Pitching to contact: Aaron Cook in uncharted waters

Monday in Boston, Aaron Cook tossed 7 innings of 1-run ball, with neither walk nor whiff. It was his 2nd start this year of 5+ IP with zeroes in both those columns. He’s just the 5th pitcher since 2000 with 2 such starts in a season; the high is 3 by Paul Byrd in 2008.

In 5 starts and 29.2 IP for the BoSox, Cook has faced 119 batters and totaled 2 walks and 2 strikeouts. Both Ks came in a span of 6 batters during his 3rd outing, a 2-hit, 81-pitch shutout.

Among all pitchers who faced at least 100 batters, Cook’s ratio of 1 walk per 59.5 batters faced has been bested 13 times since 1901, and currently by Mets rookie Jeremy Hefner. But none of them can match Cook’s ratio of BF/SO, also 59.5. The closest was Ed Kusel of the 1909 Browns, who had 1 walk and 2 SO out of 113 batters.

Turning the test around, there are 10 seasons with 100+ BF and a lower SO rate than Cook’s, including two who had no strikeouts. But none of their walk rates was even half as low as Cook’s. The closest was Marv Gudat of the 1925 Reds, 4 walks and no SO in 111 batters.

Among qualified seasons, the lowest SO rate was 1 per 40.9 batters by Ernie Wingard of the 1924 Browns; he walked 1 per 11.1 batters. The lowest BB rate was 1 per 83.2 batters by Carlos Silva of the 2005 Twins; he fanned 1 per 10.5 batters. The lowest combination probably was by Slim Sallee of the World Champion 1919 Reds, with 20 walks and 24 SO in 227.2 IP and 893 batters — 44.7 batters per walk and 37.2 per strikeout.

P.S. Cook got 15 of his 21 outs on the ground Monday — 3 by Adam Dunn! (just his 3rd game this year with neither SO nor BB) — with 5 flyouts and 1 lineout. He didn’t get the win in Boston’s 5-1 triumph over Kevin Youkilis (3 hits, 2 doubles) and the other Sox (2 singles), due in part to an unearned run in the opening frame on an error by Adrian Gonzalez. The first baseman atoned twice over, with the tying RBI in that inning, and a tiebreaking 3-run HR in the 8th, his first HR since June 24 and 7th this year, and his first 4-RBI game of the season. Pedro Ciriaco had 3 hits, a level he’s reached in 4 of his 7 games played.

38 thoughts on “Pitching to contact: Aaron Cook in uncharted waters

  1. 1
    Doug says:

    Proof of Sallee’s prowess in not striking anyone out was that even the Black Sox fanned only twice in 59 BF (both in game 2 when the fix was still in). That 1919 season is the only one (min. 162 IP) with BB/9 and SO/9 rates both under 1.

    Slim’s 21-7 record that year at age 34 was his only 20-win season. Sallee is one of only twenty pitchers (out of 227) to record a single 20-win season at age 34 or older (Mike Mussina and David Wells are the two oldest pitchers to do this, excl. Federal League).

  2. 2
    brp says:

    His career rates are pretty crazy low for K/9 as well… 3.8 only. That’s got to be pretty low for any starter in the past 30 years as the K rates have skyrocketed.

    • 3
      Lawrence Azrin says:

      Derek Lowe this year has 3.3 K/9, the lowest for any MLB pitcher qualifying for the ERA title. But Cook’s rate of 0.6 K/9 so far this year is just crazy-low, even for less than 30 IP.

      • 14
        MikeD says:

        Henderson Alvarez also has a very low strikeout rate, yet remains in the Blue Jays’ rotation. As offense decreases, I wonder if we’ll see an increase in pitchers who are successful on some level with lower K rates, as we saw back in the 1970s and 80s. Are these pitchers signaling a trend that it’s now at least possible to survive as a MLB pitcher with lower K rates? Yet overall strikeout rates continue to be at historic levels even as offense has ticked back to pre-1994 levels.

        In other words, I’m confused.

  3. 4
    Hub Kid says:

    John’s post (aside from making this Red Sox fan’s week), got me thinking about K/9 and BB/9 career rates.

    As brp said @2, Cook’s career K/9 is 3.8, which appears very low for the current era. Cy Young’s K/9 was 3.4 (w/career BB/9 of 1.5), obviously saying a bit about his era of pitching.

    Cook’s career BB/9 is 2.7, which is not particularly low.

    Here are some career rates, mostly cherry-picked (“manually”) to try and find “contact” pitchers. I don’t really have any idea what makes a good contact pitcher, and am pretty sure that Walter Johnson wasn’t that type of pitcher, but have kept him in anyway.

    BB/9 K/9
    Walter Johnson 2.1 5.3

    Warren Spahn 2.5 4.4
    Tom Glavine 3.1 5.3
    Tommy John 2.1 3.2
    Robin Roberts 1.7 4.5
    Jim Kaat 2.2 4.9

    and some active pitchers:

    Jamie Moyer 2.6 5.4
    Livan Hernandez 3.0 5.6
    Derek Lowe 2.7 5.8
    Mark Buehrle 2.0 5.1

    • 5
      no statistician but says:

      Eddie Lopat was a true contact pitcher. His BB/9: 2.40 (in a high BB era) and 3.16 for SO/9. A kind of junk-ball pitcher whom nobody could look at without wondering how he did it, lobbing the ball up there as it he were pitching batting practice.

    • 6
      John Autin says:

      Using the same concept Bill James used for Power/Speed Number (the square root of the product), I whipped up a couple sets of numbers for starters with 500+ IP since 2000.

      1) “Non-Contact Number” — Using the square root of the product of BB/9 and SO/9, the lowest Non-Contact Number for 2000-12 belongs to Brad Radke, 2.68. (Based on 1.36 BB/9 and 5.29 SO/9.) The lowest among actives are Nick Blackburn (3.13), Doug Fister (3.16) and Mark Buehrle (3.21). The highest are Ollie Perez (6.79), Jonathan Sanchez (6.73) and Edinson Volquez (6.52).

      2) Since the scales for raw BB/9 and SO/9 are so different, and those numbers are based on IP rather than batters faced, I calculated a second SQRT-of-the-product number based on the ratio of each pitcher’s BB% to the 2012 league average, and the same for their SO%. I’ll express this on a scale like ERA+, where 100 is average. Among active starters, the lowest of these numbers (I don’t know what to call it) belong to Blackburn (63), Aaron Cook (65) and Fister (67). The highest are the same 3 guys as before.

      • 16
        JDanger says:

        Just out of curiosity, what are the benefits of using your formula (1) rather than simply a BF-K-BB/BF?

        • 17
          John Autin says:

          JDanger, good question. Your idea is simpler, and would probably yield very similar rankings for most pitchers.

          Without running the numbers, I think the main difference is that (BF-K-BB)/BF, in our era, would be more dependent on the K rate, since the range of K/9 is broader than that of BB/9. A pitcher with a very high K rate and a medium BB rate — say, Tim Lincecum — would come out in the same general vicinity as one with a very high K rate and a very low BB rate — say, Pedro Martinez — simply because they both have far more Ks than BBs.

          Using (square root of the product) somewhat reduces the impact of an extreme K rate and steers the rankings more towards a balance of the two rates.

          That’s not to say my way is better in the abstract, but I think it’s more of what I was after.

    • 7
      Hub Kid says:

      Are junk-ball and pitching to contact pretty much the same thing?

      I got a 2.77 for Eddie Lopat’s “non-contact number”, using John’s formula 1.

      John, thanks for actually adapting (inventing!) these two ways way of measuring a comparable statistic.

      May I suggest, without having your grasp of stats (or language) Non-Contact +/- for the second number? For this kind of thing, pitchers can be pretty good at either end of the scale, although I am not sure I would want Ollie Perez on my favorite team, with an idea of his star-crossed Mets career.

      • 12
        Hartvig says:

        “Are junk-ball and pitching to contact pretty much the same thing?”

        I would say not necessarily, in part at least because “junk-ball” is such an I’ll defined term.

        In my day, Mike Cuellar had a reputation as a junk-ball pitcher because the threw a screw-ball and a lot of change ups but he struck out over 200 in one season and at least 175 in 3 others. Some even considered Luis Tiant a junk-baller and he struck out over 2400 batters in his career.

        • 34
          Chad says:

          I grew up watching the Tigers in the 80’s, and my definition of a junkballer at that time was Frank Tanana. I knew he used to be a flamethrower in his younger days, then had arm troubles, but managed to hold on and have a lengthy career. Through his first 5 years, he averaged 7.79 k/9, and over the last 16 years just 5.31 k/9, which is still pretty good compared to some of those names thrown out above.

          Had he not gotten injured, his career could have turned out spectacularly – he accumulated 66 wins and 27 WAR through his age 23 season.

          I’ll never forget his clinching shutout against the Jays on the final day of the ’87 season to clinch the division with that amazing comeback.

  4. 8
    Larry says:

    Off topic but interesting. Astros radio guys said that research is being done to see if the Astros @Padres game last night (7/16) played in ?3:20? might be the longest 2-0 nine inning game EVER played. The Astros scored both runs on sacrifice flies. The Padres outhit the Astros something like 6 to 4 but gave up 9 walks. Very few patrons were on hand at the end. That could very well go down as the most boring game in the history of major league baseball.

    • 9
      Jim Bouldin says:

      Those two teams should play more often!

    • 10
      John Autin says:

      I’d-a rather seen a boring game tonight than the latest Mets bullpen double-meltdown. For the capper, I walk away from the TV with 2 out in the Washington 10th, game tied and sacks full, to go look at my stepdaughter’s latest photography project; and while I’m enjoying that (and enjoying not watching another Mets reliever), my wife comes in with the important update that the Mets lost on a friggin’ wild pitch. Gee, thanks, honey.

      Right at this moment, I’m really hating being a baseball fan.

      • 15
        tag says:

        No, John, right at this moment you’re not being a baseball fan. You’re being a Mets fan. That’s a recipe for pain.

        Breathe deep. Transcend. Go Zen. Stop cheering for laundry. Make “Mike Trout” your new mantra. Or just shrug and say, “Wait till next year.” It’s always worked for Cub fans. 🙂

        • 19
          John Autin says:

          Thanks for the pep talk, tag & Mike L. I’m over it.

          The fundamental problem with rooting for a sports team — and here I’ll state the screamingly obvious — is that you can’t have the highs without the lows. And sometimes they just come too close together.

          A brief narrative: I turned on the Mets game around the 5th, just in time to see Tyler Moore (don’t call me Mary) impressively drive a not-bad outer-half fastball from Jon Niese over the RF wall for the game’s first run. Niese was otherwise splendid in his 7 IP — just 2 other hits, both singles (one a bunt), no walks, 8 Ks, 69 strikes out of 89 pitches.

          The Mets blew a chance to tie it in the 6th: Leadoff double and a wild pitch, but Hairston whiffed, Bay (oy) popped to shallow CF and Davis grounded out. They waste a 1-out double in the 8th.

          Bottom 8, Ramon Ramirez somehow gets 2 consecutive outs — I don’t think he’s done that all year — bringing up the pitcher’s spot. Now Terry Collins starts overmanaging. Nats PH with Roger Bernadina, a consistent .242 hitter (basically the same vs. RHP, ’cause he rarely gets to face a lefty), with modest power — 20 HRs in over 1,000 PAs. With 2 out and none on, there just isn’t any reason to react to Roger friggin’ Bernadina. (God help me if we’re reacting to the fact that Bernadina singled in his one previous meeting with Ramirez.)

          So in comes rookie lefty Josh Edgin. Nats counter with Mark DeRosa, who’s hitting .122. Edgin friggin’ walks him, then pays him no mind and he steals 2nd. Gets to 1-and-2 on Steve Lombardozzi (6 for 37 against LHP), but allows a soft double that brings in the insurance run.

          I’m about to pack it in; Clippard hasn’t blown a save since he took over as closer, and hasn’t allowed a HR all year. But just as I reach for the remote, Thole starts the 9th with a single. I can’t bail on Wright — he has 2 HRs in 13 ABs against Clippard. He takes 2 quick strikes, works it full and singles. Hairston’s 3rd straight whiff brings up Bay (oy) — but praise jeebus, Collins pulls him back and sends up Jordany “All he does is hit big HRs” Valdespin.

          And on a 1-2 pitch, there it goes! — his 3rd pinch-HR in 20 ABs, and 4th in 28 ABs as a substitute!

          But Gary Cohen gets carried away with emotion and unintentionally kills us. I love Gary, but the time to call it a “game-turning, potentially season-turning hit” is AFTER THE GAME IS OVER. I immediately realize that our chance of preserving a 1-run lead is 50-50 at best.

          Sure enough, Bobby (“I am Heath Bell in his Mets days”) Parnell lets men to the corners with 1 out. But suddenly, he breaks out an unhittable curveball. Moore goes down on 3 straight curves, and 3 more gets a 1-2 count on Espinosa. He takes one wide, beats another into the foul dirt. An unprecedented 8 straight curves from Parnell, 7 of them perfectly placed. One strike to get. Whaddaya gonna throw next?

          Fastball, knee-high, right down the middle, and right up the middle is where it goes. Game tied.

          So we do it all over in the 10th: Thole comes through again, a 2-out, go-ahead double. But now Collins’s maneuvers bite him again. Having pulled Parnell for a pinch-sacrifice, he needs a pitcher. Unfortunately, all our relievers stink, so all you can do is play matchups.

          So why on earth is Tim Byrdak starting the inning against righty backup catcher Solano? Yeah, I know we needlessly burned an extra RP in the 8th, and we want Byrdak to face the guys due up 2nd and 3rd. But the first out is the most important one; Solano has hit lefties well in very limited action (3 for 8, HR, 2B); the Nats have already used Jesus Flores and aren’t carrying a 3rd catcher, as far as I know, and they’re surely not going to pull Solano just because a righty is on the mound.

          And while I respect the work Byrdak has done for us so far, this Collins-hatched notion that he’s NOT a LOOGY is clearly belied by the numbers. But there he is, and Solano starts it with a hit, and it all goes to hell again.

          OK, enough of that.

          The other thing I’m bummed about is this faux contender status, plus the current swoon, are keeping the Mets from bringing up either of their premier SP prospects to fill the hole left by Dillon Gee’s blood clot. No one has come out and said it, but I assume the braintrust doesn’t want the kids to make their debut in the midst of this malaise, with the possibility that they feel extra pressure to stop the bleeding. And I understand that.

          I just wish someone would acknowledge the obvious: You cannot make the playoffs without a single reliable reliever. And unless a couple of shrewd deals are pulled off RIGHT NOW to shore up the WORST BULLPEN IN BASEBALL without giving up top prospects, and/or unless they’re willing to make the unconventional move that Collins has talked about — using Dickey in relief between starts — there’s just no reason to view the rest of this season as anything but development time. So let’s see the kids!

          • 23
            tag says:

            I didn’t watch the game but caught the condensed version of it on MLB.com the next morning. I couldn’t fathom why Ramon Ramirez was pulled in favor of Edgin; thanks for the explanation. Those condensed games go by breezily and you don’t catch too many of the nuances. Your explanation of the usual over-managing puts it into perspective.

            I have to say: I thought of you while I was watching it and figured you had been suffering through it. But, man, watching Bryce Harper step up there and lace that triple was something. Yes, the Mets lose in that instance, but baseball wins.

      • 18
        birtelcom says:

        Yes, I know, John. My TV was lucky to survive that game. I can only take solace in interesting numbers. The Mets had three different relievers each with WPA numbers below negative 30% in the same game last night. That had never happened before in Mets history. It only happens once a year or so in the majors.

    • 13
      Richard Chester says:

      I did some browsing and found a 2-0 9 inning game that lasted 3:30. It occurred on 7-28-46 when the Indians defeated the Senators with Bob Feller besting Bobo Newsom. I am suspicious of the recorded time in the box score because only 65 batters came to the plate and there were only 5 walks.

      • 21
        Mike L says:

        Richard @13, I checked that date. That was the first game of a double header between the two, and I wonder if it’s just a misprint. The second game, which was 7-4, only took 1:58. So maybe B-Ref added the two together accidentally, or maybe they counted the time between the games. baseball almanac has a time for the second game, but none for the first

        • 28
          Richard Chester says:

          Mike L: Thanks for the follow-up.

          I also found that on 9-12-2005 the A’s defeated the Indians 2-0 in a 9-inning game in 3:18. There were 73 players who came to the plate and there were 10 walks. Also there were 8 pitching changes, making the length of the game believable.

  5. 11
    Mike L says:

    John A? It will be ok. I’m older than you and have more “you stinks” hurled at tv screens. Your stepdaughter appreciates you.

    • 20
      Jim Bouldin says:

      Surely the guy who famously shot his TV with a shotgun was a baseball fan.

      • 22
        tag says:

        I didn’t watch the game but caught the condensed version of it on MLB.com the next morning. I couldn’t fathom why Ramon Ramirez was pulled in favor of Edgin; thanks for the explanation. Those condensed games go by breezily and you don’t catch too many of the nuances. Your explanation of the usual over-managing puts it into perspective.

        I have to say: I thought of you while I was watching it and figured you had been suffering through it. But, man, watching Bryce Harper step up there and lace that triple was something. Yes, the Mets lose in that instance, but baseball wins.

        • 25
          John Autin says:

          As if I need to be reminded of another irksome factor … Harper got to 3rd because of that mesh or whatever covering the video scoreboard on the RF wall. Watch the ball going straight at the wall — with Hairston close behind, ready to hold Harper to 2 bases — and then carom off at a crazy angle:

      • 24
        tag says:

        Sorry, Jim, the above was meant to be posted in answer to John’s comment above.

        Didn’t Elvis regularly shoot his TV? Though only with a pistol. I’m pretty sure he shot his cars – the Ferrari at least, when it wouldn’t start. And he wasn’t even a baseball fan. Probably just more fun ‘n’ games down in the Jungle Room.

        • 32
          Jim Bouldin says:

          No problem tag, just wanted to make John aware of the fact that he’s only one shotgun shell away from a solution to his Mets pain.

          Might also provide some comfort here to note that some of us have to try to figure out the decision making processes of Jim Leyland on a regular basis.

  6. 26
    Mike L says:

    I think, from the string John A has started, we can all agree that we are “compilers” when it comes to agony.

  7. 27
    Ed says:

    Since there’s no where else to put this, I wanted to point out that Jose Lopez of the Indians did something quite rare a few days ago, perhaps the first time in MLB history. He was part of 3 different types of DPs – in the third inning he lined into a DP, in the 5th he grounded into one, in the 7th he was the strikeout part of a strike-em out, throw-em out double play. Doubt that’s searchable in the play index but it’s gotta be rare.


    • 30
      John Autin says:

      Excellent, Ed! You should know that anywhere on my thread is a good place to post such things.

      BTW, from my unpublished notes on that game: “Rather be lucky…: Cleveland suffered 5 DPs (3 by ground delivery, 1 LDP and a SO/CS), went 2 for 12 with RISP, and scored their first run on a 2-out passed ball (most helpful, since they’re hitting.165 with a man on 3rd and 2 out).”

      But I didn’t notice that Lopez had a hand in 3 of the DPs.

      • 35
        Ed says:

        Well then I’ve got something cool for you John! I was looking at the box score for the “Lopez game” and noticed that Desmond Jennings had the worst WPA in the game, despite hitting a 7th inning home run in a one run game. Weird.

        Which got me thinking…what’s the lowest WPA for a game in which someone hit a homerun? The record is held by Ron Brand of the Houston Astros set on August 18, 1965 (WPA of -0.524). Here’s where it gets interesting…Brand’s home run was a two run shot in the bottom of the ninth! So how did he end up setting the record despite that homerun? Unfortunately, the Astros were trailing 8-1 when Brand hit his home run so it was worthless in terms of WPA. But they kept chipping away and Brand got a 2nd at bat in the 9th inning, this time with the bases loaded, one out, score 8-7. You can guess what happened next…GIDP! Box score here:


        This led me to a new question which I’ve been unable to answer via the Play Index: what’s the record for most runs scored in the 9th inning of a one run loss? The Astros scored 6 in the above game; not sure if that’s a record.

  8. 29
    John Autin says:

    One more thing on the Mets loss: Now that I’ve finally watched the game-ending play, it obviously should have been scored a passed ball. It’s really sad how rare it is to find an official scorer who expects major-league effort and technique from a major league fielder.

    To put it bluntly, this is a bush-league effort by Josh Thole to corral a bouncing breaking ball with the winning run on 3rd. Look at the slo-mo starting around 0:44. You’re not supposed to try to pick it with the glove, and you’re supposed to form a “cup” with your shoulders and chest to try to smother the ball and keep it in front of you. As he shifts his body, Thole thrusts his right arm backward for some reason, so even if the ball did happen to bounce off his shoulder, it would carom away, not forward.

    • 31
      NatsLady says:

      Thole said after the game he should have blocked it. Of course, catchers say that a lot. But it happened to Clippard/Solano in the Rockies game just before the All-Star break, where Solano, using similarly poor technique, didn’t block a change-up and it was scored a WP (the game-winning run scored). It seems like if the ball touches the ground it’s scored a WP no matter how “blockable” the ball is.

      • 33
        John Autin says:

        Yes, NatsLady, I recall writing up the very Nats game you speak of. Solano’s effort was even worse than Thole’s.

        And now I must eat my words. Silly as it seems to me, MLB Rule 10.13(a) does clearly state:

        “The official scorer shall charge a pitcher with a wild pitch when a legally delivered ball touches the ground or home plate before reaching the catcher and is not handled by the catcher, thereby permitting a runner or runners to advance.”

        So a pitch that bounces is automatically a wild pitch. My bad.

  9. 38

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