Pitcher-on-Pitcher Violence, Ft. Clayton Richard

Look, there’s no way to begin this except with a little story. I don’t know how else I could get to the meat and keep you guys with me. From time to time, I like to play around with pitcher numbers when they’re facing other pitchers. It’s not super meaningful — little of my research is ever super meaningful — but it’s interesting to me, and it’s interesting that pitchers, at least some of the time, get to face hitters who are so tremendously worse than the rest of the guys in the lineup. It only makes sense to me to occasionally split those numbers apart.

Usually, I look at strikeouts. Strikeouts are the best indicator of dominance, at least over the smaller samples I generally encounter. I’ve written here before about how Gio Gonzalez one year put up some crazy strikeout numbers against pitchers in the National League. But something else that’s caught my eye a bunch of times is that I keep seeing the name ‘Wandy Rodriguez‘. As in, it seems like Rodriguez has been a strikeout machine against pitchers. Rodriguez has been a perfectly adequate starter, but I’ve never really thought of him as being unhittable, so his name stood out to me as slightly out of place. Eventually, this was something I knew I’d have to pursue.

This is one attempt at pursuit. I wanted to collect strikeout numbers against pitchers. I wanted to collect strikeout numbers against non-pitchers. Then I wanted to compare the numbers, to see which guys have been the most different. Anecdotally, it seemed to me like Rodriguez struck out a disproportionately high rate of pitchers, considering the rest of his body of work. I wanted to put this to the test, and see how Rodriguez stacks up against his peers. I basically looked into this for me, to sate my own curiosity, but hopefully you learn something. You probably won’t learn nothing.

Most of the research was conducted using the Baseball-Reference Play Index. I decided to isolate the 2008-2013 window, to cover the PITCHf/x era. As it turns out, I haven’t really done anything with PITCHf/x data, so the window seems arbitrary, but it is what it is and I’m not going back. I captured all the pitchers who have faced opposing pitchers at least 75 times. For each pitcher, I calculated the strikeout rate against pitchers, and I calculated the strikeout rate against non-pitchers. Then, for each strikeout rate, I calculated a z-score, which is the number of standard deviations away from the mean for the category. Finally, I subtracted one z-score from the other in order to see what I’d find. Everything I found is in the following table, which is enormous. There are 134 pitchers.

First, there’s the player. Then there are numbers against pitchers, and a z-score. Then there are numbers against non-pitchers, and a z-score. Then there’s the difference between the z-scores. This is the important column, which is why it’s last, because the last column is the important column. If this is confusing to you, I promise it’ll clear up when you see actual data. Let’s just paste that table now, in the order in which it’s ordered on my spreadsheet.

Player pK pBF pK% z npK npBF npK% z z_diff
Clayton Richard 87 203 43% 1.2 393 3112 13% -1.2 2.4
Derek Lowe 111 262 42% 1.1 483 3795 13% -1.2 2.3
Wandy Rodriguez 156 318 49% 2.0 697 3883 18% 0.2 1.8
Chris Narveson 58 126 46% 1.6 256 1551 17% -0.2 1.8
Aaron Cook 57 186 31% -0.5 247 2799 9% -2.2 1.7
Gio Gonzalez 67 122 55% 2.8 843 3852 22% 1.3 1.6
Chris Young 49 115 43% 1.1 211 1325 16% -0.3 1.5
Eric Stults 46 125 37% 0.3 210 1588 13% -1.1 1.4
Brandon Beachy 46 84 55% 2.8 229 1013 23% 1.5 1.3
Brett Myers 92 215 43% 1.2 514 3128 16% -0.2 1.3
Joe Saunders 50 143 35% 0.1 595 4788 12% -1.3 1.3
Ben Sheets 34 79 43% 1.2 243 1451 17% -0.1 1.3
Ross Detwiler 47 137 34% 0.0 198 1618 12% -1.3 1.3
Zach Duke 69 232 30% -0.7 280 2754 10% -1.9 1.2
Randy Wells 60 169 36% 0.1 285 2112 13% -1.0 1.1
Nathan Eovaldi 31 84 37% 0.3 148 1039 14% -0.8 1.1
Bronson Arroyo 130 377 34% 0.0 642 4810 13% -1.0 1.0
Jason Marquis 78 247 32% -0.4 398 3354 12% -1.4 1.0
Jamie Moyer 52 158 33% -0.2 264 2096 13% -1.2 1.0
Trevor Cahill 47 126 37% 0.4 566 3806 15% -0.6 1.0
Jeremy Hefner 28 75 37% 0.4 133 889 15% -0.6 1.0
Jake Westbrook 57 185 31% -0.5 344 2897 12% -1.4 0.9
Marco Estrada 53 106 50% 2.2 328 1503 22% 1.3 0.9
Oliver Perez 45 97 46% 1.7 332 1660 20% 0.8 0.9
Joel Pineiro 34 114 30% -0.7 306 2661 11% -1.5 0.9
Paul Maholm 116 351 33% -0.2 586 4321 14% -1.0 0.8
Roy Oswalt 95 228 42% 1.0 587 3237 18% 0.3 0.7
Dave Bush 50 154 32% -0.3 279 2079 13% -1.0 0.7
Jeff Francis 47 145 32% -0.3 344 2561 13% -1.0 0.7
J.A. Happ 74 180 41% 0.9 496 2757 18% 0.2 0.7
Ryan Vogelsong 58 153 38% 0.5 306 1854 17% -0.2 0.6
Jordan Zimmermann 83 205 40% 0.8 474 2653 18% 0.2 0.6
Barry Zito 107 316 34% -0.1 549 3800 14% -0.7 0.6
Jordan Lyles 29 86 34% -0.1 230 1599 14% -0.7 0.6
Tom Gorzelanny 67 164 41% 0.9 406 2243 18% 0.3 0.6
Kyle Lohse 104 327 32% -0.4 525 3900 13% -1.0 0.6
Braden Looper 35 130 27% -1.1 173 1578 11% -1.7 0.6
Mike Leake 68 204 33% -0.2 379 2651 14% -0.8 0.6
Mat Latos 116 255 45% 1.5 669 3243 21% 0.9 0.6
Craig Stammen 40 108 37% 0.3 271 1649 16% -0.2 0.5
Carlos Villanueva 36 83 43% 1.2 500 2533 20% 0.7 0.5
Randy Wolf 108 313 35% 0.0 594 3910 15% -0.5 0.5
Jeff Suppan 39 164 24% -1.5 189 1953 10% -2.0 0.5
Nelson Figueroa 28 79 35% 0.1 157 988 16% -0.3 0.5
Cole Hamels 170 379 45% 1.4 1017 4827 21% 1.1 0.4
Charlie Morton 61 202 30% -0.6 328 2426 14% -1.0 0.4
Chris Volstad 68 231 29% -0.7 374 2847 13% -1.1 0.4
Scott Olsen 33 116 28% -0.9 175 1385 13% -1.2 0.4
Aaron Harang 104 287 36% 0.2 641 3844 17% -0.1 0.4
Zack Greinke 67 142 47% 1.8 1088 4843 22% 1.4 0.3
Tim Hudson 80 249 32% -0.3 529 3591 15% -0.7 0.3
Jeff Karstens 46 165 28% -0.9 263 2091 13% -1.2 0.3
Wade Miley 44 128 34% 0.0 272 1706 16% -0.3 0.3
Johan Santana 82 206 40% 0.7 525 2775 19% 0.5 0.3
Mike Pelfrey 68 253 27% -1.1 481 3917 12% -1.3 0.2
John Lannan 67 273 25% -1.4 371 3308 11% -1.6 0.2
Vance Worley 32 89 36% 0.2 231 1339 17% 0.0 0.2
Manny Parra 63 156 40% 0.8 446 2277 20% 0.7 0.2
Kris Medlen 52 129 40% 0.8 382 1951 20% 0.7 0.1
Matt Cain 147 380 39% 0.6 917 4878 19% 0.4 0.1
Randall Delgado 25 77 32% -0.3 148 944 16% -0.4 0.1
Rodrigo Lopez 28 111 25% -1.3 163 1364 12% -1.4 0.1
Brian Moehler 29 118 25% -1.4 172 1475 12% -1.5 0.1
Jonathon Niese 78 219 36% 0.1 497 2833 18% 0.1 0.0
Tim Redding 28 99 28% -0.9 168 1217 14% -0.9 0.0
Tommy Hanson 80 197 41% 0.8 568 2798 20% 0.9 0.0
Hiroki Kuroda 73 209 35% 0.1 767 4415 17% 0.1 0.0
Jair Jurrjens 68 227 30% -0.6 424 2855 15% -0.6 0.0
Chad Billingsley 114 294 39% 0.6 723 3717 19% 0.6 0.0
Ted Lilly 95 250 38% 0.5 613 3213 19% 0.5 0.0
Jaime Garcia 61 176 35% 0.0 376 2163 17% 0.1 -0.1
Joe Blanton 75 226 33% -0.2 642 3828 17% -0.1 -0.1
Lance Lynn 51 115 44% 1.4 367 1621 23% 1.5 -0.1
Travis Wood 58 175 33% -0.2 367 2177 17% -0.1 -0.1
Jonathan Sanchez 91 218 42% 1.0 610 2845 21% 1.2 -0.2
Madison Bumgarner 91 223 41% 0.9 586 2785 21% 1.1 -0.2
Ian Snell 25 89 28% -0.9 225 1553 14% -0.7 -0.2
Kyle Kendrick 59 256 23% -1.6 393 3301 12% -1.4 -0.2
Jeff Samardzija 60 147 41% 0.9 476 2255 21% 1.1 -0.2
A.J. Burnett 54 131 41% 0.9 1079 5040 21% 1.2 -0.2
Cliff Lee 85 205 41% 1.0 1118 5141 22% 1.2 -0.3
Ross Ohlendorf 43 152 28% -0.9 305 2022 15% -0.6 -0.3
Clayton Kershaw 156 345 45% 1.5 1050 4395 24% 1.8 -0.3
Chris Capuano 62 180 34% 0.0 403 2174 19% 0.4 -0.4
Dan Haren 86 220 39% 0.6 1044 4981 21% 1.0 -0.4
Edwin Jackson 65 202 32% -0.3 836 4810 17% 0.1 -0.4
Juan Nicasio 30 94 32% -0.4 201 1165 17% 0.0 -0.4
Kenshin Kawakami 22 83 27% -1.1 142 977 15% -0.7 -0.4
Kevin Correia 63 258 24% -1.4 527 3907 13% -1.0 -0.4
Wade LeBlanc 37 140 26% -1.1 244 1665 15% -0.7 -0.5
John Maine 30 94 32% -0.4 193 1093 18% 0.1 -0.5
Matt Garza 43 119 36% 0.2 853 4284 20% 0.7 -0.5
Javier Vazquez 49 125 39% 0.6 672 3120 22% 1.2 -0.5
Josh Collmenter 32 98 33% -0.3 233 1282 18% 0.3 -0.5
Bud Norris 79 213 37% 0.4 621 3020 21% 0.9 -0.6
Todd Wellemeyer 33 129 26% -1.3 220 1504 15% -0.7 -0.6
Mike Minor 56 155 36% 0.2 390 1939 20% 0.8 -0.6
Homer Bailey 82 247 33% -0.2 595 3178 19% 0.4 -0.6
Jon Garland 36 176 20% -2.0 359 2940 12% -1.3 -0.6
Yovani Gallardo 123 312 39% 0.7 856 3879 22% 1.3 -0.6
Mark Buehrle 18 79 23% -1.6 699 5172 14% -1.0 -0.7
Johnny Cueto 89 292 30% -0.6 664 3758 18% 0.1 -0.7
Adam Wainwright 101 277 36% 0.3 818 3934 21% 1.0 -0.7
Jhoulys Chacin 57 193 30% -0.7 415 2395 17% 0.1 -0.8
Max Scherzer 37 84 44% 1.3 1032 4150 25% 2.1 -0.8
Ricky Nolasco 109 337 32% -0.3 857 4538 19% 0.5 -0.8
Anibal Sanchez 76 207 37% 0.3 773 3654 21% 1.1 -0.8
Jake Peavy 37 98 38% 0.4 742 3413 22% 1.2 -0.8
Jorge De La Rosa 71 211 34% -0.1 533 2683 20% 0.7 -0.9
Doug Davis 39 149 26% -1.2 289 1805 16% -0.3 -0.9
Patrick Corbin 29 90 32% -0.3 235 1224 19% 0.6 -0.9
Stephen Strasburg 60 125 48% 1.9 444 1621 27% 2.8 -0.9
Ian Kennedy 79 238 33% -0.2 665 3365 20% 0.7 -0.9
Livan Hernandez 37 210 18% -2.4 393 3346 12% -1.5 -0.9
James McDonald 51 161 32% -0.4 391 2054 19% 0.5 -0.9
Rich Harden 33 76 43% 1.2 485 1921 25% 2.2 -0.9
Randy Johnson 30 87 34% 0.0 229 1103 21% 1.0 -1.0
Micah Owings 24 96 25% -1.3 217 1369 16% -0.3 -1.0
Daniel Hudson 29 97 30% -0.7 275 1480 19% 0.4 -1.0
Andrew Miller 23 75 31% -0.5 302 1568 19% 0.6 -1.1
Ubaldo Jimenez 82 242 34% -0.1 1019 4838 21% 1.1 -1.2
Edinson Volquez 83 251 33% -0.2 657 3148 21% 1.0 -1.2
Tim Stauffer 33 126 26% -1.2 278 1601 17% 0.1 -1.2
Carlos Zambrano 58 226 26% -1.2 537 3099 17% 0.1 -1.3
Ryan Dempster 92 284 32% -0.3 976 4684 21% 1.0 -1.3
Chris Carpenter 52 192 27% -1.0 481 2658 18% 0.3 -1.3
Shaun Marcum 39 133 29% -0.7 576 2981 19% 0.6 -1.3
Roy Halladay 60 185 32% -0.3 976 4619 21% 1.1 -1.4
Chad Gaudin 24 82 29% -0.7 394 2012 20% 0.7 -1.4
Josh Johnson 73 221 33% -0.2 685 3159 22% 1.2 -1.4
Dillon Gee 34 150 23% -1.7 336 1996 17% -0.1 -1.6
Jason Hammel 36 170 21% -1.9 585 3560 16% -0.2 -1.7
Tim Lincecum 138 386 36% 0.2 1222 4910 25% 2.1 -1.9
R.A. Dickey 29 178 16% -2.6 716 4074 18% 0.1 -2.7

Hey look, near the top, it’s Wandy Rodriguez! Rodriguez’s strikeout rate against pitchers has been two standard deviations above the mean. His strikeout rate against non-pitchers has been 0.2 standard deviations above the mean. So there’s a difference of 1.8, which places him third in the table. Turns out I really was seeing something after all.

But where I might’ve expected Rodriguez to be the leader, instead I’m confronted by the fact that now I have to say something about Clayton Richard. Richard’s at +1.2 standard deviations when it comes to whiffing pitchers, but he’s at -1.2 standard deviations when it comes to whiffing non-pitchers. Against pitchers, he’s gotten strikeouts like Rich Harden. Against non-pitchers, he’s gotten strikeouts like Jamie Moyer. To be honest, this might actually be the most remarkable thing about Richard’s big-league career to date. Against pitchers, he has 87 strikeouts and three walks. Against non-pitchers, he has 393 strikeouts and 260 walks. I don’t know what it is about pitchers to him, but it’s something.

And between Richard and Rodriguez, there’s Derek Lowe. He’s closer to the former than he is to the latter. When I noticed Rodriguez’s name, I guessed that pitchers might have extraordinary trouble against big looping curveballs. Lowe makes me wonder if they also struggle against darting sinkers. What makes this tricky to investigate is that pitchers, by and large, suck against all pitches, of all types, so that’s a complication. But one notices that not far behind Lowe, there’s Aaron Cook. I’m not sure what to make of all these names.

The highest strikeout rate against pitchers belongs to Gio Gonzalez, with Brandon Beachy nipping at his heels. Marco Estrada is the only other guy at or above 50%. The highest strikeout rate against non-pitchers belongs to Stephen Strasburg, with Harden, Tim Lincecum, and Max Scherzer behind. Regarding Lincecum: the next paragraph.

Look now to the bottom of the table. Against pitchers, Lincecum’s strikeout rate is 0.2 standard deviations above the mean. Against non-pitchers, he’s at +2.1, for a difference of -1.9. It’s the second-lowest difference in the table, and it makes you wonder if Lincecum might back off a little when there’s a pitcher in the box. Alternatively, it could be something else — after all, somebody has to occupy this part of the table. Wherever there’s a top, there’s a bottom.

Yet, blowing Lincecum away, we find R.A. Dickey. Dickey has a difference of -2.7, the result of striking pitchers and non-pitchers out at almost the same rate. As a matter of fact, Dickey’s strikeout rate against non-pitchers is higher, despite your brain telling you that it should be impossible for a pitcher to try to hit a knuckleball. I’ve actually addressed this briefly before, in that post about Gonzalez — the knuckleball sort of evens the score. As this article puts it, the knuckleball doesn’t really discriminate, as it effectively reduces the difference between good hitters and bad hitters. It’s a crazy and fascinating thing to be true, assuming it’s true, and in this table Dickey’s basically by himself, separated by a full 0.8. Lincecum must have his own explanation.

The important thing is that now I’m pretty satisfied. Sure enough, Wandy Rodriguez has been particularly good at striking out pitchers, relative to non-pitchers. Yet Clayton Richard has been the most unusual in that regard, and I’m pleased to have found something worth saying about him as a professional that isn’t mean. At the other extreme, we have R.A. Dickey, which I kind of knew about, and Tim Lincecum, which I didn’t. I don’t know if I’ll ever investigate this further, but I’m content to even have these numbers. Even if the ball’s done rolling, it rolled.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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