How many times this year have you witnessed Billy Hamilton’s defensive range save a run or two? Or Zack Cozart’s sparkling play at shortstop? Or Jay Bruce’s rifle of an arm? Or Brandon Phillips’ Gold Glove performance? Plenty.

As a result, fewer balls put into play by hitters tend to fall in for hits, doubles are held to singles, runners don’t advance on the bases or are thrown out trying to score. Reds pitchers, all else equal, benefit from strong defensive play behind them. That’s part of what lies behind an important statistic that relates to pitching – batting average on balls in play (BABIP). The better your defense, the lower the BABIP.

If you look over the pitchers with the lowest BABIP in all of baseball, you’ll find two familiar names. Right at the top, in slots 2 and 3, are the names Johnny Cueto and Alfredo Simon. When a hitter puts a ball in play against Johnny Cueto, the defense has turned it into an out 78% of the time. For Simon, the defense has recorded an out 77% of the time. For the Reds as a team, that number is about 73%.

In 2014, defenses across the league are turning balls hit into play into outs at a 71% clip. Simon and Cueto are both experiencing their career-low BABIP, and not surprisingly, other teams are not scoring many runs against them. How much can we expect this to continue into the second half of the year?

Travis Wood is a good case study on BABIP and its important role in the number of runs a pitcher gives up. In 2013, Wood enjoyed a sparkling, career-low 3.11 ERA. But the underlying fundamentals indicated otherwise. His xFIP was 4.50 and SIERA was 4.43.

In 2014, Wood’s ERA is a not-so-great 4.62. He must be pitching worse this year, right? Nope. Wood is actually striking out more hitters (18.1% to 17.5%) than last year, he’s reduced line drives quite a bit (22.3% to 20.7%) and increased his ground ball rate (33.2% to 37.2%.). And Wood hasn’t been more home run prone. His HR/FB is an identical 6.9% to last year. His pitch velocity is the same.

So why is Wood’s ERA so much higher? He’s given up a few more walks. But it’s mostly just been bad luck. Last year, balls put in play (BABIP) fell in at .248 while this year, they’re becoming hits at a rate of .306. Wood has basically been the same pitcher as last year. Looking under the hood tells you that. Looking at his ERA last year told you nothing going forward. It’s gorilla dust.

By the way, Wood’s xFIP this year is 4.65 and SIERA is 4.48.

Does this mean that Wood, and other pitchers, have no control over what happens to a ball once its put into play? Research supports the idea that ground balls are turned into outs at a higher rate than line drives. Furthermore, it appears that pitchers who strike out hitters at a higher rate also experience weaker contact when the ball is put into play. So it would be unfair to say that pitchers have “no” control over the balls put into play behind them.

They key question is: How much control does a pitcher actually have over their BABIP?

Let’s turn to two fearsome hurlers, Clayton Kershaw and Greg Maddux, to help us answer this question.

You can file this under Clayton Kershaw is amazing: Last year he won the Cy Young by posting this line:  32.7% K, 7.3% BB, and 1.5% HR. This year he is posting 43.8% K, 4.59% BB/9, and 1.5% HR/9. He’s pitching much better this year than last year, right? His ERA last year was 1.83, and this year it’s 1.85. You might say thats much ado about 0.02, but given that all of his underlying stats show he is pitching better, you would expect his ERA to be lower. His FIP last year was 2.39 (2.88 xFIP), while his FIP this year is 1.49 (xFIP, 1.64).

What explains the fact this Kershaw has a higher ERA this year despite pitching better? Last year, he had a .251 BABIP while this year that number is up to .294.

Greg Maddux suppressed balls hit into play from becoming hits, yet he also experienced an unusual year in 1999. His BABIP was very un-Maddux like, at .324. This anchored his ERA at 3.57, and for the first time since 1992, he did not finish in the top-5 for the NL Cy Young. Don’t feel too bad for him, his BABIP went to .274 the next year and he finished third in Cy Young voting.

So, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture: Kershaw’s career BABIP is .284 while Maddux’s is .281. Both of them have lower than average BABIP, but that variation is not very far away from MLB’s average (around .290). So for an “average” MLB pitcher, they surrender about 29% of balls put into play as hits. For these two great pitchers, that number falls to 28%.

So, do pitchers have some control over how many balls put into play are turned into outs?

Yes, but very little. If the baseline for MLB pitchers is around 29% and Maddux et al. are hanging around 28%, it doesn’t appear that even the best pitchers can lower their BABIP by a large margin. New statistics are trying to incorporate this into their calculations (for example, SIERA recognizes that higher K% results in a slightly lower BABIP).

This should also be a warning when you see a pitcher hanging around a .220 BABIP. Johnny Cueto is a great pitcher, but I don’t believe that he is three times better at suppressing hits than Greg Maddux. Cueto has a career BABIP mark of .276, so it is more likely than not that his BABIP will rise in the second half of the season, and with it, his ERA.

Great pitchers stand out from their peers in other ways, though. They strikeout a lot of hitters and do not walk very many batters. This combination prevents the number of balls put into play (via strikeouts), and runs from scoring when batters do record a hit (by limiting base runners). The amount of control pitchers have over these numbers is much greater than the number of balls that fall for hits, which is why they tell us more about the underlying talent of a pitcher than their BABIP.

62 Responses

  1. doublenohitter

    You mentioned the Reds defense at the beginning of the post. That is one thing that can and should be included in the numbers. For Travis Woods, you have to consider the Cubs defense. I haven’t loomed into the numbers but if you did, you will probably find that their defense is much worse (or at least their range). Maybe the Cubs defenders aren’t getting to as many balls as before. That being said, the loss of BP will certainly increase the BABIP for all Reds pitchers unless a comparable defensive replacement is found.

    Great information.

    • charlottencredsfan

      Instructive article Mike.

      I agree DNH, this defense has been so awesome that it would be nice to know just how many runs it saves compared to the “average” team defense. The loss of Cozart, BP or Hamilton will have a major negative effect. The adage that the middle of the diamond defense is critical has never been more obvious.

      I have a problem with “luck” being thrown around as a catchall and Mike is getting underneath the surface here. I appreciate it as this is something you can sink your teeth into. The greater these factors can be qualified/quantified, the more confidence I will have in advanced statistics.

    • Craig Z

      The BABIP for the Reds (pitching) is .274 this year. Cueto’s is .220 and Simon’s is .232. I think what Michael is pointing out is unless the Reds are playing much better defense when those two are pitching, they will at some point go back toward their career averages-.276 for Cueto and .277 for Simon. Call it skill or luck the BABIP for these two so far are out of line with what could be expected. MIchael, if you are using Fangraphs for Cueto’s career BABIP, you are looking at the ZiPS (R) line instead of the total. Good article.

      • Michael Maffie

        Craig, you’re right — Im used to using BBRef which lists career after the current year. Fixed.

      • charlottencredsfan

        I was talking in general.

        Really going to keep a close eye on Simon though as I’m very curious to see where this leads. My contention is he could be striking out a lot more hitters if that was his desire – just don’t think he wants to sacrifice the pitches. Think there is a very good chance he is lot more savvy then we may realize. He has been doing this stuff for quite a while now.

        2014: ERA-2.70, WHIP-1.05, BABIP-1.05, K/9-5.79, FIP-4.32, xFIP-3.93
        2013: ERA-2.87, WHIP-1.07, BABIP- .236, K/9-6.57, FIP-3.96, xFIP-3.87
        2012: ERA-2.66, WHIP-1.43, BABIP-.337, K/9-7.67, FIP-3.19, xFIP-3.87

        Make of this what you will but I don’t expect the guy to start posting a 4.00 ERA anytime soon. If I’m betting: .280-3.20 range. Is he really that lucky??

      • charlottencredsfan

        Correction: BABIP in 2014 is .232 not 1.5

  2. steveeatworld27

    As someone who knows little about sabermetrics, this was very informative. I’d love to see a series of articles like this explaining some of the more common ones (like FIP or xFIP, for example) with a Reds angle.

  3. Eric NYC

    I’m assuming this post was inspired by yesterday’s “discussion” but it sure would have been helpful to have 24 hours ago. I spent more time on Greg Maddux’s FG page yesterday than I’ve spent on most of our current roster’s.

    • charlottencredsfan

      Me too on Maddux. During his greatest years his BABIP was very low and strike out rate was average at best. Man if one of the editors could breakdown Greg Maddux’s BABIP from 1992 to 1998, that would be very nice. Do really smart pitchers have low BABIP’s compared to the other advance stats? 100% guess but I’m thinking they just well might. Post 1998, Maddux was still a very good pitcher but he was great in the years I listed and his BABIP did fall in the line with what you’d expect – could it be his stuff had receded to the point he could no longer limit it in such an extreme way?

      Drilling down on topics like this is not only fun but extremely informative. Maybe we could get a better understanding why Simon has posted the very good major stats (ERA & WHIP) that he has for the last 2-1/2 seasons without a high K-rate, etc..

      Good call Eric.

      • Steve Mancuso

        WHIP isn’t really a major stat. It’s a fantasy baseball stat that wouldn’t be included in serious sites like FanGraphs if it weren’t for fantasy players. The walks part is fine, as far as it goes. But measuring a pitcher by the # of hits he gives up is really silly. See Mike’s post above to see why.

      • charlottencredsfan

        You and I can argue the WHIP, etc, stuff forever but can you explain Maddux’s numbers? I’m silly I know and I think you’re dogmatic so we are even.

      • Steve Mancuso

        If you look at Maddux BABIP through his career, you see a normal distribution around a career average. Not sure what you find so hard to see about that.

        You realize that just because a couple of the greatest pitchers of all time (Maddux, Ryan) have been able to beat the odds on BABIP, that doesn’t mean Alfredo Simon will. 99.9 percent of pitchers are not Maddux and Ryan. I suspect that Simon is probably part of the 99.99% than the 00.01%.

        Are you saying that Alfredo Simon is as good (better, really, since his BABIP is lower than Maddux ever had) as Greg Maddux?

      • charlottencredsfan

        Steve, no what I see is that during Maddux great run he had a very low BABIP. Again, why is this? It was season after season. Just a lucky stretch? Much like your poor initial evaluation of Billy Hamilton you are having the same trouble now with Alfredo Simon. I would recommend trying to broaden your vision a little, I think you are missing quite a bit.

      • Steve Mancuso

        I’m surprised you’d want to spend so much time at a website managed by a person who misses so much.

      • Steve Mancuso

        Charlotte: If you’re so smart and have such a keen sense of prognostication, why don’t you answer my question. Do you think Alfredo Simon is a better pitcher than Greg Maddux at his best? Is he better than Randy Johnson? Please, answer that. Because if you aren’t willing to say that, all this bluster about Simon from you is just that. If Simon isn’t a better pitcher – by a LOT – then please explain how Simon’s BABIP is .232 and Maddux’s career best year was .244.

      • charlottencredsfan

        Steve, I love the site and enjoy reading your work. I like your passion. Because I don’t always agree with your methodology, doesn’t mean that I gain no benefit from your knowledge. This is sincere as I know how to be.

        I’m not comparing Simon to anyone. The Maddux questions, etc, were in general. What I hope to convey is that I do not think Simon’s stats are on account of luck anymore then anyone else.

        I have given you my prediction several times now on Alfredo Simon and it has not changed since very early on in the season: Predicted ERA at the conclusion of the 2014 season: 2.80 to 3.20, WHIP of less than 1.20 and probably in the 1.10 range. . That’s it, I don’t care about the other stuff meaning I have no interest in how he gets there.

      • GeorgeFoster

        As Homer Bailey recorded the final out of his second no-hitter, an unimpressed Mr. Mancuso was overheard saying, “Big deal, measuring a pitcher by the number of hits he gives up is silly.”

        Yes, I’m being somewhat facetious, but I do think your actual statement is completely wrong. I wouldn’t use H/IP in isolation to judge a pitcher, nor would I use FIP or any other stat by itself. Advanced stats work quite well together with standard stats to provide a more comprehensive view of a player’s performance. I’m not sure why you so readily dismiss the standard stats.

        Do you believe that Cueto is one of the best active starting pitchers in MLB? If so, why do you believe it? FIP says he’s 34th among active pitchers, while H/9 and WHIP both rank him 13th, and in ERA he’s 7th. I guess you either don’t believe he’s that good, or maybe you’re relying on another advanced statistic that ranks him highly?

      • Steve Mancuso

        Cueto ranks 13th in MLB in SIERA. That’s about right to me. He’s a top 10-15 pitcher. If you see the company he’s with in that list, I’d say he belongs. FIP isn’t a great single indicator over a small sample size because it includes actual home runs instead of expected. So it fluctuates quite a bit. Cueto has been unlucky with home runs this year, if you can believe that.

        I don’t know which “standard” stats you think I readily dismiss. Is the number of strikeouts a pitcher has standard or advanced? How about the number of walks? Those are two of the most important stats to me, how about you? Those are pretty standard in my opinion. All FIP does is convert those two numbers (plus home runs) to a scale similar to ERA for the purpose of familiarity and comparison.

        I also look at fastball velocity, ground ball percentage and swinging strike rate in evaluating pitchers. Have I reached an acceptable level of comprehensiveness for you?

        Pitching a no-hitter isn’t an indication a pitcher is great. Ask Dallas Braden’s teammates. It probably means he has pretty good stuff that night. You need a fair number of strikeouts to have a decent shot at a no-hitter. They certainly require a bit of luck. Don’t really think that’s controversial. And pitching two is a pretty rare accomplishment.

      • Eric NYC

        Nolan Ryan is the really interesting one to look at. He finished his career with a .265 BABIP. For all practical purposes that’s the best rate for a modern era pitcher who came anywhere even remotely close to his IP. And it’s not a fluke. In 1976 he pitched 284 innings and had a BABIP of .269. The next year he pitched 299 innings and it was .263. And if that isn’t crazy enough, a few years earlier he 332 (!) innings and it was .255 (!). In total he had 17 seasons under .270, and only a handful of those were injury shortened. Most had gaudy IP counts. How did he do it? Well he had an excellent K rate, obviously, which goes to support the theory above that guys with great strikeout stuff tend to also have weaker balls hit off of them. Oddly, though, he had a shockingly high BB/9 of 4.67. A couple years that was over 5.00. So it would seem that, more so than any of the all time elite pitchers we usually think of, Ryan seemed to rely more on a low BABIP than anyone else. Not sure what to make of that.

      • Eric NYC

        Interesting baseball trivia of the day I randomly found out while digging up those numbers, the Chicago Cubs were for a brief period around the turn of the 20th century actually called the Chicago Orphans. Maybe that’s more common knowledge than I thought but it was news to me.

      • Michael Maffie

        When Clemens was having his career resurgence (perhaps chemically aided, but thats not really the point) ESPN ran a breakdown of his walks by lineup slot. Almost all of his walks were to batters 3-5 while he rarely gave out free passes to others. Im guessing Ryan was the same way: he knew only the best hitters could hurt him so he was more liberal walking them and then facing weaker hitters lower in the order.

      • charlottencredsfan

        Digging deep Mike – great, great stuff. I wonder the same thing about our own guys. Who does Simon, Bailey, Simon,etc. walk-rate as far lineup position? This kind of thing is critical and most important is your critical thinking. Over the years I have worked with many scientists and in general this why I respect them so much. Does a higher then expected walk-rate necessarily mean wildness or a higher intellect?

      • charlottencredsfan

        “Fastball velocity. All day”

        What about Randy Johnson then, he probably threw nearly as hard as Ryan?

      • Eric NYC

        More fun trivia: Cy Young pitched the 1899 season for the St Louis Perfectos.

      • Steve Mancuso

        Ryan could be an outlier because he was so wild. Randy Johnson’s career BABIP of .291 just proves that even great, great pitchers can’t always move the needle. I guess you’ll say that Alfredo Simon is just massively better than Randy Johnson.

      • charlottencredsfan

        When we can have a straightforward debate (discussion) on Simon, I’m more then ready. If you want to throw in superfluous statements and put words in my mouth, forget about it. I take this stuff seriously and expect you to as well if you want to have a meaningful conversation. Otherwise, I’ll keep reading and enjoying your other works.

      • Doug Gray

        Charlotte, I think the difference with Ryan and Johnson is that when Nolan Ryan was in his prime and throwing that hard, it was like Aroldis Chapman is now, but as a starter. No one else in the bigs was even close to throwing as hard as he was on a consistent basis. When Johnson was out there throwing 93-98, it was among the hardest in the game, but he wasn’t the only guy doing it. Facing Ryan was an entirely different kind of thing.

  4. Michael Smith

    Cueto’s babip has to go up some at some point but i do expect him to continue to our perform his sierra and other measures. For what ever reason Cueto is an outlier for those measurements.

  5. hamiltonred

    Excellent piece. Thank you Mike.

  6. User1022

    I for one would be curious if there is some correlation between pitch movement and lower BABIP. If hitters can’t accurately judge where a ball is going to be when they swing, it would stand to reason that they would be less likely to make solid contact and get a hit.

    I have nothing to back up my assertion, just a hunch kind of thing. I saw the information about about Nolan Ryan, and of course everyone knows he could throw hard, but what about guys like Randy Johnson? How about Strasburg? How about older guys like Bob Feller or Walter Johnson? Do just hard throwers have lower BABIP?

    As Charlotte said, Maddux was never known as a flame thrower, but he still had low BABIP years, and I think a lot of that had to do with him fooling hitters with his finesse pitches. I personally think modern baseball has gravitated too far towards strikeouts and overlooks the value of finesse pitchers like Maddux. I read somewhere that a scout said that if Maddux were coming up in today’s environment, no team would look twice at him because his numbers wouldn’t play well with modern “advanced” stats.

    • Steve Mancuso

      There is some new research suggesting that hard throwers generate more weak contact and double plays because of that. But the effect is really, really at the margin. It’s just hard to get around the overall claim that 29-30% of balls fall into play for hits. Even assuming all the crazy outlier narratives, you’re looking at 28%.

      Johnson had a career BABIP of .291, which is a little better than average, especially in the day that he pitched (average velocity has gone up a lot in the last few years). Maddux’s career BABIP was 28%.

      • VaRedsFan

        That kind of info should make should also make a lot of pitchers from 1990-mid 2000’s look not quite as good. The steroid era threw those pitching numbers out of whack.

  7. VaRedsFan

    I don’t believe anyone (CNC included) is saying that Simon is better than Ryan/Johnson/Maddux. I think Simon has turned a corner in the last few years which is correlating with the success he is having this year. Of course he won’t continue to have a .220 BABIP for the whole season, weather its due luck or not. It will get higher possibly due to arm fatigue of the long season and having never pitched this workload of innings before. Alot of things will figure into it, but it will go up.

    All of the BABIP info might show that Simon’s is out of whack FROM CAREER NUMBERS….but what it doesn’t take into account is how any player (Simon) might have learned something along the way to create a new foundation for which his rate should be judged (Perhaps 2012 for Simon). When people become a SLAVE TO THE NUMBERS, and throw out the human factor, it becomes a little short sighted. PEOPLE ARE ABLE TO LEARN/IMPROVE, and on the flip side DIGRESS/GET WORSE.

    Players aren’t robots, or in this case, data inputs. A .300 career hitter doesn’t hit .300 every year. There might be a .268 year in there as well as a .335 year. You have to consider that a player, with hard work, and talent is able improve his craft.

    • Eric NYC

      That’a a fair point, but historically guys don’t usually make that kind of sudden jump in ability almost immediately in their 30’s.

      My take on Simon is that he has improved his approach and mechanics since he’s come to Cincinnati, in part because we have one of the best coaching setups in the majors and one of the most talented group of pitchers that he spends all day every day with. That should be expected. He never really pitched all that many innings for the Orioles so they never gave him enough of a look to see his potential or for him to improve on his game. And maybe he could have been an effective SP last year if he had been given the chance. He’s got a 3.93 xFIP right now and, having watched almost all of his starts, that sounds about right to me. He’s not overpowering, he gets himself into jams that his defense bails him out of, he doesn’t strike out many guys at all. He’s been good but not great – basically a good 5th starter, and a 3.93 ERA would be what I would expect from a good 5th starter. So having such a low BABIP easily explains the difference in his ERA and xFIP right now to me, both statistically and from the good old fashioned eye test.

      • Craig Z

        His LOB% is 85.1 (second in the league) which goes along with what you are saying about getting out of jams. A few more hits with men on base could raise his ERA to closer to what is expected.

      • charlottencredsfan

        Fangraphs shows him with an FBv of 94, second among Reds starters. HB is first at 94.1. Not Nolan Ryan but throws hard enough.

      • Eric NYC

        Fast doesn’t automatically mean overpowering. There are plenty of guys these days who can throw 97 mph but they’re not exactly dominant with it. Unless you’ve got a Bronson-esque repertoire of pitches you’d better be able to get a fastball up over 92-93 mph if you want to be a MLB starter.

      • mwvohio

        Best post on the Simon thing I’ve seen so far, thank you Eric. Charlotte this is the one you should address. This is exactly how I feel about Simon and I’m fairly sure the same can be said of Steve. Simon has great stuff and okay command. He also has stranded a ton of runners this year which is where the “luck” or whatever word you want to call it comes in. For that matter I know that Cueto was stranding runners at an absolutely absurd rate for the first 10 or so games of the season before the luck dragon finally bit him a couple times.

        This though is the “advanced stats” argument, ironically one which Eric says his eyes agree with as well. Simon has been very fortunate that the hits he gives up are at opportune times so far and the advanced stats are predicting that will not continue to happen.

      • Steve Mancuso

        Cueto’s last game was a good example of that. He left with bases loaded. He had given up two runs. If the relief pitcher gives up a single or walk, Cueto’s ERA goes up. If J.J. Hoover gives up a grand slam, three runs charged to Cueto. If your shortstop or center fielder makes an amazing play, it saves Cueto two runs. Those situations come up a dozen times a year with relief pitchers. If you’re a starter and lucky (obviously the starter has no control over how the RP pitches) that effects your ERA positively. There’s a stat called LOB% that measures it (all LOB, not just from relievers).

  8. Michael Smith

    Quick question and not sure if there is a real answer. I looked at Cueto’s babip and it is well below league average in 2011,13 and 14 but right around league average in 2012. Is there any group of things that can explain his success relative to the statistical norm? Until this season he wasn’t a particularity great swing and miss guy.

    • Eric NYC

      Not too hard – sample size. He was injured most of 2013 and we’re only halfway through 2014. In 2011 he got a little lucky, and even then he only threw 156 innings so the sample size is a bit small. Look at his other full seasons. Right around .290.

    • Steve Mancuso

      This isn’t an explanation, but the seasons where Cueto has pitched a full year (>30 starts) his BABIP is normal:

      2008: .298
      2009: .291
      2010: .290
      2012: .296

      2013 he only threw 60 innings. So I don’t think it’s fair to say he’s been a below-the-norm guy on BABIP for his career. This year, his BABIP is .220, which will surely come up at some point. But he’s definitely a better pitcher this year than ever before. His strikeout rate and swinging strike rate have made dramatic jumps from his career levels.

      • Eric NYC

        Beat you to it while you were doing all that fancy schmancy formatting.

      • Michael Smith

        Agreed that the numbers for the years he has been better has been on lower innings years but 11 was 156 innings and 137 so far this year. 2013 could be tossed and statistically insignificant.

      • Eric NYC

        Look at any of the guys we’ve been talking about in this thread – Maddux, Ryan, Clemens. Over any significantly long career there are going to be the odd year where a guy just gets significantly luckier or unluckier than others. Maddux had a full 200 inning season where he finished at .253, 30 points lower than his career average. Another year he finished a 212 inning season at .324. That’s baseball.

      • VaRedsFan

        Bingo Eric….IMO teams don’t win championships because every one is at or equal to expectations. You win when guys on your team EXCEED expectations…career year type of things have to happen for a lot of guys as well as avoiding/overcoming injuries.

  9. Michael Smith

    I should have worded that better. In the last 4 years he has roughly 570 innings pitched and for the most part those innings and years have been well below the league norm. I’m wondering is that trend forming to where he is just an outlier with the occasional spot near the norm?

  10. CincyTWW

    Does anyone know if BABIP tends to change with runners on base as opposed to bases empty..

    • mwvohio

      I’m sure it does simply because fielders change positions based on holding runners on, playing in to prevent a run, etc. Those things impact grounders some, though I doubt it’s by a huge amount.

    • VaRedsFan

      Just a guess but it has to go up right? bigger holes.

      • Eric NYC

        Not necessarily. For every time a ball goes through a gap because the !B is holding a runner you also seem to see a shot down the line that would have been a hit if he wasn’t. Let’s look at the same guys. For Maddux his BABIP with bases empty was .283 and with men on was .293. But Roger Clemens was .280 without runners and .279 with. So my guess is it doesn’t have much of an effect over a large enough sample.

      • Michael Maffie

        Tom Tango, in the Book, calculated that hitters gain 14 points in wOBP when there is a runner at first with less than two outs. Tango argues this is because the defense switches to double play depth.

        I don’t know if this changes the SLG% of a hitter (as noted later in the thread, that it might decrease doubles down the line).

  11. docmike

    Great stuff here. I consider myself more a “saber” guy than an “old school” guy, but I just won’t believe that a pitcher has no control over how many hits he gives up.

    It seems pretty obvious that if you’re throwing 90 mph meatballs right down the pipe, you’re going to give up more hits than if you’re painting the corners with 100 mph heaters or sharp breaking pitches. The weaker pitcher will give up more line drives and have a higher HR/FB ratio (accounting for ballpark differences), while the better pitcher will induce more weak grounders and lazy popups.

    Out of all the pitcher stats, I like SIERA the best. It takes into account what type of contact (liner, GB, FB) the pitcher is generating.

    • docmike

      But anyone should be able to see that there is a HUGE luck component to BABIP. I mean, a grounder in the hole could be a 2-run base hit, while if it goes another 2 feet to the right, it is an inning-ending double play. The pitcher has no control over whether that grounder is hit right at the fielder or in the hole.

      By the same token, the pitcher gives up a screaming line drive, but due to some good fortune it goes right at an outfielder rather than into the gap. That’s pretty clearly luck, not any kind of repeatable skill.

      I do believe a pitcher has some control over his line-drive, GB, and FB rates, and also some control over his HR/FB ratio.

    • the next janish

      I’d agree that a pitcher has some control on how many hits he gives up. Just ask Schierholtz or Baker if they thought they could hit those pitches that Chapman buzzed by them. 🙂 I think the best indicator of this is how team pitching ERA varies by catcher(sure some better pitchers have preferences for better catchers, but in general its a known affect and why Hanigan got that nice extension from the Rays)

      • the next janish

        Should have thrown this in too. The difference between being a pitcher and a thrower, and having the catcher calling a good game.

      • lwblogger2

        The key to the catcher calling a good game is more about being in sync with your pitcher. I can put down the fingers but the pitcher can shake me off. I don’t like being shaken off but hey, he’s the guy who has to throw and execute the pitch. Catchers don’t have a ton of influence on ERA as a whole but some catchers click better with some pitchers and when that happens, it does help the pitcher perform. That’s more what it’s about than the game-calling piece really.

    • Steve Mancuso

      I know intuitively we think that pitchers have a significant amount of control over batted balls. But the stats say otherwise. The vast majority (99%?) of pitchers see BABIP of 29-30% over long enough times. There might be an exception – we’ve been talking about Nolan Ryan and Greg Maddux – basically one pitcher every decade, who *might* lower that to 28%, so that control is really small in the grand scheme of things.

      But it’s not like some pitchers are at 40% and others are at 20%.

      It gets back to preventing them from putting balls in play (strikeouts) or keeping them off base without having to put balls in play (walks, hbp). And keeping balls in the park, of course.

  12. the next janish

    This article should be titled “BABIP- or in other words Steve Vs. CNC” Great article and great debate. What I realized is that Simon will need need to have BABIP of .348 to get to league average; so I’m sure this debate will go on through out the season with “outlier” or “arm fatigue” being stated quite often on each side. If you would have argued during the Maddux golden years that “by the end of the season his BABIP would be closer to .290” you might have taken some ribbing for a couple of years. Question; is there a team defense & field dimension expected BABIP independent of the pitcher(the deviation from .290 would probably be small but very interesting)?

    There is definitely an art and a science to this. Science does a great job explaining 95-99% of what we see. For the rest the sample size is too small to really determine the underpinning consistently and at that point we just throw our hands up and say its an art.