Pitchers Who Weathered the Wind

Last week, I shared some evidence that wind affects home run rates on fly balls. In this article, I will look at some of the pitching performances that may have been most negatively affected by wind conditions in 2006. Games were coded as “wind blowing out” if the wind was blowing toward the outfield at 10 mph or more at the time of the game.

MLB, Performance With Wind Blowing Out
Pitcher           Team    IP   HR/OF
Matt Morris       SF   89.0   14.1%
Justin Verlander  DET  39.2   25.6%
Jason Schmidt     SF   87.1    9.5%
Kevin Millwood    TEX  46.2   22.2%
Barry Zito        OAK  40.1   17.8%

Maybe Justin Verlander is even better than his 3.63 ERA in 2006 suggests? About half of Barry Zito’s worst starts over the past two years occurred with the wind blowing out at Oakland. Zito’s former home park is widely viewed as pitcher-friendly, but it appears the occasional windy games at Oakland did cause some trouble.

Triple-A, Performance With Wind Blowing Out
Pitcher           Org    IP   HR/OF
Bobby Livingston  SEA  28.1   32.1%
Tim Stauffer      SD   56.1   11.9%
Chris Sampson     HOU  36.0   24.2%
Josh Banks        TOR  49.1   10.4%
Ryan Baerlocher   KC   33.1   16.7%

Bobby Livingston, a soft-tossing southpaw in the Mariners system, surrendered home runs at a rate higher than he ever has before. He survived a couple of three-home run games in 2006, and both occurred with 17 mph winds blowing to the outfield. Fewer than 10% of his fly balls allowed left the ballpark in games when the wind was not blowing out. Tim Stauffer pitched more innings than any other Triple-A pitcher with the wind blowing out, but he handled the challenge fairly well.

Chris Sampson is 28, but he is still relatively new to pitching. He was drafted out of Texas Tech as a shortstop, quit baseball for a few years, and returned as a pitcher. He eventually earned a late-season promotion to Houston in 2006. Although Sampson features a sinkerball, he struggled with fly balls when the wind was blowing out at Triple-A Round Rock. Josh Banks surrendered 35 home runs in 2006, but he can’t really blame the wind. He kept the ball in the park when the wind was blowing out to the outfield.

Double-A, Performance With Wind Blowing Out
Pitcher           Org    IP   HR/OF
Chris Lambert     STL  37.1   27.3%
Jordan Pals       STL  42.2   13.0% 
Chance Douglass   HOU  88.1   10.0%
Aaron Williams    HOU  31.1   23.1%
T.J. Nall         LAD  24.2   40.0%

At 22, Chance Douglass induces many ground balls, and it’s a good thing or else he might be written off as a prospect after his 2006 season. Williams is an older relief pitcher who allowed 10 home runs in 60 innings pitched. Nall‘s high home run rate with the wind blowing out is surprising. The 25-year-old posted a winning record and 2.82 ERA with Jacksonville of the Southern League.

Single-A Advanced, Performance With Wind Blowing Out
Pitcher           Org    IP   HR/OF
Michael Rogers    OAK  62.1   15.3%
Cody Evans        ARI  35.2   21.4%
Cibney Bello      SEA  45.2   25.0%
Matthew Green     ARI  56.1   11.8%
Kellen Raab       ARI  55.0   11.9%

The wind was blowing out to center in nearly every home start of Michael Rogers. Cody Evans was placed in one of professional baseball’s most hitter-friendly home parks and struggled with a particularly windy schedule. He finished the season with an ERA of 8.22.

Notice all the Arizona Diamondbacks prospects on this list? In 2007, Lancaster, formerly an Arizona farm team, will be affiliated with the Boston Red Sox. Red Sox fans, please don’t be surprised when Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden start giving up home runs like it’s 1999.

The Rangers’ top pitching prospect, Eric Hurley, is just a bit lower on the list of Single-A Advanced pitchers. His HR/OF rate quadrupled in 30 innings pitched with the wind blowing to the outfield, but he still managed to put together an outstanding season in 2006.

Single-A, Performance With Wind Blowing Out
Pitcher           Org    IP   HR/OF
Luis Valdez       CLE  44.0   42.9%
Ryan Mullins      MIN  61.0   19.5%
Trey Shields      OAK  39.1   22.9%
Aaron Thompson    FLA  57.0   10.3%
Jose Escalona     SEA  37.0   21.9%

Ryan Mullins had a nice season and it’s fashionable to hype young pitchers in the Twins organization, but Aaron Thompson might be the most notable prospect on this list. Thompson has limited upside due to his low velocity, but his advanced command and feel for pitching led to success in all kinds of weather.

All these pitchers appeared in more than their fair share of windy games. Most—especially the ones who move on to other other teams in 2007—will pitch in a more typical proportion of windy games this year. As a result, many of their home run rates will decline.

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