The Invisible Ace in the American League

August 31, 2015
 
Hey all. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
 
I’ve been a little out of the loop recently, mostly on account of a lengthy and exhausting trip to the States with our two little kids. After so many nights in strange houses, it’s taken us a little while to convince our two-year old that the bedroom he’s currently sleeping in is really his. Our zero-year old, who is still grappling with the idea of object permanence, has taken our recent wanderings in better stride.
 
But no more travelling: it’s time to settle back for a bit, and get back to watching baseball. And writ’n about it. I should do more of that, just so Bill keeps me on the roster. He’s added some new names, I see. Welcome aboard, interlopers.
 
Let’s kick things off with a quick question: who’s been the best pitcher in the American League?
 
There are some obvious contenders. Chris Sale, whose arm miraculously continues to stay attached to his body, is making a run at 300 strikeouts. The-Other-Chris Archer has blossomed into one of baseball’s brightest stars. Sonny Gray has an ERA of 2.10 in Oakland (and, actually, he has a 2.10 in any city he might find himself in). David Price remains David Price. Dallas Keuchel remains Dallas Keuchel, but he’s also a lot like Mike Scott, circa 1986. Corey Kluber remains a robot, if I’m understanding his nickname correctly.
 
That’s a lot of fine pitchers to choose from, and that’s ignoring all of the fine relievers on the Yankees in the American League.
 
Here’s a pitcher you probably wouldn’t choose:
 
Name
W-L
ERA
IP
K
Player A
9-8
4.19
122.1
120
 
At first glance, this pitcher doesn’t look too impressive. A 4.19 ERA certainly doesn’t scream ‘ace,’ not in a year when Zack Grienke can post a 1.67 mark. A 9-8 win-loss record isn’t going to impress anyone, even in this age of ‘Kill The Win’ hashtags. Even a strikeout rate of one per inning is pretty much par for the course this year. And he’s missed some time…..122 innings pitched isn’t a lot.
 
The pitcher’s name isn’t ‘Player A’, of course….that’s just a feint so that I can throw one more table at you, before giving up the ghost: 
 
Name
W-L
ERA
IP
K
Chris Sale
12-7
3.34
164.1
222
Sonny Gray
12-5
2.10
175.1
155
Dallas Keuchel
15-6
2.28
185.2
178
Player A
9-8
4.19
122.1
120
David Price
12-4
2.40
176.1
171
Chris Archer
11-9
2.77
169
205
Corey Kluber
8-13
3.43
194.1
213
 
The first thing you’ll notice is that our man-in-hiding has no business being on this list.
 
The second thing you’ll notice is that Corey Kluber has a losing record. Not a kind-of-losing record…a really losing record. That’s astonishing. He should really learn how to pitch to the score better.
 
I’m just kidding about that last sentence. If you’ve just joining our community, please know that those of us at the BJOL do not endorse ‘pitching to the score’ as a useful criteria to measure a pitcher’s ability. The only people who do that are the kind of people who support Jack Morris for the Hall-of-Fame. Or the kind who would sign Rick Porcello to a long-term deal. Those kind of people. Ugh.
 
We don’t put a lot of salt in things like ‘wins’ and ‘loses’ and ‘proper punctuation.’ So how do should we evaluate pitchers?
 
Last year, Bill wrote a two-part article asking which pitching stats are most closely connected to value. That’s a quote from the article: "Which pitching stats are most closely connected to value?" It turned out that ERA was a pretty poor measure of a pitcher’s value.
 
A pitcher’s winning percentage and win-loss record was a little better than ERA, but those metrics are more true-ish than true. The best indicator of a pitchers’ value, from the stuff we can count just by looking at their game-by-game performance, is their strikeout-to-walk ratio.
 
This makes an intuitive kind of sense. A pitcher’s strikeout rate is a measure of a) the quality of a pitcher’s pitches, and b) their capacity to think about and adjust to the one-on-one battle that takes place during every at-bat. A pitcher’s walk rate is a measure of how much control they have over their stuff, but it is also a reflection of a pitcher’s ability to process information as an at-bat.
 
There’s a nice balance in strikeout-to-walk ratio, a yin-yang sort of thing to the metric that satisfies on an intuitive level. And there’s a logical argument for it, too: strikeouts and walks are the purest outcomes of an at-bat: a batter who walks will reach base 100% of the time, and a batter who strikes out will never reach base, not unless the pitch gets past the catcher. Whereas every other outcome of an at-bat (grounder, fly ball, line drive) are somewhat centralized in regards to outcome, walks and strikeouts exist on furthest poles: a walk is always a success for a hitter, and a strikeout is (almost) always a success for a pitcher.
 
It isn’t a good idea to rely on any single metric to judge a pitcher’s performance, but let’s go ahead and do that. Let’s see how our unnamed starter ranks among his peers in strikeout-to-walk ratio:
 
Name
W-L
ERA
IP
K
BB
K/BB
Chris Sale
12-7
3.34
164.1
222
33
6.73
Sonny Gray
12-5
2.1
175.1
155
44
3.52
Dallas Keuchel
15-6
2.28
185.2
178
41
4.34
Player A
9-8
4.19
122.1
120
16
7.50
David Price
12-4
2.4
176.1
171
35
4.89
Chris Archer
11-9
2.77
169
205
42
4.88
Corey Kluber
8-13
3.43
194.1
213
35
6.09
 
As you guessed, he laps the field. He’s almost a strikeout better than the #2 guy in the AL.
 
And he is best starter in all of baseball. Here are the major league leaders in strikeout-to-walk ratios as of this moment:
 
Rank
Name
K/BB
1
Player A
7.80
2
Max Scherzer
7.73
3
Clayton Kershaw
6.94
4
Chris Sale
6.73
5
Madison Bumgarner
6.43
6
Corey Kluber
6.09
7
Bartolo Colon
5.89
8
Phil Hughes
5.67
9
Carlos Carrasco
5.41
10
Zack Greinke
5.34
11
Jacob deGrom
5.03
12
David Price
4.89
 
This is a shortlist of the guys who will appear on the Cy Young ballots at the end of the year, plus two guys (Hughes and Colon) who are sort of famous for not walking anyone ever. Okay….Carlos Carrasco isn’t going to get any Cy Young support, but he’s had some fine moments this year. 
 
And our guy…New York Yankees right-hander Michael Pineda…is at the top of the heap.
 
Pineda does well by a lot of the advanced metrics preferred by those of us who enjoy putting together spreadsheets. For instance:
 
Stat (Courtesy of FanGraphs)
Pineada’s MLB Rank
FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching)
15th
xFIP (Expected FIP)
6th
SIERA (Skill-Interactive ERA)
7th
 
FIP is an attempt to improve on ERA. xFIP is an attempt to improve on FIP. SIERA is an attempt to improve on FIP and xFIP, mostly by using a sexier acronym. These are all great metrics that smart people invented and update, and they all agree that Michael Pineda has been really great this year.
 
Even fWAR, when adjusted for playing time, agrees that Pineda’s been excellent this season: Pineda ranks 13th in the majors in WAR/100 IP, right between Gerrit Cole and Madison Bumgarner.
 
 
*             *             *
 
That’s not the end-point of this article. I’ll get to the point, but here’s an aside.
 
Looking forward just a bit, the Yankees have the chance to an impressive pitching staff for a few years. Their bullen is locked down: Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are each under team control for the next four years. Tanaka is under contract for five years. The clock for top prospect Luis Serverino has just started to kick, and the Yankees have Pineda under contract for two more seasons. It isn’t impossible that Nathan Eovaldi enjoys having W-L records that are disproportionate to his secondary metrics, so maybe he’ll resign with the team. Hell, it’s not impossible that CC Sabathia has a Bartolo Colon-esque renaissance in the late years of his contract.
 
The Yankees have sometimes had good pitching, but mostly their good pitching in recent years has come via the free agent market. Most of their good pitchers before that came from deals involving whatever team was willing to exchange dollars for pennies.
 
So we could be on the precipice of an interesting shift for the Yankees franchise: instead of the Bronx Bombers, we could have the Bronx….actually, I can’t think of a good pitching term that starts with ‘B.’ The Bronx Breaking Balls? Bronx Beanballers?
 
Anyway, the Yankees could be very interesting next year, for very non-Yankee reasons.
 
*             *             *
 
Another aside: technical glitches have prevented me from posting this article until today. Michael Pineda is no longer the major-league leader in K/BB rate. His bad outing last week dropped him a few ticks below Max Scherzer, who probably isn’t a real person anyway.
 
*             *             *
 
Okay…getting to the conclusion.
 
Pineda’s current strikeout-to-walk ratio is 7.80. That is very good. Roger Clemens never had a strikeout-to-walk ratio that high, or even in that vicinity. Greg Maddux did have a K-BB ratio of 7.8 or better. He did that twice, posting W-L records of 19-2 and 19-4 in those years.
 
Putting it in some context, here are the seasons in which a starting pitcher has posted a K-to-BB ratio of 6.00 or better over a full season, from 2000 to 2014:
 
Season
Name
K/BB
2014
Phil Hughes
11.63
2010
Cliff Lee
10.28
2002
Curt Schilling
9.58
2000
Pedro Martinez
8.88
2004
Ben Sheets
8.25
2005
Carlos Silva
7.89
2014
Clayton Kershaw
7.71
2001
Curt Schilling
7.51
2012
Cliff Lee
7.39
2014
Hisashi Iwakuma
7.33
2010
Roy Halladay
7.30
2014
David Price
7.13
2013
Cliff Lee
6.94
2004
Randy Johnson
6.59
2006
Curt Schilling
6.54
2001
Greg Maddux
6.41
2003
Roy Holliday
6.38
2011
Roy Hulladay
6.29
2014
Jordan Zimmermann
6.28
2013
Adam Wainwright
6.26
2013
Matt Harvey
6.16
2003
Curt Schilling
6.06
 
First things first: Carlos Silva doesn’t really belong on this list. While everyone else on the list had strikeout rates of 8.46 or 10.12, Silva has a strikeout rate of just 3.39 in 2005. He just didn’t walk anyone. He threw 188 innings and walked nine guys. Two of those were intentional walks, which must have pissed him off. He made twenty-seven starts in 2005 and never walked more than one batter in any of them. It’s an absolute outlier of a season, one that doesn’t really compare to any other season in Silva’s career, or anyone else’s.
 
Taking Silva off, what you’ll notice is that this is an impressive group of players. You know these guys, and you probably know most of these seasons. You have Schilling’s two runner-up years in Arizona, as well as Harvey’s breakout season. You have Cy Young Award years for Halladay, Maddux, Pedro, and Lee. There’s Kershaw’s MVP season from last year, of course.  The worst player is Ben Sheets, a four-time All-Star who had the misfortune of playing for the Brewers when they weren’t very good.
 
This bodes well for Pineda, of course. We can say that he’s keeping some fine company this year, even though his has been an abbreviated season.
 
But there’s something else about that list that undercuts, at least a little bit, just how impressive Pineda’s 2015 season has been. Instead of looking at full seasons, let’s starters who might have broken down, and lower our bar to 120 innings pitched. And let’s look at it year-by-year:
 
Year
SP with K/BB > 6.0
Pitchers
2000
1
Pedro
2001
3
Schilling, Maddux, Oswalt
2002
1
Schilling, Maddux, Oswalt (again)
2003
2
Schilling, Halladay
2004
2
Randy Johnson, Sheets
2005
2
Schilling, Silva
2006
1
Schilling
2007
0
None
2008
0
None
2009
0
None
2010
2
Halladay, Lee
2011
1
Halladay
2012
1
Lee
 

From 2000 to 2012, we saw one or two guys posting really great strikeout-to-walk ratios. You’d have one of the regulars like Schilling and Halladay, and then you’d have the likes of Pedro or Maddux or Randy Johnson or Cliff Lee popping up on the list.
 
Now here’s 2013 to 2015:
 
Year
SP with K/BB > 6.0
Pitchers
2013
2
Wainwright, Harvey
2014
6
Hughes, Kershaw, Iwakuma, Price, Tanaka, Zimmermann
2015
6
Pineda, Scherzer, Kershaw, Sale, Bumgarner, Kulber
 
Over the last two years, we’ve suddenly seen a lot more pitchers posting inflated strikeout-to-walk rates.  
 
More interesting, to me, is that there is far less crossover on this list than in years past: the only repeating pitcher is Kershaw (of course). But there are a dozen starting pitchers in the majors right now who could potentially post ratios of 6.0 or higher. Certainly, there’s still a correlation between a high ratio and being a great pitcher, but it’s no longer a unique event.
 
*             *             *
 
My closing point actually has very little to do with Michael Pineda. I think Pineda is shaping up to be a fine pitcher, and I think the Yankees are going to have a pretty terrifying pitching staff in 2016 and 2017. Enough said on both fronts.
 
My closing point has to do with the direction baseball is headed, and how we’re currently talking about it.
 
There’s been lot of hand-wringing lately about the steady increase in strikeouts year-to-year. You can read plenty of articles that show distressing graphs on the rising strikeout rate. Here, por ejemplo, are the numbers for the last decade:
 
Year
K/9
2006
6.59
2007
6.67
2008
6.83
2009
6.99
2010
7.13
2011
7.13
2012
7.56
2013
7.57
2014
7.73
2015
7.68
 
That’s alarming. The strikeout has increased about 16% during this decade alone. And it’s been a reasonably steady gain…it’s not a one-year adjustment, but a clear trend.
 
But that’s not the real measure of the problem. Sixteen percent might seem alarming, but spread out over ten years and you’re looking at a gain of 1.6% a year. I can still sleep at night.
 
Here are the scary numbers. Here is the real issue that baseball needs to address:  
 
Year
K/BB Ratio
2006
2.00
2007
2.00
2008
2.01
2009
2.02
2010
2.17
2011
2.30
2012
2.48
2013
2.51
2014
2.67
2015
2.70
 
Though the strikeout rate has increased throughout the decade, the balance between strikeouts to walks actually remained steady. It was at 2.00 in 2006, which is about where it was in 2001 (2.05), and where is was in 2009 (2.02). Strikeouts went up, but walks went up, too, so there was still an approximate balance of about two strikeouts for every walk issued in the majors.
 
During the 2010 season, this started to change, and it’s changed dramatically. Strikeouts continued their ascent, but walks are no longer keeping pace. The 2-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio which held steady for the first decade of this century has spun away from us.
 
There are many reasons for this: a more accurate strike zone, defensive shifts, a harsher drug policy…but the simple fact is that walks and strikeouts are getting increasingly out of balance.
 
Consider this: over the last seven seasons, the strikeout rate has increased 9.8%. That’s certainly a big jump. But over those same seven seasons, the ratio of strikeouts to walks has increased by 33.7%.
 
So when you read an article that talks about the strikeout problem in baseball, know that the writer is only getting at half of the problem. An increase in strikeouts is a problem, but the more concerning issue is the widening gap between the number of strikeouts and walks we’re seeing each year.
 
We can thank Michael Pineda for calling our attention to that fact.
 
David Fleming is a writer living in Wellington, New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com.  
 
 

COMMENTS (32 Comments, most recent shown first)

thomvan
doesn't anyone edit these articles?
4:02 AM Oct 3rd
 
those
Right. I remember the article. He also used Dante Bichette's homers, steals, and outfield assists as a way to group him with an obviously superior group of players. When you set minimums based on one player, that's what you get.
7:40 PM Sep 8th
 
MarisFan61
I think of that latter thing as the Cal Ripken error. Not to be rude or anything to Ripken either :-) ....it's just that Bill wrote similarly about the misleading nature of a likeness that a writer had drawn between him and Ted Williams.
(It was about Ripken's having K'd only a certain number of times while hitting a certain number of HR's, and about this putting Ripken "in a class with" a few great hitters including Williams.
9:22 AM Sep 8th
 
those
There are a couple of statistical flaws, which (not trying to be rude) is common in Dave's articles.

For one thing, Schilling pitched 93 innings in 2005, and was used as a closer part of the year. So he shouldn't be on the "120 innings minimum list."

Second, by setting the minimum arbitrarily at 120 innings when Pineda has pitched 122, Dave is creating a "false sorting," equating him with pitchers who have done the same thing in 200-250 innings. It would be kind of like setting a minimum of 130 at bats, and putting Bob Hazle on a list with Ted Williams and Bill Terry.​
7:39 AM Sep 8th
 
RipCity
I like what MarisFan61 is saying in this thread. This is a good conversation.

11:58 PM Sep 7th
 
MarisFan61
If I were to do it, which I wouldn't because I'm not qualified, I would expect and welcome any criticism. That's how we really find out how we've done, and learn how to make it better if we have any thought of doing more with it. In the areas in which I work, I do those kinds of things all the time, and in fact make extra efforts to get such kinds of feedback and criticism.

Of course there's also the cliche about taking the heat if you go into the kitchen, and that applies too. But I think moreover it's that putting an article here provides a bold chance to see what issues, oversights etc. there may be. I mean, when there are, don't you want to know? In fact I've assumed that this is a big reason why Bill himself puts articles here. He seems to welcome the criticisms, sometimes tweaks his stuff as a result -- and, I imagine, he figures that in view of the close criticism that occurs here, anything that doesn't get criticized is probably very solid, which is a valuable thing to know.

It looks to me like these criticisms of the criticisms (so to speak) are coming mainly from wanting to be nice to the writer and to emphasize the positives. Does it really serve him best if that's all we do in our comments, if there are large things on the other side?
12:17 PM Sep 5th
 
flyingfish
nettles9: I agree with you about MarisFan61. He actually writes well. :)
9:51 AM Sep 5th
 
nettles9
Someday I hope to read guest contributor articles from MarisFan61 and flyingfish, as well as other regular and frequent commenters.
6:15 AM Sep 5th
 
MarisFan61
Yes.
The defending of the article is admirable, and honestly, very honestly, I'd like to also, because I like Dave too. I don't know him personally, but from anything I can tell, I like him very much, I like his writing, and I want to see more and more from him. But it doesn't help anything -- not the site, and not the writer himself -- if we don't also call things as they are, as nicely and relevantly as we can. Maybe some of what I've written hasn't seemed so nice, and maybe some of the defending is a reaction to that, and if so, I truly apologize. But when there are real issues with an article, we help by pointing it out and explaining it as best we can, and if we do a good job of that (sorry if I haven't), the best reaction, including from the writer, is to try to understand it -- trying harder if he doesn't get it the first time -- and to learn from it, including perhaps to get ideas of how to revise the article if he's going to be putting it out beyond this site.
1:46 PM Sep 4th
 
flyingfish
Let me quote from Dave's article, from near the beginning, and then ask him--and others--how one might be reasonably expected to think about this article's main point given the way the article actually was written:

"Let’s kick things off with a quick question: who’s been the best pitcher in the American League?

There are some obvious contenders. Chris Sale, whose arm miraculously continues to stay attached to his body, is making a run at 300 strikeouts. The-Other-Chris Archer has blossomed into one of baseball’s brightest stars. Sonny Gray has an ERA of 2.10 in Oakland (and, actually, he has a 2.10 in any city he might find himself in). David Price remains David Price. Dallas Keuchel remains Dallas Keuchel, but he’s also a lot like Mike Scott, circa 1986. Corey Kluber remains a robot, if I’m understanding his nickname correctly.

That’s a lot of fine pitchers to choose from, and that’s ignoring all of the fine relievers on the Yankees in the American League.

Here’s a pitcher you probably wouldn’t choose:"

[then some statistics for Player A, aka Michael Pineda]


9:28 AM Sep 4th
 
MarisFan61
Steven, it's not how I took it: I did read on. But yes, I'm making a judgment about that, and sure, I don't know it's so.

But I'd bet you. :-)
You'd have a hard time arguing that most people aren't that heavily influenced by a title, the amount of space given to something, and the absence of other things till near the end, and that their attention and interest aren't lost by certain kinds of things. I would think the best that could be managed about this would be that you don't care and maybe Dave doesn't care about "most people," only active readers of this site.

And y'know, I'd guess it probably applies to them too. I don't think most of our readers read everything thoroughly. (Do you think they do?) They pick and choose, perhaps looking at all the titles, maybe at least glancing through the opening of some or most things, and continuing further with things that seem to make sense.
8:29 AM Sep 4th
 
stevemillburg
MarisFan, presuming that "most people" react to things the way you do may not be a safe assumption to make. (For you or me or any of us.)
5:06 AM Sep 4th
 
MarisFan61
The "Pineda's excellence" thing is a big part of the problem. Most readers would immediately trip over that and perhaps wouldn't even see the rest, because clearly his performance this year hasn't been one of "excellence" except in this tunnel-visioned way. Such a seeming blunder stops most people dead. It's great that you liked the article and got something from it (although if part of what you got was that Pineda's year has been excellent, I don't know), but I would think a bigger question is what kind of impression it would give to most who would look at it.
11:19 PM Sep 3rd
 
stevemillburg
The article says, after discussing Pineda’s excellence, “That’s not the end-point of this article. I’ll get to the point, but here’s an aside.” That seems to me a pretty clear indication that whether Pineda is an “invisible ace” or “impressive” or merely “shaping up to be a fine pitcher” is not the crux of the article. Instead, the article concludes that Pineda’s little-noticed but elite strikeout-to-walk ratio illustrates something “alarming” and “scary” that is “the [i]real[/] issue that baseball needs to address.” I won’t presume to speak for “most readers,” but that’s what the article conveyed to me. It told me a several things I didn’t know, it crystalized some vague impressions I had about the current dominance of pitchers, and it made me think. I liked it a lot.
9:05 PM Sep 3rd
 
MarisFan61
Picking up on what Bob said: Much depends on how something is presented.

That's why it's important how something is organized, including what the title is, what's in the first portion of a piece, how much space each thing gets, and how things are stated. That all is a big part of what we get from it, and really, we figure it reflects what the writer was wishing us to get from it.

Here, the title is about Pineda being an invisible ace, the whole first portion is about that, in fact it's the great majority of the article. But there's even more than that. The article doesn't merely say that so-and-so is an ace because of this ratio; it talks at some length about why the ratio is important, what it generally means about a pitcher. It gets analytic about what it means about a pitcher. I think that's quite different than the way Dave is trying to characterize it in his recent comment. In view of what's presented, I find it hard to understand faulting us for looking just a little further to see how the rest of this pitcher's data reflects on that analysis and suggests some huge "yes but's" about it.

But the main thing is that the huge weight of the article is about this one thing, the title highlights it boldly, and the other stuff is presented as two "asides" (as Dave put it) and then a thing at the end that seems like an afterthought. If Dave meant the emphasis differently, that's fine, but there isn't much basis to complain about it being seen and approached differently than expected. At the least, the article should have been titled and structured differently, and frankly I'm still left thinking (is anyone not?) that he did it this way in order to give the article extra "zing" and to get extra attention. When you do that and it has the side effect of giving a different emphasis and impression, you have to live with that, and maybe do it differently next time. As it is, Dave and some of you may feel I'm being unfair by laying it out as I have, but I think you're missing the emperor's clothes here if you don't think most readers would consider the article a failure to see a particular pitcher for what he has been this year, and ironically that most might conclude just the opposite about the K/BB thing from what Dave is wishing to convey. I think the main impression coming from it isn't that Pineda is an ace, but that in some instances the metric is entirely unreliable and this is one such instance.
6:56 PM Sep 3rd
 
rgregory1956


Okay, Dave, I see where you're coming from. But to extend the Yellow Brick Road metaphor.....

You took us down the YBR path, had us stop at a Pineda Tree and take a look at it. "See that Pineda Tree. Take a good look at it. I mean, take a really good look at it, a really, REALLY good look at it. Do you see what I see?", and some of us didn't. Just outside the gate of Emerald City, you said, "Remember the significance of that Pineda tree?", and we thought about it some more. Then you tried to show us the sites of Emerald City, but we were still focused on the Pineda Tree. And we weren't able to see what you really wanted us to see.

It happens some times. Goodness knows, it's happened to me enough times on Reader Posts, not getting across what I intend to.

3:36 PM Sep 3rd
 
stevemillburg
I don't think this article embarrasses sabermetrics at all. Quite the opposite. The article uses statistics to tell me something I didn't know and to get me thinking about baseball in a new way. It does in fact use numbers to tell a story: a story about the kind of game baseball has become in just the past few years. A game of more strikeouts, fewer walks, fewer runs scored. A game truly controlled by pitchers.

It's not really an article about whether Michael Pineda is an ace pitcher. The real focus is on what Pineda's stats tell us about where baseball is going. I think marisfan has gotten hung up along the yellow brick road (and I don't mean to be critical; I can see how a Yankees fan could latch on to the is-Pineda-really-an-ace aspect of the article) instead of proceeding to Oz.
9:42 AM Sep 3rd
 
MarisFan61
We're not telling you what you should have written about instead of what you wrote about. What I'm saying, and I think some other commenters agree, is that what you wrote about is tunnel-visioned, and at best uses a poor example to try to make a point, and therefore fails to make it. I'm saying further that I think it's a kind of thing that embarrasses sabermetrics.
12:52 AM Sep 3rd
 
DaveFleming
I've refrained from commenting for a little while, but I'd like to jump back in.

I think a lot of the comments have been about 'what this article should have been about.'

That's MarisFan's central argument, and I think that's what other people are building on. This article should have looked under the surface. It should have claified what 'ace' means. It should have looked at Pineda's BA/OBP/SLG against.

If you want to look at those things, please do. If you want to bring up any of those things, I think the comments section is a really useful place to bring those points up.

But it really irks me when someone tells me what I should have written about.

I noticed that Pineda had a terrific K/BB ratio, one that seemed out of line with his other numbers. I certainly could have looked at that number within the context of his other numbers, but I chose to look at that number within the context of other pitchers in recent years. That's where my thinking went....that's what I wanted to look at.

I don't know what purpose is served by saying 'your thinking should have gone in THIS direction,' and I don't know that one line of thinking can be classified as appropriately 'sabermetric' and one line isn't.

What's frustrating....and this is a near-constant frustration when it comes to just about anything MarisFan posts....is that it stops the conversation. We're just spinning circles. What is an 'ace'? Who gives a damn. That's not what this is about.

Looking at Pineda's K/BB rate got me to notice something interesting: the K/BB rate has spiked historically in the last six years. The highest K/BB rate in history was 2.09 in 1968....and we've just seen six consecutive years ABOVE that mark, and six consecutive years when that mark has increased.

But instead we're spinning wheels. Why didn't you talk about Pineda's triple-slash? Why wasn't his height discussed? No mention of the pine-tar on his arm? What about pitchers whose last names start with 'P'? What about pitchers from 1894? Why wasn't this article a different article?

It's the article that it is. It reflects a specific line of thought. It was not my intention to move in a linear direction towards a coherent conclusion...it was my intention to think about something that interested me in way I wanted.

If you want to engage with that, great. If you want to tell me where my thinking should have gone, or what questions I should answer, please write your own article instead.
11:20 PM Sep 2nd
 
flyingfish
MarisFan61: I like your narrative. It's interesting to look at his ML statistics to date and wonder what the future holds for him. It seems, at age 26 and only in his third ML season, that he has the POTENTIAL to become an ace. He didn't pitch much last year and I know he has been out with injury at least some this year. I hope he's not another Clay Buchholz, who can be outstanding at times but who seems to get hurt about as regularly as the seasons change.
10:04 AM Sep 2nd
 
studes
Hey Dave, I thought you "best in baseball" comment was appropriate. You mentioned it right after listing the stats, so you were clearly referring to the stats list, and I also thought you did a good job of referring to other stats too. Someone might quote that out of context, but I thought you were very clear. Nice job.

OTOH, I don't think anyone should be referencing that research by Bill. If you recall, he correlated his stats against Fangraphs' version of WAR, which is based on FIP. As a result, the study is biased toward strikeouts and walks (and home runs allowed). I'm pretty sure Bill would agree.
8:32 AM Sep 2nd
 
MarisFan61
....which isn't surprising either, because it's part of his whole picture this year.

Part of the problem with the assessment in this article is that it didn't attempt at all to look under the surface, to see what his whole story has been this year and to try to understand what can really be figured out about him from the great K/WW ratio and from the rest of what's there. It tells a story, or at least seems to -- I think a pretty clear story -- and it's consistent with what I think most Yankee fans who've watched the season at all closely would surmise.

Bill has written (beautifully) about how one of the great things about baseball statistics is that they can tell a story; they can create a narrative. He did an article ("Stan and Freddie") where he made up numbers for some fictitious players, and talked about how those bare numbers told stories, created images -- and they really did. Here, we have a set of actual numbers on Pineda for this year -- a somewhat remarkable set of numbers -- which seem to tell a pretty vivid story about what kind of pitcher he has been.

Consider these things, and see if it isn't pretty easy to put them together to get not only an overall picture of how much of an ace he's been (or not), but also a pretty vivid guess about the details within it, "the story within the story."

-- As Dave says, he has an extraordinary overall K/BB ratio.

-- He also has a very good K-per-inning ratio, a ratio that in most years would be extraordinary but which this year is 'merely' very good.

BUT......

-- He has a very poor hits-per-inning ratio.
-- He has a worse-than-league E.R.A, with an ERA+ of just 93.
-- As noted before, his slash line is worse than average too. Because of his great walk rate (i.e. very low), his on-base-allowed is a bit better than average, but his B.A.-allowed and SLG-allowed are much worse than average.

FURTHER:

-- About half of his games have been very good. BUT....
-- A bunch have been poor.

Even trying to give him the benefit of the doubt in judging the games (but not counting tonight's game, which wasn't part of the article and which was certainly "very good"), here's what I think is a fair summary:

Very good: 10
Good but not 'very good': none really
OK: 3
Poor: 7

I'll add this:

In all of the "very good" games and 2 out of the 3 "OK" games, his K/BB ratio has been terrific.
In the poor games, it has still been good about half the time, not good about half the time. (BTW you don't have to tell me that "7" doesn't divide into halves.) :-)

AND.....

In almost all the games, including the very good ones, he has given up more hits than you'd expect from a pitcher with that many K's and such a K/BB ratio.

OK.

Can't we put that all together to fit a pretty detailed image of what kind of pitcher he's been this year?

Check it out:

-- Terrific stuff.
-- When he's been good, he's been very good, and that's about half the time.
-- When he's been not very good, he's been not good at all, and usually poor.
-- Since he's given up more hits than we'd expect, even in most of the very good games, that seems to mean he's made more "mistake" pitches than the average pitcher, and that's why he has given up so many hits, even when overall his game has been what we could call very good.


I'm sure not everyone will agree with all these conclusions, but I would suggest that in the least, this is the kind of way that we should try to use the numbers to conclude what kind of year Pineda has had and whether he's been an Invisible Ace: looking at the whole thing, including what's bad and ugly as well as what's very good, and putting it all together. Sabermetrics, as Bill has said and which I'm sure I'll quote many times more, is the search for better information. That means, in the very least, trying to take into account whatever is right before our eyes.
11:10 PM Sep 1st
 
flyingfish
So having said that Pineda comes and pitches like an ace against the Red Sox tonight.....
8:18 PM Sep 1st
 
flyingfish
Thanks, Dave, and welcome back. it is good to have you on the roster. Having said that, and having read all the comments to this point, I have to side with marisfan61. You do say that no one metric is sufficient and then you hang the entire hat of this article on one metric. I haven't followed the Yankees as closely as I've followed a couple other teams, but Pineda isn't among the Yankee starters who scare me the way Severino, Tanaka when healthy, and Nathan Eovaldi, at least for 6 innings, scare me, or the way Betances and Miller in the bullpen scare me. The slash line against seems more important to me than the K/BB ratio because it's a measure of outcomes that matter--it's directly related to runs. If I get to choose between two pitchers, one who leads the league in k/BB but is below average in slash line against, and the other who leads the league in slash line against but is below average in K/BB, I would--reluctantly, I do admit--choose the latter, and I'd watch him closely because I believe K/BB does matter.
3:00 PM Sep 1st
 
rgregory1956

Pineda IS having a fine K/W season, but.......it isn't really a historic one. In some ways it reminds me of Tuck Turner's 1894 season. Turner batted .416 that year, and no matter what season, .416 is good; but still .416 when the legue bats .309 isn't all that impressive. And so it is with Pineda.

His 7.50 K/W is impressive, but his league is at 2.64. His relative K/W of 2.853 isn't (probably) one of the Top 50 rK/W of all time. I've found with minimal investigation many over 3.000. Which is more impressive, a 7.5 in a 2.64 league, or 3.00 in a 1.00 league?

Every era has some sort of "out of the norm" numbers. Batting averages in the 1890s, ERAs in the Dirty Ball Era, astronomical RBI totals in the '20s/'30s, Power/Speed numbers in the '70s/'80s, home runs in the Steroid Era and so on. We're just in an era right now where K/W ratios are out of whack with historical norms, so numbers by individuals are skewed as well.

And without causing too much of a debate: having only 122 IPs on September 1 isn't my idea of an "ace" (which is what made me think of Tuck Turner in the first place - Turner had only 382 Plate Appearances that year).


8:50 AM Sep 1st
 
MarisFan61
Yes, I really thought you meant he's the best pitcher in the A.L. and the best starter in all of baseball, and when you said "Ace" in the title, I thought you meant he's an Ace. Certainly I think anyone seeing the title (like, in the "Articles" listing on the site) will think you mean he's really an Ace -- not just that he has ace type stuff or ace type potential, which is what I think you're clarifying it to mean.

I'm 100% with how you've clarified it, and I'm 100% for giving a writer the benefit of the doubt when something is ambiguous. I just didn't think it was ambiguous, and I do think you put those things in extreme terms to make them zingy. Zing is fine, but I think you need to mean what it looks like you're saying.
2:37 AM Sep 1st
 
DaveFleming
This is picking nits, and I don't think it's useful for any broader discussion, but Pineda IS the best in the American League...by the one metric the entire article is focused on. That's what I meant when i said he was the best starter in baseball...he was the best starter in baseball by that metric. Which he is.

Maybe that wasn't clear to you, and maybe I should have clarified that sentence. But...it might be helpful, when you encounter ambiguous phrasing, to give the individual who wrote it the benefit of the doubt. Did you really think I was intentionally advocating that Pineda was the best pitcher in the league overall, , or are you just pointing out a little flaw because it fits the contrarian persona you like to cultivate on these pages?

Is the title misleading? We can go down a rabbit hole of 'what ace means' for days, but that's not really the point of the article either.

But I'll tell you what: if you can find me a starting pitcher who a) managed to put up a K/BB rate of 6.0 or better in a single season (post-1900...the dead-ballers posted rates like that all the time) and b) wasn't actually a very good pitcher, then I'll happily conceed that Pineda shouldn't qualify as an 'ace.'
2:17 AM Sep 1st
 
MarisFan61
Dave: Thanks for the reply.
And I believe that you didn't intend to say anything besides what you're saying in the reply, which is great -- but you did. Does it matter? I'd say yes, including because it starts right away in the article's title, and titles are what get the most attention, and it's a natural takeaway for most readers to figure that if something is in the title, it's your main point -- especially if you keep reinforcing it.

Title: "The Invisible Ace" -- That's much more than that he's better than most of us have recognized, and a pitcher who has given up as many runs as he has and who has worse-than-average slash line isn't anything close to an ace.

Then: "Who’s been the best pitcher in the American League?"
Your answer is Pineda.

Later: "he is best starter in all of baseball."

You can't have it both ways with such things. You can't say such extreme attention-getting eyebrow-raising "zings" without really meaning them. And, I'd add with a bemused smile :-) if you do it, you really can't then say you don't know where a comment like mine was coming from.
1:51 AM Sep 1st
 
DaveFleming
First, I'm not sure what conclusion you're finding, MarisFan. My point isn't that Michael Pineda is the best pitcher in the AL...my point is that he has secondary numbers that suggest he's been better than most of us have recognized.

And I certainly don't advocate relying on one metric to prove anything. I say exactly that, and I reference Pineda's FIP, xFIP, WAR, and SIERA.

Leaving aside the secondary numbers, though...what I think you're missing is that there is a 'check' to his K-to-BB ratio. I didn't just list it and say 'he's clearly great.' I looked at every starter who has posted a similiar ratio in recent years, and I listed all of them. And all of them....all except low-k outlier Carlos Silva....were terrific pitchers.

You can choose to believe that Michael Pineda isn't really a good pitcher. You can choose to believe that he has some freakish skill set that allows him to strikeout batters and avoid walks at a terrific rate, but give up tons of runs all the same. I'll take the other side: I think he's a legitimate ace.
10:36 PM Aug 31st
 
MarisFan61
Speaking as (a) a Yankee fan who follows the team closely, and (b) a sabermetric skeptic [in both senses of the phrase; I'm sabermetric, no matter what a few of you think :-) and I'm skeptical about much of what is said in the field], this seems to me like a salient example of tunnel-visioned sabermetrics, and in fact hardly sabermetrics at all.

Sure, maybe K/BB ratio is the best single indicator for what you're looking at. But being the best single indicator of something never -- quite literally never, I'd say -- never means you should cite a conclusion on that sole basis. Sabermetrics, as Bill has written and which I constantly cite, isn't numbers; it's the search for better information. I think you're violating that very fine definition in this. You say that this one thing is the best indicator, you show that Player A laps the field in it, and voila, he's been the best pitcher (before that game last week) -- ignoring other relevant things. I'd say that's anti-sabermetrics masquerading as sabermetrics.

For one thing, look at what he's given up. You do cite his E.R.A. Good. Here's some other stuff.

Here's his 'slash-line against':
.280/.302/.448

Here are the league averages:
.255/.316/.409

You should be ashamed of yourself. :-)

Unless you're in that part of the sabermetric community that still thinks BABIP is essentially all chance and therefore should hardly count in anything, you can't ignore that. What is there to say about an assertion that a pitcher against whom the league is hitting way, way above average is the "hidden ace" and has been the best pitcher in the game? Holy crapolo. That's like a fat pitch to anyone who wishes to argue that sabermetrics is a bunch of egghead junk.

There are other things as well that argue against it but they're softer and they require you to be able to consider non-numerical things. For one thing, he just hasn't been there often enough. Last year, he was out with injury most of the time, and this year, he just got back after being out 5 weeks, then did lousy in his one outing since coming back. There were questions about his arm wellness since the second half of his rookie year (the year before he came to the Yanks), and they have continued through the present. Yes, there's hope that once he gets past all that stuff, if he gets past it, he can be great. But his history says it's a big question mark. I'd say that this in itself comes pretty close to disqualifying a pitcher from being in the running for what you're talking about. The "hidden ace" and "best pitcher" can't be someone with this kind of large question mark.

And of course there was the pine tar thing, which I'm not arguing as any moral thing but which I'd say is arguably another question mark, because it raises whether his goodness as a pitcher has depended on something that he won't be allowed or able to continue, not withstanding that he did well after that. Y'all can ignore this if you wish; we don't need it.

I imagine that in large part you're trying to be provocative by calling him what you're calling him. But somebody better say, and nobody said it yet: This is absurd.
8:41 PM Aug 31st
 
MWeddell
Glad to see you're still writing here, Dave. I was worried that the two new writers were replacing you.​
7:50 PM Aug 31st
 
ventboys
It's amazing what a good pitcher can do with a consistent strike zone and the ability to pitch high - and get a called strike three once in awhile up there to boot. There are few, if any issues in baseball that have a more obvious solution: cut the strikezone a bit. I have noticed, the last couple of years, that hitters are actually getting more aggressive in swinging at strikes, but they struggle to get the ball in play. I don't know the numbers - I'm not a retrosheet regular - but I would be shocked if the number of fouled pitches on strike one and strike two haven't exploded in the last few years.

It used to be we were subjected to constant, long atbats because hitters were working the pitcher, but I think there has been a significant increase in long at bats because hitters can't get the ball in play. A smaller zone - not a lot smaller, just a bit off the top and/or the bottom - might help. Welcome back, Dave.
6:57 PM Aug 31st
 
 
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