Welcome to Get to Know a Stat! Once a Week (or so) I intend to take an advanced baseball statistic and present it to you in a way that’s understandable.
Real life gets in the way this week, so rather than delve into an advanced stat like last week, I thought I would run through a few of the fairly basic ones that can still prove very useful in evaluating a pitchers.
The way I’ve come to view stats is not as some all-encompassing answer about who is the best player, but a variety of tools that let you dig into the truth of situations a little better. ERA might be the sledgehammer that can break things open, but the more finely crafted FIP lets you dig in a little more carefully without breaking the whole thing open. As such, I’m just going to highlight a few of the other stats that can help you get a more complete picture of what a pitcher is doing.
If you remember, last week we looked at FIP, which tries to isolate runs scored that only the pitcher is responsible for. FIP, however, only accounts for Home Runs, Strikeouts and Walks. A good FIP score usually means a good pitcher, but not always. Take the following example:
A pitcher comes on in relief in the sixth inning. He promptly gives up three singles, and the bases are now loaded. No outs. The next hitter pops out to the catcher, one away no runs scored. Then, the next hitter grounds into a double play to end the inning. The next inning something similar happens to the same pitcher: a few hits, no walks or strikeouts, but this time two runs are given up before he gets the final out. Was this a good outing?
It doesn’t seem like it. If both of those runs were earned, he has a 9.0 ERA for the outing (2 ER/2 IP * 9). But if those runs were scored because of an error, his ERA is 0 because neither run is earned.
His FIP, in either case, will be neutral. No Home Runs, Strikeouts or Walks. That doesn’t seem to be right either, does it?
WHIP, or (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched) might help us. WHIP does exactly what it says: It averages the amount of times a player gets on base (via walk, hit, HBP, etc.) per inning a pitcher gives up.
Unlike FIP, this statistic will vary a bit based on the defense, and doesn’t keep track of runs. WHIP, however, catches the lucky pitcher who puts guys on but doesn’t really give up runs. A pitcher with a low WHIP (usually 1.1 or lower is a very good WHIP) is less likely to give up runs, as no one is getting on base. A pitcher that has a low ERA but a high WHIP, is putting guys on base who aren’t scoring. It’s just going to be a matter of time before that luck catches up with him and other teams start scoring.
If you’re worried about the defense’s role in WHIP, try comparing pitchers that are all on the same staff. They would presumably have the same defense playing with them for the most part. If one pitcher has a WHIP that is wildly different from his teammates, it could be because he is a much better (or worse) pitcher than they are. Here are a bunch of Nationals Pitchers:
Looking at Chen-Ming Wang’s WHIP (More than 2 per inning) vs. say Ross Detwiler (1.2) shows how many more hits and walks Wang was giving up, and why he ultimately lost his job with the team. Additionally, you might be down on Drew Storen after Game 5-but don’t overreact. You don’t get a .989 WHIP by being a bad pitcher.
In the columns after WHIP are a handful of very useful averages that you can use to get at different questions about pitchers. H/9 is, like ERA, an average of hits a pitchers gives up per 9 innings (so closely tied to WHIP). HR/9, BB/9 and SO/9 (sometimes written K/9) all work the same way-giving you the average number of Home Runs, Walks and Strikeouts per 9 innings that a pitcher gives up.
These types of averages can be very helpful when comparing pitchers with very different pitch loads. Looking above, Edwin Jackson had twice as many strikeouts as Tyler Clippard, but that was because he worked more than 100 more total innings than Clip. Clippard (10.4 per 9 innings ) was strikeout guys at a higher rate than Jackson (8.0) in the fewer innings pitches. If you had a to strike a guy out to win a really important game and you had both of them available, who would you choose?
But sometimes you need to know more than just these type of rates. You need to compare rates. What if you need a strikeout because the bases are loaded. So not only do you need a K, but you can’t give up a walk? Who do you turn to then? I’d give the SO/BB (or K/BB) stat a look. How many strikeouts does a guy get per walk? That is to say if we look at Drew Storen’s 3.0 SO/BB, it is saying something roughly like “every time Storen gives up a walk, he’s also got 3 strikeouts to go with it). That’s pretty good. It’s not nearly as impressive as Stephen Strasburg getting 4.1 SO/BB, but it’s better than Brad Lidge, who manage only .91 SO/BB before he was let go. That is to say, Lidge was slightly more likely to walk a guy than strike him out. Not a desirable quality in any pitcher, let alone a closer.
The takeaway from this, I hope, is that these are not very difficult things to calculate or wrap your head around. In fact, they were all invented because of a natural curiosity people had about the players they loved. That curiosity drove them to look at numbers slightly differently (let alone some of the wildly different ways they look at stats soon). You can do it too. Maybe you’re wondering what a pitchers HR/K rate is, and if that is an informative thing to look at? Go ahead and poke around and see if you can come up with something fun! Whatever gets you talking and thinking about things differently is probably a good idea.