Mowing Them Down Quickly

I am in a list kind of mood apparently this week. To those that raised good questions in the last two days, I’m sorry that I did not personally respond, I do not yet have any further data to answer those, but I will be working on it. All that working on fastballs though got me on track of thinking about strikeouts and pitchers that are the most efficient at ending at bats in that way.

To put it in variable form, on plate appearances that end in a strikeout, what is the average number of pitches thrown per pitcher? My initial theory would be that pitchers with the best “stuff” would be the most effective at recording strikeouts quickly. I looked at pitchers that recorded at least 100 strikeouts over the 2007-9 period. Top 20 best:

Taylor Buchholz 4.37
Cla Meredith 4.38
Brandon League 4.39
Chad Qualls 4.40
Tony Pena 4.45
Chris Carpenter 4.47
Ross Ohlendorf 4.50
Tim Hudson 4.53
Sergio Mitre 4.53
Brandon Webb 4.54
Peter Moylan 4.55
Pedro Feliciano 4.56
Greg Maddux 4.56
Rafael Perez 4.56
Joakim Soria 4.57
Trevor Hoffman 4.57
Octavio Dotel 4.58
Chris Sampson 4.59
Clay Buchholz 4.59
Derek Holland 4.59

And 20 worst:

Brian Wilson 5.21
David Weathers 5.19
Scott Feldman 5.18
Manny Delcarmen 5.17
Fernando Rodney 5.17
Jason Frasor 5.16
Russ Springer 5.15
Matt Garza 5.13
Greg Smith 5.13
J.C. Romero 5.11
Jarrod Washburn 5.11
Kip Wells 5.11
Orlando Hernandez 5.10
Curt Schilling 5.10
Kyle Davies 5.09
Gil Meche 5.09
Ron Villone 5.08
Damaso Marte 5.08
Guillermo Mota 5.08
Jered Weaver 5.07

The first thing I noticed was just how many more pitches it takes to get a strikeout, on average. The average pitch per plate appearance is around 3.8. For plate appearances ending in strikeouts, it’s around 4.8. There is also a sizable spread here among the most and least efficient with their strikeouts. Almost a full pitch separates the best from the worst. Moving away from the extremes though, the vast majority of pitchers converse quickly around that 4.8 average. In fact, the standard deviation is only 0.15 pitches.

The pitchers in question however exhibited less of a trend than I expected. The David Weathers and Jarrod Washburns I was unsurprised at, but Brian Wilson? He misses bats pretty well. If anything there is a slight correlation between the average number of pitches needed to record a strikeout and a pitcher’s control rate. Which makes some sense, but was not the first thought that came to my mind.



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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.


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