Baseball BeatDecember 21, 2006
Bill James Handbook (Part Three)
By Rich Lederer

Today marks the third and final day of reviewing The Bill James Handbook. On Tuesday, I covered mostly fielding and baserunning. On Wednesday, I concentrated on hitting. That leaves pitching, easily my favorite area when it comes to analyzing stats.

As I wrote last year, "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."

That said, let's start off with an easily recognizable name so as not to omit his greatness when looking at the more esoteric stats of others. Johan Santana. Have you ever heard of him? The two-time Cy Young Award winner led the AL (and in many cases MLB) in ERA (2.77), BAA (.216), baserunners per 9 IP (9.13), wins (19), strikeouts (245), quality starts (24), innings (233.2), K/9 (9.44), opponent OBP (.258) and SLG (.360), H/9 (7.16), opponent AVG w/ RISP (.174), and opponent batting average + slugging or what the BJH calls BPS vs. changeups (.352). Santana also topped the majors in component ERA (2.36) and had the highest average game score (62.21). It only follows that the southpaw was number one in Win Shares (24), too. Not bad for a year's worth of work, huh?

Over in the NL, a lesser-known name nearly dominated to the same degree - at least among his reliever peers. Cla Meredith was #1 in relief opponent AVG (.170), OBP (.207) and SLG (.244), as well as relief opponent AVG vs. RHP (.107), relief opponent OBP vs. 1st batter faced (.178), and relief opponent AVG w/ runners on (.114). Was he really traded to San Diego with Josh Bard and cash for Doug Mirabelli last May? Boy, I wonder how he would look in a Red Sox uniform this year?

Jonathan Papelbon wasn't too bad either. Among AL relievers, Paps led in opponent OBP (.211), AVG w/ runners on (.112) and RISP (.082), and AVG vs. RHB (.128). He was second in relief BAA (.167) and ERA (.0.92). It will be interesting to see how he performs as a starter next year.

Chien-Ming Wang had the lowest HR/9 rate (0.50) among all pitchers with 162 or more IP. John Lackey (0.58) was second in the AL. Brandon Webb (0.57) and Derek Lowe (0.58), extreme groundball types, were first and second in the NL. Of note, Colorado had three starters - Aaron Cook (0.72), Jason Jennings (0.72), and Jeff Francis (0.81) in the top ten in the senior circut. Although not the rocket pad as in past years, Coors Field still played to an index of 114 (meaning it enhances HR by 14% over a neutral park).

Josh Beckett and Ervin Santana hit the trifecta by ranking in the top ten in the AL in BB, WP, and HBP. Neither pitcher is as wild as their counting stats might otherwise indicate because they both threw over 200 innings. On the plus side, Beckett (8.40) and Santana (7.99) were in the top five in the league in H/9. Beckett, in fact, was #1 in the majors in OBP vs. leadoff hitters (.231). Santana placed eighth (.276) in that category. The similarities don't end there. The hard-throwing righthanders ranked among the AL's top ten starters in average fastball speed (Beckett, 3rd, 94.7; Santana, 8th, 93.1). The main difference is that Beckett throws a curve (and an outstanding one at that, ranking third in the AL in Opp BPS) and Santana a slider. The latter's fastball produced the sixth-lowest Opp BPS in the league.

While on the subject of pitches, Felix Hernandez (95.2) had the highest average fastball in the AL while Brad Penny (93.9) was #1 in the NL. Joe Morgan might be happy to know that Joel Zumaya (98.6) ranked first among relievers, followed by Billy Wagner and Kyle Farnsworth (both at 96.2). Zumaya led the majors with 233 pitches over 100 mph. Farnsworth (26) was second, and Justin Verlander (19) third.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Greg Maddux (83.4), Livan Hernandez (83.9), and Mark Redman (84.1) had the slowest fastballs among pitchers with 162 or more IP. Tim Wakefield, in 140 innings, threw 1,598 pitches under 80 mph - the most in baseball.

Mark Buehrle (44.4%) relied on his fastball less than anyone else while Cook (81.0%) went with his more than four out of five pitches. Matt Morris (28.6%) was #1 in curveballs, Jon Lieber (35.4%) tops in sliders, and Tom Glavine (37.5%) the king of changeups.

Daniel Cabrera led the majors in wild pitches (17) and the AL in BB (104) even though he only threw 148 innings. Frank Bertaina (17 WP in 127 IP in 1968) and Scott Williamson (21, 112, 2000) are the only two who have ever thrown as many wild pitches in fewer innings than Cabrera. I thought the Baltimore righthander profiled like Carlos Zambrano but so far he looks to be imitating Victor Zambrano. I wouldn't give up hope just yet but would like to see the 6-foot-7 strikeout artist take a step in the right direction in 2007.

There is a treasure trove of information in the 458 pages of The Bill James Handbook. I know it will help me get through the winter and will be a useful reference source at my fantasy draft next spring. I am confident that you will enjoy this book, provided you can live with the mistakes in the park indices (which ACTA has rectified by making the corrected tables available online).


"Was he really traded to San Diego with Josh Bard and cash for Doug Mirabelli last May? Boy, I wonder how he would look in a Red Sox uniform this year?"

I have heard enough crying over Cla Meredith to last me a lifetime. First, I think Red Sox fans should wait until he logs more than 50 innings with equal success before crying over it. Second, I think guys like Scott Cassidy, Antonio Osuna, Brian Sweeney, and most of all, as the Red Sox have found out, Rudy Seanez have shown some guys who have success there won't have any in the AL, or the AL East.

Meredith gave up a lot of baserunners to lefties, and in 2005 Arroyo was hammered by lefties, I think it's safe to say the lefties you face in the AL East are tougher than the NL West.

For that matter, we can say "How good would Dennys Reyes look in back in a Padres uniform? He had an 0.89 ERA in an equal number of innings this year for the Twins!" Or the bullpen challenged Diamondbacks should bring Brian Bruney back. Is Pedro Feliciano a 2.09 ERA reliever year-in, year out? What happened to 1.49 ERA Juan Padilla from last year? Derrek Turnbow? Lights out 2005 Aaron Fultz? I still remember when Yhency Brazoban was the hottest young reliever on the planet.

If the Red Sox want to beat themselves up, do it over Mike Gonzalez. But Meredith? Nobody should be saying anything on 50 innings. His stuff is not overwhelming and he's got something of a funky delivery, I want to see more.

There is no question that Meredith's season was "flukish." I would not expect him to repeat those numbers ever again. However, I believe he is a ML-quality reliever and have no doubt Boston's management would not make that trade again. Heck, giving up Bard for Mirabelli was too much. Adding Meredith and cash just made the deal all the more one-sided. It was a steep price to pay to find someone who could handle Wakefield's knuckler. I don't think anyone in the front office would dispute that statement.

How long until Zumaya's arm falls off?

Apparently Zumaya's arm problems in the playoffs was due to his excessive playing of "Guitar Hero" on his PS system. He appeared to be healthy after being prescribed no playing of the video game by the doctors (who mused that his injury was similar to that of guitar players, not baseball pitchers, before finding out about GH).

pardon my ignorance, but what's Opp BPS?

"If the Red Sox want to beat themselves up, do it over Mike Gonzalez."

Why should the Sox beat themselves up over Gonzalez? They couldn't have done anything to prevent him from coming back to the Pirates, once the details on Lyon's arm were known.

pardon my ignorance, but what's Opp BPS?

No ignorance at all, Vishal.

The Opp stands for "opponent." The BPS is what the BJH calls batting average + slugging average. The definition was buried in the third paragraph.

ahh, i simply didn't pay enough attention in my first read-through. thanks, rich!

so what do you think this data says about pitch selection and results? that there's more than one way to skin a cat?

i also share your hopes regarding daniel cabrera.