There are two integral parts to study and research for handicapping any game. Starting pitching and the bullpens are those two components and the setup and closer have become nearly as important as the starter who averages more than six innings per start.
In the modern game of baseball,
starters who average six innings per start are considered among the best in the game. They approach 200 innings pitched
for the season and keep the bullpen as fresh as possible during the 162
marathon. In the olden days, however, starting pitchers considered it
embarrassing not to finish what they started, and there was no such things as
setup men and closers.
For this article, I will outline
how I go about identifying strong pitching situations, using a few of the
hottest starters as examples. Most amateurs simply look at the ‘flash’ statistics
of ERA, record, and WHIP and then maybe take a look at the same numbers for
only their last three starts. This is a great beginning, but there is a whole
lot more work to do to really get a handle of where a starter is in terms of
his skills, endurance, and command of his pitches.
Let’s take a look at why R.A.
Dickey has been so successful this season, setting a Mets franchise
scoreless innings record of 32 ? innings of work before allowing an unearned
run in the ninth inning in his one hitter, 9-1 win, over Tampa Bay. He is a
knuckballer, who grips it with his index and middle finger and changes the
pressure on either to create the desired movement he wants to get batters out.
This one hitter would have the been the second in Mets' franchise history with
the first just about 2 weeks ago when Santana turned the trick on 132 pitches.
Dickey has made 13 starts, posting a 10-1 record with a 2.20 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP. Opponents have
hit a combined .208, having fanned 90 times spanning 90 innings of work. So, what
makes him so successful is his uncanny ability to command the movement of his
pitch and get strike one. He posted a 3-2 record in April, but the Mets have not lost since posting 11
straight wins when he toes the rubber. Moreover, he is 7-0 in May and June
He does not always throw the knuckleball; he has a decent fastball that augments the knuckleball movement and
speed. On the first pitch of an at-bat, he will throw the knuckleball 72% of the
time and a fastball 24%, and very occasionally - 1% of all pitches
thrown - the slider.
Another area into which I delve is seeing how the current members of an opponent have done against a given starter. In the
case of Dickey, he has allowed a .133 batting average to the current members of
the Rays. The data must have a significant sample size and generally, if a
starter has not had more than a total of 50 at-bats against an opponent, the
data can become skewed and less meaningful. However, numbers like Dickey's,
spanning 75 at-bats, are quite indicative of the domination he has enjoyed in
playing against the Rays.
The best pitch in baseball is
strike one; once a hitter has strike one against him, their batting average
will decline a minimum of 75 points. So, Dickey has thrown 175 first pitch
strikes out of a possible 285 at-bat situations. This means that he has thrown
first pitch 61% of the time.
After 0-1 is established, batters are hitting just .160 and after a 1-0 count, opponents are hitting .255. That
is a difference of .095 points to the batting average of MLB hitters after
achieving strike one. He has had just ONE 3-0 count for the entire season, reflecting the incredible command of strike zone with his two pitches.
Another piece of data I like to
look at is what is the batting average in various game situations. Does a
pitcher struggle with runners in scoring position, or is he able to really bear
down and get through innings leaving runners stranded on base. Dickey has
allowed a .209 batting average in situations with no runners on base, .204
batting average with runners on base, .151 with runners in scoring position,
and .043 with runners in scoring position and two outs. This is the type of
focus and tenacity that elite hard throwing fastball starters possess, and
although Dickey is a knuckleballer, he has what it takes to continue pitching
well over the remainder of the season.
For more pearls of statistical wisdom, be sure to check out John's MLB thread.