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Tom Milone and the Whole Velocity Thing
Posted By Carson Cistulli On December 29, 2011 @ 4:37 pm In Athletics | 31 Comments
Because you’re the sort of person who would do such a thing, you’ve likely found yourself, at one point or another, having dirty thoughts about the major-league equivalencies (MLEs) for soft-tossing, and recently traded, left-hander Tom Milone.
If, somehow, you’re not that sort of person, perhaps you’ve wandered to this site by accident. In any case, here’s a recap of what you would’ve found there:
In 2010, pitching at Double-A Harrisburg, a 23-year-old Milone posted a zMLE line (that’s ZiPS MLE) of 151.3 IP, 27/27 GS/G, 6.78 K/9, 1.84 BB/9, 1.01 HR/9, ca. 3.92 FIP.
In 2011, pitching at Triple-A Syracuse, a 24-year-old Milone posted a zMLE line of 145.2, 24/24 GS/G, 7.84 K/9, 0.99 BB/9, 0.62 HR/9, ca. 2.72 FIP.
These numbers are, of course, fantastic — in particular, so far as Milone’s strikeout-to-walk ratios are concerned. (His untranslated K/BB over the last two seasons is predictably even better, at about 8:1.) However, talent evaluators like Keith Law, for example — that is, people who know a thing or two about a thing or two — think Milone’s lack of velocity (his four-seam fastball averaged just 87.8 mph, per PITCHf/x, in 2011) constitutes an impediment to his major-league success.
Analyzing the recent trade that sent Milone and others to Oakland, Law wrote the following:
Milone, 24, is a finesse lefty with a below-average fastball and no out pitch; he might survive as an emergency guy in a big ballpark like Oakland’s, but they can and will do better for the back of their rotation.
As the one tasked with writing Milone’s capule for this year’s edition of The Second Opinion (something which you should buy early and often), I decided to take a look at what 2011’s numbers could teach us about the relationship between velocity and strikeout rate. Note, please, that the work here isn’t intended to serve as a definitive statement on Tom Milone’s future as a major-league pitcher, but rather to give readers more information regarding velocity and strikeout rate.
First, let’s look at the relationship between fastball velocity (per PITCHf/x) and strikeout rate. This is similar to work published by Dave Cameron back in 2009, with a few differences. For one, I used strikeout rate (as a percentage of total batters faced) instead of strikeouts per nine innings. Furthermore, I used only starting pitchers (excluding, for obvious reasons, R.A. Dickey and Tim Wakefield). In any case, the results are similar.
Fastball velocity explains a little bit
more than 40% about 17%* of strikeout rate — which, that’s a considerable amount, and not particularly encouraging for Milone. Using the equation from the above graph, we find that a pitcher with an average fastball velocity of 87.8 mph would be expected to strike out ca. 15% of opposing batters — or, somewhere between 5.5 and 6.0 batters per nine innings.
*Apologies. The author majored in Latin, a course of study to which even the most rudimentary of stats courses is superfluous.
“What about handedness?” is a question you might be asking in your mind. Conveniently, this is a question that I asked in mine, too. The term “soft-tossing lefty,” while not the highest form of praise, exists because left-handed pitchers, for whatever reason, seem able to pitch competently at lower velocities than their right-handed counterparts.
In fact, this was this case among the sample I looked at. The 19 right-handers who recorded an average fastball velocity between 87.0 and 88.9 mph (i.e. about 1 mph on either side of Milone), featured a combined strikeout rate of 12.9% in 2011. The eight left-handers had a combined strikeout rate of 18.0%.
On the high side of that group of are Chris Capuano (87.6 mph, 21.1% K), Ted Lilly (87.3, 19.8%), and Chris Narveson (87.9, 18.0%). On the low end is Scott Diamond (88.5, 10.5%). The rest of the group (Paul Maholm, Randy Wolf) bottoms out at 14.0%.
It’s important to note that the data on Milone’s fastball velocity comes from just five starts and 26.0 innings, so it might not be entirely representative of what we’ll see from him in 2012. Going merely by the data here, however, it appears as though a strikeout rate of 16% — or, say, something like 6.0 K/9 — would constitute a reasonable expectation from Milone.
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