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Pitching by the Numbers: Total control

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

To a large extent, a pitcher is at the mercy of the hitter once the ball leaves his hand. Some things he has more control over than others though. Walks for sure. Strikeouts to a large extent. But a select few starters also have a proven tendency to control whether the batter hits the ball on the ground or in the air.

We like that because the more your pitchers control, the better. The pitchers who induce grounders to a high degree relative to average generally will have lower ERAs because they give up less extra base hits. Alas, they tend to have higher WHIPs because grounders are significantly more likely to become hits than fly balls.

Our extreme fly-ball pitchers tend to have better K rates and better WHIPs. But their ERAs will be higher than their WHIP indicates because, generally, more fly balls means more homers.

Let's start with our extreme ground-ball pitchers. The higher the K-rate from them, the better because Ks are nearly a 100 percent guarantee that the batter will not reach base. Even if they do, it does not count against their WHIP. So, from this group, we can expect a better ERA due to lower slugging without the tradeoff of extra baserunners.

I was disappointed with this pull of pitchers in the top third in the league in ground-ball rate because I had to dip below a 7.0 K/9 in order to get decent Yahoo! ownership rates (meaning the players are more likely to be available). But at least you get to see the company that some unheralded extreme ground-ball pitchers are keeping.

Name Team K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% HR/FB ERA FIP Y! Own%
Rick Porcello(notes) Det 5.8 2.4 0.86 49.30% 9.80% 3.67 3.77 8%
Jason Marquis(notes) Was 5.6 1.7 0.58 56.0% 7.10% 3.66 3.19 10%
Fausto Carmona(notes) Cle 6.1 2.6 0.7 60.60% 8.50% 3.83 3.53 31%
Tim Stauffer(notes) SDG 7.3 2.1 0.58 51.40% 7.90% 3.47 2.93 40%
Edinson Volquez(notes) Cin 8.7 7 1.49 56.90% 21.20% 5.74 5.57 58%
Derek Lowe(notes) Atl 8.4 3 0.71 56.90% 10.0% 3.73 3.19 69%
Justin Masterson(notes) Cle 6.8 2.9 0.17 58.40% 2.60% 2.73 2.87 82%
Jhoulys Chacin(notes) Col 7.1 3.6 1.15 60.40% 18.20% 2.68 4.31 83%
Ricky Romero(notes) Tor 9.1 3.2 1.28 51.70% 14.60% 4.04 3.9 87%
Jaime Garcia(notes) StL 8.3 2.1 0.34 54.90% 5.0% 1.89 2.36 91%
Trevor Cahill(notes) Oak 7.7 2.8 0.52 56.30% 8.30% 1.72 2.89 92%
Brett Anderson(notes) Oak 6.8 2 0.68 63.50% 12.50% 3.21 3.33 92%
Jon Lester(notes) Bos 8.9 3.5 1.22 55.10% 15.60% 2.96 4.07 98%
Tim Lincecum(notes) SF 10.7 2.9 0.33 55.0% 5.30% 2.11 2.12 99%
Roy Halladay(notes) Phi 9.7 1.3 0.15 54.0% 2.0% 2.05 1.5 99%
Josh Johnson(notes) Fla 8.6 2.9 0.33 50.40% 4.20% 1.63 2.53 99%
Felix Hernandez(notes) Sea 8 2.6 0.44 50.30% 5.90% 3.36 2.72 99%

All of these guys should be owed in most leagues. Porcello is a wild card because the K-rate is jumping and given his age easily could get to 7/9 and then from there it's really a short step to greatness. So Porcello is about a step and a half away from being great, all K-based. Look at the fielding independent (FIP) category for the ERA you should expect from all these pitchers going forward. Also, avoid Volquez because that walk rate is untenable and not likely a sample-size issue. It's much more likely an injury issue.

For the following extreme fly-ball pitchers (again, top third but this time in fly-ball rate), we're looking for 2/1 K/BB and a HR/9 inning rate of below one. The heavy caution here is that these HR/9 rates are very sample-size sensitive and could swing significantly.

Name Team K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% HR/FB ERA FIP Y! Own%
Travis Wood(notes) Cin 8.1 2.8 0.61 31.10% 5.50% 5.28 2.97 19%
Brandon Beachy(notes) Atl 9.6 2.3 0.85 30.50% 7.70% 2.98 2.97 56%
Carlos Zambrano(notes) ChC 6.3 2.8 0.7 36.60% 6.0% 4.35 3.61 64%
Ian Kennedy(notes) Ari 7.6 2.6 0.51 41.20% 5.40% 3.23 3.01 66%
Daniel Hudson(notes) Ari 8.5 2.8 0.35 40.70% 3.30% 4.41 2.64 74%
Michael Pineda(notes) Sea 9.1 2.6 0.61 32.20% 5.20% 2.84 2.68 80%
Jonathan Sanchez(notes) SF 10.8 5.7 0.61 40.40% 7.50% 3.68 3.47 88%
Shaun Marcum(notes) Mil 9.1 2.2 0.72 34.80% 6.50% 2.72 2.71 95%
Matt Cain(notes) SF 6.8 2.3 0.72 37.30% 6.50% 3.22 3.43 97%
Jered Weaver(notes) LAA 8.6 2 0.31 34.0% 2.90% 1.87 2.22 98%
Cliff Lee(notes) Phi 11 1.2 0.86 40.30% 9.30% 3.78 2.26 99%
Justin Verlander(notes) Det 8.7 2.8 0.95 41.20% 9.50% 3.16 3.34 99%

What do you want from me with Wood? He's on every list every week. Look at that FIP ERA. And then look at everything else other than actual ERA and hit-rate and tell me that this isn't a guy you would want to own. Wood is the poor man's Beachy now because the cat is out of the bag, down the block and hunting mice with Beachy, whose ownership rate has tripled the last few weeks.

I do not trust Zambrano, but a case can be made. When is Pineda going to be up to 99 percent ownership (maybe one percent of Yahoo! leagues reward teams for having the worst stats). If Daniel Hudson is owned by a dumb owner in your league (you'll know because he will be reserved) trade for him pronto.

Sanchez is interesting because he's one of four guys in baseball history to have more than 10 Ks and 5 BBs per nine innings while qualifying for an ERA title (so we're counting this year, but there are no others from 2011). Guess the rest in the comments.

Michael Salfino writes and edits the SNYWhyGuys blog that projects player and team performance for New Yorkers. He's also a quantative sports analyst whose writing regularly appears in the Wall Street Journal. .

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