Thursday, June 24, 2010
Do Twins Pitchers Throw Too Many Strikes?
Z Contact%: 86.8%
Let me quick explain. Z Contact% is "the percentage of times a batter makes contact with the ball when swinging at pitches thrown inside the strike zone." [My regards to FanGraphs] Contact% is the exact same thing as ZContact but takes into account all swings on all pitches, irrespective of their location. Zone% is the percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone. The major league averages for those 3 categories are as follows:
Z Contact%: 88.2% Contact%: 80.8% Zone%: 47.2%
Z Contact%: 90.9%
Z Contact%: 96.4%
So a pattern emerges. Baker is the best of the bunch, his Z Contact and Contact percentages are pretty much in-line with league averages and though he truly does pound the strike zone (66%+ of his pitches are strikes), he misses bats. Kevin Slowey is a step down from that with a Contact% significantly about the league average and Nick Blackburn is downright terrible with Z Contact% and Contact% well into the 90th percentile range. To put that into perspective, Major League hitters make contact with almost 97 out of every 100 balls that Nick Blackburn throws in the strike zone and still make contact with 94 out of every 100 he throws PERIOD. As a comparison, let's look at Francisco Liriano.
Z Contact%: 86.9%
To summarize, Liriano is getting contact at about the league average on balls in the strike zone, but the key to his success has been getting batters to swing at pitches that are NOT IN THE STRIKE ZONE. Liriano doesn't throw even half of his pitches in the strikezone, but he still gets strikeouts.
Admittedly this is a somewhat shallow treatment of the subject because Contact and Zone percentages don't measure quality, well-placed strikes vs. pitches that are hung in the zone or those that go straight down the middle. Nevertheless, there is a clear line between the styles of Liriano and Blackburn/Slowey/Baker. Throwing strikes and "pounding the zone" is all well and good, if you can locate. Blackburn, Slowey and Baker have all had their outings this season where they are hitting their spots and the results are usually good, but it seems that they have had a high number of outings as a group where the command is not there and they end up getting hammered. I don't know if there is a remedy for such a thing, but being less predictable might be a good start. Throwing strikes is not the ultimate goal, the ultimate goal is getting batters out via weak contact or strikeouts. If you can't get the Ks, you gotta get the weak contact and if that means you give up a few more walks and are a little less predictable, so be it.