Sunday, January 2, 2011

Revisions and Precision which a moment will reverse

In responding to my 0-0 post, Precision Blogger implies an interesting question that deserves its own post:
"Your ordering might penalize a certain kind of pitcher that does well. I think that baseball commentators want to see more of this kind of pitcher: the guy who believes in his stuff. He doesn't throw a lot of balls because he knows that usually, when a batter makes contact, he'll get the out. These pitchers risk some good, solid hits, but it's not that important when the batter makes good contact, because, overall, the pitcher expects to do well. Some aggressive pitchers of this type throw a lot of fastballs and give up more than an average share of home runs. They do well if their team can score, because they battle hard and don't give up big innings."
 As a reminder, my ranking of outcomes on the first pitch is:

  1. Swinging strike
  2. Weakly hit (in play, or foul ball -- regardless of outcome)
  3. Well hit foul (not straight back, perimeter, or outside of the strike zone)
  4. Called strike (perimeter)
  5. Called strike (center of strike zone)
  6. Well hit foul (not straight back, in the strike zone)
  7. Ball (close)
  8. Ball (not so close)
  9. Well hit foul (straight back)
  10. Well hit, in play (regardless of outcome)
With 1 being the the best a pitcher can do and 10 being the worst.  The implied question is "isn't there another class of pitcher that your rankings will under-rate?"

The short answer is yes.  The longer answer is no.  But the deeper answer is maybe. Allow me to explain.


I have admitted this before, but I really can't admit it enough:  I'm not really a student of baseball.  I don't have the time.  Since I became a serious pitch counter, I have only had time to watch Red Sox games (plus playoff games).  It is quite possible that there are classes of pitchers that I just don't know that well because Theo Epstein doesn't like them.  So, I definitely allow for the possibility that I am unfairly decrementing those guys.

I will also add that PB's assessment probably describes a significant percentage of closers who get by on "looks" (velocity) alone.  Both Papelbon and Jenks might well fit that category.  I'll have to think about that more.


The idea that a pitcher can be effective while giving up on strike outs has appeal, but -- on average -- the numbers don't back that up.  In 2010 there were:
  • 165,353 at bats
  • 42,554 of which resulted in hits
  • 34,306 of which resulted in strike outs
So, the average batter batted .257.  But when the average batter didn't strike out, he batted .325.  How good is that?  There are only a handful of guys who batted .325 and didn't make it into the Hall of Fame.  Allowing batters to hit the ball turns the average batter into a Hall of Famer.


PB asks a question with which I have long been fascinated.  Are there any great starting pitchers who live by much quicker at bats but fewer strike outs?  There are two optics I like to use for starting pitchers that are in opposition:
  • Strikeouts per nine innings
  • innings per start.  

Take two pitchers with identical batting average against.  It would seem that the one who relied more on strikeouts would throw more pitches and fewer innings.  I feel like there ought to be some great pitchers who have fewer strike outs per nine innings. 

If you look at the 50 pitchers who put up the highest inning counts in 2010, 29 of them struck out 7 or more per inning. Only 10 struck out 6 or fewer.  The guy at the basement of this list was Mark Buerhle, best known for his perfect game in 2009 (he also came pretty close, with another no-hitter in 2007).  A quick look at his lifetime stats show that Buehrle has never been a huge strikeout guy.  In his abbreviated rookie season he approached 6.5 but only topped 6.0 once in the 10 years subsequent.  Maybe he's that guy.

I'll be watching this more closely.  Strikeouts per 9 is clearly a good indicator of pitcher longevity, but that doesn't mean it's the correct way to evaluate every kind of pitcher.


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