Author Archive

The Luckiest and Unluckiest Pitchers So Far in 2013

Pitching is a fascinating aspect of the game of baseball. Talent is required, but a lot of the results that come after the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand are luck. Defense plays an important role as well. Rosters are not constructed in the same way, so defense isn’t uniform accross the league. Many pitchers that don’t miss many bats need the help of the defense behind them in order to get solid results. Other pitchers, such as Matt Harvey, can rely on themselves a little more due to their ability to strike out more batters. I decided to look at which pitchers have been fortunate in 2013 and the ones whose fate has been a little less positive. I took xFIP and subtracted ERA from it to get my data. The range was from 2.1 to -1.85.


Jeff LockeJ.P. Breen has a good post up about how fortunate Locke has been to pitch with the Pittsburgh Pirates defense behind him. He had the largest gap in xFIP and ERA of anyone in the 2013 sample at 2.10. His ERA currently sits at 2.15 while xFIP sees him at 4.25. While he does pitch in front of a very good defense he has also been very lucky regarding the home-run ball. His HR/FB rate currently sits at 6.7%. I’d bet on that regressing to at least the 10% xFIP uses in the second half. Luckily for him, the defense isn’t going anywhere.

Travis Wood – Wood essentially came out of career purgatory for the 2013 campaign. After spending most of his career being yo-yoed back and forth between AAA and the bigs he put together a solid first half. Currently his xFIP is 1.61 points higher than his ERA. Like Locke, Wood also has seen his HR/FB rate decrease dramatically this season to 5.7%. While that looks extremely low he posted  HR/FB percentages of 6.3% and 6.7% in 2010 and 2011 before it jumped to 12.7% last season. I’m not quite sure what to make of this. I lean towards his home-run rate settling in closer to 12.7% than I do the rates in other seasons. He might have a knack for keeping the ball in the park though. The Cubs defense is actually quite good according to their UZR so that also helps Wood keep his stats much lower than his peripherals. I’m interested to see how he fares in the 2nd half.

Mike Leake – Leake’s put together another Mike Leake-type season. His ERA is currently at 2.69, which will definitely regress to his career norms. Unlike the two pitchers above we have plenty of Major League data on Leake. His LOB% is at a career high along with a HR/FB that would be the best of his career. Leake’s 2013 campaign looks pretty similar to his 2011 except he is striking out less batters while also getting a few more fly balls. Leake is hurt by his home park and the Great American’s effect on his ability to keep balls in the yard is pretty incredible. His HR/FB rate at home is 5% higher than it is away, but this season the split is nearly 13 percentage points. His 4.6% HR/FB rate away from home this year should regress to settle a little closer to his career split of 11.0%.


I won’t go straight down the list of the unluckiest because the first few names are, to put it mildly, not very good pitchers currently. Those pitchers were: Wade Davis, Joe Blanton, and Edinson Volquez.

Rick Porcello – Porcello checked in at number 3 on the unluckiest pitchers. His xFIP sits at 3.07 compared to his 4.80 ERA. He’s seemingly made a habit out of his peripherals constantly being much better than the stats that show in their traditional form. It’s no secret that the Tigers are not very good on defense. Porcello has shown some signs of life this season with his K% trending up while his BB% is trending down a tad. He’s gotten a little unlucky with his HR/FB% this season (15.7%) compared with his career average coming into 2013 (11.4%). Porcello does get a ton of groundballs though, and it’s likely we’ll always consider him “unlucky” as long as he has the Tigers defense behind him.

Edwin Jackson – Jackson is an interesting case to me. Every year I’ll watch him have a few electric games and expect him to finally make a jump into a more consistent front of the rotation of the starter, but it never happens. Jackson is simply who he is at this point. This season his xFIP is 3.74 compared to his ERA of 5.11. The first thing I noticed was his LOB%; currently at 62.3% this season compared with 70.8% in his career. His batted-ball profile is very strange. He’s actually getting more groundballs than any time in his career. He has come around of late, so maybe his luck is turning more in his favor.

Matt Cain – Cain’s struggles have been well documented this season, by many people including Fangraphs’ own Eno Sarris. Cain’s ERA is currently1.16 points worse than his xFIP. Unlike Porcello, Cain has made a career out of always outperforming his peripheral stats. Eno’s piece can explain the reasoning on why 2013 has been somewhat of a bust for Cain infinitely better than I would be able to. The Giants continue to insist that Cain is healthy, so unless something changes it’s safe to assume they’ll keep running him out there every fifth day. Hopefully adjustments can be made to get back his career norms.

Adam Wainwright: Efficiency is the Name of the Game

Adam Wainwright has been absolutely phenomenal this season. If you prefer old school stats: 12-5, 2.30 ERA, with an 8.06 K/9 ratio. If you prefer advanced statistics, he looks even better: 2.12 FIP to go along with a 2.69 xFIP. My favorite stat about his season so far though is his K/BB ratio which in mid July now stands at a staggering 9. For every 9 strikeouts he walks 1 batter. You don’t need me to tell you how good that is. The pitcher nearest his efficiency is Cliff Lee and he isn’t even close.  I decided to compare Adam Wainwright’s impeccable ratio to some of the greatest pitchers in the past 20 years. I’ll take their best season (regarding K/BB) and see how it stacks up to the masterful performance Wainwright is putting up this season.

**disclaimer: WAR total is from their best K/BB season. Wainwright’s is still counting**

Adam Wainwright is having a phenomenal year. His 9.00 K/BB is surpassed only by Cliff Lee’s and Curt Schilling’s most efficient seasons, respectively. I’m not really counting Smoltz, due to his best K/BB ratio coming as a closer with only 60+ innings pitched. Here are the following seasons since 1900 where someone had a K/BB greater than or equal to 9.

  •  Bret Saberhagen (11 K/B 1994)
  • Curt Schilling (9.58 K/B 2002)
  • Cliff Lee (10.28 K/BB 2010)

That’s it. Adam Wainwright is on pace to have the 4th best season since 1900 in regards to strikeouts-to-walks. Three pitchers have accomplished this feat in last 113 years. It’s hard to fully recognize in the moment, but you truly are witnessing greatness when watching Adam Wainwright go to work this season.

What is making him this successful?

For one thing, control is the last aspect of a pitcher’s game to return after Tommy John. Wainwright had a mediocre season in 2012. (his words, not mine) This season the control is completely back to match the velocity. In a podcast visit with Matthew Berry and Nate Ravtiz, he credited his efficiency to first-pitch strikes. He said he made a concerted effort to get ahead, because batters gradually get statistically worse the further down in the count they get. Adam Wainwright does a great job of getting ahead; according to FanGraphs he throws a first pitch strike 65.6% of the time. That 65.6% is the best for starting pitchers in the MLB.  Wainwright’s recipe seems pretty simple once you look at the data: get ahead early then force hitters to chase out of the zone. He also leads the majors in O-Swing% (swings at pitches out of the zone) with a 38.2% rate.

 Adam Wainwright is also phenomenal at mixing his pitches. According to Brooks Baseball Wainwright’s first-pitch mix breaks down this way: 15% four-seam fastballs, 37% sinkers, 2% changeups, 18% curveballs, and 30% cutters. Wainwright uses the hard stuff to get ahead. Once he’s ahead 0-2 the mix stays relatively the same except for the fact that curveball becomes the go-to pitch. He throws his curveball 48% of the time when he is ahead 0-2. That might seem like it would make it easy to guess what’s coming, but good luck touching it. 20% of the swings taken on his curveball in that count ends in a big fat whiff. Wainwright’s curveball has a horizontal movement of 8.21 inches on top of moving 9.33 inches on a downward trajectory. In other words, if Wainwright gets ahead of you, you’re screwed

How Hard Is It To Be Successful Without Drawing Walks?

Yasiel Puig has been in the news a lot lately. He’s had phenomenal start to his career, well aside from the Diamondbacks’ catcher Miguel Montero hating him. He’s also had most of his success without drawing many walks, which inevitably has sent him sliding down a mountain into inevitable comparison to known hacker Jeff Francouer. Francouer never tore up the minors the way Puig did, but it’s somewhat of a fair comparison due to how much fanfare Frenchy had after such a quick start to an otherwise poor career. As Jeff Sullivan from FanGraphs noted, the league is beginning to adjust to Puig, now he has prove he can counter those adjustments.

Fangraphs lists the BB% of 7% to be below average, 5.5% is poor, and 4% and lower is awful. Puig’s current BB% in the majors after 36 games is 4.5%. He did post a 9% walk rate in AA this year before his call up, so there’s a little reason to believe he is capable of being more patient than he is right now. I’ll take a look at some guys who had solid careers while also sustaining low walk rates. I took the leader-board at FanGraphs, sorted for year 2000-2013, removed everyone with a walk rate north of 8%, and removed everyone with an ISO (isolated power) below .175. The following players have compiled 15 fWAR since 2000 (players in bold are still active).

That isn’t very many names. Of the 202 position players that accumulated 15 fWAR from 2000-2013 only 58 or 28.7% had walk rates less than or equal to 8%. Adam Jones fell slightly below on a few parameters, but for comparison’s sake he felt pretty accurate. Here is Yasiel Puig at the moment. I included his AA stats and his projections for the rest of the season.

We’ve noticed you can be successful without walks, but it isn’t easy. All of the players from the first table were all good to phenomenal players in their own right. It’s unfair to say Yasiel Puig has to turn out to be as good of a hitter as Carlos Gonzalez or Adrian Beltre to be successful, but he’ll have to follow their lead if he can’t learn to draw walks as he gets experience. Personally I see Puig as a .270/30 homer/15+ steal guy in the future. If he can manage that he should be fine, but I’m sure he’ll never meet the expectations some people have for him at this point. Any player on that list would be a win (maybe aside from Vernon Wells because…ugh). Anything on top of the production these guys have managed is just gravy.