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Entries in Pitching (3)

Wednesday
Aug282013

Striking Out on Balls

Strikeouts are the worst.

They are better than double plays, in that, they only account for a single out.  But there is something deflating about strikeouts.

Something very, I don't know, "Charlie Brown getting fooled by Lucy while trying to kick a field goal" about it. And, of course, there can't just be one way to strike out. There has to be numerous ways to get rung up by the home plate umpire. The worst of which, has to be striking out looking. 

I have analogies and puns for days with regards to the ol' "backwards 'K'," but let's just agree that striking out looking makes you, probably, want to crawl under home plate and disappear. Then we can skip all the nonsense.

But what if a hitter strikes out looking, and, it's not his fault? 

Granted, if a hitter has two strikes on him, he should be protecting the plate. You are taught this as a young player. "Anything close. Swing." But that doesn't change the fact that the pitch was a ball. Or the fact that it was probably Angel Hernandez behind the plate

So far this season, there have been 2,045 strikeouts that have been both "looking," and on a pitch that is considered out of the strike zone. Which pitcher has the most?

Out of Zone Punch Outs

 K
David Price (TB) 23
Max Scherzer (DET) 19
Cliff Lee (PHI) 18
Mike Minor (ATL) 17
Jeff Locke (PIT) 17
James Shields (KC) 17
Hyun-jin Ryu (LAD) 17
Eric Stults (SD) 17
Adam Wainwright (STL) 17
Matt Cain (SF) 16

 

David Price, come on down.

You are the winner of the "Your check's in the mail, Mr. Ump" award. 

All of these pitchers, except for Jeff Locke, are considered "strike-throwers."

Does that mean that they are getting the benefit of the doubt from the umpire?

Maybe. But when you are facing Cliff Lee and his 70.8% strike-rate, expect the ball to be over the plate. 

But Jeff Locke? Really?

On the flip-side of this coin, which hitters are falling prey to this phenomenon occurence the most?

Out of Zone Punched Out

 K
Matt Carpenter (STL) 15
Ian Desmond (WSH) 15
James Loney (TB) 15
Chris Davis (BAL) 14
Shin-Soo Choo (CIN) 13
Nick Swisher (CLE) 12
Evan Longoria (TB) 12
Chris Carter (HOU) 12
Trevor Plouffe (MIN) 11
Prince Fielder (DET) 11

 

Looks like Matt Carpenter and Ian Desmond should probably start walking up to the plate with egifts for the men in blue. And no one should be surprised to see Chris Carter on this list. He just strikes out a lot with his  K-Rate of 37.4% this season.

But, Joey Votto has struck out looking on a pitch off the plate eight times this season. Who do these umpires think they are?

All told, those 2,045 strikeouts, account for 6.6% of 30,770 strikeouts this season. Not exactly an overwhelming percentage, and something that umpires should point to and say: "We're right 93.4% of the time."

But with replay getting expanded next year, and the constant cry for an automated strike zone, 93.4% of the time, might not be good enough for baseball fans. 

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.

Friday
Aug022013

Oh Darvish, Yu Good

Look out at the street.

Look. It is lined with the souls of pitchers from the Far East who failed to live up to the expectations that were placed before them upon their arrival in the US of A.

Their odd windups and magic pitches offered them brief success, but it up and vanished like a feather in the wind.

Pitchers like Hideo Nomo and Daisuke Matsuzaka came over with mountains of hype, pitched well for a couple of seasons, and then drifted to the island of mediocrity for the remainder of their careers. 

Yu Darvish arrived from Japan with similar hype. 

He arrived with magic pitches.

He arrived with an odd windup.

By this logic, Yu Darvish is your typical Japanese pitching import. But that doesn't mean he still isn't within that window of wowing fans with incredible performances. Performances like the one he had Thursday night for example.

Stellar work from the Whirling Darvish

Even more impressive than his 14 strikeouts on Thursday was that he walked no one during his seven innings of work. This puts him in a category with Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens as the only pitchers to ever have three 14 strikeout/zero walk performances in the same season. 

This was a very Yu Darvish performance.

 

Darvish generated lots of swings and misses (28% swing and miss rate) and lots of bad swings on pitches out of the zone (33.3% chase rate). He relied heavily on both his fastball (He threw 59 fastballs out of the 111 total pitches he threw on Thursday, or, 53.2%) and his slider (44 of 111, 39.6%). Getting seven strikeouts with each pitch.

He throws other pitches, but apparently didn't have much of a feel for them during his bullpen session prior to the game. Or he felt that he only needed the two pitches carve up the Diamondbacks offense. Either way, Darvish has transformed from a pitcher who was known for throwing any of his pitches at will into a fastball/slider pitcher with tricks up his sleeve if he needs them. And this approach was on full display the other night.

Strikeout pitchers are all the rage

Since the start of the 2012 season, 10 pitchers have registered 14 strikeout performances, seven have done it once, two have done it twice. Yu Darvish has done it four times. 

Outside of velocity (which Darvish has) strikeouts are the ultimate barometer for how dominant a pitcher is.

Darvish has 186 strikeouts to lead the Major Leagues. And his K/9 of 12.072 is 1.798 better than that of both Max Scherzer and Matt Harvey who have K/9's of 10.274. In fact, if the season were to end today, his K/9 would be the eighth best ever.

The Darvish fun factor

Yu Darvish is one of the funner pitchers to watch in all of baseball. Unless he's facing your favorite team. Then he's no fun at all.

He's still "new" to the league, so there's a chance that his brand of dominance won't last. There's a chance that he will end up like Dice-K. Or, he could end up being the Ichiro Suzuki of Japanese pitchers.

Please Yu, be the pitching Ichiro.