Thursday, August 27, 2009

Throwing Strikes - Part One

The major league average for walks per nine innings sits at 3.5, the highest it has been since the year 2000. And in this (supposedly) post-steroid era, that's hard to figure. The home run rate per nine innings is up slightly from last year and the year before, but not nearly as high as the Helicon days of 1999 and 2000. So why not throw more strikes? Why do some pitchers and some teams get it and others don't? When everyone is concentrating on OBP these days, shouldn't pitchers be concentrating on not allowing that to happen?

Some teams do get it. The Twins and the Cardinals focus on throwing strikes. And, as is easy to see, the Cardinals seem to throw more effective strikes than the Twins. But the Twins have always concentrated on limiting walks and they are very good at doing so. The Cardinals are the same way. The two teams are one/two in being the stingiest teams in baseball on giving a free pass. The Cardinals average of 2.98 per nine innings is more than a full walk a game less than the Mets who are the worst in this category with over four walks per nine innings.

The top five teams at limiting walks:

  1. Cardinals
  2. Twins
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Rockies
  5. Phillies

The five worst:

  1. Mets
  2. Nationals
  3. Brewers
  4. Padres
  5. Dodgers

The top five are all pretty darn good teams. Four of the five worst are bad teams. The Dodgers making this list is problematic for their post-season adventures. The Yankees, for all their prowess, are not good in this category. Two of their starters, Burnett and Chamberlain, are in the top five in the American League for walks per nine innings. That's pretty scary.

There are eleven starting pitchers in the majors with a walk per nine innings ratio of less than two. They are (in order of stingiest): Pineiro, Halladay, Haren, Carpenter, Buehrle, Pavano, Baker, Cliff Lee, Ted Lilly, Zack Greinke and Javier Vazquez. Every one of the eleven have winning records (yeah, even Pavano). That is not a coincidence.

There are twelve starting pitchers in the majors with a walk per nine innings higher than four per game (100 innings minimum). They are (in order of wildness): Jonathan Sanchez, Kershaw, Parra, Doug Davis, Joba, Suppon, Gallardo, Burnett, Zambrano, Meche, Tallet and Liriano. Only five of these twelve have winning records, which again is no surprise. Liriano must be driving the Twins crazy!

Seven of the twelve pitchers just mentioned have ERA+ figures above league average because they have the stuff to get out of trouble. Guys like Kershaw, Gallardo, Zambrano, Burnett and Joba can all get themselves out of their own jams with their stuff. But you have to wonder how good they could all be if they could just throw more strikes more effectively. Their wildness leads to high pitch counts which gets them out of games quicker, leads to more no-decisions and taxes the heck out of their bullpens. Again, when Chamberlain, Burnett and Kershaw get their teams in the playoffs, their ability to throw strikes will seriously effect the outcomes of those games.

It is also no coincidence that the bottom twelve starters in this category get decisions in only 67 percent of their games started while the top eleven guys get decisions in 79 percent of their starts. Joba Chamberlain and Jeff Suppon have only had decisions in half of their games started.

It is hard to understand why some pitchers throw more strikes than others. Those that walk a lot of batters only make it harder on themselves to succeed. Those that can limit the walks have a much better chance at winning. Just ask Carl Pavano.

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

Pineiro, Haren, and Buehrle are all on my Fantasy Team. Unfortunately, Meche was as well. Just dropped him recently and picked up Doug Davis. Davis walks a lot of batters, but other than his high WHIP, he's been very good this year.