Short Hops

Hey, all. This week, I’m going to introduce a new feature that will run weekly- Short Hops. I’m going to analyze some of the recent trends from our Buccos and see what information can be gleaned.
Living Dangerously
– It’s no secret that Zach Duke is not a strikeout pitcher. Possessing a fastball that sits in the 88-91 MPH range and mixing in a solid curveball and changeup, Duke makes his living by painting the corners (104 Walks in 355 career innings)  and inducing plenty of groundballs (1.79 career Groundball to Flyball Ratio.)
However, there comes a certain limit to the effectiveness of this strategy when the pitcher simply can’t strike anybody  out. There exists a  strikeout threshold where pitchers, even those with excellent control and groundball tendencies, simply struggle to remain effective. It is exceedingly difficult to find starters that have a great degree of success while striking out fewer than 5 batters per 9 innings.
The reasons for this are fairly apparent. The fewer punchouts a pitcher records, the more balls that are put in play. With a greater amount of balls put in play, there is a heightended chance that those balls will fall in for hits. Granted, groundballing control artists can limit the damage by not issuing many free passes and to some extent limiting the longball (it is, after all, pretty hard to hit a home run on a grounder), but these pitchers are performing the baseball equivalent of a tightrope act.
In 2007, Duke has struck out 2.78 batters per 9 innings. Suffice it to say, the ball is being put in play a considerable amount against the lefty. To makes things worse for a pitch-to-contact pitcher like Duke, the Pirates appear to be a poor defensive ballclub once again. Pittsburgh, at 0.683, ranks 28th in Team Defensive Efficiency, which is the percentage of balls put into play that are converted into outs.
The math is pretty easy: low strikeout, contact pitcher + bad defense = ugly results.
Looks Can Be Deceiving
– At first glance, the .287 Batting Average posted by Freddy Sanchez looks impressive. However, Sanchez is hitting a hollow .287, with a .317 OBP and a .344 SLG%. Sanchez has never been an especially patient hitter, relying on his contact ability to spray balls to the opposite field. Sanchez walked in 4.9% of his Plate Appearances in 2006 and only 3.7% of his PA in 2007. Without good secondary skills (drawing walks, hitting for power), Sanchez is a batting average-dependent hitter. Batting average tends to fluctuate more than other hitting skills, making Sanchez more subject to poor stretches than players with pop and patience. Anyone expecting a repeat of 2006 for Sanchez may want to temper their expectations.

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Matt Bandi

Matt has covered the Pirates at Wait ‘Til Next Year, Pittsburgh Lumber Co. and now Pirates Prospects. He served as Pirates team expert for Heater Magazine in 2009 and 2010 and has contributed to Graphical Player 2009, 2010 and 2011. Matt was also the editor of the 2011 and 2012 Pirates Prospects Annuals.

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  • Randy

    Good stuff, Dave.
    I remember a couple of years back (three or four or more), Rob Neyer had a post about low K pitchers and how they don’t normally stick around for a long time. The post was in reference to some projections a reader had made on Mark Fidrych’s career with the assumption that Fidrych had been able to stay healthy. The reader had projected Fidrych to have a great career. But Neyer wasn’t buying it based mostly, as I recall, on the Bird’s poor K/9 ratio (about 3.5 in 1976 when Fidrych was all the rage and I was five years old). Duke’s K/9 is better than that, but by no means stellar.

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