Last But Not Least: Pitching
Part One: The 2006 Bill James Handbook
Part Two: Digging Deeper Into The Handbook
The third part of The Bill James Handbook review is focused on the 2005 American and National League Pitching Leaders. I've always been more intrigued by pitching stats than hitting. Good hitters usually put up good numbers and are generally easy to spot. Good pitchers, on the other hand, don't always put up numbers that are so easily recognizable.
Case in point: Daniel Cabrera. (Hey, if I don't mention him at least once per month, I am no longer entitled to a 1% "finder's fee" on his future earnings.)
Cabrera posted a 10-13 W-L record with an ERA of 4.52 for the Baltimore Orioles in 2005. I know, pretty pedestrian. However, I will be shocked if he doesn't improve upon those numbers over the next couple of years, perhaps in a material way. Why? Well, let's take a look at a combination of his stuff (37 pitches over 100 mph, #1 in baseball) and his advanced performance metrics (8.76 K/9, 1.73 G/F, and a .174/.257/.221 line vs. RHB). 'Nuff said. Show me a guy who throws hard, whiffs batters, and induces ground balls, and I will tell you about a potential future Cy Young candidate. Did I mention that Leo Mazzone will be Baltimore's pitching coach next year?
The first pages I look for when I get my new Handbook each year are those with the best and worst average fastballs; number of pitches reaching 100+ and 95+ mph; number of pitches less than 80; lowest and highest percentage of fastballs; and the highest percentage of curveballs, sliders, and changeups. I don't know where this information can be found anywhere else. I'm only hoping that the folks at Baseball Info Solutions will make this data standard for all pitchers in the near future.
Based on the average speed of fastballs, A.J. Burnett (95.6 mph) was the hardest-throwing pitcher in the majors last year. C.C. Sabathia (94.7) was number one in the AL. Billy Wagner led the NL with 18 pitches over 100 mph. Burnett was second with 17. No other pitcher had more than three. Kyle Farnsworth hit triple digits 14 times, Seth McClung 11x, and Bobby Jenks 10x while facing just 168 batters.
Which pitchers threw the slowest fastballs? Tim Wakefield (76.1), Jamie Moyer (81.8), Brian Lawrence (83.3), Greg Maddux (84.3), and Mark Redman (84.4) were the only hurlers who had a mean (poor choice of words) fastball under 85. Not surprisingly, Wakefield only used his so-called fastball 11.9% of the time -- the lowest, by far, of any pitcher in the majors. Moyer was second at 40.1%.
Attention Boston Red Sox fans: Josh Beckett had the second-fastest heater in the NL (93.5 mph), while throwing 3 pitches in triple digits (3rd in the league) and 442 more at 95 or above (4th). He also has one of the best curveballs as witnessed by the fact that he led MLB in allowing the lowest batting average plus slugging (BPS) on benders, and a pretty good changeup to boot (ninth lowest BPS). Stuff, performance, youth, and World Series experience all neatly wrapped up for the next couple of years at prices well below market. My kind of pitcher.
I gotta spend a minute on Pedro Martinez. Here is a guy who ranked in the top ten in the NL in Opponent BPS vs. fastballs, curveballs, and changeups. No other pitcher can make that claim. Pedro may not throw as hard as he did five or ten years ago, but he remains one of the toughest pitchers around. Martinez also extended his streak of fashioning a component ERA (ERC) -- a stat that estimates what a pitcher's ERA should have been based on his pitching performance -- equal to or lower than his actual ERA for the 12th consecutive season. His career ERA is 2.72 and his ERC is 2.34. Among active pitchers, he is number one in K/BB (4.32), H/9 (6.82), percentage of quality starts (70.7), and winning percentage (.701).
Much has already been said about Johan Santana not getting the respect he deserved for his outstanding pitching performance in 2005. At the risk of repeating myself and others, is it really possible that a pitcher led his league in opponent batting, on-base, and slugging average; hits and baserunners per 9; strikeouts and strikeouts per 9; quality starts; and highest average game score and not win the Cy Young Award? The winner must have smoked him in ERA, huh? Nope. The guy who led the league in everything was second in ERA (2.87), .01 away from the top. The winner? Well, he finished eighth (3.48) or more than a half-run behind our man Santana, who also happened to lead the league in ERC (2.14) by more than a full run over Mark Buehrle (3.21) and Mr. Cy Young himself, Bartolo Colon (3.28).
Johan's teammate Carlos Silva posted some very interesting numbers last year. I'm not even talking about the fact that he led the AL in K/BB (7.89) and was fifth in ERA (3.44) and fourth in BR per 9 (10.70). What I'm referring to is the fact that Silva was first in % of pitches in the strike zone (65.2), fewest pitches per batter (3.06), GIDP induced (35), GIDP/9 (1.67), and highest % fastballs (83.0). You don't even need to see Silva pitch to know what kind of hurler he is. Carlos throws a good, hard fastball and keeps it down in the zone. He doesn't fool around much with other pitches nor in trying to nibble. Instead, Joe Mauer just puts down his index finger and Silva comes right at you with his best pitch. Nothing fancy here. Just a lot of strikes and more batted balls on the ground than not.
There is much, much more among the 426 pages in The Bill James Handbook. Don't get left behind without your own copy. You won't regret it if you buy this book. Trust me on that.