Antonio Bastardo .182 58.0 2011 25 PHI NL 64 0 0 0 15 6 1 .857 8 28 17 17 26 70 2.64 147 6 225
7 Jim Brewer .184 78.1 1972 34 LAD NL 51 0 0 0 41 8 7 .533 17 41 16 11 25 69 1.26 267 6 303
8 Steve Ontiveros .186 74.2 1985 24 OAK AL 39 0 0 0 18 1 3 .250 8 45 17 16 19 36 1.93 199 4 284
9 Ray Narleski .187 59.1 1956 27 CLE AL 32 0 0 0 21 3 2 .600 4 36 11 10 19 42 1.52 279 5 234
10 Tim Byrdak .188 61.1 2009 35 HOU NL 76 0 0 0 8 1 2 .333 0 39 23 22 36 58 3.23 128 10 261
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/4/2012.

Wait, there's more. You remember how Bastardo had a rough September? Well, he did, to the tune of an 11.05 ERA (nine runs and nine hits in seven and a third innings). Before game action on September 3rd, Bastardo's BAbip was .144, which would have been the lowest BAbip, by far, in Major League history.

So what does this mean? It's popular to assume that pitchers with particularly low BAbip were merely "lucky" and that their numbers will regress in subsequent seasons. And that's basically correct. However, it's not like Bastardo was a mediocre pitcher who just got lucky. Bastardo's 2.64 ERA in 2011 was not particularly far from his 3.30 FIP and 3.56 xFIP, nor his 2.93 SIERA.He even earned some time as a stop-gap closer, saving eight games when Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras were on the shelf with injuries.

So why the freakishly low BAbip? For one, Bastardo's 18.9% infield fly ball rate was sixth highest in baseball (minimum 50 innings). Logically, infield fly balls turn into outs most of the time. Nearly all of the time, actually. Bastardo was particularly good at inducing infield fly balls from right-handed batters (21.4% vs. 11.1% against lefties), mitigating any platoon split. And in his terrible September? Zero infield fly balls. None.

With his relatively small body of work, it's difficult to tell how much of this infield fly tendency is a skill or a random small sample fluke. What's clear at this point, however, is that Bastardo misses bats (10.86 strikeouts per nine innings). He walks a few more than you'd like and gives up his share of home runs, but nothing horrendous. Further, his lack of any significant platoon split makes him valuable as a non-LOOGY left-handed reliever. Mostly a two pitch pitcher, Bastardo's fastball sits in the low 90s, touching 95 on occasion, and he uses his sharp slider against both lefties and righties. Health is a concern, with left elbow neuritis leading to missed time in 2010. Even if Bastardo's BAbip-allowed regresses somewhere closer to league average, he's plenty good enough to remain a very effective relief pitcher in the coming seasons.

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