Every game, we hear a few platitudes about pitching. Guys who strike fewer batters out get through games more efficiently. Fielders play better behind guys who work quickly. I thought I’d put both of these theories to the test in one post, just on the Yankee level.
Both are a bit hard to test in isolation. For example, no one’s going to strike out every batter. There’s always going to be the occasional ground ball double play and quick inning that doesn’t include strikeouts. And for the other situation, errors aren’t the only way to measure bad fielding and many fielding events may not show up well on a game to game basis. This definitely won’t be perfect, but if there’s one thing I love, it’s putting conventional wisdom to the test.
Let’s start with the quick working pitchers theory. In the pitch f/x section of each pitcher’s FanGraphs page, there’s now a stat called “pace”.
The way I calculate Pace, is by taking the difference between the start time of the first pitch in the plate appearance, and the end time of the last pitch in the plate appearance. I then divide by the number of pitches in that plate appearance (minus 1). Pickoff attempts are considered just another pitch, since they don’t have time stamps of their own. Anything that looks like a game delay between pitches is thrown out. The average pace is about 21.5 seconds.
So, Colon works the most quickly while Burnett takes the most time. Now let’s see how many unearned runs each pitcher has given up this season.
That only tells us part of the story, though. It doesn’t tell us how many errors each pitcher has had happen under his watch, though we can infer that Sabathia has had the most. But, I’ll do the responsible thing and look at each guy’s gamelogs and see what I can find, based on the “Reached on Error” tab.
This is a bit all over the place, isn’t it? There have been lots of errors made behind CC Sabathia, it seems, but it’s worth noting that he’s made a few of those errors himself. He, according to Pace, works pretty slowly and errors have been made. Garcia, though, works the most slowly and has had no one reach on an error and, as far as I can tell, has had just one error made behind him all season. Just going with the 2011 Yankees, it doesn’t seem like this cliche is very true. And, frankly, it’s irresponsible to say it without considering many other factors. Ivan Nova, for example, is a groundball pitcher. It’s likely that fielders will make more errors behind him because grounders turn into errors more easily than fly balls will, hence Freddy Garcia’s low error rate.
Now let’s take a look at strikeouts and pitch counts and see if there’s anything we can find.
CC Sabathia: 7.3
A.J. Burnett: 6.6 (YIKES)
Bartolo Colon: 8.4 (Starts only)
Ivan Nova: 4.6
Freddy Garcia: 6.6 (Starts only)
Pitches Per Start/Per inning:
Again, we’re a bit all over the place here. Garcia doesn’t strike many out, but he throws the same amount of pitches per inning as Sabathia, who strikes out more guys. Okay, some credence to the cliche there. Then we see the guy with the best strikeout rate, Colon, throwing the fewest pitches per inning. If this saying was true, wouldn’t it stand that Ivan Nova would have the fewest pitches per inning? He ends up with the most, with Burnett not far behind. I think it’s pretty easy to tell why. Nova allows the most base runners per inning of the group with a 1.550 WHIP. Bartolo Colon has the second lowest WHIP (1.203) to A.J. Burnett’s 1.197, which we would assume would lead to fewer pitches per inning, but that’s not the case. From this, I think we can conclude that the amount of base-runners one allows will determine how many pitches he’ll throw during an inning, but even that doesn’t hold up perfectly. I’m going to check one more thing, with the help of Stat Corner. I’m willing to bet that there’ll be at least some correlation between strike percentage and pitches per inning.
Here we see that the guys who throw the most strikes, Colon and Sabathia, throw the fewest and third fewest (but virtually tied for second fewest) pitches per inning among Yankee starters. Not surprisingly, the guy who throws the fewest strikes has the most pitches per inning (Nova). There’s a bit more of a trend here, but it’s nothing firmly concrete.
If there’s anything this exercise should teach us it’s that making broad generalizations about pitching is a silly thing to do. There are countless variables that go into what makes an inning go longer or go shorter and what makes a pitcher throw more or fewer pitches. Remember, people, despite how grandiose baseball is, it is not something we can sum up in a simple phrase or buzzword.
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