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Entries in Chris Sale (5)

Wednesday
Jan152014

Bumgarner or Sale: Who's the Best Young Southpaw after Kersh?

No one will argue that Clayton Kershaw isn't the best pitcher in Major League Baseball at 25 years old or under, and I doubt many will refute the idea that he's well on his way to being the best pitcher of my generation. Heck, he just signed a seven-year, $215 million deal with the Dodgers -- giving him the largest average annual salary for a player in baseball history -- and has led all qualified starters in ERA in each of the past three seasons. Based on these facts alone, we can conclude that Kershaw takes the cake when it comes to dominant pitchers (both young and old).

But who's the next-best 25-or-under southpaw in baseball right now? This is a difficult question to answer, if only because there aren't many elite lefties. While Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg, and Jose Fernandez are the obvious leaders of an insanely talented crop of young right-handed pitchers, the same cannot be said for young southpaws outside of Kershaw. Two names stand out above the rest, however, and that's Chris Sale and Madison Bumgarner.

Both are 24 years old. Both are entering their fifth full season in the majors. Both own career ERA marks around 3.00 (3.08 for Bumgarner, 2.97 for Sale). Both finished in the top 10 for their respective league's Cy Young Award voting last season. Both are exceptionally towering in stature (Bumgarner is 6'5", 235; Sale 6'6", 180) and both played for teams that didn't make the playoffs in 2013. The similarities are almost uncanny, am I right?

Unnaturally similar resumes aside, though, these two have clearly established themselves as the top 25-or-under southpaws in baseball after Kershaw. Which one is "better", you ask? Let's find out by evaluating the two in these areas: Command, ability to generate strikeouts and batted ball results.

Command/Control

Though Sale and Bumgarner boast similar pitch frequency heat maps over the past two seaons, one holds a distinct advantage in respect to command and control -- an aspect that is crucial to consider when evaluating starting pitchers. You can pump upper-90s fastballs around the plate all day long, but if you can't hit the mit where you need to, you won't last long in the majors.

  • Pounding the zone: Since 2012, Sale owns a 52.9% zone rate compared to Bumgarner's 49.9% mark. Yes, throwing more pitches in the zone doesn't always lead to success, but in this case it does: Sale's 37.9% called strike rate (third best among LHP since 2012) trumps Bumgarner's 32.5%.
  • Restricting free bases: Given his ability to pound the strike zone and paint the corners at a high rate, a lower walk rate has followed suit. Sale owns a 5.9% walk rate over the past two seasons while Bumgarner retains a slightly higher 6.7% walk rate, which is nearly at the 7.2% league average mark.

Command Advantage: Sale.

Strikeout Ability

If command is the most important means by which to evaluate a starter, then strikeout capacity and ability is an easy second, at least for me. Fortuitously, this is an area in which both Sale and Bumgarner have excelled to this point in their respective careers.

But the way in which the two go about punching out opponents is different; a whopping 49.8% of Sale's strikeouts occur in the strikezone (third-highest among qualified lefties since 2012) while Bumgarner uses his deception to expand opponents zones, as 59.4% of his strikeouts transpire outside the zone.

  • Expanding the zone: Since 2012, Sale owns a 30.4% chase rate juxtaposed to Bumgarner's 29.1%, so Sale gets the slight nod here. Neither are dominant in this area, though, as the league average mark in the last two seasons is 28.5%. We should consider that opponents swing more frequently at Bumgarner's stuff (47.7%) than Sale's (45.4%), however.
  • Swing and a miss: Sale separates himself from Bumgarner a bit more in generating swings-and-misses, however, as he owns a 25.2% miss rate opposed to Bumgarner's 23.6% miss rate. Neither are exceptional in this respect, again, as the league mark is 21.2% and league lead is owned by Francisco Liriano at 30.7%. The two are nearly identical when it comes to swinging strikes, with Sale boasting an 11.5% swinging strike rate and Bumgarner an 11.2% rate.
  • Simple Strikeouts: Then there's the generic strikeout rate. Sale reigns supreme here again, holding true to a 25.5% strikeout rate (sixth-best since 2012) compared to Bumgarner's 23.6%.

Strikeout ability advantage: Sale.

Batted Ball Results

Though I'm not the biggest proponent of evaluating pitchers strictly off opponents' numbers against them, they do maintain at least some merit. Looking at how batters fare against a pitcher statistically (i.e. SLG% against) can sometimes shed light on how effective (or uneffective) a pitcher's stuff is from a broad perspective.

  • Limiting XBH: While Sale maintains an advantage in command and strikeouts, Bumgarner gets the nod for holding opponents to lower success rates. Over the last two seasons, he's held batters to a .348 SLG% (ninth lowest among qualified starters) while Sale is just percentage points behind at .362 compared to the .402 league average.
  • More grounders: The ability to generate ground balls is an elite (and frankly unteachable) attribute for any pitcher, and Bumgarner again outperforms Sale in this regard. With a 47.5% ground ball rate since 2012, he outmatches the 44.7% league mark and trumps Sale, as well, whose 45% ground ball rate is essentially average.
  • In play or no? When it comes right down to it, pitchers are considered effective when they limit the amount of pitches that opponents put in play -- less pitches put in play generally leads to less hits. It's really that simple. For Bumgarner, this is another edge over Sale, as he owns a 36.9% in-play rate (fifth-best among lefty starters last season) compared to Sale's 38.8% mark.

Batted ball results advantage: Bumgarner.

So, Who's (Second) Best?

Considering everything we've just discussed, it seems as though Sale is the "better" pitcher, holding advantages in command and strikeouts. However, this is more of a question of preference; do you want a pitcher whose command is slightly better and who strikes out more batters (Sale), or do more ground balls and fewer pitches placed in-play tickle your fancy?

I'll take Sale, but we all know Kershaw is the most elite arm in the game.

Thursday
Aug222013

Killing the Win won't kill Max Scherzer

For those of you who are not on Twitter, get on Twitter. There is a trend that was started not too long ago by MLB Network's, Brian Kenny. That trend is aptly titled, "Kill the win." And it is a sentiment that I fully endorse. Especially in the cases of pitching analysis, projection and, in November, hardware handouts. 

Pitchers rarely actually deserved his team's "win." But I think even Brian Kenny would agree that when Clayton Kershaw, in his Opening Day start for the Dodgers, threw a complete game shutout while driving in his team's only run that day with a home run, truly earned the "W" next to his name. 

But in most cases, pitching wins are silly.

Let me show you what I mean. 

Let's compare two pitchers:

  • Pitcher A is fly ball pitcher and has a slight upper hand in the strikeout department.
  • Pitcher B is getting more outs on the ground but is better at limiting free passes. 

Neither of them is separating himself from the other, and are close enough to be considered similar. 

Let's go a little deeper 

  • Pitcher A has an advantage in OPS against by 82 points. Which is pretty significant.
  • But he also has a BABIP-against that is 43 points higher than Pitcher B, also significant. 

Luck has played a major factor in the success of Pitcher A.

And not to spoil the surprise, but that .248 BABIP-against is 56 points below Pitcher A's career average. Just saying.

Let's go a little broader

 

The wins and losses should be a telling sign of, at least, who Pitcher A is. If you haven't figured it out, Pitcher A is Tigers starter, Max Scherzer

Pitcher B, is Chris Sale

Why is it important that I compare these two pitchers?

Because Max Scherzer is the front runner for the American League Cy Young Award. And rightfully so. He has been dominant all season long. But Sale has been almost equally as dominant.

The biggest difference is run support. 

 

  • The Tigers average 5.9 runs per game when Pitcher A Scherzer is on the mound.
  • When Pitcher B Chris Sale makes a start for the White Sox, the Pale Hose average 3.1 runs per game.

 

Who would you rather pitch for? 

 

  • The White Sox have scored two runs or less in support of Chris Sale eight times this season in 24 starts. That's more than one-third of his starts.
  • That has happened only twice in the 26 games that Max Scherzer has started. 

 

 

  • The Tigers have scored more than five runs 17 times in support of Scherzer.
  • Chris Sale has received similar support only seven times this season.

 

Unfortunately for Sale, this is a matter of circumstance. He pitches for a bad team. The White Sox have the third worst record in baseball, and are only four games better than the Giancarlo Stantons Miami Marlins. Chris Sale would have had to have pitched like Clayton Kershaw this season to overcome what is one of the weakest offenses in baseball (they rank 29th in baseball in runs).

But aside from ERA - and maybe WHIP - Cy Young voters aren't going to be worried about whether or not Sale's K% was on par with Scherzer's when they fill out their ballots at the end of the season. They are going to see the numbers "19-1" and "9-12."

For as far as the BBWAA came when they handed the CYA to Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez in 2009 and 2010, respectively, they still have a long way to go before they would look at two pitchers like Sale and Scherzer and find any similarities. 

Kill the win? 

Maybe not "kill it." But I would advocate beating it until it is in a vegetative state and unable to sway awards voters one way or another.

Monday
Jul012013

Nine to Know: June Pitching edition

 

  1. No team's pitchers went full more frequently in June than the Royals staff who had 158 full-counts, BUT, they held batters to a .170 BAA on full-counts, second best in baseball to the Giants pitchers who held batters to a .150 BAA on full-counts. 
  2. Angels pitchers produced the most swings and misses in June with 460, 133 more than the Twins who had the least.
  3. Oakland's pitchers only issued 60 walks in 27 games. The Rays pitchers threw the most strikes with 2668.
  4. Which pitcher was better in June, Miami's Jose Fernandez or Pittsburgh's Jeff Locke? Each starter had five starts, each averaged 6.47 IP per start, and each had a 1.67 ERA.

 

5.  Chris Sale induced 88 swings and misses, the most in June, but was 0-5 with 3.15 ERA.
6.  A.J. Griffin produced 20 pop-ups, the most in baseball.
7.  Yu Darvish had the most strikeouts with runners in in scoring position in June with 14, James Shields was next with 13.
8.  Ian Kennedy allowed five homers in June with runners on base, the most in baseball, but teammate Trevor Cahill allowed 24 hits with runners on base, the most in June.
9.  In five starts in June, facing the 3-4-5 batters in the lineup, no one had a lower BAA than Jacob Turner who held batters to .119, Shaun Marcum of the Mets was next at .129.