Largely Irresponsible Leaderboard: Spring Training Pitchers

As popular American explorer Jeff Sullivan noted at approximately this same time last year, there are a number of reasons why the numbers produced by players during spring training are unlikely to provide many clues as to the numbers those same players might produce during the regular season. Because of the limited sample sizes provided by spring play, is one reason. And because of the wide-ranging level of competition, is a second one. And because of how certain players use spring merely to work on this or that skill, is a third (if not even final) one.

And yet, with the return of the Pastime to all of our collective lives, one is eager to derive something of substance from the games being played. One finds, moreover, that the present author is contractually obligated to produce content for this site, or else. In conclusion, the question (obviously) presents itself: if one were to produce a leaderboard from just, like, five days of spring data, what would be the least irresponsible way of doing that?

Work by Mike Podhorzer from two Marches ago suggests that, in fact — and perhaps somewhat intuitively — that pitcher strikeout and walk rates from spring training possess some manner of predictive power for regular-season strikeout and walk rates. Further (if decidedly less rigorous) work by the present author indicates that the pitchers who produce the best regressed strikeout and walk rates during spring are better during the regular season, as a group, than the pitchers who produce the worst regressed strikeout and walk rates during spring.

Owing to all of these conditions — and, above all, as an excuse to embed several animated GIFs — what follows is the current SCOUT pitching leaderboard for spring training. SCOUT- combines regressed strikeout and walk rates in a kwERA-like equation to produce a number not unlike ERA-, where 100 is league average and below 100 is better than average. Note that xK% and xBB% stand for expected strikeout and walk rate, respectively.

Player Team G GS IP TBF K BB xK% xBB% SCOUT-
Neil Wagner TOR 2 0 2.0 10 6 1 24.0% 8.7% 85
Seth Rosin LAD 1 0 2.0 7 5 0 23.3% 8.3% 86
Luke Putkonen DET 2 0 3.0 10 5 0 22.6% 8.1% 87
Tim Cooney STL 1 0 2.0 6 4 0 22.2% 8.3% 89
Jacob Degrom NYM 1 0 2.0 6 4 0 22.2% 8.3% 89
Anthony Ranaudo BOS 1 1 2.0 6 4 0 22.2% 8.3% 89
Drake Britton BOS 1 0 2.0 7 4 0 21.9% 8.3% 89
Drew Hutchison TOR 1 1 2.0 7 4 0 21.9% 8.3% 89
Kevin Slowey MIA 1 1 2.0 7 4 0 21.9% 8.3% 89
Yu Darvish TEX 1 1 2.0 8 4 0 21.7% 8.2% 90

Because certain of the names above might not be entirely familiar to the reader, below are some brief notes on certain of the aforementioned leaders.

  • A native of North Dakota, Seth Rosin was selected originally by San Francisco in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. Traded to Philadelphia as part of the Hunter Pence deal, the right-handed Rosin was selected by the Mets during this past December’s Rule 5 Draft and then promptly traded to the Dodgers. Having worked as both a starter and reliever in the minor leagues, Rosin’s most likely role with Los Angeles would be in the latter capacity. During his February 26th appearance against Arizona, he exhibited a tough, running fastball and perhaps more than competent changeup, an example of which one can find below, striking out Paul Goldschmidt.

  • St. Louis left-hander Tim Cooney made a number of appearances among the Fringe Five last year, largely owing to how many opposing batters he struck out relative to how many he walked. His two-inning appearance against the Mets on Sunday was one of the spring’s most impressive early performances. Below is an animated GIF of him deceiving Ike Davis by means of an excellent curvepiece.

  • Finally, Yu Darvish‘s appearance among the top-10 here provides a paper-thin pretense upon which to re-publish the following GIF of Darvish throwing needlessly perfect slider to Matt Joyce last season for a first-pitch strike.

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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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i don’t know what’s better, Darvish’s slider or Matt Joyce slowly adjusting his pants in utter bemusement