Baseball BeatSeptember 26, 2006
Making Sense of Stats - Pitching
By Rich Lederer

Just as hitters were the subject of yesterday's article, pitchers rule today. The pitchers are on a word count here . . . so let's get after it.

Halos Light Up Edinson

I went to the Rangers-Angels game last night and had a chance to witness first hand Edinson Volquez. The rookie entered the game with the following stats:

         G  GS  W  L    IP   H   R  ER  HR  BB  SO   ERA  
Career  13  10  1  9  43.0  68  45  42   8  27  25  8.79

(The above numbers include a start vs. SEA last month in which the right-hander threw seven scoreless innings.)

He left the game with the following line: 3.0-9-5-5-0-1 (including two HR). His updated career stats now look like this:

         G  GS  W  L    IP   H   R  ER  HR  BB  SO   ERA  
Career  14  11  1 10  46.0  77  50  47  10  27  26  9.20

Volquez's H/9 is 15.1. His K/9 and BB/9 are 5.09 and 5.28, respectively. Edinson's HR/9 is 1.96. I recognize the small sample size here, but I'm more than skeptical. His fastball (which sits at 92-93 and touched a high of 94 Monday night) may have been good enough to get minor leaguers out, but his command and secondary pitches aren't going to get the job done at the big league level.

Plurality Wins Out

While on the subject of young pitchers, don't mistake Jason Hammel for Cole Hamels.

         G  GS  W  L     IP   H   R  ER  HR  BB  SO   ERA  
Hammel   7   7  0  4   34.2  43  27  27   6  18  21  7.01
Hamels  22  22  9  8  126.1 110  62  57  18  47 138  4.06

Sure, both pitchers are rookies. But the similarities stop right there. Hammel is ordinary (at best). Hamels is extraordinary.

Fantasy Tip of the Week

Eric Bedard is fast becoming one of the best pitchers in baseball. While his strikeout rate has been remarkably stable the past three seasons, he has been walking fewer and fewer batters. The reduced number of free passes has resulted in a successively lower WHIP and ERA.

       K/9   BB/9   WHIP    ERA   HR/9   GB%   FB%
2004  7.93   4.65   1.60   4.59   0.85  38.3  42.5
2005  7.94   3.62   1.38   4.00   0.64  40.0  36.8
2006  7.90   3.06   1.33   3.67   0.75  48.8  30.1

In the meantime, Bedard's current HR/9 rate is the 10th-lowest among all qualified pitchers. He's inducing more groundballs and fewer flyballs. Since late June, the Baltimore lefty is 9-4 with a MLB-best 2.27 ERA and 3.61 K/BB ratio. (Don't pay any attention to the guy with the third-best ERA during this period. You know, the one sandwiched between Roger Clemens and Johan Santana.)

A Buehrle ERA

During this same period (6/21/06-present), Mark Buehrle has had the second-worst ERA (6.69) in baseball. He has nobody to blame but himself. The Chisox southpaw is simply allowing too many balls in play. Buehrle has also been less successful due to giving up more home runs than ever.

       BABIP   K/9   HR/9   BAA    ERA
2004   .298   6.05   1.21  .271   3.89
2005   .298   5.67   0.76  .264   3.12
2006   .307   4.32   1.59  .300   4.99

Fewer strikeouts mean more balls in play. More balls in play equal more hits. More hits result in more runs. It's really no more complicated than that.

Here is a list of pitchers with K/9 rates below 4.50 (fewer than one whiff per two innings):

Paul Byrd        Cle    4.45 
Kenny Rogers     Det    4.40 
Jason Marquis    StL    4.40
Steve Trachsel   NYM    4.37  
Kris Benson      Bal    4.34 
Mark Buehrle     CWS    4.32  
Mark Redman      KC     4.08 
Aaron Cook       Col    3.84 
Carlos Silva     Min    3.53 
Chien-Ming Wang  NYY    3.06

Extreme groundball pitchers Chien-Ming Wang (3.04 G/F) and Aaron Cook (2.77) might be able to get away with K/9 rates below 4.0. Kenny Rogers, at the upper end of this group and with an above-average G/F rate of 1.62, has shown an ability to succeed as well. Aside from these three, I'm not at all sanguine about the prospects for the other pitchers on the above list.

By the way, did Mark Redman (5.83 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 4.08 K/9) really make the All-Star team this year?

Raise Your Son to be a Left-Handed Pitcher

        K/9   BB/9   WHIP
2003   5.12   2.34   1.25   
2004   5.18   2.41   1.33
2005   4.77   2.59   1.33
2006   4.96   2.65   1.35

The pitcher's ERA must have been about the same all four years, right? Wrong. Try 4.43, 4.64, 3.20, and 4.67. The pitcher in question is Jarrod Washburn. Fortunately for him, he put up the 3.20 ERA in his contract year and got Seattle's Bill Bavasi to bite on a four-year, $37.5 million contract.

Question: Do you think Washburn's ERA next year will be closer to 3.20 or 4.60? That's what I thought. A league-average pitcher at only $9.375M per year. What a country!


As your list makes abundantly clear, pitchers with low K/9 rates are prone to extreme variation in performance. They're the most likely to turn in a fluke season, where they suddenly win 16 games with a significant drop in ERA. Then they sign a big contract, and revert to their mediocre ways.

What's surprising is that baseball executives haven't figured this out by now. They've got all these numbers, and a lot more besides -- and yet they keep on signing guys like Eric Milton and Jarrod Washburn to lucrative multi-year deals. Are they stupid, or just truly desperate for pitching? Or both?

Not that I have any progeny (or plan to), but it seems like raising them to be southpaws would be a good career path if they wanted to be pitchers. Or, "Mammas, don't let yer babies grow up to be northpaws..."

I agree the K/9 losers are bad news, but wait until you see the contract Gil Meche gets because he's under 30, has a K/9 above 7, and since he pitches in the AL an NL team could think he could pull a Bronson Arroyo (which works better for guys with lower WHIPs in my book).

How much will Meche be in line for? Minimum 3/27? He's shown even less than Washburn has when it's all said and done.

a bit off topic, but...
the NL is ridiculous right now.
a week left, two games in extra frames as I type this with huge play-off implications and possibly a third on the way. Its pretty great stuff but us guys on the east coast need to get some sleep sometimes.
c'mon houston, c'mon SD, c'mon Philly.
lets shake the play-offs up a little more.

Control pitchers with low K/9 ratios do well when they are backed by a strong defensive infield. Even with strong leather behind them, they tend to have a low margin of error.