An examination of how baseball's increasing strikeout rate has impacted the game, torn from the pages of BP's next book.
Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers, edited by Steven Goldman, is the sequel to Baseball Prospectus’s 2006 landmark Baseball Between the Numbers, a book that gave many their first taste of state of the art sabermetric thinking in the years after Bill James and Moneyball. BP now returns with a sequel that delves into new areas of the game, such as how to evaluate managers and general managers, the true effects of performance-enhancing drugs, how prospects are recruited and developed in Latin America, and more. The book is now available for pre-order from Amazon and Barnes & Noble and should ship ahead of its official release date of April 3, 2012. Today, we present the first of two excerpts from the book.
In his fourth column in the Asian Equation series, Michael looks at the starting pitchers who have crossed the Pacific, in which many failures are punctuated with a few very notable successes.
In the flood of players coming from Japan, the majority (34 of 43) have been pitchers. Unlike the pursuit of the next Ichiro I described in my previous column, this has less to do with the success of Hideo Nomo than it does with the pitching market–pitching is a difficult commodity to find in any league. What has doomed many NPB starters in MLB, however, has been both talent and adjustment to a different pitching philosophy. To understand and explain the differences between the two, I’ve drawn not only on my own expertise, but relied on Japanese pitching expert Patrick Newman at NPB Tracker for additional insight.
Pitching differences reflect a deeper philosophical difference between Japanese and American baseball. As I discussed in my first Asian Equation column, Japanese culture appreciates baseball’s emphasis on discipline, sacrifice, and the dramatic showdown between pitcher and batter. Instead of putting a batter away quickly, NPB pitchers build tension by indiscriminately filling counts before a perfectly placed strike three resolves the battle. These aren’t seen as “wasted” pitches, instead reflecting the samurai-like virtues of endurance and dramatic battles.
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Enlisting a new type of analysis to reveal who's winning the eternal battle between batters and pitchers, and why.
Background: You’ve got to admit they’re getting better
“When the 100-meter freestyle is held today in high school girls’ regional swimming meets, it is generally won by a girl who swims the distance in just under 60 seconds. That time would have won the men’s Olympic competition in 1920, or any year before it.”—Baseball Between The Numbers
Michael Bourn and Brett Gardner are two speedsters running in different directions, but is that recent trend the future for either?
Fantasy players all know about the “steal specialist” player type, the guy who is selected primarily for a high steals count and pretty much nothing else. Two names among that hated group that are having interesting seasons (for different reasons) are Michael Bourn and Brett Gardner—they are clearly going in opposite directions to begin the 2011 campaign. Bourn is hitting .304/.375/.418 with 17 runs scored and a league-leading nine steals in nine attempts. Gardner is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, hitting a paltry .136/.190/.254 with just three steals in six attempts to his name.
Are pitchers able to apply certain skills when a game calls for it?
One of the pitchers I enjoyed watching the most while I was growing up was Tom Glavine. Even though I was a Phillies fan and frequently saw him victimize my favorite team, I was impressed by the expertise he demonstrated on the mound, and how he perfected his craft. Glavine remains the premier example of a pitcher who out-pitched his peripheral statistics; he was greater than the sum of his parts. For the amount of strikeouts, walks, and ground balls that Glavine got in his career, he should never have been able to keep runs off the scoreboard as well as he did.
Pitch data shows that the amount of swinging strikes is not predictive of strikeout rates.
When I wrote about pitchers with major divides between their ERAs and SIERAs two weeks ago, a reader inquired why Clay Buchholz had such a pedestrian strikeout rate while having an above average swinging-strike rate. Buchholz has mustered just 6.2 K/9, nearly a full strikeout below the 7.1 league average, but has induced batters to swing and miss on 9.5 percent of his pitches according to FanGraphs, a full percentage point above the 8.5 percent league average. The question was apparent: Do pitchers who get a lot of whiffs increase their strikeout rates over time?
It appears Jered Weaver's mastery of a relatively new pitch has allowed him to punch out hitters like never before.
When Jered Weaver made his major-league debut on May 27, 2006, the Angels were 20-28, in last place in the American League West, and five games behind the division-leading Rangers. After the mega-prospect blanked the Orioles over seven strong innings to the tune of a 75 game score, Angels fans were more than enthused that their rotation had been vastly improved by his addition. Weaver would finish the season with a 2.56 ERA in 123 innings with an impressive 3.18 K/BB ratio and 1.03 WHIP. He walked few, proved stingy with allowing hits, and recorded his fair share of strikeouts. Though his rookie numbers were impressive, many would agree that Weaver’s lack of progress since then has been disheartening.
Building on last week's work and reader feedback, an expansion on the subject of pitcher performance in double-play situations.
In last week's column, I took an initial look at the question of whether pitchers in general-or specific pitchers-are able to successfully tailor their approach to be more effective in certain game situations, or to be exact, during double-play (DP) situations and situations with a runner on third and fewer than two outs (R3). To do this, I performed some cursory analysis of pitching data for the 2005-09 seasons to see whether ground-ball, walk, and strikeout rates differ in these situations compared to the norm. The numbers I ran for the DP situation showed an increase in ground balls (which are often, but not always, good for the pitcher in double-play situations), a decrease in strikeouts (which are always good for the pitcher in any situation) and a decrease in walk rate. Lastly, I looked at individual pitchers to get some idea of which ones improved the most during the DP situation, based on a quick and dirty measure I called PRIDE, which summed the changes in ground-ball and K rates and subtracted the change in walk rate.
Determining who's successful at pitching with a purpose when it comes to enlisting the pitcher's best friend.
Baseball can often be boiled down to a simple struggle between the wills and skills of one batter and one pitcher. At its base, reptilian core, this conflict is straightforward and Darwinian: pitchers want to record outs, while batters want to avoid making outs. But depending on the game situation, not all outs (or all non-outs) are the same. With the bases empty, any out will do-but with a runner on third and fewer than two outs, many fly balls and some ground balls can result in a run, while strikeouts and popups almost never do let anyone cross home. On the other hand, with a runner on first and fewer than two outs, a ground ball that results in a double play is usually better for the pitcher than a strikeout or popup.
The former Devil Ray slugger returned to relevance with a bounceback campaign that deserved a lot more attention.
Saying that Aubrey Huff's performance this season was surprising is a significant understatement; he outperformed all of his recent campaigns by a country mile, and wound up looking like the Huff who was once considered to be the greatest Devil Ray ever in their (short) history. Since he has performed at this level in the past, the question we will look at today is whether or not he will be able to replicate this production in the future.
The lefty's story only keeps improving with every turn, but will last season's hero build on this year's ALDS dominance?
Jon Lester has made headlines each of the past few seasons, but this is the first year that he's garnered attention due to his performance as a major league starting pitcher. Prior to the end of the regular season, Red Sox announcer Jerry Remy stated that Jon Lester was the best pitcher in the Red Sox rotation, and based on his performance both this season and in the playoffs, it's a tough position to argue against. How did he get to this point, and will he able to keep it up in the future?
With the saves record set, will he repeat his 2002 heroics in the postseason? And will his arm eventually fall off, or won't it?
Francisco Rodriguez has easily been one of the top closers in baseball since he was handed the full-time job back in 2005, and before that he was one of the game's top relievers, period. This is why it's no surprise that he's at the center of the discussions as to why the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were able to win 100 games this year-but was 2008, the year he set the record for most saves in a season, the best year of his career, or should we be worried that this isn't the same K-Rod we watched grow up in front of us on national television?