Over a decade after their advent sent shockwaves through the sabermetric world, we gaze back to the dawn of defense-independent pitching statistics.
While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.
Now that BABIP has long since hit the mainstream, join us in flashing back to the day when Voros changed how we thought about pitching and defense, just over ten years after his landmark article originally ran on January 23, 2001.
Those who switch-hit in name only make up a rare cadre all their own.
A few weeks ago I found myself engrossed in a Tommy Bennettarticle on the Braves and stumbled upon his usage of the term SHINO when describing Melky Cabrera. The acronym stands for Switch-Hitter-In-Name-Only, and refers to some hitters with 'S' or 'Both' under the Bats column on their player pages, and specifically the ones who might want to think about changing that status. They certainly switch, but they don’t offer much in the way of hitting. The term tickled my fancy, in part due to the fact that I’ve had an article on switch-hitters in my to-do queue for over a year now that was set to focus on those who consistently struggled from one side of the plate. Though the title of that shelved article involved Bobby Kielty and not this term; as we’ll see, maybe Kielty should have been included in the title.
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Different hurlers have different capacities for pitcher-on-pitcher violence.
Cliff Lee has performed at an incredibly high level since joining the Phillies rotation last month, compiling a minuscule 0.68 ERA in 40 frames, effectively making Phans phorget that they were ever engaged in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes. Lee's junior circuit strikeout rates were generally of the good but not great variety, somewhere in the range of 6.1 and 6.8 per nine innings, yet his 39 whiffs while wearing red pinstripes has resulted in a fantastic rate. Switching to the National League tends to improve a pitcher's performance for a few reasons, but the most obvious of them involves the chance to face pitchers (Ed. Note: Phlailing?) as opposed to additional hitters with Papi Hafner Thome-level power. In his five Phillies starts, Lee has faced the opposing pitcher seven times, recording strikeouts on four different occasions. While the sample here is much too small to make any sort of definitive claim, the underlying idea that his strikeout total has been padded by opportunities to whiff the pitcher piqued my interest.
A conversation with one of the game's great masters on the art and practice of hitting.
When it comes to teaching hitting, few do it as well as Rudy Jaramillo. Currently in his 15th season with the Rangers-the longest tenure of all big-league hitting coaches-the 58-year-old native of Beeville, Texas is arguably the best in the business. Called "a Hall of Fame hitting coach" by Alex Rodriguez, and "the best there is" by Michael Young, Jaramillo is a member of both the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame and the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame. Jaramillo recently sat down to talk about his favorite subject: the art and science of hitting a baseball
How do the guys who attack the zone with something less do something more with it than you might expect?
"Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing."-Warren Spahn
Prior to his July 10 meeting with the Phillies, Albert Pujols was sporting a gaudy .346/.467/.613 line with just 28 strikeouts in 334 plate appearances. The season's eventual MVP had been giving opposing pitchers fits, and it seemed unlikely that a pitcher with a 4.50 defense-neutral ERA and an average game score of 49 could do anything to change that. The Phillies, however, were counting on a starting pitcher with just those numbers in one Jamie Moyer, who was preparing to engage in another prototypical David vs. Goliath showdown with the game's best hitter, an imposing and muscle-bound 230-pounder standing no more than 60'6" away from a scrawny 46-year-old lefty with a fastball slower than Joe Sheehan's.
Projecting the value of the best-hitting pitchers, as well as the worst.
In the six years that I've generated PECOTA forecasts, I've never bothered to run hitting projections for pitchers. In fact, I've regarded pitcher hitting as something of a nuisance; I specifically screen out any pitchers so that they won't be selected as comparable players. This isn't an aesthetic judgment by any means-watching pitchers try (and fail) to hit is one of my favorite pastimes. But since even the pitchers who make 35 starts a year won't usually get more than 80 or 90 plate appearances, I've generally figured that it wasn't quite worth the trouble.
Ease up there, Hemingway, we're talking about pitchers, and whether we're missing a few from the last couple of decades.
When we see the level of offense go up or down in baseball-and it has been down dramatically this season-we tend to attribute it to everything other than the players themselves. In any given downturn, it's the bats, or the baseballs, or the ballparks, or the drugs that the players are injecting themselves with. Or all of those things. But what if it isn't all about context? What if, when offense is up, it literally does mean that there aren't very many good pitchers?
The shape of the blistering-hot performance of the Dodgers shortstop.
Past experience can generate expectations. Certainly, when they signed Rafael Furcal to a three-year, $39 million deal following the 2005 season, the Dodgers believed that the former Braves leadoff batter would provide a significant spark to their offense. He did not disappoint in 2006, finishing 14th in NL MVP voting. Last year, however, a nagging ankle injury suffered in spring training kept him out of action for the first couple of weeks as well as the final weeks of the season; it also hindered his production level during the 138 games in which he played. A player whose modus operandi involves speed playing with an ankle injury is not a good combination.
Similarly, when Joe Torre signed on to manage the team this offseason, he was fresh off of managing a shortstop that happened to be the longtime face of the most prominent franchise in sports. He may have known his new shortstop could produce at an all-star level even, after that rough 2007. Suffice it to say he could not possibly have had any idea Furcal would be this productive.
An in-depth discussion about mechanics with the motion analysis coordinator and coach of the National Pitching Association.
Pitching is both an art and a science, and from youth leagues to the big leagues, so is the challenge of keeping pitchers healthy. The National Pitching Association (NPA) is on the cutting edge of research and instruction on all three fronts, and many of their concepts are shared in their forthcoming book, Arm Action, Arm Path, and the Perfect Pitch: a Science-Based Guide to Pitching Health and Performance. David talked to the NPA's motion analysis coordinator and coach, Doug Thorburn.
Returning to a subject from this past winter, Dan digs in to discuss the all-time greats.
"It is the best game because the players look like us. They are not seven feet tall, they don’t weigh 350 pounds, and they don’t bench-press 650. We can relate to them. We can see them—they’re not obscured by some hideous face mask, and they don’t play behind a wall of Plexiglas—we can touch them and we can feel them. I see Greg Maddux with his shirt off, with his concave chest and no discernible muscles, and I marvel: This is one of the six greatest pitchers in the history of the game? I see Tony Gwynn with his shirt off and I see a short, fat guy with the smallest hands I've ever seen on an athlete, and I wonder: 'This is the best hitter since Ted Williams?'...They are regular guys, at least most of them, who just happen to be really, really good at something that everyone else is not."
--Tim Kurkjian, from chapter one of Is This a Great Game, or What?: From A-Rod's Heart to Zim's Head--My 25 Years in Baseball
Inspired by current events, Jim recalls history's great two-way all-stars for a day.
On Saturday, Micah Owings of the Arizona Diamondbacks had one of the better hitting performances of the season, getting 11 total bases and driving in six runs. There will be better outings by players this year, but not a whole lot of them. Certainly, there won't be any by pitchers, the fraternity to which Owings belongs and one not picky about its members' skills with the lumber. In fact, Owings day with the stick is arguably one of the best ever by a pitcher. His outstanding hitting performance was coupled with a quality start, too, which brings up the question, how does this rate in terms of combined performance?
What happens when pitching in a pinch? Do pitchers have something extra that they can put on the ball when they're in a jam?
"I think we just played the way we thought we should play. We swung it better, we had clutch hitting, we had clutch pitching. If you put all those things together you have a chance to win a few more games and be a little more exciting. That's what we are doing right now."
-White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen commenting after beating the Mariners 5-3 on August 10th