Archive for January, 2012

Hall of Fame Voters Really Made Love to the Pooch with This Closer Situation

One of the hallmarks of the annual Hall of Fame debates is the comparison to players already enshrined. It can be a very good exercise in determining the merits of a particular player, especially because after so many years, there are now a lot of players in the Hall of Fame. There are plenty of players at every single position. There are pitchers. There are power hitters, average hitters. There are great fielders. One area where the present Hall of Fame lacks in providing a good comparison is the Closer situation.

As Wendy Thurm’s post indicated in evaluating Lee Smith’s candidacy*, it is difficult to judge because the only full-time relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame are Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter. Hoyt Wilhem is not an apt comparison, having retired in 1972 with 500 more innings pitched than even Rollie Fingers. Wendy reached the conclusion that Smith was better than Sutter, not as good as Fingers and Gossage, and put Smith just on the other side of the Hall of Fame. It feels like the right call, but if Sutter is in the Hall what exactly is the standard for relief pitchers?

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On Zach Britton’s “Pitching to Contact” Comments

This past October, David Laurila conducted an interview with Zach Britton, the 23-year-old lefty who just finished up his rookie season with the Orioles. As a highly touted prospect, Britton didn’t put up impressive strikeout totals, but his groundball-inducing heavy sinker allowed him to enjoy much success in the minors. When Laurila asked Britton for his thoughts on his underwhelming major league 1.56 K/BB ratio, Britton responded as follows:

“I know that it could be better, obviously. I’m not going to be a guy who strikes out a ton of people; I’ll never lead the league in strikeouts. And with the movement I have, I’m going to walk guys. That’s something I can improve upon as I get older and more experienced, though. I can learn to make better adjustments… I pitch to contact. If I get a guy 0-2, I’m not necessarily looking to strike him out; I’m looking to get him to hit a ground ball. It’s a mindset. I’m not a huge believer in having to strike guys out in order to be successful. I’d rather keep my defense on their toes and get outs. Most times, when I strike guys out, it’s not on three or four pitches; it usually takes five, six or seven. Pitching to contact allows me to be more efficient.”

My first instinct was to be a bit skeptical of the effectiveness of this “mindset.”  Numerous studies have indicated that is issuing walks, not striking batters out, that ultimately increases pitch count to the point of being “inefficient.” Yet in sabermetric analysis, it is not uncommon to find outliers in these aggregate models — some players simply don’t fit the mold of generally accepted principles. Britton, after all, ought to know his own tendencies better than anyone else.

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To Throw, or Not to Throw

With a runner on first, a pitcher’s approach to a batter changes in many ways. The most obvious is the delivery out of the stretch. More subtly, the pitcher can be distracted by the runner potentially stealing a base. To mitigate the runner’s chances of stealing a base, the pitcher has the option to throw over to first, thereby keeping the runner closer to the bag.

After a few throw overs, I often hear announcers remarking that the pitcher is “distracted” by the base runner, implying that the pitcher is compromising his effort to get the batter out. By expending his mental, and maybe also his physical, energy on the base runner, he commits less towards the batter. In this article, we attempt to demonstrate this proposed effect with a statistical analysis.

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