Strike Zone Control and Wins

August 7, 2012

                To what extent does a team that controls the strike zone also control the game?

                Our first task here is to state a team’s strikeouts and walks—offensive and defensive—as wins and losses.  You may remember that three years ago I proposed a method to state a pitcher’s strikeouts and walks as wins and losses.   That method was to figure the league average of strikeouts and walks per 18 innings, there being 18 innings in a game, one win and one loss.    Each group of strikeouts equal to the league average per 18 innings was one "win" for a pitcher, and each group of walks was one loss.     The article that discussed that method was posted here on March 30, 2009, and there was a follow-up article on the same method a few days later; you can still read those articles if you are interested.

                To state a team’s strike zone control as a winning percentage, then, I started with something spun off of that method:

                Each group of walks by batters equal to 36 innings worth of walks at the league rate was treated as one offensive win.

                Each group of strikeouts equal to 36 innings of strikeouts was treated as one offensive loss.

                Each group of strikeouts by pitchers equal to 36 innings worth was treated as one win for the pitching.

                Each group of walks by pitchers was treated as one loss.  

                I’ll demonstrate that method with the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies, but I’ll warn you in advance that that didn’t quite work, so this isn’t the actual method I’m using here; I’m just walking you toward that.    The team with the best strikeout/walk data in the majors last year was the Phillies.    Philadelphia hitters drew 539 walks in 2011, and the league average per 36 innings was 12.5 walks.   539 divided by 12.5 is 43.1, so that’s 43 "wins" for the Philadelphia offense.  

                Philadelphia hitters struck out 1,024 times, and the league average per 36 innings was 29.2 strikeouts.   1024 divided by 29.2 is 35.1, so that’s 35 "strike zone losses" for the Philadelphia offense.

                Philadelphia pitchers struck out 1,299 batters.   That figures out to 44.53 "strike zone wins" for the Philadelphia pitchers. 

                Philly pitchers walked 404 batters.   That figures out to 32.3 "strike zone losses" for the Philadelphia pitchers.  

                Adding together the batters (43-35) and the pitchers (45-32), the Phillies had a "strike zone won-lost record" of 88-67, a .565 winning percentage, which was the best in baseball.  

                The problem with that method was that the standard deviation of wins and losses by this method was unrealistically small (meaning, for those of you who don’t speak math, that there was a severe shortage of teams with very good records or very poor records—as is suggested by the fact that the best record in baseball in 2011 was 88-67.)    Taking all major league teams since 1980, the standard deviation of winning percentage is 68 points.    Using this method, the standard deviation of winning percentage was 28 points—not even in the right ballpark.

                I knew immediately why that was true, of course.   There isn’t a straight-line relationship between wins and elements of wins in baseball; it’s always a relationship of squares, or something more like that.   There are a million ways to decentralize the strike zone winning percentages, imitating the relationship of squares, but what I decided to do was this.    First, I divided each team’s strikeouts and walks by the league norms per 18 innings, rather than per 36 innings as I was doing before.     This makes the Philadelphia won-lost record 175-135, rather than 88-67.    Then I subtracted one-fourth of the "K Zone decisions" from both the wins and the losses.    175-135 is 310 K Zone decisions.   One-fourth of that is 77 or 78.. ..something in there.    77.55.     Subtract that from the wins and from the losses, and Philadelphia’s Strike Zone Team Winning Percentage is .630.   98-57.    Coincidentally, this is the same as their actual winning percentage, .630 (102-60); that doesn’t happen very often.

                This "revised" method is actually more consistent with the original method, proposed in the article in March, 2009, than was the first attempt.    That method based the pitcher’s won-lost record on his strikeouts and walks per 18 innings.    This method is the same.   If a pitcher was 16-10 in that method, his individual won-lost contribution would be 16-10 here.   We’ve just "adjusted" that by overlaying the success of the hitters on top of the success of the pitchers—in essence saying that a pitcher who deserved to be 16-10 might be 18-8 if the hitters on his team were also good. 

                This leads to a series of questions:

                1)  What are the best and worst strike zone won-lost records of recent years?

                2)  How well does the strike zone won-lost record correlate with the team’s "overall" or "actual" won-lost record?, and

                3)  Are the anomalies at all predictive?

 

 

                1)  What are the best and worst strike zone won-lost records of recent years?

                These are the 25 teams with the best control of the strike zone, offensive and defensive, since 1980:

     

Rank

Year

Tm

Lg

Wins

Losses

KZ W Pct

1

2002

ARI

NL

107

54

.664

2

2003

NYY

AL

114

58

.660

3

1981

NYY

AL

72

37

.660

4

1988

BOS

AL

111

58

.656

5

1991

NYM

NL

100

53

.651

6

2006

MIN

AL

95

51

.650

7

1986

BOS

AL

99

54

.649

8

1988

NYM

NL

106

59

.640

9

1994

CHW

AL

72

41

.639

10

1990

NYM

NL

106

60

.639

11

1996

CLE

AL

95

56

.631

12

2011

PHI

NL

98

57

.630

13

1983

PHI

NL

108

65

.625

14

1981

CLE

AL

64

39

.625

15

2004

NYY

AL

101

61

.622

16

1989

BOS

AL

108

66

.620

17

2007

MIN

AL

88

55

.616

18

2001

OAK

AL

102

64

.615

19

2004

SDP

NL

90

56

.615

20

2007

BOS

AL

105

66

.615

21

1980

NYY

AL

106

67

.615

22

1999

HOU

NL

103

65

.614

23

1991

PIT

NL

95

60

.614

24

2010

MIN

AL

90

57

.613

25

1994

MON

NL

68

43

.613

 

                And these are the actual won-lost records of those teams:

               

Actual

Rank

Year

Tm

Lg

Wins

Losses

KZ W Pct

 

W

L

W-L%

1

2002

ARI

NL

107

54

.664

 

98

64

.605

2

2003

NYY

AL

114

58

.660

 

101

61

.623

3

1981

NYY

AL

72

37

.660

 

59

48

.551

4

1988

BOS

AL

111

58

.656

 

89

73

.549

5

1991

NYM

NL

100

53

.651

 

77

84

.478

6

2006

MIN

AL

95

51

.650

 

96

66

.593

7

1986

BOS

AL

99

54

.649

 

95

66

.590

8

1988

NYM

NL

106

59

.640

 

100

60

.625

9

1994

CHW

AL

72

41

.639

 

67

46

.593

10

1990

NYM

NL

106

60

.639

 

91

71

.562

11

1996

CLE

AL

95

56

.631

 

99

62

.615

12

2011

PHI

NL

98

57

.630

 

102

60

.630

13

1983

PHI

NL

108

65

.625

 

90

72

.556

14

1981

CLE

AL

64

39

.625

 

52

51

.505

15

2004

NYY

AL

101

61

.622

 

101

61

.623

16

1989

BOS

AL

108

66

.620

 

83

79

.512

17

2007

MIN

AL

88

55

.616

 

79

83

.488

18

2001

OAK

AL

102

64

.615

 

102

60

.630

19

2004

SD

NL

90

56

.615

 

87

75

.537

20

2007

BOS

AL

105

66

.615

 

96

66

.593

21

1980

NYY

AL

106

67

.615

 

103

59

.636

22

1999

HOU

NL

103

65

.614

 

97

65

.599

23

1991

PIT

NL

95

60

.614

 

98

64

.605

24

2010

MIN

AL

90

57

.613

 

94

68

.580

25

1994

MON

NL

68

43

.613

 

74

40

.649

 

                The Arizona team with the complete dominance of the strike zone was the Schilling/Big Unit team, led by two pitchers with fantastic strikeout/walk ratios.     It’s not just Johnson and Schilling, though; that team also led the league in walks drawn by hitters, and was fourth in the league in fewest strikeouts by hitters.

                The teams with the least control of the strike zone, over the same years, are these, with their actual won-lost records:

               

Actual

Rank

Year

Tm

Lg

Wins

Losses

KZ W Pct

 

W

L

W-L%

1

1983

NYM

NL

51

107

.325

 

68

94

.420

2

1996

DET

AL

60

116

.341

 

53

109

.327

3

2001

MIL

NL

62

113

.353

 

68

94

.420

4

2003

DET

AL

55

100

.354

 

43

119

.265

5

2003

TB

AL

57

104

.354

 

63

99

.389

6

1982

NYM

NL

62

106

.370

 

65

97

.401

7

1986

CLE

AL

56

95

.370

 

84

78

.519

8

2007

TEX

AL

64

107

.373

 

75

87

.463

9

2002

DET

AL

51

86

.373

 

55

106

.342

10

1999

FLA

NL

58

96

.374

 

64

98

.395

11

2002

TB

AL

62

102

.377

 

55

106

.342

12

1980

TOR

AL

63

104

.377

 

67

95

.414

13

1981

TOR

AL

40

66

.378

 

37

69

.349

14

1990

NYY

AL

62

102

.379

 

67

95

.414

15

1993

COL

NL

60

98

.380

 

67

95

.414

16

2003

CIN

NL

64

103

.382

 

69

93

.426

17

2005

TB

AL

63

100

.387

 

67

95

.414

18

2006

KC

AL

63

99

.389

 

62

100

.383

19

2006

TB

AL

64

99

.390

 

61

101

.377

20

2004

COL

NL

68

104

.394

 

68

94

.420

21

1998

FLA

NL

67

103

.395

 

54

108

.333

22

2006

PIT

NL

65

99

.396

 

67

95

.414

23

2008

PIT

NL

61

93

.396

 

67

95

.414

24

2000

MIL

NL

68

102

.398

 

73

89

.451

25

2005

KC

AL

64

97

.399

 

56

106

.346

 

                This chart summarizes the top and bottom teams from the last ten years:

               

Actual

Rank

Year

Tm

Lg

Wins

Losses

KZ W Pct

 

W

L

W-L%

1

2002

BOS

AL

97

62

.609

 

93

69

.574

2

2002

SEA

AL

99

66

.602

 

93

69

.574

13

2002

TB

AL

62

102

.377

 

55

106

.342

14

2002

DET

AL

51

86

.373

 

55

106

.342

1

2002

ARI

NL

107

54

.664

 

98

64

.605

2

2002

SF

NL

85

69

.551

 

95

66

.590

15

2002

COL

NL

64

86

.429

 

73

89

.451

16

2002

MIL

NL

66

97

.405

 

56

106

.346

                     

1

2003

NYY

AL

114

58

.660

 

101

61

.623

2

2003

BOS

AL

105

68

.607

 

95

67

.586

13

2003

TB

AL

57

104

.354

 

63

99

.389

14

2003

DET

AL

55

100

.354

 

43

119

.265

1

2003

ARI

NL

93

71

.568

 

84

78

.519

2

2003

STL

NL

82

70

.539

 

85

77

.525

15

2003

NYM

NL

64

87

.426

 

66

95

.410

16

2003

CIN

NL

64

103

.382

 

69

93

.426

                     

1

2004

NYY

AL

101

61

.622

 

101

61

.623

2

2004

BOS

AL

100

73

.579

 

98

64

.605

13

2004

KC

AL

63

85

.427

 

58

104

.358

14

2004

TOR

AL

69

93

.426

 

67

94

.416

1

2004

SD

NL

90

56

.615

 

87

75

.537

2

2004

SF

NL

98

64

.604

 

91

71

.562

15

2004

NYM

NL

68

93

.421

 

71

91

.438

16

2004

COL

NL

68

104

.394

 

68

94

.420

                     

1

2005

NYY

AL

100

71

.583

 

95

67

.586

2

2005

BOS

AL

100

72

.583

 

95

67

.586

13

2005

KC

AL

64

97

.399

 

56

106

.346

14

2005

TB

AL

63

100

.387

 

67

95

.414

1

2005

PHI

NL

100

71

.584

 

88

74

.543

2

2005

SD

NL

95

69

.581

 

82

80

.506

15

2005

COL

NL

70

94

.428

 

67

95

.414

16

2005

PIT

NL

64

96

.401

 

67

95

.414

                     

1

2006

MIN

AL

95

51

.650

 

96

66

.593

2

2006

BOS

AL

101

74

.576

 

86

76

.531

13

2006

TB

AL

64

99

.390

 

61

101

.377

14

2006

KC

AL

63

99

.389

 

62

100

.383

1

2006

LA

NL

90

66

.577

 

88

74

.543

2

2006

HOU

NL

92

70

.567

 

82

80

.506

15

2006

FLA

NL

70

100

.410

 

78

84

.481

16

2006

PIT

NL

65

99

.396

 

67

95

.414

                     

1

2007

MIN

AL

88

55

.616

 

79

83

.488

2

2007

BOS

AL

105

66

.615

 

96

66

.593

13

2007

KC

AL

65

84

.434

 

69

93

.426

14

2007

TEX

AL

64

107

.373

 

75

87

.463

1

2007

LA

NL

88

65

.574

 

82

80

.506

2

2007

HOU

NL

85

74

.533

 

73

89

.451

15

2007

WSH

NL

68

91

.428

 

73

89

.451

16

2007

FLA

NL

73

108

.403

 

71

91

.438

                     

1

2008

TOR

AL

90

64

.586

 

86

76

.531

2

2008

CHW

AL

89

67

.570

 

89

74

.546

13

2008

SEA

AL

64

86

.427

 

61

101

.377

14

2008

BAL

AL

68

96

.414

 

68

93

.422

1

2008

LA

NL

88

66

.570

 

84

78

.519

2

2008

CHC

NL

96

78

.553

 

97

64

.602

15

2008

FLA

NL

74

97

.431

 

84

77

.522

16

2008

PIT

NL

61

93

.396

 

67

95

.414

                     

1

2009

NYY

AL

109

76

.590

 

103

59

.636

2

2009

BOS

AL

106