When Aaron Cook's pitching, Boston's backstops might as well take the night off. The 33-year-old righty has always put the ball in play often, striking out just 3.7 batters per nine innings and walking 2.7 during his career, but he has taken his human batting tee act to ridiculous heights in 2012.
Cook carries a three-to-three K-to-BB ratio in 36 innings pitched into his start tonight against the Yankees. That's 0.75 strikeouts and walks apiece per nine innings. According to Baseball-Reference, Cook is the first pitcher since the end of the Dead Ball Era to record less than one walk and whiff per nine frames while throwing at least 30 frames in a season. The only other two pitchers in MLB history to pull it off are Jake Northrop (1918 Boston Braves) and Slim Sallee (1919 Cincinnati Reds).
As always, Cook is taking a sinker-centric approach, with just a smattering of sliders and curves mixed in. Cook has thrown his sinker 83 percent of the time this season, by far the highest clip among starters (Chien-Ming is second at 70 percent). There's no secret here: He's gonna throw a sinker, and it's gonna be low and in the strike zone:
Cook's sinker location in 2012
Cook has thrown about 49 percent of his sinkers low (the MLB average for starters is 41 percent), and 55 percent of those sinkers have been located in the strike zone (51 percent average). It should come as no surprise, then, that Cook's sinker is a bat magnet:
Hitters' contact rate by location vs. Cook's sinker
Cook's sinker has a 5.3 percent miss rate, tied with the Yankees' Freddy Garcia for lowest among pitchers who have thrown at least 100 sinkers this season. Using the sinker so often, Cook is in a class of his own in terms of opponent contact. His MLB-low miss rate is almost half that of his next closest "competitor," Jeff Suppan:
Lowest miss rate among starting pitchers (minimum 400 pitches thrown)
Cook's lack of whiffs mean that the catcher is obsolete nearly 60 percent of the time that he throws a pitch:
Highest percentage of pitches put in play among starters (Min. 400 pitches)
|Pitcher||In Play Pct.|
|P. J. Walters||51.3%|
The Human Batting Tee has actually been pretty successful so far (3.50 ERA), but he has benefitted from a .222 batting average on balls in play and his fielding independent ERA is over a run higher (4.59). Can he keep this up? I don't know. Probably not. But right now, Salty and Shoppach have the best seat in the house to see baseball's biggest oddity.