Friday, July 20, 2012

Still in the midst of a pitching era

Home runs have recovered a bit this season as they are averaging over one a game for the first time in three seasons. But the bottom line is that the year of the pitcher has now become a trio of seasons. Scoring is up slightly over last season, but MLB's WHIP rate is its lowest since 1988 and the walks per nine are also the lowest since that season. But what is much more striking is that MLB batters are striking out at unprecedented levels. 

The fact is that the current rate of 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings has never been seen in the history of baseball. If the pace were to continue all season, then a new mark would be set after the 7.1 rate of the last two seasons held the previous mark. The strikeouts per walk ratio for the majors is also the highest in history.

Strikeouts are up in every segment of a game. Starting pitchers are striking out 7.4 batters per nine innings in the first three innings of the game. Compare that to 6.99 per nine last year and 6.67 in 2008. In the innings four through six, that number dips to 6.89 in 2012, but that is still up from 6.62 a year ago and 6.38 in 2008.

But it is the last three innings that have seen the largest jump. In 2008, innings seven through nine featured a strikeout rate of 7.44. That figure was 7.81 in 2011 and is all the way up to 8.21 in 2012. It seems every team has two or three relievers that can hit the high nineties on the radar gun.

There are currently 36 relief pitchers that are averaging over ten strikeouts per nine innings. Last season there were 21. In 2008, there were 18. In 2005, there were 14. 

It appears that the specialization of relief pitchers may get old men and David Wells unhappy, but it is working for managers. In 2008, the save percentage was 64 percent and the inherited runners scoring rate was 32 percent. In 2011, the save percentage was 68 percent and the inherited runner scoring rate was 30 percent. This year, those figures are 69 percent and 29 percent.

What we see here is an emphasis on the the last three innings of a game and starting pitching that is asked to go out there and throw gas for the first six innings and then turn the ball over. This is a formula that leads to lower scoring and unprecedented strikeout and strikeout to walk rates. Bullpens are stocked with arms that can throw gas. The new market inefficiency might be batters that can maintain a high on-base percentage while striking out less. Because as of now, the pitchers have taken over and they aren't backing down.

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