Another Highly Unimportant Stat: Pitcher Craftiness

In this post on measuring a player’s scrappiness, commenter Eric Garcia said “Next up, measuring a pitchers’ craftiness.” I liked this idea and thought I would give it a shot. Of course, the first problem is deciding what makes a pitcher “crafty”. Eric Garcia gave his suggestions and we will look at them eventually. I, however, thought about pitchers that came to my mind when the word “crafty” is used and looked at what they had in common. Generally, they do not have an overpowering fastball and don’t throw it that often. They usually don’t have that many strikeouts, but also don’t walk that many, so they still have a decent WHIP. The perception is that they are good at pitching out of jams, either by inducing ground-ball double plays or popups.

There were 81 pitchers that qualified for the ERA title in 2013. I found the average of this group in four categories: fastball velocity, strikeout percentage, WHIP, and LOB%. For each player I calculated how many standard deviations from the mean they were in each of these categories. I then summed these up (using the negatives for fastball velocity, strikeout percentage, and WHIP). Though “crafty” often seems to be used as a synonym for “left-handed”, I feel that you should be able to be crafty with either hand, so I did not use handedness at all. I considered using fastball percentage instead of velocity, but felt velocity better captured what we are looking for. Pitchers I think of as crafty seem to often outperform their FIP, so I considered using ERA-FIP, but felt that since the outperformance is often the result of a low strikeout rate and generally good WHIP, that it was already taken into account. The numbers are not league adjusted, so National League pitchers get a slight advantage.  So, using these criteria, here are the 2013 leaders in craftiness:

Name Craftiness Score
Bronson Arroyo 4.70
R.A. Dickey 4.44
Hisashi Iwakuma 4.03
Bartolo Colon 3.80
Kyle Lohse 3.65
Mark Buehrle 3.38
Travis Wood 3.20
Mike Leake 2.55
A.J. Griffin 2.50
Dillon Gee 2.38
Zack Greinke 2.25
Eric Stults 2.03
Kris Medlen 1.94
Clayton Kershaw 1.89
Hyun-Jin Ryu 1.86
Jeremy Guthrie 1.68
Julio Teheran 1.60
Kevin Correia 1.43
Hiroki Kuroda 1.39
Chris Tillman 1.30
Cliff Lee 1.26
Ervin Santana 1.26
Mike Minor 1.24
Jhoulys Chacin 1.22
Andy Pettitte 1.11
Doug Fister 1.04
John Lackey 0.94
Jose Quintana 0.83
Jarrod Parker 0.79
James Shields 0.77
Miguel Gonzalez 0.73
Adam Wainwright 0.72
Madison Bumgarner 0.68
Wade Miley 0.69
Scott Feldman 0.64
Jorge de la Rosa 0.55
Jeff Locke 0.47
Patrick Corbin 0.44
Jordan Zimmermann 0.35
Ricky Nolasco 0.01
Dan Haren -0.03
Matt Cain -0.13
Shelby Miller -0.23
Yu Darvish -0.32
Jose Fernandez -0.35
Chris Sale -0.39
Cole Hamels -0.47
Mat Latos -0.50
Andrew Cashner -0.57
Justin Masterson -0.55
Kyle Kendrick -0.64
Felix Hernandez -0.77
Anibal Sanchez -0.86
Matt Harvey -0.94
C.J. Wilson -0.89
Jon Lester -0.93
Jerome Williams -1.00
Max Scherzer -1.05
David Price -1.05
Rick Porcello -1.04
Ryan Dempster -1.09
Yovani Gallardo -1.10
Gio Gonzalez -1.16
Homer Bailey -1.32
Joe Saunders -1.28
Derek Holland -1.38
Ubaldo Jimenez -1.42
Jeremy Hellickson -1.83
Felix Doubront -1.85
Tim Lincecum -1.88
Ian Kennedy -1.94
Justin Verlander -2.12
Stephen Strasburg -2.17
Bud Norris -2.19
CC Sabathia -2.20
Lance Lynn -2.26
A.J. Burnett -2.35
Jeff Samardzija -3.60
Wily Peralta -3.64
Edwin Jackson -4.26
Edinson Volquez -4.84

Considering the model used here, Bronson Arroyo being on top is not really a surprise (though I really thought Dickey would probably wind up on top and he would have easily if I had used fastball percentage instead of fastball velocity).  Now some people might protest that a low strikeout rate should not be required.  They would argue that it is certainly possible that a pitcher might still be considered crafty and have a fair number of strikeouts.  If we remove the strikeout percentage from the stat, we get the following:

Name Craftiness Score
Hisashi Iwakuma 4.34
R.A. Dickey 3.99
Bronson Arroyo 3.40
Clayton Kershaw 3.28
Yu Darvish 2.88
A.J. Griffin 2.63
Bartolo Colon 2.56
Travis Wood 2.51
Cliff Lee 2.53
Kyle Lohse 2.47
Zack Greinke 2.37
Mark Buehrle 2.22
Julio Teheran 2.06
Madison Bumgarner 1.83
Hyun-Jin Ryu 1.73
Mike Minor 1.71
Kris Medlen 1.67
Dillon Gee 1.53
Chris Tillman 1.56
Jose Fernandez 1.52
Adam Wainwright 1.39
Mike Leake 1.29
Chris Sale 1.10
Max Scherzer 1.09
John Lackey 1.06
Matt Harvey 0.98
James Shields 0.91
Hiroki Kuroda 0.88
Ervin Santana 0.89
Anibal Sanchez 0.87
Eric Stults 0.74
Felix Hernandez 0.75
Jose Quintana 0.70
Patrick Corbin 0.57
Shelby Miller 0.59
Doug Fister 0.46
Justin Masterson 0.46
Dan Haren 0.14
Andy Pettitte 0.09
Cole Hamels 0.03
Jhoulys Chacin -0.02
Matt Cain -0.01
Wade Miley -0.03
Jordan Zimmermann -0.04
Scott Feldman -0.11
Miguel Gonzalez -0.11
Ricky Nolasco -0.13
Jarrod Parker -0.18
Jeff Locke -0.21
Ubaldo Jimenez -0.25
Mat Latos -0.26
Jeremy Guthrie -0.30
Gio Gonzalez -0.37
Kevin Correia -0.45
Homer Bailey -0.51
Jorge de la Rosa -0.60
Stephen Strasburg -0.67
C.J. Wilson -0.83
A.J. Burnett -0.90
Ryan Dempster -1.01
David Price -1.01
Jon Lester -1.09
Andrew Cashner -1.08
Derek Holland -1.16
Tim Lincecum -1.24
Rick Porcello -1.30
Justin Verlander -1.31
Yovani Gallardo -1.55
Lance Lynn -1.57
Ian Kennedy -1.93
Felix Doubront -2.04
Kyle Kendrick -2.32
Jeremy Hellickson -2.37
Jerome Williams -2.41
CC Sabathia -2.49
Bud Norris -2.53
Jeff Samardzija -2.82
Joe Saunders -3.14
Wily Peralta -4.70
Edwin Jackson -5.03
Edinson Volquez -5.40


When the poster Eric Garcia suggested this, his idea of a crafty pitcher was someone with a low velocity, high ERA, and a decent number of wins.   If we use those criteria and the same methodology, we come up with the following list:

Name Craftiness Score
R.A. Dickey 6.809175606
Mark Buehrle 4.7547704381
Bronson Arroyo 3.2944617169
Joe Saunders 2.9423646195
Jeremy Hellickson 2.6685500615
CC Sabathia 2.4966613422
Eric Stults 2.7180128884
A.J. Griffin 2.4076452673
Doug Fister 2.2427676408
Dan Haren 2.1691672291
Adam Wainwright 1.7071128009
Kyle Kendrick 1.7118241134
C.J. Wilson 1.5737716721
Jeremy Guthrie 1.4387583548
Chris Tillman 1.4439760517
Rick Porcello 1.459202682
Edinson Volquez 1.2576799698
Bartolo Colon 1.6239711996
Jorge de la Rosa 1.4181128961
Max Scherzer 1.1306105901
Kris Medlen 1.4880878755
Jhoulys Chacin 1.4133629431
Yovani Gallardo 1.1947402807
Lance Lynn 1.0099538962
Felix Doubront 1.1495573185
Scott Feldman 1.1974157822
Ricky Nolasco 1.1042531489
Dillon Gee 1.1994224084
Ryan Dempster 1.1677938881
Tim Lincecum 1.035870434
Andy Pettitte 1.1821092279
Mike Leake 1.05406572
Jordan Zimmermann 0.5825671124
Jon Lester 0.5408497347
Ian Kennedy 0.6776977315
Jarrod Parker 0.4623781624
Justin Masterson 0.3885353357
Hyun-Jin Ryu 0.4892567298
Mike Minor 0.3742320945
Hisashi Iwakuma 0.4643968873
Kevin Correia 0.2593286667
Patrick Corbin 0.0564390189
Kyle Lohse 0.312739265
Julio Teheran 0.0997486611
Cliff Lee 0.0886564906
Miguel Gonzalez -0.0925431019
Jerome Williams -0.256429514
Edwin Jackson -0.4285314635
Ubaldo Jimenez -0.2221254921
Bud Norris -0.5000332264
Jeff Locke -0.2451919386
Mat Latos -0.5647784102
Zack Greinke -0.4470782733
Wade Miley -0.5363196771
Travis Wood -0.3273302268
James Shields -0.705666201
Justin Verlander -0.8883247518
Shelby Miller -0.9631708917
Matt Cain -0.7250659316
Wily Peralta -1.1640247285
Hiroki Kuroda -0.7950288123
Madison Bumgarner -0.7855967316
John Lackey -0.9654585733
Felix Hernandez -1.0396358378
Jose Quintana -1.1617514899
Gio Gonzalez -1.3356468354
Yu Darvish -1.5340675857
Anibal Sanchez -1.598691562
Cole Hamels -1.4973933151
A.J. Burnett -1.7115883636
Clayton Kershaw -1.6983975443
Homer Bailey -1.9877439854
Jeff Samardzija -2.0853342328
Chris Sale -2.0119349525
Derek Holland -2.1558326826
Ervin Santana -2.0875298917
David Price -2.224336605
Andrew Cashner -3.1088119908
Jose Fernandez -3.8720417313
Stephen Strasburg -4.3734432885
Matt Harvey -5.3067683524

I doubt these numbers have any real value and are just presented here for entertainment.  What do you think makes a pitcher crafty?  Let me know in the comments.

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MentalGuy is a high school teacher who probably should be grading papers instead of playing with baseball stats.

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Great article! While you may assume that craftiness is an unimportant stat, it’s good to see it confirmed as a real one. It is obviously real because the pitchers we implicitly think of as crafty are indeed the ones who appear on the top of the list. And, yes, it is also relatively unimportant because, as you have shown, it is a product of existing more basic stats and so doesn’t really change our evaluations or projections of performance. But it is interesting!

Would have loved to also see the input stats (fastball velocity, strikeout percentage, WHIP, and LOB%) and xFIP along side of the list.

I also appreciate your using standard deviation which is a much better methodology than used by the + calculations.

Ziggy Stardust
Ziggy Stardust

I enjoyed the article. I thought it was well-written, and an intriguing, if modestly important study. Great debut!

Eric Garcia McKinley

Thanks for holiday gift! Arroyo’s supremacy in craftiness does indeed make a lot of sense.