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Introducing Handsome-Independent Pitching

Barry Zito underperforms his handsome.

Highly Important Note: This post was composed prior to the author’s reading of Mr. Baumann’s quite similarly motivated post of earlier today We coordinated this completely on purpose.

Those of you who, for whatever reason — novelty, I suppose — read our “stepchild” site Fangraphs, in addition to Notgraphs proper, will have noted the dramatic rollout this week of the new metric “Fielding Dependent Pitching.” I applaud the Fangraphs team for their effort and encourage them to keep at it, but here at Notgraphs we remain, to put it politely, a step ahead. Here I would like to announce our newest product, an advanced metric that brings us a massive step closer to the holy grail of fully understanding and predicting pitcher performance.

It is a matter of folk wisdom that handsome players perform better on the baseball field. One need only compare the careers of “Handsome Lou” Boudreau and “Ugly Johnny” Dickshot for a case in point! Although the factors that mediate the impact of handsomeness on performance are many and obscure, we need not address them here — except to observe that handsomeness might be expected to be especially valuable for a pitcher, who is in a unique position to wield his looks, intimately and often, against his opponent. Let us begin, then, with the uncontroversial assumption that more handsome pitchers will, on average, be more effective. How shall we begin to quantify this?

As an initial step, I put together a sample of two (2) adult women, namely, my lovely and indulgent girlfriend and my gracious mother, and asked that they rate the handsomeness of all qualifying 2012 pitchers on a scale from 1 to 5. The coincidence of their ratings, notwithstanding their firm divergence over Tim Lincecum, encouraged me that the phenomena being measured here are indeed objective and universal. I then averaged their ratings and looked at the twenty pitchers who ranked highest and lowest. In the handsome corner, we have an indubitably illustrious group composed of Edwin Jackson, C.J. Wilson, Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook, Cole Hamels, Clayton Richard, Ryan Vogelsong, Ryan Dempster, Cliff Lee, Adam Wainwright, Josh Johnson, Jeremy Guthrie, J.A. Happ, David Price, Madison Bumgarner, Tommy Hanson, and Josh Beckett:

And in the less handsome corner, in no particular order, we have Aaron Harang, Bud Norris, Clay Buchholz, Mat Latos, R.A. Dickey, Trevor Cahill, Bartolo Colon, Felix Hernandez, James McDonald, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Harrison, Wandy Rodriguez, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Paul Maholm, Ricky Nolasco, Zack Greinke, Bronson Arroyo, Luke Hochevar, and Ricky Romero:

Observe, first, that a lack of handsomeness does not preordain poor performance. Indeed, there are three Cy Young winners on the latter list, and at least two contenders for this year’s awards — the Oscar Pistoriuses of baseball; men who, through a heroic exertion of willpower, have rejected and overcome their genetic disadvantages in spectacular fashion. Still, the overall pattern could not be more damning:

This table, for the first time, lends stark numbers to the truth that unhandsome pitchers are burdened with a substantial handicap. They strike out fewer batters, walk more, surrender more home runs, accumulate less value, and unsurprisingly lack longevity in comparison to their better-endowed counterparts.

Stay tuned for Part II of this series, in which we will unveil HIP (Handsome-Independent Pitching) and use it to assess pitchers’ true value with unprecedented rigor.