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.)