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Pitching to Extraordinary Contact

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#1 Dark Kinetic-Grip

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 08:20 AM

Dennis Brackin's article in today's StarTribune noted a number of interesting views about the widespread philosophy of pitch to contact. Commenters make frequent use of this phrase when describing the Twins approach, but this alone does not explain the results of the Twins pitching staff this season. The result in this case can best be described as "pitching to extraordinary contact". It is noticeable, even to the likes of me, that opposing teams are really teeing off at times. Pitcher by pitcher, is there really a root cause, a common thread of coaching or philosophy that is having this influence? Or is it just that we have a group of less than stellar pitchers, whose pitches break 20% less than their peers. What is the real reason the Twins are "pitching to extraordinary contact"?

#2 Seth Stohs

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 08:37 AM

I think that this is a great article by Mr. Brackin. I completely agree in the pitch to contact philosophy. As the article says, Pitch to Contact isn't new, every team believes in it. It's not anti-strikeout, but it is throw strikes and get quick outs. It also said that Johan Santana got strikeouts but threw a lot of strikes. I like Terry Ryan's comments about how he doesn't care how a pitcher gets hitters out, just that they do. Dave Duncan was a big pitch-to-contact guy too.

Pitch to contact is great if you have good pitchers with good stuff and good control and a good defense... The Twins don't have good pitchers, so pitch-to-contact often becomes batting practice. I think they can all be much better than they have been, but without Good Liriano, and without Scott Baker, it's just scary.

The problem isn't the philosophy of pitch to contact...

#3 Gernzy

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 08:50 AM

Our guys have been leaving alot of pitchs right across the middle of the plate. You can get away with leaving those meatballs out there sometimes, but MLB hitters are gonna kill those pitchs. We need to make better pitchs and we'll be ok.
I bent my wookie...

#4 mike wants wins

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 08:59 AM

I will not claim to know what the right way to pitch is, I stunk in little league....but it is clear that this staff is not very good at their job, and needs to be replaced. That has nothing to do with the philosophy, and everything to do with scouting and developing MLB players, something the Twins have not excelled at lately.
Lighten up Francis....

#5 CDog

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 09:16 AM

When I saw the Brackin article, before I even read it, I knew I was going to be in for a little bit of a treat. For a while I read all the comments on Twins articles on that paper as a bit of a guilty pleasure. Eventually it got to be too much to take and I quit. But I knew that article would get some great nonsense going, and it surely didn't disappoint. All of that doesn't really have much to do with what's written here, but here's what does: it reminded me how happy I am to have this site where there are rational thoughts, actual discussion, and even people who can hold more than one thought in their head at one time. I know it's been said elsewhere by others, but thanks to the founders of the site and to the folks that come here to make it an enjoyable place for fandom.

#6 Seth Stohs

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 10:03 AM

When I saw the Brackin article, before I even read it, I knew I was going to be in for a little bit of a treat. For a while I read all the comments on Twins articles on that paper as a bit of a guilty pleasure. Eventually it got to be too much to take and I quit. But I knew that article would get some great nonsense going, and it surely didn't disappoint. All of that doesn't really have much to do with what's written here, but here's what does: it reminded me how happy I am to have this site where there are rational thoughts, actual discussion, and even people who can hold more than one thought in their head at one time. I know it's been said elsewhere by others, but thanks to the founders of the site and to the folks that come here to make it an enjoyable place for fandom.


thank you very much for this comment. That is definitely what we want and what we strive for. Obviously we're going to get a few of those irrational thoughts and comments, especially with the Twins playing as they are right now (and have for the past year or so), but I like to think this is a place for some good, intelligent discussion. Thank you!

#7 tobynotjason

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 01:53 PM

So Johan Santana was really just pitching to contact? Come the fark on: either words mean something or they don't. And since it's being preached as a vital truth at the core of the organization's philosophy, it's pretty clear these words DO have a specific meaning that isn't just "throw strikes". And since we have a loooooong track record of seeing what kind of pitching the Twins praise and what kind of pitching they loathe (when is the last time they drafted a high school guy with nasty stuff but unrefined command?), it's pretty clear it boils down to "use strikethrowers who lack dominating stuff but 'know how to pitch', because somehow the laws of pitcher BABIP in MLB just won't apply to our guys". I've watched James McDonald and Eric Bedard pour nasty breaking ball after nasty breaking ball into the strikezone in the past few days for the Bucs: 10 Ks in 7.2 and 11 Ks in 5. McDonald, especially, was just locked in with his wicked curve ball. He wasn't "pitching to contact" simply because he was throwing strike after strike. He was doing the opposite: throwing filthy pitches with every intention of missing bats.

#8 ashburyjohn

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 02:09 PM

throwing filthy pitches with every intention of missing bats.


That's not very sporting. At least the Twins are gentlemen. There should be a push to get back to the Knickerbocker rules of 1845 for every team, not just the Twins, so that all may partake of the Benefits of invigorating Exercise in our Noble Game of Base Ball.

Edited by ashburyjohn, 04 May 2012 - 02:34 PM.


#9 mgraves

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 05:00 PM

"...when is the last time they drafted a high school guy with nasty stuff but unrefined command?" Shooter Hunt was a college pitcher, but he fits your description, and how well did he work out? How about Hoey? A pitcher with a low K/9 rate can be successful provided he has a competent defense behind him, does not give away free passes, and pitches to both his strengths and the strengths of the defense behind him. Radke is an example of this: he was a fly ball pitcher who had the "soul patrol" backing him up in the outfield. The current low K/9 rate starters on the Twins staff are predominantly ground ball pitchers with dubious command and a mediocre, at best, infield defense.

#10 darin617

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Posted 04 May 2012 - 06:23 PM

It's ok to pitch to contact when the ball doesn't land in the cheaps seats for a homer... What is wrong with copying Greg Maddux and have good control and work inside and outside and up and down in the strike zone. He had a pretty good career not throwing much harder than the mid to upper 80's fastball.

#11 whydidnt

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Posted 06 May 2012 - 10:29 PM

I think Bracken and the Twins are just getting into semantics. When I hear Ryan say "I believe in getting outs, and I don't care how they do it," I want to scream. Strike outs are more valuable than other outs. The fact he doesn't even know this explains a lot about why are staff is constructed as it is. And while strike outs alone won't determine a pitchers success, their is statistical evidence that points out that a pitchers K/BB ratio is a good general indicator and strong evidence on top of that showing pitchers with a good K/BB Ratio (2.5+) and K/9 5.6+ the ERA is significantly better. So, of course you want your pitchers to throw strikes, but you also want them to have good enough stuff that those strikes aren't hit all over the place, and that sometimes hitters swing and miss. That is what appears to be missing from the pitchers we currently have at the major league level. I'm not sure Radke is a great example because he had some of the best control ever, but his K/BB rate was always superb, but not his K/9, and his career ERA was 4.22, hardly a number indicating a great pitcher. His career K/9 rate was only 5.4. But I think there was only a couple years that most of us watching him pitch thought he was an "Ace", most agreed he was best suited to a #2 or 3 role. Maddux career K/9 was 6.1, to go with that excellent command and control. Nick Blackburn, who is making something like 4.5million has a career k/9 of 4.3, Jason Marquis at 3M, career K/9 is 5.2. Pavano's K/9 with the Twins is 4.8. You can't successfully build a major league staff around guys like this, but the Twins have been intent on proving to us they can for years. You have to be extremely lucky to allow that many balls to be put in play and still get outs, you're basically saying your defense is so good that you can defy statistical law and more of the balls hit off your pitchers will be turned into outs than those of your opponents, which is absurd.

I'll leave with this quote from Bill James "
High-strikeout pitchers in today’s game are dramatically more effective than low-strikeout pitchers,".

#12 spideyo

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Posted 06 May 2012 - 10:47 PM

Strikeout pitchers, especially flamethrowers, are going to be much more susceptible to injury though, both because of a higher velocity (and often more violent mechanics), and the fact that they're usually going to throw more pitches. You aren't going to strike out 10 guys on 30 pitches, but it's not that unlikely you can get 10 guys to ground out in 30 pitches. Of course, if we could clone Nolan Ryan...

#13 Guest_USAFChief_*

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Posted 07 May 2012 - 01:12 AM

Strikeout pitchers, especially flamethrowers, are going to be much more susceptible to injury though, both because of a higher velocity (and often more violent mechanics), and the fact that they're usually going to throw more pitches. You aren't going to strike out 10 guys on 30 pitches, but it's not that unlikely you can get 10 guys to ground out in 30 pitches.

Of course, if we could clone Nolan Ryan...


Do you have any evidence for your injury theory?

#14 twinswon1991

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Posted 07 May 2012 - 05:31 AM

Pitch to contact is a strategy when you have no skill. Marquis, Blacky, Hendricks, Pavano, on , on , on have NO SKILLS. Why not draft a pitcher or 2 with some skills?

#15 whydidnt

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Posted 07 May 2012 - 07:52 AM

An additional thought, it's interesting how Anderson appears to throw a little water at the organization in this article as well when he talks about how he's got to have the guys he has pitch the way they do because they basically suck. I know he doesn't say it in so many words, but the article indicates "Anderson points out that the Twins starting staff, with the exception of Liriano, must pitch to contact out of necessity". I of course have my own biases, but I read that to say, the guys we have don't have the best stuff, so we tell them to hit a spot and hope for the best. In fairness as well, Ryan indicates he wants to add some guys in this years draft that have better stuff, but at the same time he adds "I'm just looking for guys that get outs." Isn't that how we got here in the first place, and a little contradictory?

#16 Jim H

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Posted 07 May 2012 - 08:47 AM

The idea that the Twins never draft hard throwers or high school pitchers who have the potential to be hard throwers with good stuff is just wrong. Every year there are some among the 20 plus pitchers drafted every year. Largely, there nothing wrong with the Twins philosphy of pitching. It probably comes down to luck as much as anything. I suspect the kid pitchers like Waldrop, Rainville, Bashore and Hunt were just as talented with as much potential to turn into dominant pitchers as the collection now pitching for San Francisco or Seattle or even Washington. It just didn't happen. Pitching is just incredibly volatile. Sometimes, a Strasburg will get hurt and comeback from the injury 100%. Sometimes a Rainville or Bashore will get hurt and never come back at all. Some young pitchers develop like you think they will and stay healthy sometimes they don't. You can point to bad drafting or poor instruction and I am sure that can be a factor. But some of it can be just luck. When Radke was pitching at AA for the Twins, he was largely considered the 3rd best starter on that team. At least based on stats that year. He turned out to be the best starter while Hawkins had little success as starter and the other guy never made the majors at all. There were others who in the system at the same time as Radke who were considered better prospect as well. Most never even appeared in the majors. Unfortunately, that is often how it works with pitching. You can certainly find a number of pitchers taken after guys taken by the Twins in recent drafts who are having and will have better careers than the Twins draftees. Likely you will find some spectacular failures taken in front of them as well. It is easy to point at certain teams right now and say wow, why aren't the Twins drafting and developing pitching as well as these guys? (Washington, Seattle, Texas, Tampa Bay and others). But those same teams were having trouble finding good home grown pitching just a few years ago. That may very well be true again in a few years. Pitching is very volatile.

#17 tobynotjason

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Posted 10 May 2012 - 02:36 PM

Way late but: nobody replying really addressed what I actually wrote. I said "nasty stuff", not hard throwers, for a reason. (Not that Hoey was even responsive as a late 20s guy they traded for, but he's exemplary of how you can throw hard with mediocre stuff.) I said high school for a reason. I cited the examples of dominant off speed breaking balls for a reason. One guy says Hoey and Shooter, which, to the extent it can even be claimed to be an answer to my question, confirmed my point (precisely because it ISN'T an answer). Hunt's name gets dropped again, along with Bashore. How were they projectable high school arms with potential that could be developed? Waldrop and Rainville were taken, what, EIGHT years ago? I certainly agree that pitching is volatile. It shouldn't be THIS volatile given solid scouting and good development. Certainly things are magnified by the fact that Baker isn't back from TJ this season instead of just going under, by Slowey's wrist injury and subsequent ineffectiveness, etc. But when you draft tons of pitchers who have NO HOPE of ever missing bats at or above the MLB average rate, what do you expect?

#18 Dark Kinetic-Grip

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Posted 10 May 2012 - 03:07 PM

/* It shouldn't be THIS volatile */ This is an observation well worth noting. I've wondered at times whether modern strength and weight-training regimens have given the advantage to the batters over the pitchers, disturbing the statistical equilibrium. The ulnar collateral ligament seems to be a physiological bottleneck for pitchers, there does not seem to be an equivalent bottleneck (yet) for batters. So, for pitchers, lets say since 1970, is there a measurable graph showing increases in the velocity and break in pitches? Can you find an equivalent graph increase in batters bat speed or reaction time, or measurable strength? There may not be the instrumentation over a great enough length of time to provide these answer to these questions. If pitchers have reached a competitive bottleneck, is it time to reverse the Gibson Rule? (raise the mound from 10" to 15" and reset the top of the strike zone to the armpits)

#19 John Bonnes

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Posted 10 May 2012 - 03:46 PM

In 2009, I did a quick and dirty study on what metrics best predict and ERA for the following year. It turns out that K/BB isn't particularly good for that. More surprising to me was that ground ball percentage was completely random. (Now that I see that, I want to revisit that study. That seems like it would be an error.) And the big conclusion is that almost nothing predicts it well. There's a lot of "secret sauce" in pitching.

That study is here, for those that are interested.

#20 StormJH1

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Posted 10 May 2012 - 04:04 PM

Intresting re: John's discussion about no reliable predictors from year-to-year. There are 9.00+ K/9 guys that still get hit very hard or walk tons of guys and get burned that way. One thing I will say, though, is that while "special sauce" may be the case for starters (so that they can fool batters more than one at-bat), you see very few upper-tier relievers without high K rates. Missing bats by throwing hard would seem to be a valuable skill out of the bullpen. But yeah, if it's 95mph and straight as an arrow, most big league hitters are going to tee off on that if they see it coming. The Erick Aybar at-bat the other day where he "slug bunted" a single over Valencia's head made me bury my forehead in my palms. Not so much the play itself, which was just a single and actually a nice piece of strategy, but the fact Pavano's stuff is so slow and flat that he had the confidence to lean out on the front foot and do that as if he was playing ping pong. I really don't see something like that even being attempted against Strasburg, King Felix, or even a mediocre pitcher who throws hard.

#21 Dark Kinetic-Grip

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Posted 11 May 2012 - 08:23 AM

Re: year-to-year comparisons. It may be that year-to-year is not granular enough to show the trends/change. Using stats from something like units of 20 innings, in a time series, perhaps displayed in a Shewhart Control Chart might be revealing.

#22 whydidnt

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Posted 11 May 2012 - 08:42 AM

In 2009, I did a quick and dirty study on what metrics best predict and ERA for the following year. It turns out that K/BB isn't particularly good for that. More surprising to me was that ground ball percentage was completely random. (Now that I see that, I want to revisit that study. That seems like it would be an error.) And the big conclusion is that almost nothing predicts it well. There's a lot of "secret sauce" in pitching.

That study is here, for those that are interested.

Very interesting, and fun with numbers as they say - I won't post or link to the whole article that describes this because it's behind a paywall, but a site I subscribe to published a great article on this subject and looking at the years from 2002-2006 there was a direct correlation between Command (K/BB) and ERA. Here are the charts from the article, you of course would want to read the whole article to get all the details, but it is pretty significant in my mind anyway, you can see a nice trend downward in ERA based upon a players command. This was true for all 5 years of the study. This is also the study that showed 5.6 k/9 was the "magic line" combined with Command to denote a lower ERA.

[TABLE]
[TR]
[TD="colspan: 6, align: center"]Earned Run Average[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]Command[/TD]
[TD]2002[/TD]
[TD]2003[/TD]
[TD]2004[/TD]
[TD]2005[/TD]
[TD]2006[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]0.0 - 1.0[/TD]
[TD]6.05[/TD]
[TD]5.85[/TD]
[TD]6.24[/TD]
[TD]6.22[/TD]
[TD]6.42[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]1.1 - 1.5[/TD]
[TD]4.79[/TD]
[TD]5.05[/TD]
[TD]5.16[/TD]
[TD]4.93[/TD]
[TD]5.06[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]1.6 - 2.0[/TD]
[TD]4.59[/TD]
[TD]4.51[/TD]
[TD]4.63[/TD]
[TD]4.41[/TD]
[TD]4.65[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]2.1 - 2.5[/TD]
[TD]3.98[/TD]
[TD]4.22[/TD]
[TD]4.30[/TD]
[TD]4.28[/TD]
[TD]4.48[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]2.6 - 3.0[/TD]
[TD]3.60[/TD]
[TD]3.80[/TD]
[TD]3.80[/TD]
[TD]3.60[/TD]
[TD]4.15[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]3.1 and over[/TD]
[TD]3.15[/TD]
[TD]3.30[/TD]
[TD]3.30[/TD]
[TD]3.45[/TD]
[TD]3.49[/TD]
[/TR]
[/TABLE]

We can create percentage plays for the different levels:

[TABLE]
[TR]
[TD]For Cmd[/TD]
[TD="colspan: 2"]Pct who post[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]Levels of[/TD]
[TD]3.50-[/TD]
[TD]4.50+[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]0.0 - 1.0[/TD]
[TD]0%[/TD]
[TD]87%[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]1.1 - 1.5[/TD]
[TD]7%[/TD]
[TD]67%[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]1.6 - 2.0[/TD]
[TD]7%[/TD]
[TD]57%[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]2.1 - 2.5[/TD]
[TD]19%[/TD]
[TD]35%[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]2.6 - 3.0[/TD]
[TD]26%[/TD]
[TD]25%[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]3.1 +[/TD]
[TD]53%[/TD]
[TD]5%

[/TD]
[/TR]
[/TABLE]

#23 Riverbrian

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Posted 11 May 2012 - 11:10 AM

Very interesting, and fun with numbers as they say - I won't post or link to the whole article that describes this because it's behind a paywall, but a site I subscribe to published a great article on this subject and looking at the years from 2002-2006 there was a direct correlation between Command (K/BB) and ERA. Here are the charts from the article, you of course would want to read the whole article to get all the details, but it is pretty significant in my mind anyway, you can see a nice trend downward in ERA based upon a players command. This was true for all 5 years of the study. This is also the study that showed 5.6 k/9 was the "magic line" combined with Command to denote a lower ERA.

[TABLE]
[TR]
[TD="colspan: 6, align: center"]Earned Run Average
[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]Command
[/TD]
[TD]2002
[/TD]
[TD]2003
[/TD]
[TD]2004
[/TD]
[TD]2005
[/TD]
[TD]2006
[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]0.0 - 1.0
[/TD]
[TD]6.05
[/TD]
[TD]5.85
[/TD]
[TD]6.24
[/TD]
[TD]6.22
[/TD]
[TD]6.42
[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]1.1 - 1.5
[/TD]
[TD]4.79
[/TD]
[TD]5.05
[/TD]
[TD]5.16
[/TD]
[TD]4.93
[/TD]
[TD]5.06
[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]1.6 - 2.0
[/TD]
[TD]4.59
[/TD]
[TD]4.51
[/TD]
[TD]4.63
[/TD]
[TD]4.41
[/TD]
[TD]4.65
[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]2.1 - 2.5
[/TD]
[TD]3.98
[/TD]
[TD]4.22
[/TD]
[TD]4.30
[/TD]
[TD]4.28
[/TD]
[TD]4.48
[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]2.6 - 3.0
[/TD]
[TD]3.60
[/TD]
[TD]3.80
[/TD]
[TD]3.80
[/TD]
[TD]3.60
[/TD]
[TD]4.15
[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]3.1 and over
[/TD]
[TD]3.15
[/TD]
[TD]3.30
[/TD]
[TD]3.30
[/TD]
[TD]3.45
[/TD]
[TD]3.49
[/TD]
[/TR]
[/TABLE]

We can create percentage plays for the different levels:

[TABLE]
[TR]
[TD]For Cmd
[/TD]
[TD="colspan: 2"]Pct who post
[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]Levels of
[/TD]
[TD]3.50-
[/TD]
[TD]4.50+
[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]0.0 - 1.0
[/TD]
[TD]0%
[/TD]
[TD]87%
[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]1.1 - 1.5
[/TD]
[TD]7%
[/TD]
[TD]67%
[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]1.6 - 2.0
[/TD]
[TD]7%
[/TD]
[TD]57%
[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]2.1 - 2.5
[/TD]
[TD]19%
[/TD]
[TD]35%
[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]2.6 - 3.0
[/TD]
[TD]26%
[/TD]
[TD]25%
[/TD]
[/TR]
[TR]
[TD]3.1 +
[/TD]
[TD]53%
[/TD]
[TD]5%

[/TD]
[/TR]
[/TABLE]


Stats can tell some real good stories in Baseball... They are important... However... You can boil it down real simple with this... On Offense don't make outs... Reach base. On Defense... don't give up extra outs...
The game boils down real simple that way... They've been saying it since the beginning of time... "Walks will kill ya"... Still true today...

#24 StormJH1

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Posted 11 May 2012 - 11:46 AM

On the same point about so-called "elite strikeout guys" (usually 9.00 K/9 or better), I will say that there seems to be a limit on how bad you can be if you can make THAT many guys miss. That certainly is not the case for pitch-to-contact guys, such as the entire Twins staff. Pavano can avoid walks as much as he wants, he's serving up batting practice, so a 5.00 or 6.00 ERA is within reach. Brandon Morrow is probably the upper limit of how bad you can be for a top-tier strikeout pitcher. Dude is a machine: 10.9 K/9 in 2010 and 10.2 in 2011. But his ERA's for those years were 4.49 and 4.72. Probably didn't help that he pitched a lot at Rogers Center, which is hitter and homer-friendly. But like the ESPN Baseball podcast was saying about Tim Lincecum, you can't be on pace for 214 strikeouts AND have an ERA around 6.00, that doesn't make any sense.

#25 tobynotjason

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Posted 11 May 2012 - 12:35 PM

In 2009, I did a quick and dirty study on what metrics best predict and ERA for the following year. .


I was going to say "why not just use xFIP/SIERA/etc." but then I clicked the link (and realized I'd already read this). The high result of Ks and relatively low result for BBs mirror what Tango found for his "future FIP". Any DIPs stat is going to beat simple K/BB, I would think, since they weight things more appropriately in terms of value.