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April 21, 2005

Prospectus Today

Commanding Performance

by Joe Sheehan

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I was noodling around the team stats pages this morning, looking for some of the more interesting team performances so far. As I keep saying, three weeks isn't much to go on, but at the team level you occasionally see some interesting stuff.

For example, the Yankees have the worst Defensive Efficiency Rating in the AL, and have allowed the third-highest total of doubles and triples in the league. Whoever could have seen that coming?

I've picked on the Yankee defense enough, though. Today, I want to pass along one astounding number that I encountered:


Team      K/BB
Twins     6.13
Astros    3.66
Indians   2.63
Phillies  2.61
Padres    2.48
The Minnesota Twins' pitching staff has buried the needle on the foremost indicator of command. Led by Johan Santana (37 strikeouts, two walks) and Brad Radke (15/1), Twins' pitchers have whiffed 98 hitters while walking just 16. Those two aren't the whole story: the other Twin pitchers have compiled a ratio of better than three to one. No Twins pitcher has allowed more than four free passes (Joe Mays is the wild man) and four have yet to walk anyone (Terry Mulholland leads this group with seven innings pitched).

We might have seen this coming. The Twins led the majors in K/BB last year with a 2.63 mark, and were second to the Yankees in 2003. The ridiculous command displayed by Santana and Radke sets the stage, but even problem children like Kyle Lohse (429/220 prior to '05, 10/2 in '05) and J.C. Romero (288/170 before, 7/2 in '05) have come aboard the control train in the early part of this season.

How impressive is this? Well, the Twins have walked as many men in 131 innings as the Pirates' Oliver Perez has in 19. The Giants' Noah Lowry walked five men last night, a total that would lead the Twins' staff. Eight other pitchers walked four. The Blue Jays walked eight Yankees last night, fully half the Twins' season total.

Who are the Twins chasing? Here's the all-time top ten.


                       YEAR     K/BB
Diamondbacks           2002     3.10
Dodgers                1966     3.04
Yankees                2003     2.98
Yankees                2002     2.82
Diamondbacks           2001     2.81
Expos                  1994     2.80
Braves                 1996     2.76
Twins                  1967     2.75
Mets                   1990     2.74
Giants                 1968     2.74
You basically have teams from two distinct eras on this list: one who played in today's high-strikeout environment, and one who played at the tail end of the Second Deadball Era. League strikeout-to-walk ratios are at an all-time high, a reflection of the strikeout's decreased stigma and the prevalence of hitting approaches that emphasize deep counts and big swings. The Rockies were dead last in MLB last season with a 1.36 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a figure that would have been above average in 1956 and would have led the league in 1951.

What I find amazing is how well this statistic correlates with success. Same chart, but with some additional information:


                       YEAR     K/BB   Record   Outcome
Diamondbacks           2002     3.10    98-64   Won NL West, lost DS
Dodgers                1966     3.04    95-67   Won NL
Yankees                2003     2.98   101-61   Won AL East, lost WS
Yankees                2002     2.82   103-58   Won AL East, lost DS
Diamondbacks           2001     2.81    92-70   Won WS
Expos                  1994     2.80    74-40   Best record at strike
Braves                 1996     2.76    96-66   Won NL East, lost WS
Twins                  1967     2.75    91-71   1 GB in AL
Mets                   1990     2.74    91-71   4 GB in NL East
Giants                 1968     2.74    88-74   8 GB in NL
I don't think any other team leaderboard correlates wth success the way this one does. That bodes well not only for the Twins, but for the Astros, who have opened the season by whiffing 117 and walking just 32. I doubt either team will maintain their torrid pace, but I don't think it's a stretch to the see the Twins as a threat to the '02 Diamondbacks as the greatest command staff in history.

One more list, just to close out the subject: K/BB ratio relative to the league:


                       YEAR     DIFF     TEAM   LEAGUE
Diamondbacks           2002     1.16     3.10     1.94
Yankees                2003     1.05     2.98     1.93
Giants                 1908     0.98     2.28     1.30
Giants                 1911     0.97     2.09     1.12
Mets                   1990     0.95     2.74     1.79
Dodgers                1966     0.93     3.04     2.11
Mets                   1976     0.91     2.45     1.53
Yankees                2002     0.89     2.82     1.92
Expos                  1994     0.84     2.80     1.95
Mets                   1988     0.82     2.72     1.90
(I was able to do this column thanks to Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia. You should check it out…well worth the money.)

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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