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Behind the Box Score: Home run to fly ball ratios

The backend of the Indians starting rotation collectively have exceedingly high strikeout to walk ratios after Trevor Bauer surrendered another two bombs against the Astros on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

Many hitters have feasted their eyes on the poorly located offerings of Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin and Corey Kluber this season.

Each of these hurlers has an extremely high home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB) to help confirm the opposition’s success against Indians starting pitchers not named Carlos Carrasco.

Entering play, Bauer (20.5%), Salazar (23.7%) and Kluber (17.9%) all had/have career-high HR/FB ratios while Tomlin has a mark of 16.7%, the second highest of his major league tenure (17.7% in 2016).

Avoiding the long ball has likely been atop pitching coach Mickey Callaway’s priority list over the last month.

To make matters worse, Bauer surrendered two more home runs to Josh Reddick and Carlos Correa on Friday, two dangerous hitters on one of the hottest teams in baseball…

Result: Solo home run on a 0-2 cutter

Pitch velocity: 88-mph

Exit velocity: 102.7-mph (barreled ball)

Distance: 388 feet

Launch angle: 25 degrees

Hit probability: 85%

Result: Solo home run on a 1-1 four-seam fastball

Pitch velocity: 93.9-mph

Exit velocity: 94.5-mph

Distance: 348 feet

Launch angle: 29 degrees

Hit probability: 27%

From a visual perspective, Bauer left a 0-2 pitch over the plate to Reddick, a cutter that likely started over the middle before slanting right in the direction of the 30-year-old’s bat barrel. On the contrary, Bauer got unlucky on Correa’s blast thanks to the shorter dimensions of Minute Maid Park (326 feet to RF) and a fan interfering with Lonnie Chisenhall’s leaping attempt at making the play.

“The pass interference? I went up for the ball and a couple gloves touched each other,” said Chisenhall to reporters after the game. “I thought I had a beat on it. I know Trevor would love to see it back in the ballpark, just for ERA purposes. We got a win. You try to catch balls like that, but you don’t come down with all of them. We’re on the road.”

While Bauer has certainly fell victim to some fluky hits this year as evidenced by his career-high .350 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), his competition is still raking the ball at a 36.9% hard-hit percentage, the highest mark since his rookie season with the Diamondbacks in 2012 (39.1%).

The two home runs above help explain Bauer’s inflated BABIP and hard-hit percentage totals.

- Reddick torched the ball at a 102.7-mph clip, the sixth fastest exit velocity in the entirety of the contest. This example increases Bauer’s hard-hit percentage and adds one home run to his HR/FB ratio.

"Got ahead of Reddick," manager Terry Francona said. "And threw him a cutter, didn't get it quite in far enough."

- Correa lifted the ball at a 94.5-mph clip, the 23rd fastest exit velocity from the game’s sample size of 43 batted balls in play. This example increases Bauer’s BABIP and also adds one home run to his HR/FB ratio.

"He's just strong," said Francona. "I don't even think he hit all of it. It's still a home run to right."

Although these are two drastically different circumstances, they both show why Bauer’s HR/FB ratio is at such an unprecedented level. Not only is he making location mistakes in favorable counts, but the pure strength of hitters like Correa are turning quality offerings into unique home runs.

As for Salazar, Tomlin and Kluber, more of these same issues appear atop their Fangraphs pages…

Salazar BABIP: .383 (career-high)

Salazar hard-hit percentage: 32% (second highest)

Tomlin BABIP: .364 (career-high)

Tomlin hard-hit percentage: 36.2% (career-high)

Kluber BABIP: .320 (highest since 2013)

Kluber hard-hit percentage: 42.3% (career-high)

On the bright side, BABIP is used to predict either improvement or regression depending on how high or low the average is.

“I know the results will match my stuff at some point,” Bauer said after his start on May 14 vs. Minnesota. “I can’t keep having the home run to fly ball rate. It’s just absurdly high right now and that’s how most of my runs are being scored. My BABIP is extremely high as well. Those aren’t sustainable for an entire year.”

If Bauer can continue to locate well over the outside corner like he did with Correa, his numbers will likely return to the form fans have been accustomed to when he sufficiently filled out the backend of the starting rotation in 2016.

“At some point it’s going to turn around,” said Bauer. “I’m going to start getting the benefit of the doubt. Right now, though, those things are definitely against me.” 

John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.

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