In Short, Luck’s Always to Blame

Clay BuchholzThe most interesting part of my Who Got Lucky in 2014 article was the wild swing in luck a few players experienced from 2013 to 2014. Clay Buchholz moved from the luckiest list in 2013 to the unluckiest list in 2014, and Edinson Volquez moved from unluckiest to luckiest. This got me wondering who had the biggest swing in luck in both directions.

The first thing I realized when compiling the data (thanks fangraphs!) is that I need to get better with Excel. An Excel formula probably could have saved me an hour of manual work. The second thing that struck me was how many players didn’t meet my minimum requirement of 200 at bats for hitters or 100 innings pitched for pitchers. The pitchers are less surprising since most relievers don’t meet that mark. Out of 356 batters with 200 at bats or more in 2013 only 276 (78%) pulled that off in 2014. Of 145 pitchers who pitched at least 100 innings in 2013 only 97 (67%) also pitched at least 100 innings in 2014. That goes to show you how competitive the MLB is. No wonder players want to grab every dollar they can during their potentially short careers.


As in the previous articles I used BABIP as an indicator for luck for hitters, and ERA-FIP for pitchers. Here are the MLB hitters who had largest positive swing (bad luck to good) in luck from 2013 to 2014:

Increase in BABIP
Justin Ruggiano .115
Michael Morse .094
Tyler Flowers .094
Rickie Weeks .087
Drew Stubbs .085
Lonnie Chisenhall .085
Marwin Gonzalez .080
Justin Turner .077
Josh Rutledge .077
Lorenzo Cain .071

I’m a bit surprised that none of these players were on the 2013 Unluckiest Batters list, and only Tyler Flowers and Justin Turner made the 2014 Luckiest Batters list. I’m not surprised to see Michael Morse on this list. Expectations were low when he joined the Giants in 2014 and he ended up having a great year, helping them win the World Series.

So, what turned these players’ luck around? Ruggiano, Morse, Stubbs, and Turner changed teams from 2013 to 2014. Maybe a change of scenery, possibly to a division with more hitter friendly parks or weaker defenses, helped them out. I really have no idea. Honestly I don’t see many non-Giants games so I can’t speak for how any of them did besides Morse in 2014. Please post a comment if you have any ideas! Also, did I mention the Giants won the World Series?

Michael Morse

Here are the MLB hitters who had largest negative swing (good luck to bad) in luck from 2013 to 2014:

Decrease in BABIP
Stephen Drew -.126
Allen Craig -.102
Chris Davis -.094
Jonathan Villar -.091
Sean Rodriguez -.088
Carlos Gonzalez -.085
Mark Ellis -.085
Junior Lake -.084
Jhonny Peralta -.082
Raul Ibanez -.076

ap13070804195Junior Lake and Jhonny Peralta were on the 2013 Luckiest Batters list before plummeting back to earth in 2014. Stephen Drew and Raul Ibanez we’re both on the 2014 Unluckiest Batters list.

Drew had contract issues with Boston, missing the start of the season, then he was traded to the Yankees. This could have been a big distraction. He didn’t leave the AL East, but there were fewer hits at Yankee Stadium than Fenway in 2014. Allen Craig was also traded mid-season in 2014 after making the All Star team in 2013, but he moved to more hitter friendly Fenway. Chris Davis missed 12 games due to injury and 24 games on a drug suspension. Jonathan Villar is a 23 year old rookie that spent about half of both the 2013 and 2014 seasons in the minors. Sean Rodriguez hit for more power in 2014 but his batting average took a dive. Gonzalez had season ending knee surgery during the worst season of his career in 2014. Ellis missed about half the 2014 season with injury and has since announced his retirement. Junior Lake is a 24 year old rookie who was optioned to the minors part way through the 2014 season after his BABIP returned to normal. Peralta still had a good season in 2014 after his very high BABIP in 2013 returned to normal. Ibanez was released by the Angels mid season before signing with the Royals, and he’s hella old.

All of these guys probably had more distractions than the average player in 2014. Perhaps this contributed to weaker contact and less effective hitting.


Here are the MLB pitchers who had largest positive swing (bad luck to good) in luck from 2013 to 2014:

Decrease in ERA-FIP
Edinson Volquez -2.58
Doug Fister -1.93
Henderson Alvarez -1.34
Lance Lynn -1.3
Jon Lester -1.22
Dallas Keuchel -1.19
Roberto Hernandez -1.01
Miguel Gonzalez -1
Cole Hamels -0.95
Jordan Lyles -0.92

Volquez was the unluckiest pitcher in 2013 and the 6th luckiest pitcher in 2014. He bounced from the Padres to the Dodgers in 2013 before playing well with the Pirates in 2014. PNC Park was in the middle of the pack for Runs in 2014. The Pirates actually had one of the lousier defenses in 2014. Help me out in the comments with some ideas on what the hell happened to Volquez.

Keuchel and Lyles also made appearances on the 2013 Unluckiest Pitchers list, then had reasonable ERA-FIPs in 2014. Fister, Alvarez, and Gonzalez made the Luckiest Pitchers list.

Edinson Volquez

Here are the MLB pitchers who had largest negative swing (good luck to bad) in luck from 2013 to 2014:

Increase in ERA-FIP
Jacob Turner 2.66
Clay Buchholz 2.37
Trevor Cahill 1.99
Travis Wood 1.43
Justin Masterson 1.28
Ervin Santana 1.25
Bartolo Colon 1.1
Hisashi Iwakuma 1.05
Hyun-Jin Ryu 1
Kevin Correia 0.99

Clay Buchholz is the only pitcher to make both the Luckiest 2013 Pitchers list and the Unluckiest 2014 Pitchers list, but Jacob Turner actually managed a larger downturn in luck. Turner went from fairly lucky in 2013, not missing the list by much, to the unluckiest MLB pitcher in 2014. He played for Miami and the Cubs in 2014; both teams were middle of the pack for fielding.

Travis Wood and Hisashi Iwakuma were on the Luckiest Pitchers in 2013 list. Trevor Cahill and Justin Masterson joined Buchholz and Turner on the Unluckiest Pitchers in 2014 list.


Unfortunately I don’t know how to account for dramatic swings in luck these players experienced. Did they sign a deal with the devil? Were they subjected to a voodoo curse? I don’t think it’s particularly predictive of anything. They’re more likely to move closer to the average than they are to stay where they are or swing back to their 2013 extreme. I imagine 2014 was a very exciting time for the players who made the positive groups and extremely frustrating for those in the negative groups. Again, chime in with a comment if you’re familiar with these players and can shed some light on what changed for them.

Leave a Reply