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July 23, 2003

Can Of Corn

Minor League Hit Rates

by Dayn Perry

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In the last two weeks, I divided up some current (or semi-current) major league pitchers with the idea of examining their minor league statistics and how those reflected on their major league performances.

Group A was the "good" group. Peopled with active luminaries like Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, and Randy Johnson, Group A comprised all current pitchers who've spent the majority of their careers as starters and thrown, as of the end of 2002, at last 1,000 innings in the majors, all while posting a career park-adjusted ERA+ (the pitcher's ERA relative to the league average) of at least 110 (meaning an ERA at least 10% better than the league average). Also in the mix are a handful of quality young arms who have pitched at least 500 innings and maintained a park-adjusted ERA+ of at least 120.

Group B included all active pitchers who have, as of the end of the 2002 season, pitched at least 500 innings and posted a park-adjusted ERA+ of 95 or less (at least 5% worse than the league average). In both instances, I attempted to isolate those minor league innings that are developmental in nature--i.e., not an injury rehab assignment or late-career retread work.

The results were quite surprising. Group B, those pitchers manifestly inferior at the highest level, outperformed the denizens of Group A in the minors in several key indicators (K/BB ratio, K/9, BB/9). Group A fared better in HR/9 and ERA. This led me to wonder two things: is home run rate an undervalued augury of success, and does Group A show a clear advantage in hit rate? The latter question came to mind after observing that despite the fact that Group A had, for the most part, inferior component stats, they had an advantage in ERA.


Minor League Statistics
Group    Mi IP    K/BB    K/9   BB/9   HR/9    ERA
--------------------------------------------------
A       12,657    2.00   7.50   3.74   0.48   3.38
B       22,363    2.17   7.58   3.49   0.57   3.55

So, minor league hit rates are the focus of this week's piece. Here are Group A's hit rates:


Pitcher	     MLB ERA+	Mi IP	Mi H/9
Alvarez, W.	112	659	8.1
Appier, K.	124	401	8.6
Brown, K.	129	303	9.1
Clemens, R.	142	13	6.2
Colon, B.	122	394	6.5
Cone, D.	121	663	7.9
Fassero, J.	112	830	9.3
Finley, C.	115	41	8.3
Glavine, T.	123	537	7.6
Hentgen, P.	112	875	7.5
Hudson, T.	135	268	7.2
Johnson, R.	144	418	6.8
Leiter, A.	116	692	7.9
Maddux, G.	146	491	7.9
Martinez, P.	171	518	7.1
Millwood, K.	116	503	7.7
Morris, M.	131	220	9.0
Mussina, M.	129	178	7.6
Pettitte, A.	118	584	7.8
Radke, B.	113	570	8.3
Rijo, J.	120	571	7.9
Schilling, C.	127	725	8.5
Smoltz, J.	122	377	8.4
Valdes, I.	111	378	9.2
Washburn, J.	122	641	8.8
Wells, D.	111	519	8.7
Zito, B.	149	170	7.2

And Group B...


Pitchers     MLB ERA+	Mi IP	Mi H/9
Anderson, J.	86	755	8.9
Baldwin, J.	92	756	7.8
Banks, W.	90	756	8.3
Bere, J.	86	422	7.2
Castillo, F.	94	481	8.2
Clement, M.	93	726	7.9
Dempster, R.	89	484	8.7
Estes, S.	94	442	8.3
Hamilton, J.	95	327	9.5
Haney, C.	90	417	8.6
Hawkins, L.	90	827	8.6
Haynes, J.	87	893	8.1
Hernandez, L.	92	228	8.7
Hitchcock, S.	91	649	7.3
Jarvis, K.	77	653	8.3
Johnson, J.	88	704	8.8
Jones, B.J.	94	348	7.4
Lima, J.	87	777	8.8
Loaiza, E.	95	605	8.8
Mahomes, P.	83	851	7.1
Meadows, B.	82	533	9.4
Miceli, D.	91	243	6.5
Mlicki, D.	92	526	8.3
Mulholland, T.	94	707	9.1
Oliver, D.	94	324	6.1
Parque, J.	93	120	6.5
Pavano, C.	93	566	7.7
Rekar, B.	88	583	9.3
Rusch, G.	89	654	8.5
Springer, D.	88	1486	8.8
Sturtze, T.	90	969	9.4
Van Poppel, T.	81	293	7.6
Villone, R.	92	278	6.5
Weathers, D.	93	720	8.7
Wilson, P.	90	331	7.7
Witasick, J.	93	594	7.5
Woodard, S.	92	522	9.0
Wright, Jam.	93	471	9.2
Wright, Jar.	88	342	6.5

And now turning to the group hit-rate cumulatives...


Group	IP	Hits	H/9
A	12,657	11,316	8.05
B	22,363	20,649	8.31

Group A, despite striking out hitters and giving up homers at a lower rate and, hence, allowing balls to be put into play at a higher rate, shows a notably lower hits-per-nine. That accounts for the advantage in ERA. There's a heady debate that's been ongoing for some time in stathead circles over just how much control pitchers have over opposing hitters' batting average on balls-in-play. There's the "almost none" school of thought, and then there's the "less than you'd think, but still some" camp. Additional research favors the latter point of view. But whatever the case, hit rate is one of only two component indicators (the other being home run rate) in which Group A outdoes Group B.

Relying on the comfortable duo of strikeout-to-walk ratio and strikeout rate isn't adequate analysis. It's not so much that outstanding DIPS-inspired ratios are meaningless. Certainly not. Rather, it's that, as the cumulatives above show, high-strikeout pitchers with exceptional command are rare beasts. And a pitcher need not be in their ranks to become successful--or even outstanding--at the highest level. A new challenge for analysts will be to devise a method of identifying future stellar performers who have put up solid but unexceptional numbers in the minors, because there are simply too many of them to ignore.

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