When I’m evaluating pitchers, the three key stats I look at are the strikeouts, the walks, and the home runs. Those are the only three stats that eliminate the other players on the field, focusing on the pitcher against the batter. There are other stats to focus on, but for a rough guide of whether a pitcher is good, and how good a pitcher is, my focus goes to those three numbers.
Last year we saw the Pirates pitching put up some great numbers in the ERA column. However, the secondary numbers didn’t match up. Typically you want to see a starting pitcher put up dominant strikeout numbers. The key number I look at is a 6.0 K/9. The Pirates only had one starter top that mark, and that was James McDonald, who had a 7.5 K/9.
Obviously you want to keep walks and home runs low. For walks, my focus is a 3.0 BB/9 or lower. For home runs, I’m looking for a 1.0 HR/9 or lower. The Pirates did well in the walk category last year. There were some control issues with Charlie Morton (4.0 BB/9) and James McDonald (4.1 BB/9), but Paul Maholm, Jeff Karstens, and Kevin Correia limited the walks. The home runs weren’t limited, with McDonald, Karstens, and Correia going over the 1.0 mark.
Of the starters last year, only one starter hit two of the three ideal marks, and that was Paul Maholm. That’s a big reason why I never bought the success from the pitching staff last year. The pitchers didn’t look dominant, as seen by their numbers.
That’s not the case in the early part of the 2012 season. Once again we’re seeing some ridiculous numbers posted by the pitching staff. This time they’re hitting those key targets.
Of the six starters this year, four of them have posted a K/9 over 6.0. The exceptions are Jeff Karstens (3.8) and Kevin Correia (3.6). Only two starters have a walk rate below 3.0 BB/9. Those starters are Charlie Morton and Karstens. The other four are in the 3.2-3.7 range, and McDonald, Bedard, and Burnett have K/BB ratios over 2.0, which is another target figure. Finally, the only pitcher with a HR/9 ratio over 1.0 is A.J. Burnett, after his rough start this week.
So why are these numbers important? Of the 94 qualified starters from last year, 38 had a K/9 that was 6.0 or greater, a BB/9 that was 3.0 or lower, and a HR/9 that was 1.0 or lower. Their combined ERA was 3.23. The other 56 pitchers combined for an ERA of 4.06.
If a pitcher had two of the three stats, he was still better than someone with one stat, or someone with none. There were 32 pitchers with two of the three requirements above. They combined for a 3.95 ERA. The pitchers with one or zero requirements combined for a 4.23 ERA.
If you were struggling with one of the three stats, the best place to struggle was with walks. Of the 32 pitchers who had two of the three requirements, the pitchers who had a high walk rate combined for a 3.76 ERA. The pitchers with a low strikeout rate combined for a 4.01 ERA. The pitchers with a high home run ratio had a 4.05 ERA.
In all of these cases, the focus isn’t so much on ERA. The idea is to illustrate that these numbers lead to better results. Go through any year and you’ll find that the pitchers with the better strikeout numbers, the lower walks, and the lower home run totals will have the better numbers. You probably don’t have to do all of the research, since the concept alone makes sense.
It’s a small sample size in the early part of the season, but the hot start from the Pirates rotation looks much more legit this year than it did last year. There should be some regression, but nothing drastic. Charlie Morton is the only pitcher hitting all three targets, and unsurprisingly he has a 3.20 xFIP. Erik Bedard and James McDonald are both hitting two of the three targets, and only missing with walks. Karstens was hitting two when he was healthy, only missing with the strikeouts. That’s a big improvement from last year, when only one starter was hitting more than one target in those three stats.
The rotation won’t continue to see three starters with an ERA below 3.00 throughout the course of the season. However, they should see strong results, with less chance of a big regression compared to last year.