Last time, we waxed on about how home runs impact the game. Today we want to flip the proverbial coin and talk about the pitcher’s version of a deep drive: strikeouts.
But first, some self congratulatory bullpuckey: I called it. Back on Christmas Eve I released the second part of my self important screed on marketing and it contained the final 3 of 6 specific initiatives. Number 5 was “Embrace the Tailgating Culture.” While I can’t say that it was my idea that spurred this Fan Appreciation Tailgate, I can say that I think this is a good move and kudos to the A’s for taking an approach that embraces what they have and doesn’t just explain what they don’t (another example of coolness is Roy Steele Bobblehead Day on April 17th which aligns with “Appeal to Nostalgia”). Now, back to the matter at hand.
Last time I gave a high level explanation of Ball Park Factors. To go all stats geek on you, here is the formula for BPF (Batting Park Factor):
PF= 100 * ((homeRS+homeRA)/homeG) / ((roadRS+roadRA)/roadG)
So what does Park Factor have to do with strikeouts? From a pitching perspective… Strikeouts are a key to transcending the effects a given field’s dimensions have on offensive performance. Before I get into a case study, or two, I should cover another stat that is useful for this discussion: FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). That formula is as follows:
There are other variations of the formula that vary slightly, but this one is by Tom Tango and I love his blog, so I am calling it the official version.
This stat is meant to remove the outcomes that a pitcher doesn’t have direct control over and properly weight those that he does to create a sort of more “true” ERA. As a baseline reference, last season Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke dominated this stat. Lincecum had 2.34 and Greinke 2.33. The next closest, as shown at the link, was Javier Vasquez at 2.77.
So what do I aim to prove with these 2 stats? Well one (BPF) is a measure of how likely it is that runs will be scored in a given stadium and the other (FIP) is a measure of how a pitcher controls the opponents ability to score runs, stadium impacts included. And both say, “Strikeouts are important.”
Let’s start by examining the newest Athletic of Oakland, Ben M. Sheets. Every year that he has pitched in the big leagues he has pitched at Miller Park. The place sort of has a reputation for more than excellent tailgates, it is consider “offense friendly.” BPF backs that up, mostly. Between 2001 and 2008 (Ben Sheet’s active seasons) Miller Park had BPF’s over 1.000 (indicating an offensive friendly park) in 5 of 8 years, as well as a BPF of 0.999 in one season.
Over that same period of time, Ben Sheets has amassed a career FIP of 3.56. His best seasons were in 2004 and 2006 when his FIP was 2.65 and 2.43. In those season Miller Park had BPF’s of 1.042 and 1.004. In an offensive friendly park, Ben Sheets was absolutely dominant because he struck out roughly 10 hitter’s per 9 innings pitched, which removed the ability for a ball to leave the yard, hit the fence, squirt down the line, roll through a Short Stop’s legs, be botched by a Right Fielder or any other outcome that he couldn’t control. In short, he dominated because he kept hitter’s from impacting the at bat in any meaningful way. Of course, his arm has nearly fallen off a few times, but that is a different story.
But maybe Ben Sheets isn’t the best case study. He did play every home game in the same park after all… Perhaps a better example of a pitcher’s ability to transcend park effect’s would be Bay Area native and wearer of multiple uniforms, Carsten Charles Sabathia.
C.C. has now played a lot of home games in three different yards. Cleveland, Milwuakee and Homer Heaven in New York. In his rookie season, C.C. had a respectable FIP (4.22, for reference Brett Anderson’s was 3.69 last season). He also played in the park with the highest BPF for run’s, the since renamed Jacobs Field (BPF 1.584). He walked a lot of guys, but he was able to be successful due to his 171 K’s.
Fast forward to 2008. Contrary to most seasons, in 2008 both of Sabathia’s home parks (Progressive Field in Cleveland and Miller Park in Milwaukee) had sub 1.000 BPF’s for runs scored. So, it can’t be said that his dominance was completely at odds with his home stadium(s). That said, his 2.91 FIP shows that he didn’t need much help from his defense. The root of his success can be traced to his 251 strikeouts (and his vast improvement in avoiding walks over his rookie season).
Last season, his first as a Yankee and the Yankees’ first in the most homer friendly park in baseball (league leading BPF 1.261 for HR’s) he continued to dominate. He walked a few more per 9, he struck out a few less per 9… But he still had a really good FIP, 3.39.
So what do these case studies prove? My first thought is that they don’t so much talk about what a new yard’s dimensions should be, as much as they say how to make them irrelevant. They don’t say “Lew, bring the fences in and get rid of the foul ground.” They say, “Billy, use any additional revenue a new park brings to get more strikeout pitchers who don’t walk a bunch of guys.”
What do you think?