It don’t mean a thing, if you can’t get that swing-and-miss

A story told by way of recent game notes….

Saturday

@Angels 10, Tigers 0: Rick Porcello retired 1 of 11 batters, and even that GDP couldn’t save him. The 9 runs he allowed — and they were all directly off him, capped by a first-time serving of salami a la Trout — is the most since 2007 for a starter knocked out in the 1st.

Porcello threw first-pitch strikes to 9 guys, and 8 of them reached safely. With a chance to choke it off at 4 runs, he got a 1-2 count on Brendan Harris, but the light-hitting SS fouled off 3 in a row, worked the count full, and singled to restart the carousel. After a couple of infield hits filled ’em up again, Trout fouled off an 0-2 pitch and then slammed the door on the young Tiger’s workday.

 

Twenty-four of Porcello’s pitches were swung at. Ten were hit fair, 13 were fouled, just 1 was missed. He now has 3 Ks out of 63 batters this year. He could quadruple that rate and still be below average. You can’t survive that way in today’s game, much less succeed. Batters swing hard every time, and if they put 90% of balls into play, too many will be hit hard, find holes, find gaps, find the seats. No amount of ground balls can overcome even a 10% K rate, much less Porcello’s current 5%.

Porcello was replaced in the game by Drew Smyly, a move we’ll soon hear in a broader context. Smyly tossed 5.2 scoreless innings, and has 17 Ks in 15 IP this year and a 23% K rate for his career, nearly double Porcello’s career rate.

__________

@Rockies 4, D-backs 3: Rafael Betancourt got his 7th save in as many chances, working out of his own mess as the Rox fought off Arizona’s late rush to win their 8th in a row. Their 13-4 start is the best in club history. But Betancourt’s shrinking K rate is a concern.

From 2007-11, Betancourt fanned 28% of all batters. But starting with 2010, his season K% has been 36%, then 31%, then 24%, and now — after tonight’s 0-for-6 — 15% so far this season.

The first 2 hits he allowed tonight were on 0-1, then came a damaging walk on 3 straight balls after a 1-2 count. Miguel Montero started 1-2, but fouled off 2 and worked the count full before pulling a groundout that moved the winning run to 2nd. A first-pitch flyout ended the threat.

While he’s allowed just 5 hits (no HRs) and 3 runs in 9.1 IP, his 5 walks are a red flag. Since joining the team in 2009, Betancourt had issued just 26 unintentional walks in 208 innings, or 1.1 per 9 IP.

Not all walks are awful, of course. But last Saturday, he began the 9th with a 2-0 lead and walked the first 2 men on 5 pitches each, escaping with the tying run on 2nd. Two days later, he entered a tie game in the 10th, and after a not-indefensible full-count walk to Ike Davis with 1 out, he couldn’t put away PH Kirk Nieuwenhuis (one of the most whiff-prone around), ending a 9-pitch battle with a 2-out walk that brought up David Wright; he fell behind Wright, but got him out on a fly. And tonight’s walk to the non-slugger Gerardo Parra loaded the bases with 1 out, pushing the tying run to 2nd base. Again, he survived.

The walks might be a small-sample fluke. But if the Ks don’t come up, he’ll face a big challenge to remain effective. And 38-year-olds don’t often reverse 3-year trends in such important measures.

__________

Friday

@Phillies 8, Cardinals 2 (7): With a little help from the elements, Roy Halladay notched his 67th complete game and first since 2011, allowing 2 walks and 2 hits, both HRs.

The Associated Press led with:

This was more like the Roy Halladay everyone is used to. … He’s had consecutive strong outings after starting the season with two poor ones. The two-time Cy Young Award winner … has looked like his old self this week.

Halladay said after the game:

“Today was as close as I’ve felt to where I want to be. When I stay within myself and execute the mechanics the way they should be done, I feel good where I’m at.”

Well, now. We’ll just have to see about that.

Results on the board do count, and he did have 6 Ks. But to these old eyes, it was still a far cry from vintage Doc — and in spite of the score, this outing seems barely more promising than the first two, when he got beat like a drum.

Halladay threw 109 pitches, and 50 were balls. That 54% strike rate is his lowest since 2002, a span of 304 starts. Fourteen of 25 batters took a first-pitch ball, and 14 PAs were settled with the batter ahead (including 7 full counts). Twelve of those became outs — but such results won’t repeat without better stuff than he seems to have now.

Is strike rate a meaningful measure, apart from walk rate? Consider:

  • Last year, starts with less than 60% strikes and no more than 2 walks produced a combined 5.56 ERA and a team W% of .390 (equivalent to a 99-loss season).

But maybe those who are used to pitching that way can be successful?

  • In the past 5 years combined, out of 18 pitchers with 7 or more such starts, only Trevor Cahill produced an ERA under 3.74; the average was 5.13, the median 5.21. Halladay has 13 such starts in his career, with a 4.81 ERA.
  • Two of the best recent nibblers were Tom Glavine and Jamie Moyer. In this kind of start, Glavine’s ERA was 4.21 career, 4.45 from age 33 on. For Moyer, 4.79 career, 4.44 from age 33 onward.
  • For 1988-present — the entire span of B-R’s pitch data — out of 66 pitchers with at least 30 such starts, just 3 produced an ERA under 4.14 — Barry Zito (3.27), Derek Lowe (3.36) and Al Leiter (3.84). The median was 5.31.

Bottom line: No one fares well for long when working behind the hitters. From 2001-12, Halladay averaged a consistent 67% strikes and 64% first-pitch strikes — both marks 4 to 5 points above the league average — and that didn’t change last year, despite his struggles. This year, he’s at 59% strikes and 53% first-pitch strikes. Three of his first 4 starts have had strike rates under 60%, with a total of 14 runs and 5 HRs in 14.1 IP. Even the savviest pitcher is likely to lose 2 out of every 3 starts with such a low strike rate.

For sure, it’s still early days in Halladay’s adjustment period. He might get back a couple of lost MPH. And he might figure out how to work ahead even with diminished stuff. Greg Maddux certainly did; his excellent strike rates never declined, even when you could catch his fastball with a sheet of tin foil, and from age 37-40 he produced a 108 ERA+ despite a K rate well below average. Getting a couple of good results under his belt should help his confidence, no matter the luck involved. But if Halladay can’t get back to working ahead of the hitters, he’s unlikely to have much success.

__________

@Mets 7, Nationals 1: In previewing this young-gun matchup, Jerry Crasnick wrote that Stephen Strasburg this year is “focusing less on strikeouts and more on getting maximum efficiency from the pitches he’s allotted.”

That might just be Jerry’s inference, or it might be a strategy that doesn’t mean quite what it sounds like there. But if there really is an intent to have Strasburg sacrifice some strikeouts in search of longer outings, whoever thunk that up should haul his thinker down to the shop for a 24-point inspection.

What’s the point of “efficiency” unless you win? Strikeouts aren’t just the jewels in Strasburg’s crown; they’re the very reason he is so successful. In 25 games with 7 Ks or more, Strasburg has averaged just over 6 innings. Sure, you’d like to get another inning or two — but in those games, he has a 1.70 ERA, and the team is 19-6.

Would “focusing less on strikeouts” really improve his efficiency, extend his outings? In 23 starts with 6 Ks or less, Strasburg has averaged just over 5 innings with a 4.56 ERA, and the team is 11-12.

And guess what? — His career BAbip is .308, the same as Aaron Cook, Bud Norris and Justin Masterson, and 8 points above last year’s NL average. Take away his strikeouts and Strasburg is like Johnny Friendly without the shakedown cabbage and the pistoleros: “just another fellow.”

If the plan is to settle more ABs early in the count, compare his results to the league’s in early counts and overall:

Overall:
BA — Strasburg .224 (career) / NL .254 (2012)
SLG — Strasburg .334 / NL .402

Early counts (ABs settled on 0-0, 0-1, 1-0 or 1-1):
BA — Strasburg .325 / NL .330
SLG — Strasburg .502 / NL .523

He’s much better than average overall, but just a little better in early counts. (And I ran those stats before Friday, when the 8 ABs settled on early counts produced 2 HRs, a double and an RBI single.)

And here’s a quick tale of two innings: In the 1st, Strasburg got 2 strikes on the first 2 batters; each extended the AB with a foul and a ball, each got on base, and each wound up scoring. In the 3rd, the Mets got a man to 3rd base with 1 out; Strasburg escaped by whiffing the next two.

All pitchers nowadays need strikeouts, and the more, the better. Maybe it’s not my kind of game, the way 9-ball isn’t Fast Eddie‘s game; but even if it is just for bangers, everybody’s doing it. Lucky for Strasburg, that happens to be his greatest skill. He’s a strikeout artist, one of the best there is. Don’t mess with success. Let the man pitch!

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

33 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
bstar
bstar
9 years ago

John, this article here should fire up even more re: Strasburg. It’s about Nats pitching coach Steve McCatty’s philosophy of trying to get his pitchers to be more efficient and throw fewer pitches by not focusing on strikeouts:

http://sports.yahoo.com/news/mlb–nationals-pitching-coach-steve-mccatty-fewer-ks-equals-more-ws.html

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

I see his point, to a tiny degree. Trying to get Strasburg to add a little Justin Verlander to his game and occasionally dial it back does sound like a good idea on some level, but implementing that seems easier said than done. And like you say, why mess with success? I think the reason the article hints that it’s not just McCatty but an organizational philosophy is because the Nats are so tied to Strasburg and his health, and perhaps they feel he has a better chance at long-term health pitching non-100% all the time. Or not. 🙂 The… Read more »

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

I’ll disagree that what Kris Medlen did last year (and is continuing to do this year) is fluky in any way. At what point do we give this guy credit for just flat-out dominating the league for now half a full year? Medlen started his reign of terror (as a starting pitcher) on NL hitters last July 31st. That start, eleven others last year, and four this year equals 16 starts. That’s half a year. Here’s the best 1st half/2nd half splits in ERA in baseball for starters in the last five years: -Kershaw, 1.31 ERA, 2nd half of 2011… Read more »

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Yes, I definitely took one sentence of yours out of context and made a different point. But as long as I frame it that way, what’s wrong with that? I’m not arguing against your condemnation of pitch count efficiency. I never was. My point is about Kris Medlen alone. Let me make it clearer: Medlen’s 0.94 ERA in the second half last year is the lowest 1st-half/2nd-half ERA in baseball in the last 94 years. Walter Johnson had a 0.76 ERA for the first half of the 1918 season. So we have to go back to deadball-era baseball to find… Read more »

Ed
Ed
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

So who’s the “anti-Medlen”?

That is, the pitcher with the worst 1st or 2nd half ERA (minimum 10 starts).

Answer…none other than Roy Halladay, whose 11.68 ERA in the first half of 2000 is nearly a full run higher than the person in second place (Aaron Myette, 2nd half, 2002).

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

JA @25 We’re in agreement. I hate Neyer’s argument. It’s like people who buy in too heavily to DIPS theory think that it’s an affront to his teammates when a pitcher actually allows a ball-in-play and lets his defense get the guy out. That’s why they’re standing out there. That’s baseball. As for Medlen’s newest streak of dominance, I’m well aware of it, although I think at least 5 IP should be required. When you put that qualifier in, Medlen’s streak is only 16 games and is miles away from Greg Maddux’s all-time record of 29 starts with 5+ IP… Read more »

bstar
bstar
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Ed @26

I was using 90 IP as the minimum for a qualifying half-season of work. I should probably go lower. If we go with 75 IP (162 needed to qualify for ERA title, but the second half is shorter than the first so I cut it back to 75), the anti-Medlen crown goes to Steve Blass with a 10.27 ERA in the first half of 1973.

Ed
Ed
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Bstar – Yeah but when you’re pitching that bad it’s hard to accumulate many innings. Which is why I went with games started.

Paul E
Paul E
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

“” The world has always had decision-makers who deliberately ignore the facts that they most *should* know, when those facts go against their own prejudices “”

Yes, John. In corporate America, they’re called “management”…

Love the executive decision by you to go with Lee J. Cobb and Paul Neuman. Keep up the good work

Ed
Ed
9 years ago

In other news, the Indians scored 14 runs in the first two innings of a game for only the 4th time in franchise history. Last time was in a 2009 game vs. the Yankees. A few other notes: 1) Corey Kluber was awarded the victory even though the score was 19-6 when he came into the game. Wonder how often a pitcher gets awarded a victory when they come into a game with a 13 run lead? 2) Actually the decision to give Kluber the win seems a bit strange to me. Bryan Shaw came into the game in the… Read more »

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
9 years ago
Reply to  Ed

On 5-2-54 the Pirates defeated the Cubs 18-10. Frank Thomas (the first one) of the Pirates doubled in the first, second and third innings and homered in the fourth. On PI I ran the game finder for players with more than 4 hits and more than 3 doubles (there were quite a few) and searched box scores for teams who scored a high number of runs. I stopped searching after the Thomas game. If I feel like it I may do some more searching later.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
9 years ago

On 4-21-2006 Mike Young had a single and 3 doubles in the first 4 innings.

Ed
Ed
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Thanks John! In my opinion, Shaw and Kluber were both equally effective and based on the last sentence you quoted, the win should have been given to Shaw as the earlier pitcher.

That being said, I think this game is a perfect illustration of the absurdity of awarding a win to a pitcher. In reality, neither Shaw nor Kluber deserves to be awarded a win. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…pitchers don’t win games, teams do!

MikeD
MikeD
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

I wonder if the Player’s Association will ever try and change the rule when it comes to awarding starting pitcher wins, possibly lowering the minimum five-inning requirement to four innings?

We may view it as a junk stat, but pitchers don’t since their compensation is still impacted by it. With the rise of the bullpen, I’m surprised it hasn’t been suggested.

A question if anyone knows. While we know complete games have dropped, has the average number of innings pitched per game by a starter dramatically dropped based on a per start basis over the past twenty-five/thirty years?

MikeD
MikeD
9 years ago

Porcello, the new Jeff Weaver?

Hartvig
Hartvig
9 years ago
Reply to  MikeD

I was blasted by 3 or 4 different people on the MLB Trade Rumors site after the 2011 season after I suggested that the Tigers might want to see what Porcello could bring on the market. I had some of the same thoughts this spring when Porcello was looking fairly sharp and we were in better shape rotation wise than we were at the beginning of 2012 but I held my tongue. I hope for both Porcello’s & the Tigers sake that I’m wrong in my thinking but I just don’t see how he can be successful at the major… Read more »

Hartvig
Hartvig
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Scott Erickson is another name that springs to mind. Another low-k sinkerballer who’s career started successfully and then hit the skids for a few years until he found a way to strike out a few more batters and managed a mini-mid-career resurgence which he parlayed into half a dozen or so more major league seasons than he otherwise would have had.

mosc
mosc
9 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

Pelfrey is an excellent comparison. Similar pitching attacks. Similar Futility.

Luis Gomez
Luis Gomez
9 years ago

Can somebody explain the reasoning by the umpires, last friday? In the Brewers game, Jean Segura stole second, then, trying to steal third, got in a rundown, the runner on first took second and the same time Segura returned to second base. He thought he was out and troted to the first base dugout, then realized he could end up in first, so he stayed there. How could a runner tries to steal third, ends up in first base? Why did the umpires allowed that?

trackback

[…] Stephen Strasburg (24) I might have felt better about Strasburg before the Nationals allegedly told him to stop trying to strike hitters out, but I suppose it doesn’t matter if I’m the GM of […]