Reading the title of this post, you might be asking “Haven’t there always been intimidation pitchers?”. What I’m referring to, though, are pitchers who intimidate batters not only with their stuff, but also because the batter isn’t always sure where the next pitch may be headed.
To this point in the 2012 season, these three pitchers (min. 80 IP) are having dominating seasons, as evidenced by their ERAs and strikeout totals.
But, they’re also on pace for allowing 50% more walks than earned runs, something that hasn’t been accomplished by 3 pitchers in the same season in more than 20 years (if it happens this year, the trio will have to include someone other than Beachy, who was shelved for the year today pending Tommy John surgery).
After the jump, I’ll take a closer look at this unusual pitching profile.
Allowing 50% more walks than earned runs has happened only 12 times since 1980. These are the seasons.
|4||Chan Ho Park||2000||124||82||226.0||27||LAD||NL||34||34||18||10||.643||173||92||217||3.27||132||21|
|10||Jose de Jesus||1991||128||69||181.2||26||PHI||NL||31||29||10||9||.526||147||74||118||3.42||107||7|
The not surprising answer is that many of these pitchers were intimidators – guys who were tough to hit, piling up the strikeouts and economizing on the hits and HR allowed (if not on WHIP). The lowest K ratios on the list were by Jose de Jesus and Al Leiter (in 2004), yet Leiter was still above 6 SO/9, and de Jesus just a touch below that mark. Similarly, eight of the twelve allowed fewer hits than strikeouts, and all were below 1 HR/9. Being wild was almost an added benefit – discouraging batters from digging in and getting their best swings.
So, have these types of seasons always been this unusual (only 12 times in 32 years)? Here’s a table of such seasons by decade. Note that my K/9+ and BB/9+ metrics are simply the average for these seasons divided by average of MLB annual rates, times 100. Thus, numbers over 100 indicate more than the league average.
[table id=58 /]
So, there is quite a bit of fluctuation in how frequently these seasons occur, more especially if we consider that the seasons shown are raw totals and not normalized to the number of MLB teams in each decade. Also worth considering is that as the ratio of earned to total runs allowed has increased over time, this has made it somewhat more difficult to achieve the 50% margin of walks over earned runs, particularly in comparison to pitchers in the deadball era. Yet, the profile of a high strikeout, high walk and very good ERA pitcher relative to league average is consistent, albeit with very small sample sizes in some decades.
So, why such drastic fluctuation? I think a possible answer may be discerned from the following chart.
As the run environment increases, the tolerance for this type of pitcher diminishes. But, when runs start becoming harder to come by, this type of pitcher season returns. Ergo, those extra walks aren’t so concerning when runs are hard to come by. This also makes sense in a high run environment when minimizing baserunners becomes paramount. Perhaps also pitchers, consciously or otherwise, become not so precise with their pitches when runs are hard to come by.
You’ve noticed that I haven’t yet mentioned the current decade. There weren’t any such seasons last year – the pitchers who came closest were Tim Lincecum and Gio Gonzalez, each of whom fit the higher strikeout, higher walk, very good ERA profile. Now that it seems fairly evident that we are into a diminishing run environment, should we expect to start seeing these kinds of seasons more often? What do you think?