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Pitching by the Numbers: Strikeouts minus walks

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

While even the most stats-savvy among us are more familiar with SO/BB ratio as in indicator of pitching excellence, the consensus now is that SOs minus BBs are the better projection tool.

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Hisashi Iwakuma belongs in the discussion of MLB's elite arms. (USAT)

The argument is basically this: a pitcher who strikes out 12 in a game and walks four is fundamentally different/better than the pitcher who strikes out three and walks one. Yet they both have 3/1, SO/BB ratios.

There are some issues though that have prevented me from using Ks minus BBs. It has to be hand calculated given that it’s not available in the common stats feeds. It also punishes pitchers who don’t have large enough sample sizes in a way ratio does not. So don’t scream at me again that Francisco Liriano isn’t on this list. He is plus-32, which is amazing considering he’s only pitched 42 innings. We could do SOs minus walks per inning, I guess. But I don’t want to fold one unfamiliar stat into another one just yet. Let’s save that for a future week and just look right now at all the major league pitchers who qualify for the ERA title and who are plus-50 or better. I’ve noted their SO/BB ratio as well. And if you want to know what I think about Liriano, shoot me a question via Twitter (@michaelsalfino). These comments are for players listed.

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All of these SO/BB ratios are solid (anything over 3.0 is an automatic roster most years in any league as long as the K rate is close to average). But you can see how we’ve changed the order pretty significantly. This list says Darvish is the best bet for the balance of 2013. But who would not want any pitcher in this top 10? Iwakuma is under the radar in that, while widely owned, he’s not generally regarded as elite. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why. Here are his career stats as a starter: 15-5, 190.1 IP, 1.02 WHIP, 2.22 ERA and 165 Ks. That’s the best ERA in baseball in that period. Clayton Kershaw is 2.33 and Jordan Zimmermann 2.63.

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I got grief a few weeks ago when I said that Samardzjia was a Cy Young-caliber pitcher. I meant that he had Cy Young-caliber stuff, not that he would win the award. But is there really any denying that now? He’s owned in 93% of leagues, which is too low. Bailey is owned in 83%, Minor 92%, Holland 84%, Santana 68%, Fister 90%. So Santana is the bargain here if you think his arm can sustain such a high slider rate (39%, which is a very troubling issue with Liriano, 37%, too). But Holland and Bailey may not be respected that much by their owners, so propose trades.

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You can see here how Masterson is really helped by his SOs minus BBs, relative to SO/BB. Sale is hurt by his lack of innings having missed some starts. He’s better than this. Milone is owned in just 62% of leagues. Get him if you can. Nolasco is owned in 18% of leagues and we know why as he’s burned so many of us the moment we put our chips down on him. A big problem with Nolasco and Slowey (10% owned) is the Marlins are so bad offensively. The other problem of course is their track records. We must respect the biggest samples of data unless we can reasonably argue that the pitcher is transformed (new pitch, better velocity, etc.). I don’t see anything with either pitcher that leads me to believe that this is so. However, if your pitching staff is struggling, the stat risk is low (your stats aren’t good anyway) and the cost to acquire them is nothing. I’d take only one, though, and the one I’d take would be Nolasco, with a very short leash.
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