Pitcher Success Despite Lack Of K’s

After writing that post about O’s pitching prospects – in which I took notice of Kenny Moreland’s ridiculous control in the minors this year – I decided to look at what a great control pitcher with mediocre stuff (that is, a low strike-out rate) would need to do to be successful in the majors over at MLB Notebook. The important bit seems to be that with good control (2 BB/9) but a low strike-out rate (3 K/9), a pitcher would need to avoid the longball – assumed to be done by getting a lot of groundballs – to get the job done. Couple of excerpts below; click through for the full version.

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“Normally I would just write off a guy like this as an older prospect that knows what he’s doing on the mound toying with inexperienced hitters – and once he progresses through the system, batters will expose his lack of “stuff” (especially at the major league level).  Moreland’s level of control appears to be so good though (even if it’s not quite this good. which it almost certainly isn’t), that I have to think that if he can leverage it effectively he’ll be able to make it to the majors. [I’m using Moreland as a concrete example, but the same things could generally apply to any pitcher.]”

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“So, with a strike-out rate of 3 K/9 and a walk rate of 2 BB/9, and assuming a league average home run rate (about 1.05 HR/9), Moreland’s FIP would be below average 4.87.  It’s not replacement level, but it’s certainly not good. Would he be able to make the majors pitching this way? Maybe, but I don’t think he’d stick around long.  Jason Berken has a 4.88 FIP this year (though with more of both walks and K’s) and O’s fans have been screaming for his head (metaphorically speaking) for weeks. A team would be willing to put up with that kind of performance if the pitcher had some growth potential, but if it was Moreland’s ceiling than I doubt he’d get much of a chance.

What if Moreland could K 3.5 per nine, and keep his walks down to 1.5 per nine? Here’s a table with a range of possibilities, assuming an average home run rate.

FIP

BB/9

0.5

1

1.5

2

2.5

3

1.5

4.60

4.77

4.93

5.10

5.27

5.43

2

4.49

4.66

4.82

4.99

5.16

5.32

2.5

4.38

4.54

4.71

4.88

5.04

5.21

K/9

3

4.27

4.43

4.60

4.77

4.93

5.10

3.5

4.16

4.32

4.49

4.66

4.82

4.99

4

4.04

4.21

4.38

4.54

4.71

4.88

4.5

3.93

4.10

4.27

4.43

4.60

4.77

5

3.82

3.99

4.16

4.32

4.49

4.66

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“Here’s the FIP table using a below average groundball rate (40%) – that is, having Moreland be a slight flyball pitcher, with the average percentage of flyballs being converted to home runs.

FIP

BB/9

HR/9 = 1.10

0.5

1

1.5

2

2.5

3

1.5

4.67

4.84

5.01

5.17

5.34

5.51

2

4.56

4.73

4.89

5.06

5.23

5.39

2.5

4.45

4.62

4.78

4.95

5.12

5.28

K/9

3

4.34

4.51

4.67

4.84

5.01

5.17

3.5

4.23

4.39

4.56

4.73

4.89

5.06

4

4.12

4.28

4.45

4.62

4.78

4.95

4.5

4.01

4.17

4.34

4.51

4.67

4.84

5

3.89

4.06

4.23

4.39

4.56

4.73

Moreland’s chances of success become more limited if he’s giving up some flyballs. Here it is if he has an above average groundball rate (50%).

FIP

BB/9

HR/9 = 0.90

0.5

1

1.5

2

2.5

3

1.5

4.38

4.55

4.72

4.88

5.05

5.22

2

4.27

4.44

4.61

4.77

4.94

5.11

2.5

4.16

4.33

4.49

4.66

4.83

4.99

K/9

3

4.05

4.22

4.38

4.55

4.72

4.88

3.5

3.94

4.11

4.27

4.44

4.61

4.77

4

3.83

3.99

4.16

4.33

4.49

4.66

4.5

3.72

3.88

4.05

4.22

4.38

4.55

5

3.61

3.77

3.94

4.11

4.27

4.44

Now Moreland could have good (instead of outstanding) control and still put up a FIP below 4.50.”