When Yogi Berra said 90 percent of baseball is mental and that the other half is physical, he was only half-right. He forgot about luck, which is also some random-but-notable percentage of the game.

Regrettably so, for some players coming off forgettable 2014 performances. Like so many Gil Gundersons, quite a few guys can chalk up their poor seasons to plain ol‘ bad luck, which has indeed been known to make individual performances look a lot worse than they actually were.

There is a bright side, however: Bad luck has also been known to go away. And though not every player who can claim to have been on Lady Luck’s bad side in 2014 is going to benefit from better luck in 2015, we can narrow things down to the ones who should.

In the interests of striking a balance between Internet-friendly brevity and proper thoroughness, I’ve narrowed my list down to five.


David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox

Sure, it’s a stretch to say David Ortiz had a “bad” season in 2014. He OPS’d .873 with 35 home runs. That’s a hell of a “bad” season.

Consistency-wise, however, Big Papi‘s 2014 season was a step down. The previous three seasons saw him hit .311 with a .401 on-base percentage, but in 2014 he hit only .263 with a .355 OBP.

FanGraphs can show that Ortiz’s walk and strikeout rates were just fine. The real problem was his batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which tumbled from the .316-.321 range in 2011-2013 to just .256.

Your first instinct might be to chalk that up to how 2014 was Big Papi‘s age-38 season. That’s ancient for a ballplayer, and ancient ballplayers do tend to lose some oomph on batted balls. 

But Ortiz actually didn’t lose any oomph on batted balls in 2014. In fact, Mark Simon of ESPN Stats and Information says he made more hard contact than all but two other players:

Take a closer look, and you’ll see that Ortiz had the only sub-.300 average among the top four players and the lowest average of any player in the top 10.

Take that into consideration, and you might be tempted to point to a usual suspect: the shift. It’s doubtful that any active player has seen more shifts than Ortiz, and they certainly didn’t let up in what was by far the most shift-crazy season on record.

But you’d be surprised. Ortiz didn’t actually pull more balls than usual, and both his BABIP and his overall production were A-OK when he did:

With no problem there, maybe the only tangible explanation for Big Papi‘s 2014 issues is how he hit more fly balls than usual without upping his BABIP or his home run rate. That’s not good for BABIP.

But is it bad enough to a degree that would knock Ortiz’s BABIP roughly 60 points in the wrong direction? That’s hard to figure, especially given what we know about how squarely Big Papi hit the ball.

So, bad luck looks like the main culprit. If Ortiz does what he did last year all over again in 2015, odds are more of his hard-hit balls are going to find holes and get his numbers looking Big Papi-ish again.


T.J. House, SP, Cleveland Indians

Not unlike Ortiz, T.J. House didn’t have a “bad” season in 2014. In 19 appearances, he posted a 3.35 ERA. That’s not bad at all.

But by all rights, House should have been even better.

On the surface, House’s 2014 season looks like one where you have to take the bad with the good. Thanks largely to his outstanding control, he posted a 3.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But with a .332 BABIP and a 17.9 home-run-per-fly-ball (HR/FB) rate, it looks like he had a problem with hard contact.

But once again, we can turn to Mark Simon for a big olnope:

This hard-contact leaderboard features pitchers who gave up the least of it in 2014, and you can see that House is sandwiched in between Johnny Cueto and Jake Arrieta near the top.

That’s not where you’d expect a guy like House to be, but it actually makes sense. 

For starters, the 17.9 HR/FB rate he had last year was inflated by the fact that only 17.7 percent of the batted balls he served up were fly balls. That has a lot to do with how a whopping 60.9 percent of his batted balls were ground balls, an outstanding rate even in a ground-ball-crazy age.

Sadly, House didn’t get much luck when he put the ball on the ground. His .260 BABIP on grounders was 12 ticks higher than the league average of .248.

For this, House can thank his infield defense. It was awful by reputation, and the metrics back that up. Per FanGraphs, the Tribe’s infield defense combined for minus-41 Defensive Runs Saved in 2014.

Fortunately for House, things should be better in 2014. Jose Ramirez is a huge upgrade over Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop. Jason Kipnis is a better defensive second baseman than he looked in 2014. Carlos Santana could benefit from finally getting to play first base on a regular basis.

If Cleveland’s infield defense improves while House continues to rack up ground balls, don’t be surprised if he has a big breakout. Somewhere in him is a sub-3.00 ERA, and luck may be the key to letting it out.


Colby Rasmus, CF, Houston Astros

Unlike Ortiz and House, Colby Rasmus did have a bad year in 2014. He was limited by injuries to only 104 games and hit just .225/.287/.448 when he did play. 

And frankly, Rasmus did some things to deserve such terrible production. Notably, his walk rate took a slight downturn from 2013, and he struck out in about a third of his plate appearances.

It also didn’t help that RasmusBABIP declined from .356 in 2013 to .294 in 2014. Given that such a mark is more in line with his career .298 BABIP, it looks like he experienced a natural regression.

Or not.

Refer back to the hard-contact leaderboard in Ortiz’s section, and you’ll find Rasmus slightly ahead of National League batting champion Justin Morneau. That’s no mirage, as this table from my Rasmus-centric piece can show he hit fewer infield flies, more line drives and longer fly balls in 2014:

Like with Ortiz, it’s easy to look at the lefty-swinging, pull-heavy Rasmus and conclude that the shift is what killed his production in 2014. But once again, that doesn’t really work. His production on pulled balls was either right in line or better than his assorted career norms.

So what Rasmus told Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi rings true: “I’ve been crushing balls, but I haven’t had the luck, the balls just haven’t been finding holes. They’re standing right where I hit it, you know what I’m saying? Bullets. Like if it would have been to the left or right five feet ain’t no way they catch it. It’s tough, man.”

Due to Rasmus‘ injury-proneness and over-aggressive approach, he’ll probably be only so productive in 2015. But if he keeps crushing the ball, it’s a very good bet that he’ll have better luck.

The result could be a return to what he was in 2013, when he quietly OPS’d .840 with 22 dingers in 118 games. If that’s what the Astros get, they’ll be quite happy with their $8 million investment.


Nathan Eovaldi, SP, New York Yankees

On one hand, 2014 was a breakthrough year for Nathan Eovaldi. After never topping 120 innings, he came one out shy of hitting 200. That’s not a small feat.

On the other hand, there was that 4.37 ERA. That didn’t look overly fluky, as he only struck out 6.4 batters per nine innings and gave up 223 hits even despite his high-90s velocity.

There is, however, one thing Eovaldi has in common with House: Though he didn’t serve up soft contact like House did, he did experience a shortage of good luck on ground balls.

Eovaldi wasn’t great at getting ground balls, but he got enough of them with a ground-ball percentage of 44.8. And according to Baseball-Reference.com, that equated to 294 ground balls in his 199.2 innings.

His BABIP on those ground balls? That was .279.

The next-highest ground-ball BABIP among pitchers who served up at least 290 grounders? That would be .270. So, Eovaldi has a claim to being 2014’s unluckiest ground-ball pitcher.

Like with House, Eovaldi‘s defense played a role. The Miami Marlins’ infield defense combined for minus-25 Defensive Runs Saved. His situation should be improved with the Yankees this year, as they have a chance to have above-average defenders around the horn in Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew and Mark Teixeira.

And Eovaldi should be able to help himself by getting even more ground balls. He’s been working on making his splitter a go-to pitch, and FanGraphs‘ Jeff Sullivan sees two things worth liking: “… And while a pitch’s effectiveness is based on a lot more than just how fast it goes, higher velocities mean greater margins of error, and what was observed toward the end [of 2014] was that Eovaldi was, at the very least, able to keep his splitter down.”

Eovaldi was throwing his splitter right around 90 miles per hour in 2014 and consistently locating it below the knees. That sounds like a picture-perfect splitter, and we know that picture-perfect splitters excel just as much at getting grounders as they do at getting whiffs.

Thus, Eovaldi‘s 2015 turnaround could be the best of both worlds: He could collect on outstanding good luck and also make the good luck come to him.


Jim Johnson, RP, Atlanta Braves

Jim Johnson fell so hard in 2014 that it’s surprising there wasn’t an audible “Splat!” After saving over 50 games in 2012 and 2013, he saved only two while racking up a 7.09 ERA.

But given that Johnson is a ground-ball pitcher, you can probably guess where we’re going with this.

Though Johnson posted a characteristic 58.1 ground-ball percentage in 2014, he was only rewarded with a .291 BABIP on grounders. That’s a staggering 61 points higher than his career mark of .229.

Naturally, it didn’t help that Johnson pitched in front of two shaky infield defenses. The Oakland A’s infield wasn’t anything special outside of Josh Donaldson, and the Detroit Tigers infield wasn’t much to look at outside of Ian Kinsler.

The Braves should suit Johnson better. He’ll love pitching to Andrelton Simmons, and Alberto Callaspo and Freddie Freeman are solid defenders themselves.

There is a catch, however, and that’s that better luck on ground balls will only solve half Johnson’s problems. He also walked nearly six batters per nine innings, which he can’t blame on his defense.

Or can he?

Despite his elevated walk rate, Johnson actually threw a higher percentage of pitches in the strike zone (43.6) than he did in 2013. What really changed was how often his strikes were actually called strikes. Per figures pulled from BaseballSavant.com, Johnson went from a 92.6 called-strike percentage in 2013 to a meager 82.4 called-strike percentage in 2014.

That’s partially on umpires, and partially on his catchers. If Christian Bethancourt proves to be a solid pitch-framer in his first full season in 2015, Johnson shouldn’t have the same problem.

If so, then simply moving to the Braves will solve both of the major luck-based problems he had in 2014. That could turn Johnson’s fall from grace around in a hurry.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

Follow zachrymer on Twitter

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com