Aluminum Adjustments (Part 1)
If Moneyball taught us anything, it's that you should never underestimate a man with titties.
I am referring, of course, to the infamous passage from Michael Lewis's 2003 best-seller which details the reaction of an Oakland minor league coach after seeing the club's prized 7th round pick, Brant Colamarino, take off his shirt. But there are larger questions that this anecdote invokes, beyond the size of manzier for which Colamarino should be fitted. Namely, is it possible that in college baseball there still exists an entire class of players who are either over-looked or missed altogether due to the effects of the parks in which they play, the level of competition against whom they play, or due to scouts who might too often worship at the altar of The Five Tools?
Before going any further, let me be clear on two important points. First, I am not here to pick a fight with the scouting community. Because no major league team should, in their right mind, ignore the experience and observations of their professional scouts. Rather, what follows is an attempt at using the best of both worlds to determine the top seasons as recorded by this year's draft-eligible college hitters and pitchers.
Second, this is not a prediction of how a player's college performance will translate to wood bats and the major leagues. I am certain that work is being done, but you won't find it here.
With that out of the way, here's what I did. First, I took every draft-eligible college pitcher who had appeared on any of Baseball America's Top College Prospects lists at any point this year. Next, I sought to refine this "scouting" list by using the metrics explained below. So, it's as if your team's scouting department runs into the Baseball Operations office with their list of the best 50 or so pitchers in college baseball from the past season, the GM takes a look, and then turns to you as you sit at your laptop and says: "get to work."
So, here goes...
NAME: The player's name. See, this is going to be easy!
TEAM: Where they go to school. Still with me?
POSITION: I even threw in their handed-ness for free.
IP: Innings Pitched.
ERA: Your standard Earned Run Average. Joe Morgan should probably stop reading here.
STUFF: What defines a pitcher's "stuff?" Seriously. I'm asking. I don't know. To me, it's always been one of those things that everyone knows exists, but no one has been able to adequately explain. Like Scientology. Or David Hasselhoff's career. Alas, we'll seek to define it here through the prism of the following metrics:
K/9: Strikeouts per 9 IP. A traditional measure of a pitcher's dominance.
K/100P: The Baseball Analysts' own Rich Lederer posited that looking at strikeouts per 100 pitches thrown was the best measure of a pitcher's strikeout dominance. Works for me.
(K-BB)/BFP: Rich's article spurred a good deal of debate throughout cyberspace. This stuff-esque stat came from the ensuing discussion at the fanhome sabermetrics site (frequented by a cenacle of sabermetricians such as Tom Tango, David Smyth and David Gassko). This metric was developed by Tango and, I believe, elegantly encapsulates a pitcher's dominance and control, by incorporating his walks allowed and placing the number of batters he faced in the denominator.
(K-BB)/HR: Another stuff-esque fruit harvested from the fanhome discussions, this metric was originally introduced by David Smyth. It walks us near the line of defense-independent pitching performance by looking at a pitcher's control over the Three True Outcomes.
DERA: Did somebody say defense-independent pitching performance? OK, then. Years ago, Voros McCracken penned what is arguably the most important sabermetric article on pitching ever written. The long-and-short of it is this: the analysis of a pitcher's effectiveness should be based only on plays which are completely under his control: home runs allowed, strikeouts, hit batters, and walks. By doing this, and thus assuming that a pitcher's singles, doubles, and triples allowed will all follow certain regular characteristics, you can peer into what a pitcher's true ERA would look like if they had an average defense playing behind them. So, there you go. What I've used for the list below is an equation developed by Boyd Nation specifically for the college game.
AdjDERA: This is where things get tricky. This analysis looks further than DERA by adjusting for both Strength of Schedule and Park Effects. These are critical factors when analyzing the college game, as the level of competition and the characteristics of the parks in which they play vary widely from team to team. For pitchers, there is an added level of complexity because this should be done only for teams against whom they have pitched, and only for stadiums in which they have played. Don't worry. I've gone through the 2,000+ game logs so you don't have to. Note that adjustments for schedule strength and park factors stem from Boyd Nation's ISR and PF.
Finally, then. After all that...here are the Top 25 pitching performances this year (through the weekend of May 21), as sorted by AdjDERA.
||Cal State Northridge
||San Diego State
||Long Beach State
THANKS: These articles, and the research that underlies them, simply would not have been possible were it not for a few extremely smart people I have had the pleasure of getting to know in a non-creepy internet way over the past few months. First, Tom Tango offered insight, wisdom, and advice every step of the way. He is a brilliant guy, and the fan in me can only hope that he is on Theo Epstein's speed dial. Craig Burley's previous work in this area helped inspire me to undertake this effort in the first place, and his thoughts along the way even helped it all make sense. And finally, of course, I can't even begin to thank Boyd Nation for all of his time and help. Remember, when it comes to college baseball, it's Boyd's World, and we're just living in it.
On Deck: The Hitters.
Kent Bonham is a consultant in Washington, DC. He can be reached here.