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Dan Straily has a home run problem

Great American Ballpark may not have been the only cause of Straily’s home run issue in 2016

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Straily is now a Miami Marlin, so it’s time to stop worrying about the trade and start trying to project just how valuable he will be to the 2017 Marlins.

The big question mark around Straily is, and likely always will be, his home run problem. During 2012, his rookie season in Oakland, he started seven games and pitched 39.1 innings. In that time frame, he gave up 11 home runs or 2.52 HRs per 9 innings. Since then, things have gone a little bit better, though not as much as one would hope.

In 2016, Straily started 31 games and pitched 191.1 innings. Stop there for a second: Be excited about those numbers. Only 30 pitchers reached the 190 IP plateau last season and no Marlin has done it since 2014. Pitching 190 innings is an accomplishment to be celebrated, even if his 1.2 fWAR ranked dead last among that group.

Now for the bad news. In those innings, Straily gave up 31 home runs, tied for first in the NL. There is conciliation to be found in the fact that the pitcher he tied with was Max Scherzer, but remember, Scherzer pitched quite a few more innings than Straily. When looking at HR/IP Straily stands at 1.46, second in the NL, behind only fellow Red Brandon Finnegan.

Having two Reds at the top of that list might suggest that this might be a result of the ballpark that team plays in. True, Great American Ballpark is an extremely hitter friendly park. FanGraphs park factors ranking lists Reds as playing in the most Home Run heavy park in the MLB (tied with the Rockies). So that settles it right? A move to the cavernous Marlins Park will surely put an end to Straily’s issue and he will be a dominant starter. Not exactly.

There’s quite a bit of evidence that there is something more going on here than just an unfriendly ballpark. Consider, for instance, Straily’s batted ball splits from last season.

Straily 2016 Batted Ball data

Stat Home Away
Stat Home Away
Innings pitched 99.1 92
Flyball % 50.40% 45.70%
Home run/Fly ball rate 9.50% 14.90%
Total Home Runs 13 18

Home Runs were less of an issue when Straily was at home last season than when he was on the road. Great American is a tiny park, no doubt it had some impact on his propensity for giving up Home Runs, but it’s not fair to say it was the sole cause.

Defenders and those who like to look on the bright side will be quick to point out that despite these home run issues, Straily posted a solid 3.76 ERA last year. While the fan in me shares this optimism, the analyst can’t help but notice a few factors that suggest that number is smoke and mirrors.

For one, Straily had a 4.88 FIP (fielding independent pitching), a stat which attempts to estimate a player's ERA based only on things which the pitcher has control over. Again we have a good news-bad news situation.

The good news is that FIP is partially affected by the quality of the fielders behind the pitcher. In this case, the Marlins (+14 DRS) are a significant improvement over the Reds (-25). In 2017, Straily can expect to see a lot more hits turned into outs than he has in the past.

The bad news is that FIP is also a measurement of walk rate and sequencing luck, both of which are massive flashing red lights hanging above Dan Straily’s head.

Last season, Straily’s walk rate was 3.43 per nine innings, and his WHIP was 1.12. He puts a lot of runners on base is what you should be getting from that. Despite that, he had a whopping 81.2 percent strand rate, up from a career 74.3 percent. That kind of number just isn’t sustainable. It can be debated just how much regression is to be expected, but it’s a safe bet that more runners will be getting home on Straily in the future.

Further bad news, Straily had remarkable luck when it came to the timing of his home runs allowed. Of his 31 HR against, 24 were solo shots. Another six happened with two runners on base, leaving only one home run hit with two runners on base. Given how many frequently Straily puts runners on base, it’s easy to imagine that ERA ballooning to an ugly extent should his luck slip jut a little.

All things considered, Straily is likely an upgrade to the Marlins rotation. Add in Locke’s addition to a bullpen in desperate need of a lefty and there are reasons to like this trade. However, there are a lot of signs suggesting a regression in the coming season.