Saturday, August 22, 2009
Is Joel Pineiro getting lucky with his walks?Posted by Pat Andriola
Warning: Back-of-napkin math will be used.
Joel Pineiro is having a phenomenal year, due mostly in part to his Roy Halladay impersonation. He doesn't walk anyone and gets a bunch of groundballs. Here are his 2009 numbers:
3.03 FIP, 3.31 tRA, 61.1 GB%, 1.00 BB/9
Impressive, I know. His ground ball percentage is absurd. He's first in baseball, and it's not even close (second is Derek Lowe at 56.3%). This is Pineiro's tenth year in the majors, and before this season his highest GB% was 48.6% in 2007. All Hail Dave Duncan.
But what may be equally impressive is his miniscule BB/9 ratio, which stands at just 1.00 as of today. For reference, Cliff Lee led all of baseball last year with a BB/9 of 1.37. Pineiro has far and away the lowest rate in the majors, better than any other starting pitcher. And this is coming from a guy who was at 2.12 BB/9 last year, and 3.48 in 2006! We might want to tip our caps again to good ol' Dave Duncan, but I'm a cynic. I doubt for fun, and I just don't buy that Joel Piniero has this good control.
Progressive baseball analysis is looking in-depth on a micro level to figure out how to value someone on a macro level. We're trying to cut down the game as best as we possibly can, but what we sometimes forget is that we have more data than we think. We usually tend to look at at-bats as the individual accomplishment, but we need to understand that within every at-bat are a series of pitches, each one that can tell us something valuable about a player.
Walks are interesting. This isn't batting average, where we can look at BABIP numbers and indicate if a guy is getting lucky or unlucky due to outside circumstances. But maybe, on a more mitigated scale, we can. The greatest indicator of a pitcher's walk total must be their ratio of strikes thrown to balls thrown, and I don't think we need to get caught up in post hoc ergo propter hoc debates, as the causality is clear.
I don't have strike and ball information readily handy in a neat excel file at all times, but what I wanted to do was look at the ratios of strikes to balls (we'll reference it as K:B) for the top ten 2009 starting pitchers with the lowest walks per nine average. Here's what I found:
Player BB/9 Strikes Balls EFF Joel Pineiro 1 1495 752 199 Roy Halladay 1.16 1736 782 222 Chris Carpent 1.3 1258 624 202 Dan Haren 1.34 1713 882 194 Mark Buehrle 1.78 1600 886 181 Scott Baker 1.79 1621 765 212 Carl Pavano 1.82 1488 745 200 Javier Vazque 1.86 1735 871 199 Ted Lilly 1.88 1327 630 211 Cliff Lee 1.9 1884 904 208
I labeled the last column EFF, for efficiency. It's simply a pitcher's strike total divided by their ball total multiplied by 100 and rounded up. With long decimals things can get messy, and this is far easier and at the same time doesn't mess with the data. An EFF rate of 200, which is where Carl Pavano is at for 2009, means that his K:B ratio is basically at 2.00 (really 1.997). A pitcher should always strive for the highest EFF rate as possible. For context, here are the five worst starting pitchers in 2009 in terms of walks per nine innings:
Player BB/9 Strikes Balls EFF Clayton Kershaw 5.16 1510 985 153 Doug Davis 4.69 1580 1080 146 Joba Chamberlai 4.41 1285 883 146 A.J. Burnett 4.39 1528 1019 150 Yovani Gallardo 4.29 1606 1089 147
As you can see, this is a much different picture. We have a group of some interesting pitchers, but obviously they don't come close to the previous group of guys in terms of control.
But let's go back to the original group of good control guys and look at how Pineiro is doing. Out of the ten, only two guys are worse than him in terms of EFF (Haren and Beuhrle) and one is tied (Vazquez). In fact, the guy who is tenth in baseball, Cliff Lee, is nine points ahead of Pineiro in EFF, but his walk rate per nine innings is almost double! Last year, Pineiro walked 2.12 batters per nine innings and his EFF was at 193.
Another interesting factor is a pitcher's ability to get ahead in the count (directly tied to K:B), which is another good indicator as to the control of a pitcher. A ball on the first pitch means the pitcher is 25% of the way to a walk; a strike means that he is 33% of the way to a punch-out. Luckily, Fangraphs carries this data in the form of F-Strike %. While Pineiro is very high (fifth in baseball) at 65.4%, four of his partners on the aforementioned list are ahead of him, including Roy Halladay, who leads the majors at 68%.
There are a lot of other things that are important to look at when analyzing a pitcher's control, and a lot can be seen in the pitch/fx data. Also, some pitchers who get ahead in the count may use balls as tools to get batters to chase and/or to change eye levels. However, Joel Pineiro's walk rate does not seem to be near sustainable considering that his K:B ratio, while very good, is not even as high as other pitchers who have significantly worse BB/9 numbers. There are a few pitchers, such as Halladay, who have thrown a higher percentage of strikes to balls than Pineiro, but don't come all that close to his walks per nine rating. There's no doubting that Joel Pineiro is really good, and the Cardinals are much better off for it; however, his walk rate is probably better than it should be. You can credit Duncan, the St. Louis water, or the deity of your choice, but we may see some more free passes from Pineiro sooner than later.
Thanks to Fangraphs for the data.