November 5, 2012
Balls That Look Like Strikes
Before we start, just a question: What does a pitcher do to avoid walking batters? This might be a trick question, and it might not be, but whether it is or not doesn’t matter because you’re not on The Price is Right and there’s no prize for getting it right. So what is it, smart guy? How does a pitcher avoid walking batters?
Kyle Drabek doesn’t throw strikes well. He finished fifth in baseball in 2012 (minimum 40 innings pitched) in walks per nine innings—that is, the fifth-most walks, not fifth in the good way—and fourth the year before that. (He has done this despite never intentionally walking a batter. “Eh, this’ll take care of itself,” his manager might figure.) He has thrown 20 wild pitches in 167 career innings; 20 wild pitches would have been enough to lead the American League in every post-Wild Card season except for one. His median pitch misses the center of the strike zone by about 15 inches, which looks like this:
And in 2012, according to our measure of the strike zone, only one pitcher* threw fewer pitches in the zone than Drabek, who missed 62 percent of the time.
That one pitcher is Jared Hughes, who missed the strike zone 64 percent of the time and whose median pitch also misses the center of the zone by about 15 inches, which in his case looks like this: