Wild but Effective – the Return of Intimidation Pitchers?

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.

Rk Player Year BB ER IP Age Tm Lg G GS W L W-L% H R SO ERA ERA+ HR
1 Brandon Beachy 2012 29 18 81.0 25 ATL NL 13 13 5 5 .500 49 24 68 2.00 200 6
2 Ryan Vogelsong 2012 32 21 82.2 34 SFG NL 12 12 6 2 .750 64 22 58 2.29 156 5
3 C.J. Wilson 2012 38 22 86.0 31 LAA AL 14 14 7 4 .636 57 26 76 2.30 166 4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/19/2012.

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.

Rk Player Year BB ER IP Age Tm Lg G GS W L W-L% H R SO ERA ERA+ HR
1 Clayton Kershaw 2009 91 53 171.0 21 LAD NL 31 30 8 8 .500 119 55 185 2.79 143 7
2 Daisuke Matsuzaka 2008 94 54 167.2 27 BOS AL 29 29 18 3 .857 128 58 154 2.90 160 12
3 Al Leiter 2004 97 62 173.2 38 NYM NL 30 30 10 8 .556 138 65 117 3.21 133 16
4 Chan Ho Park 2000 124 82 226.0 27 LAD NL 34 34 18 10 .643 173 92 217 3.27 132 21
5 Al Leiter 1996 119 70 215.1 30 FLA NL 33 33 16 12 .571 153 74 200 2.93 139 14
6 Wilson Alvarez 1993 122 68 207.2 23 CHW AL 31 31 15 8 .652 168 78 155 2.95 143 14
7 Randy Johnson 1992 144 88 210.1 28 SEA AL 31 31 12 14 .462 154 104 241 3.77 105 13
8 Mike Moore 1991 105 69 210.0 31 OAK AL 33 33 17 8 .680 176 75 153 2.96 129 11
9 Randy Johnson 1991 152 89 201.1 27 SEA AL 33 33 13 10 .565 151 96 228 3.98 103 15
10 Jose de Jesus 1991 128 69 181.2 26 PHI NL 31 29 10 9 .526 147 74 118 3.42 107 7
11 Sid Fernandez 1985 80 53 170.1 22 NYM NL 26 26 9 9 .500 108 56 180 2.80 125 14
12 Nolan Ryan 1983 101 65 196.1 36 HOU NL 29 29 14 9 .609 134 74 183 2.98 114 9
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/19/2012.
Notice that all of these seasons are above 100 ERA+ and eight of them (two-thirds) have ERA+ of 125 or better. So, these pitchers were certainly effective, despite their wildness. And, wild they were – half of these seasons led the league in walks allowed. But, why do the walks not catch up with these guys?

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? 


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13 Comments on "Wild but Effective – the Return of Intimidation Pitchers?"

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Richard Chester

Doug: Did you exclude 5 ERA qualifying pitchers from the 1981 season because it was strike shortened?


Yes, it was 162 IP across the board. So, will limit or exclude 1981 and 1994 seasons.

Timmy Pea

Speaking of pitchers, I’m surprised there is no mention of the Roger Clemens verdict here at HHS. Clemens was on trial for over 5 years and few wanted to believe him.


I was thinking the same thing.

John Nacca

Because the verdict proved nothing. Only he “didn’t lie” to Congress, or whatever. DID NOT say he did NOT do roids/PED’s. Which of course EVERYONE (it seems) thinks. I don’t know how many articles I have read in the past 24 hours that start with……

“So now that Clemens has been found not guilty of using PED’s…….”


“The HOF voters now will have to contend with the verdict that Clemens was clean…………”


That trial, along with basically every other trial held to show guilt by a sports figure, is a total waste of time and money.

Great pitcher…great cheater…

no statistician but

Don’t worry. As soon as O.J. gets out of jail he’ll be back sleuthing to find his wife’s killer.

Follow the parallel lines.

e pluribus munu
I think Timmy’s statement, “few wanted to believe him,” is right. I expect the same people who didn’t believe him before won’t believe him now – the verdict wasn’t about belief, it was about proof. I’m inclined not to believe Clemens, but based on what I read about the trial evidence, I thought a guilty verdict would have been arbitrary. Although my own suspicions and prejudices will make me hope that Clemens doesn’t get into the Hall on the first ballot, since Clemens never tested positive for PEDs I don’t see any justification for an actual Hall voter not to… Read more »
Mike L

epm @8, great comment. Game is over for Clemens and put it in the W category. The government had its shot (twice, actually) and they were outgunned, out-lawyered, and outsmarted. And Congressional hearings ought to be reserved for serious stuff (like throwing games) and not just extended photo-ops of staged indignation. As to the HOF, I doubt this verdict, or pretty much anything else that could possibly come out about Clemens that we don’t already know or suspect, would change anyone’s mind.

Mike L- I agree with both you and epm that this was political grandstanding and little more. I also agree that this also does not clear Clemens of using PEDs in any way. I imagine that eventually both he and Bonds will probably make the Hall of Fame but I really doubt it will be on the first ballot. I’m much more doubtful about McGwire and Palmeiro and eventually Sosa’s chances. Several prominent names on the leaders by decade come as no surprise but there were a few that didn’t make it that were (at least for me). I don’t… Read more »
e pluribus munu
Doug, I think that when you calculate the environment (as opposed to the type of pitcher), you do need to use runs, rather than earned runs, as you yourself seem to recognize. When I run the figures using runs, rather than earned runs, for the environment, the correlation is much less obvious: the run averages I get (using your figures) are these – with the number of pitcher seasons divided by number of tems (more or less), so the figures are for ave. total runs and for the ave. of pitcher seasons per team: ’00s 3.95 (2.25) ’10s 3.98 (3.1)… Read more »

Interesting stuff, Doug. Looks like we can scratch Brandon Beachy off the list for this year-he’s having TJohn surgery on Thursday.