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Categorizing Pitchers by Batted Ball Types and Strikeout Rates

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The always excellent Rich Lederer at Baseball Analysts posted an article today on categorizing pitchers by batted ball types and strikeout rates. He looks at all pitchers who last season completed 100 or more innings and started in at least 33% of their appearances. Rich includes tables that have the data for each pitcher who met his criteria, along with a great chart plotting GB% vs K/BF for each of the guys.

Of course, on Rich's chart the best quadrant to be in is the high strikeout, high GB% quadrant. That quadrant features such pitchers as Liriano, Webb, Carpenter, and Felix. Rich makes the comment:

With Liriano injured, I would rank Felix directly behind Johan Santana as the pitcher most likely to lead the AL in ERA this year.

The opposite quadrant, flyball pitchers who don't get a lot of strikeouts, is the most difficult from which to pitch. Rich notes:

There is basically only way to survive in this quadrant: throwing strikes and maintaining a low walk rate. Freddy Garcia, Jon Lieber, Jon Garland, Brad Radke, Paul Byrd, and Carlos Silva fit this description. But these types of pitchers live on the edge with very little margin for error

Looking at the list of pitchers in this quadrant (the low K-rate, high FB% group), I note quite a few thoroughly mediocre (or worse) guys who got lucky for one or two seasons in having a high proportion of their balls in play get converted to outs. The list includes guys such as Byrd, Suppan, Jeff Weaver, Eric Milton, and, of course, the Mariners very own Jarrod Washburn. Some of these guys have been exposed; for others the revelation may still be pending.

The other two quadrants are populated by pitchers who have a bigger margin for success than do the flyball prone, low-K rate pitchers. The Mariners seem to be dumpster-diving in the low K-rate, high GB% quadrant. That's certainly better than dumpster-diving in the low K-rate, low GB% area the Mariners have often scoured in the past and which is where annually some flyball pitcher gets an absurd contract based on a fluky season or two.

*****

[editor's note, by Steve Nelson][In my first version of this story, I omitted Ramirez's 2003 season in preparing his career stats. The tables and discussion below have been updated to include results of his 2003 season.]

Let's see where Horacio Ramirez sits in this universe. Ramirez didn't log sufficient innings to be included in Rich's chart, so I assembled Ramirez's career numbers. Ramirez has a career GB% of about 49.5% and a K-rate of about 11.2%. For this comparison I also looked at HR/FB, the ratio of home runs to total fly balls.

Ramirez's 49.5% GB% puts him close to such guys as the 2006 versions of Miguel Batista, Zach Duke, Greg Maddux, Kenny Rogers, and Luke Hudson. There are two big differences, however, between Ramirez and those guys:

  1. Strikeout rates
    Their 2006 K-rates (ranging from 11.66% for Rogers to 14.55% for L. Hudson) were higher than Ramirez's 11.2% career number. Duke (12.5%), Maddux (13.6%), and Luke Hudson (14.6%) all had K-rates that were significantly higher than Ramirez's K-rate.
  2. Home runs surrendered per flyball
    This is where the difference between these pitchers and Ramirez is most apparent. Their 2006 HR/FB rates (ranging from 8.6% for L. Hudson to 13.8% for Rogers) were significantly lower than Ramirez's 17.7% career number.
So, in comparison with the 2006 performance of that peer group, Ramirez struck out fewer guys (meaning more balls in play) and a higher proportion of those balls in play left the yard. Those differences in K-rate might appear small, but over the course of a season those differences mount, especially when the percentage of balls in play that become home runs is also greater..

There was a pitcher, though, whose 2006 GB%, K-Rate, and HR/FB were pretty close to Ramirez's career numbers:

Pitcher   GB%       K-rate   HR/FB
=======  =====   ======   =====
Ramirez  49.5%    11.2%   18.1%
?????    47.5%    11.6%   15.3%

Who, you might ask, is our mystery pitcher?? None other than one Joel Piñeiro. As compared with Ramirez's career numbers, Piñeiro version 2006 struck out about the same proportion of batters and had a lower ratio of HR/FB. Ramirez for his career has a slight advantage in GB%, but the difference isn't very significant.

I think Ramirez in the rotation has the potential to be really, really ugly folks.

****

Career data for Ramirez from Baseball Prospectus:

TBF = 2224
HR = 65
FB = 359
GB = 874
BB = 200
SO = 218
HPB = 12

Batted Balls = TBF - BB - SO - HBP = 1764
GB% = 874/1764 = 49.5%
K-Rate = SO/TBF = 248/2224 = 11.2%
HR/FB = 65/359 = 18.1%