The Legend of Pitcher Vance

Nothing too heavy in the way of analysis here, just some fun food for thought. Last year, Vance Worley led the National League in strikeouts looking, which made us wonder if it was a sustainable characteristic. Through ten starts, Worley has shown that his propensity for the backwards-K is indeed sustainable as he is once again atop the leaderboard in that category.

2011 Leaders Strikeouts Looking (KL)

Name Team K KL KL%
Bartolo Colon NYY 122 75 61.5%
Vance Worley PHI 119 65 54.6%
Cliff Lee PHI 238 97 40.8%
Jason Hammel COL 86 34 39.5%
Tim Stauffer SD 128 49 38.3%
David Price TB 218 83 38.1%
Mike Pelfrey NYM 105 39 37.1%

2012 Leaders Strikeouts Looking

Name Team KL K KL%
Vance Worley PHI 36 59 61.0%
Bartolo Colon OAK 26 55 47.3%
Clayton Richard SD 22 52 42.3%
Cliff Lee PHI 32 77 41.6%
Joe Blanton PHI 28 68 41.2%
David Price TB 32 78 41.0%
Mike Minor ATL 24 59 40.7%

Worley relied on his fastball for his called strike threes more than every pitcher in baseball except for one: Bartolo Colon. Here is a detailed look at the pitches used for called strike threes last year.

And in 2012:

What’s obvious is that Worley’s pitch classifications have changed between 2011 and ’12, since he obviously hasn’t changed his pitch repertoire. The pitches that were classified last year as “fastballs” are now in their own category as “sinkers”. For all intents and purposes, Worley is still relying almost exclusively on fastballs for his called strike threes.

Anyway, here is how the league’s right-handed pitchers approach right- and left-handed batters for their backwards-K’s.

And Worley himself in 2011:

Worley in 2012:

As you can see, very little has changed in Worley’s approach between 2011 and ’12. Worley has 205.2 innings under his belt, which isn’t enough for us to make any strong conclusions about his future, but if he can continue to paint the corners as well as he has and the league isn’t able to catch up, then he could very well become a valuable part of the Phillies’ starting rotation for years to come, especially if this is indeed Cole Hamels‘ last season in Philadelphia.

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15 comments

  1. LTG

    June 18, 2012 07:15 AM

    This might be because I haven’t had coffee yet or I’m just stupid, but how are we supposed to read the pitch-type breakdown chart? The percentages don’t generally add up to 100, although some rows do. I thought the pitch-type breakdown was of pitches used to get a looking strikeout.

  2. Bill Baer

    June 18, 2012 07:19 AM

    The percentages are for each column. The data source we have (TruMedia) doesn’t break it down as a percentage of total pitches, only of each pitch subset. In other words, curves for called strike three divided by total called strike three pitches. Of course, I could have totally missed that but I didn’t see it when I was pawing through the data.

  3. LTG

    June 18, 2012 08:00 AM

    Hmm… that doesn’t help. Take Greinke 2012. He has 25 KL. So 25 of his pitches have been called strike threes (CSTs). According to the chart 80% of those have been fastballs. So, 20 of his 25 CSTs have been fastballs. And according to the chart 40% of his CSTs have been curves. So, 10 of his 25 CSTs have been curves. But already we have a problem because 20+10=30 not 25. I’ve had some coffee now. The only possibilities left are that I’m stupid or there is something wonky with the chart. Please advise.

  4. Bill Baer

    June 18, 2012 08:05 AM

    Ahh, I see the issue. Presumably when I was changing the formatting, Excel changed the 4% to 40%.

    Greinke across the board reads as follows:

    – 80% fastball
    – 4% curve
    – 4% slider
    – 12% cutter
    – 0% everything else

    I’ll take down the charts and try to get them back to normal. Thanks for catching the mistake.

  5. LTG

    June 18, 2012 08:08 AM

    Whew. I thought I was going crazy. No beer and no TV and such.

  6. John

    June 18, 2012 08:13 AM

    Can you do some numbers on how frequently Jimmy Rollins pops up ton end the inning with men LOB, compared to the rest of the league?

  7. Bill Baer

    June 18, 2012 08:38 AM

    @ LTG

    Fixed. I didn’t feel like formatting the tables via HTML/CSS again, so I just took screenshots.

    @ John

    I can’t sort by # of outs. However, Rollins ranks 121st among 416 players in raw number of pop-ups with men on base (11). The leader is Jhonny Peralta with 28, followed by Carlos Lee (27), and Johnny Damon (25).

    Placido Polanco (13) and Shane Victorino (12) are ahead of Rollins. Hunter Pence, Carlos Ruiz, and Ty Wigginton are tied with Rollins at 11.

    Of course, the big caveat with the data is that the classification of a pop-up is subjective, similar to line drives. So one stringer’s pop-up may be another stringer’s fly ball.

  8. LTG

    June 18, 2012 09:30 AM

    thanks!

  9. Dan K.

    June 18, 2012 10:13 AM

    I feel as though the classification for “pop-up” should be universal, although I’m not quite sure what it would be. Perhaps something along the lines of any ball in play with more vertical movement than horizontal movement.

    But then people would need to agree on the classification and start using it, and I’m too lazy to start something like that.

  10. LTG

    June 18, 2012 10:15 AM

    A 300 ft. homer that travels 301 ft. vertically is not a pop-up.

  11. Phylan

    June 18, 2012 10:40 AM

    That is an extremely improbable trajectory for a ball to take though

  12. LTG

    June 18, 2012 11:46 AM

    Right. But it indicates that trajectory is only a necessary but not sufficient condition for being a pop-up. Probably we would need another condition on where the ball would have landed. And there might even be a relationship between trajectory and landing spot that distinguishes pop-up from fly ball or hump-back line drive. And then we would need to make minute measurement distinctions that start to look arbitrary. Sometimes our eyes are better than rulers and protractors.

  13. Dan K.

    June 18, 2012 04:18 PM

    Point taken, but in what park is 300 feet, even at the corners, a homer? Even my little league parks back in the day (16+ years of age) had a distance of 315 at the shortest spots.

    I actually just checked and only one stadium in history had the fence that far in; Memorial Stadium formerly of the Dodgers (251 in LF, 300 in RF, 420 in CF). And they call CBP a bandbox… Not to belittle your point, I just thought it was fun trivia.

    Anyways, it is ridiculously difficult to hit a HR that travels higher than it does longer. And to differentiate between fly balls and pop-ups, a certain horizontal distance would be set.

    And yes, our eyes are better for some things. But it helps to have clarifications for things when they’re super close to help us categorize.

  14. LTG

    June 18, 2012 04:47 PM

    The example needn’t be terribly probable to make the point. (I remember versions of Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds having distances of under 300 ft, but maybe I misremember.)

    When you say “a certain horizontal distance would be set”, where would it be set and why? I see a sorites problem arising here. If we set it at 100 ft, why not 101? If 101, why not 102? Eventually we’ll get to over the fence.

    The classification of types of hits is supposed to track two things. First, the quality of contact made by the hitter. Second, the kind of play the fielders have to make. These desiderata interact in ways that cannot be accounted for by merely measuring the motion and path of the ball. My worry is that any reduction to a measurement will lose more information than it saves.

    I think BB overstates it when he says that pop-up judgments are subjective. The judges are using the same standards even if they come to different conclusions on similar plays.

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