The Contact Tales: 2003

Starting Pitchers (Min IP: 100)

The Best:
Kerry Wood 66%
Brandon Webb 69.8%
Pedro Martinez 70.4%
Randy Johnson 71.3%
Matt Clement 71.6%

2003 was nearly a special season for the Cubs. Mark Prior and Wood carried the team to the cusp of a World Series appearance, but in the end fell just shy. Wood had dealt with durability questions before, but 2003 was his second consecutive 200+ inning season. In those two seasons he totaled a little over 420 innings, he’s thrown 371 since. His slider held a run value of 2.33 per 100 thrown, a career best amongst seasons where he pitched more than 100 innings.

Webb is the other non-repeating name on the list. 2003 was his first season in the Majors and he posted his best K/9 to date. Webb was and still is a groundball-generating maven, but let this be a reminder that pitchers won’t always improve on their strikeout rate after their rookie season. To make up for it, Webb began walking fewer batters and posting only somewhat lower K rates.

The Worst:
Kirk Rueter 91.7%
Nate Cornejo 90.2%
Ismael Valdez 89.1%
Rick Reed 88.7%
Danny Graves 87.9%

There’s our old friend Rueter again. Believe it or not, he’ll appear with a 90+% contact rate once more before this series is over. Cornejo is a tall righty from Kansas with an average fastball of 87.5 MPH. As it turns out, his secondary stuff didn’t fare much better in the majors, and his fastball actually did post an above average run value. Batters never chased Cornejo’s pitches out of the zone (career 15.3% O-Swing) and never missed when they swung at a pitch in the zone. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Relief Pitchers (Min IP: 40)

The Best:
Eric Gagne 56%
Jose Valverde 62.3%
Scott Williamson 65.6%
Tom Gordon 67.2%
Rafael Soriano 67.3%

Yes, Gagne was that less hittable than any other reliever in baseball in 2003. This was the stuff of Gordon’s last hurray. He’s yet to post a contact rate sub-70% since and he held up well enough for the White Sox to be rewarded with a few years of setting up Mariano Rivera.

The Worst:
Paul Quantrill 88.1%
Matt Roney 87.8%
Chad Zerbe 87.7%
Julian Tavarez 86.3%
Graeme Lloyd 86.3%

Quantrill survived by getting groundballs. He was a high-leverage reliever still, and actually was worth 1.5 WAR for the Dodgers. The next season he headed to the Yankees and had similar success. His last Major League season was 2005 even though it seems like just yesterday.

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Derek R-C
Derek R-C

Oh what Matt Clement could have been. It’s really a shame.