Jeff checked in with the Double-A Jackson Generals last week. I wasn't intending to revisit the topic and have no intention of doing so at length, but some data investigation led me to a bit of positive news.
We generally consider the ability to get a batter to swing and miss to be the most important skill for a pitcher to possess. Keeping the ball on the ground and hitting his spots are important too no doubt, but being able to get swings and misses at a good clip can paper over a lot of deficiencies elsewhere.
There's two ways usually used to measure that ability. One is swinging strike rate, the percentage of swings and misses out of all pitches thrown. Another is contact rate, which is the percentage of swings that a batter attempts at that make contact with the ball, whether it stays fair or not. The two get at roughly the same skill, but are subtly different. I make no claims here about one being superior to another, but for the time I was investigating contact rates.
For reference, the Major League average contact rate is about 81% so far in 2012. Among the pitchers who qualified for this looksee (at least 100 swings against), Gavin Floyd has the Major's lowest contact rate and it is 68.4%. The fun part of this fact does not come from the Major League level however as you gleaned from the foreshadowing in the introduction. Keeping the same requirement of 100 swings against (data current as of noon today), I opened it up to everyone in the high minors, meaning Double-A (which we have pitch-by-pitch data for the first time this year) and above.
|Danny Hultzen (SEA)||22.4||245||66.9%||51.9%||50.0%|
|Taijuan Walker (SEA)||19.7||166||74.7%||57.1%||38.9%|
|Trevor May (PHI)||22.6||221||64.7%||58.3%||32.6%|
|James Paxton (SEA)||23.5||297||56.2%||59.7%||46.5%|
That's not a grouping picked from random in the list. Those are the first four names when sorted by lowest contact rate to highest.