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)...
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.