The New School Approach to Pitching
Pitchers in baseball are a mystery. A pitcher might be in contention for the
Cy Young Award one year as a 20 game winner, and then barely average the next
year. Why is this? Why do some average pitchers develop a new pitch, and
become an overnight success?
These aberrations have even made some experts, like those at Baseball
Prospectus; declare "There is no such thing as a pitching prospect". BP and
others have deduced that the regular stats don't necessarily show how good or
bad a pitcher is.
Hopefully in this article I can make my case for new statistical observations,
and how to include them in your games, which will help you get noticed by pro
and college scouts.
A History Lesson
Not too long ago, there was a man named Voros McCracken. Voros worked at a
Chicago Law Firm, where he did not like his job. So, like most baseball
junkies, he spent his time following baseball and checking the stats. A
question that plagued him was how to separate pitching stats from defensive
stats, because at the time, they were seemingly intertwined.
This problem gave birth to McCracken's new idea, DIPS, otherwise known as
Defensive Independent Pitching Statistics. These are pitching statistics that
only account for the pitcher. This is an extremely important type of
statistic, simply because it is an objective analysis of what a pitcher does.
We will go in depth with DIPS right now.
DIPS - A New Way To Look At Pitchers
By now, you are probably wondering what these Defensive Independent Pitching
Statistics are, and how expensive is the calculator needed to calculate them.
Luckily, these stats are already present, and don't require fancy
Voros McCracken deduced that the pitcher only has so much control over what
happens in the game. Mr. McCracken noticed that a pitcher could only control
three things in a game: walks, strikeouts, and home runs. He was able to
separate these stats from the rest of the defense, simply because you can't
field a strikeout, a walk or a home run. Everything else is defensive
This may take a few tries to register, but just think about it. If a hitter
hits a little squibber down the 3rd base line, he might get on if he is a fast
runner. If the defense happens to be in a drawn in position (trying to prevent
a run from scoring), they might not reach a sharply hit ball. There is also
the possibility of an error.
Why punish the pitcher for the defense's mistakes?
This is part of the reason why pitcher's success usually varies over their
career. Sometimes these pitchers get lucky for a season. Usually you can tell
if there BABIP (Batting Average On Balls In Play) is unusually low. A good
example would be Esteban Loaiza of the New York Yankees (traded to them from
the White Sox earlier in the year). Last year Esteban was lucky in that most
of the balls put in play fell as outs, and consequently, the man won 21 games.
In this current season, Esteban's luck has partially run out, because with
most of the season over with, he has nine wins, and a 5.52 ERA. Ouch.
Now you are probably wondering if a pitcher's performance is in any way
predictable. Yes there is, and now we can plug in our DIPS statistics. If you
look at the DIPS statistics, you will notice that a pitcher's strikeout, walk
and home run totals do not vary much throughout their careers. This is proven
if you look at Randy Johnson's stats.
In every year when he is healthy, the man usually strikes out 200+ batters
every year. He also consistently gives up a low number of walks and home runs
every year. What does vary a lot, is his Earned Run Average. Some years he has
a 2.00 ERA, and sometimes it fluctuates up to 4.5. ERA is largely tied into
defense, because it takes into account the defense behind the pitcher.
Stats To Avoid Putting An Emphasis On
Now that we know which stats are good, lets talk about the stats we need to
avoid putting an emphasis on. Wins immediately comes to mind. Wins are without
a doubt, one of the crudest stats to measure pitchers by. It is inefficient to
place a win solely on one player (unless you are talking about Bill James' Win
Shares, which will be an upcoming article).
A win can mean many things. What if the game was won by the starting pitcher,
but the score was 16-15? Obviously you can't have a pitcher that gives up that
many runs per game, or you would lose a lot more than you win.
What if the pitcher was given a loss, even though the defense made 4 errors,
and they were playing in Coors Field (for those who don't know, Coors Field is
in Denver, where the air is so thin that a preposterous amount of home runs
are usually hit each game)?
Hopefully you are getting the sense that it is bad to judge pitchers on
factors that usually have to deal with the defense and the nature of the
stadium being played in.
How A Coach Can Use These Stats
A shrewd coach can use these statistical evaluation methods to win a lot of
games. By paying attention to a pitcher's strikeout, walk, and home run
totals, you can effectively set up a good rotation, and know who to bring in
late in the game.
The best pitchers are those who get outs and can can prevent people from
getting on base. Obviously the more strikeouts a pitcher can get means less
players getting on base, but more importantly, if they can control the strike
zone and get into favorable pitching counts, they can positively affect the
game without even getting the defense involved.
How A Player Can Use These Stats
This is harder for a pitcher to implement, simply because you are the one
influencing the stats, not evaluating them.
I usually don't think it's a good idea to go on to the mound looking to get a
certain number of strikeouts, or give up a certain number of walks, because
that will negatively affect your pitching performance.
All I can really say to pitchers is that you should keep finding ways to
strike out hitters, whether that be with a blistering fastball, or being able
to control the strike zone, and effectively set up your other pitches.
Bill James repeatedly stresses the importance of the strike zone, and
hopefully you leave with this knowledge. Its been proven mathematically that
most hitters become anemic 9th-hole hitters if you get them into pitcher's
That concludes your lesson on DIPS. If you have any questions, or suggested
reading material on this subject, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
or private message me at my forum name, which is "Silent_Impact".