By the Numbers: Pitching efficiency

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

You can find more from Michael Salfino at Comcast SportsNet

Pitch counts are so entrenched now in today's game that the guys who pile up innings and the counting numbers that come with them are now the pitchers who can work most efficiently – 3.6 pitches per plate appearance or less.

Those inefficient hurlers, mostly high strikeout guys, are more limited in innings because they reach that magic 100-pitch threshold sooner. Earlier this year, Joba Chamberlain(notes) hit his 100-pitch limit while striking out 12 of 14 batters and was promptly removed – in the middle of the sixth inning.

Nolan Ryan, perhaps the most inefficient pitcher ever, is making a valiant stand against the conventional wisdom of pitch counts. The Rangers team president issued a directive banning pitch counts at the major league and all minor league levels.

"These pitchers have been on pitch counts from the time they were in Little League," Ryan says. "A lot of these kids have never completed a nine-inning game. I think when you put limits on people what you do is you keep them from knowing what their capabilities are and what they are physically able to do."

Note that Ryan faced 58 batters in a June 14, 1974 game against the Red Sox when pitching at home for the Angels. He went all 13 innings, walking 10 and striking out 19. Figure he allowed at least 4.5 PPA, which would put him at 261 pitches that night. Several beat writers from that era claimed the figure was 259.

High strikeout guys like Chamberlain and Ryan are at a pitch-count disadvantage. Consider the list of the least efficient starters, measured by pitches per plate appearance (PPA). The cutoff was 4.0 PPA or greater. The current trailers are Clayton Kershaw(notes) (4.4), Max Scherzer(notes) (4.2), Erik Bedard(notes) (4.1), Justin Verlander(notes) (4.1), Chad Billingsley(notes) (4.1), Josh Outman(notes) (4.0), Kyle Davies(notes) (4.0), Scott Feldman(notes) (4.0), Matt Garza(notes) (4.0), Jon Lester(notes) (4.0), Wandy Rodriguez(notes) (4.0), John Maine(notes) (4.0), John Danks(notes) (4.0) and Gil Meche(notes) (4.0).

Starters on the above list who average less than 7.0 Ks/9 are Davies, Feldman, Maine. And only Outman and Meche are between 7 and 8 Ks/9.

Conversely, most of our most efficient starters (3.6 PPA or less) pitch to contact: Zach Duke(notes) (3.4), Jason Marquis(notes) (3.4), Tim Wakefield(notes) (3.5), Joel Pineiro(notes) (3.5), James Shields(notes) (3.5), Joe Saunders(notes) (3.5), Shairon Martis(notes) (3.6), Nick Blackburn(notes) (3.6), Roy Halladay(notes) (3.6), Carl Pavano(notes) (3.6), Bradley Bergesen (3.6), Kevin Slowey(notes) (3.6), Cliff Lee(notes) (3.6), John Lannan(notes) (3.6), Aaron Cook(notes) (3.6), Dallas Braden(notes) (3.6), Bronson Arroyo(notes) (3.6) and Aaron Cook (3.6).

There are some exceptions, i.e., pitchers who have decent K rates despite working efficiently. Roy Halladay (groin, questionable for his Saturday start) is most impressive, averaging 8.4 K/9. Shields, Pavano, Floyd, Slowey, Lee, Braden and Bush are all 6.0 K/9 or better.

BUY

Roy Halladay, P, Blue Jays: Maybe his owner is worried about the groin injury. If you need a big boost to make a run at your fantasy championship, try to get Roy now for 80-to-90 cents on the dollar. You're best off waiting until he misses his Saturday start, which will make his owners sweat.

Dallas Braden, P, A's: Readers who play in shallow leagues made fun of the fact that I was including Braden as a "Buy" back in April. But I don't think you'll find 60 starters in all of baseball with one bad start (more than three runs allowed) out of his last 10 and a K/BB of 54/22.

Wandy Rodriguez, P, Astros: I'm doubling down on Wandy, who we knew wasn't going to finish with an ERA below 2.00. He has 19 Ks in his last 16.2 innings, so he's not losing it. His owners may expect a steep regression, but I'll bet he finishes the year with an ERA in the low 3.00s while maintaining that great K-rate.

David Bush, P, Brewers: If you need a starter on the waiver wire in deep places, grab Bush, whose ERA has risen to 5.31 off a brutal stretch (3.92 as recently as May 29th). He'll finish the year in the low 4.00s, making him good enough for you.

HOLD

Joba Chamberlain, P, Yankees: He barely missed the least efficient list with a PPA of 3.9. He and Jorge Posada(notes) were not getting along at all on Friday night and a catching change for Joba is in order. Many Yankees hurlers have had problems with Posada's game calling.

SELL

Carl Pavano, P, Indians: There's so much to like in all the peripherals, but nothing is worse than having a pitcher attempt to pitch through fatigue or injury. You have a nice profit if you pocketed him back in early April as we advised. Make him prove he hasn't hit a wall while on your reserves.

Chad Billinsgley, P, Dodgers: He's very good, but not great and you can sell him as great. The walk rate is too high (4.0/9) and not improving even marginally, so the ERA is very unlikely to hold below 3.00.

Michael Salfino's work has appeared in USA Today's Sports Weekly, RotoWire, dozens of newspapers nationwide and most recently throughout Comcast SportsNet, including SNY.tv, for which he also analyzes the Mets and Yankees. He's been writing "Baseball by the Numbers" weekly since 2005.

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