Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Art of Throwing Strikes

It seems that every game this viewer watches this year features pitchers, particularly relief pitchers, offering up free passes in bunches. Perhaps it was the vomitous performance by the Indians' relief corp last night that put the Fan over the edge, but it has become epidemic in the major leagues to offer up walk after walk. So this writer decided to look at the numbers and see if it is really as bad as it appears. And yeah, it is.

According to baseball-reference.com, in the National League, the walks per nine inning rate is the third highest in the modern era. Only 1999 and 2000 were worse. And to top it off, the wild pitches rate is the highest in history! Meanwhile, over in the American League, the difference isn't as dramatic as the National League, the walks per nine inning rate is the highest it's been since 2000.

The Fan doesn't remember 1999 and 2000 being that bad for pitching, but it seems it was. The pitching stats were awful those two years. It makes you wonder if that was because it was just before the umpires became more accountable for their strike zones or was it a factor of the steroid era? Who knows.

One other interesting thing about looking at league stats on that wonderful stat reference site, each league has the highest strikeout per nine innings in history. Looking at the year by year data, strikeouts per nine innings have been on a constant march upward every decade. And that seems to be a generational change. The strikeout totals by guys like Cust and Mark Reynolds and others seem to be tolerated and accepted. It is amazing that today, a batter can strikeout 200 times in a season and still be a major leaguer. Back in Reggie Jackson's day, he led the leagues with 145 or so.

But getting back to walks, it may not seem like much statistically when the National League's walks per nine innings increase from last year's 3.43 to this year's 3.67, but over the course of 2588 games, that is an increase of 621 walks! That's a lot of walks! The American League is on pace to have 340 more walks than last year and 1103 more walks than in 2005. That's a ton of extra base runners, is it not?

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

I think part of the reason why walks are up is the approach of hitters nowadays. Batting average used to be the premium metric in judging a hitter's performance. Not so anymore. OBP has gained a lot of importance in the last decade or so.

Also, the emphasis on raw stuff over command has something to do with it. Ever since I can remember, the Twins organization has sided with command. From the newbies like Slowey, Baker, and Blackburn to the oldies like Radke, Milton, and Santana. They compete every year because their pitchers can throw strikes, and their defense doesn't let them down.

Then, you look at a kid like Clayton Kershaw. Pure stuff. 8.7 K per 9 innings to go with 5.5 BB per 9 innings. Unless he's the next Nolan Ryan, for him to take the next step, he's going to have to cut down on the walks. But the Dodgers are sort of going about it backwards. They want him to learn on the job and develop in the Majors as opposed to refining his craft in the Minors.