K-Ration

Some have speculated Cy Young runner-up Chien-Ming Wang is a pitcher who will have a hard time continuing his success due to the fact that he doesn’t strike many batters out.  He’s phenomenally successful at inducing ground balls from batting opponents, and frequently those balls were hit "where they was instead of where they ain’t".  Detractors say it’s a matter of time before his lack of an "out" pitch catches up with him.

John Walsh has written a piece, The Most Democratic PItcher, available at The Hardball Times.  In the article, Walsh compares Wang with other similar and dissimilar pitchers to see if any conclusions can be drawn.  I hope Wang’s legacy in the hearts of Yankee fans and baseball in general runs deeper than that of Ray Fontenot.

26 comments… add one

  • Cliff Corcoran also with a nice piece on Wang over on the Banter today. His take: the worry is a possible overload of innings last season leading to a breakdown, not a dramatic fall off from balls going “where they aint.” As he notes, Wang’s BABIP was about league average last year; so, yeah, he could have a lousy year where he’s unlucky, but he could just as well be a lot luckier than he was in 2006. In other words, he did not benefit abnormally from luck last season. That’s good to know.

    YF November 17, 2006, 7:25 pm
  • In other words, he did not benefit abnormally from luck last season
    Glad to know that YF doesn’t trust the MORP stat, but he’s willing to make a ludicrous claim about whether or not Wang had any quantifiable “luck”. You’ve got to be kidding.

    SF November 17, 2006, 8:13 pm
  • SF is getting a bit tiresome with his “you’ve got to be kidding” kickers every time i post. Sheehan projected MORP, an extremely complex stat that compounds the weaknesses of all of the different stats that make it up, FORWARD INTO 2007. Meanwhile, i noted that Wang’s BABIP–a straightforward stat, batting average on balls in play–was at the league average. If Wang had been extremely “lucky” on balls hit into play, than that would have been a number well below league average (this happened to DLowe in 2004).
    Ignorance does not become you, dear SF.

    YF November 17, 2006, 10:23 pm
  • You can’t quantify “luck” with any statistic. Can you do it with batting average?
    It’s absurd.

    SF November 17, 2006, 10:33 pm
  • Lying in bed, and stewing about this “luck” thing, wouldn’t it make sense that if Wang is an extreme GB pitcher, it would be more accurate to know what the league average is for balls in play hit on the ground, and then determine what Wang’s deviation from the league norm is on his own ground balls in play? Wouldn’t that tell you more accurately how “lucky” he actually was as a ground ball pitcher, and his upside and downside, if you are even willing to buy into the idea that one can discern “luck” at all?

    SF November 17, 2006, 10:47 pm
  • Yeah, I’ll go check out the tape tonight. But seeing as you spend about 50000 words a season carping about the lack or range of certain Yankee infielders…..Anyways. CMW is an extreme gb pitcher, so most of his babip IS based on gbs–not that this is even mathematically relevant.
    if you wanna join the flat earth society and ignore some of the basic lessons of sabermetric research, be my guest.

    YF November 17, 2006, 11:27 pm
  • SF, BABIP is commonly used as a crude measure of “luck.” There’s a well defined probability for a given game situation that a batted ball will be a hit or not. I think typically it tends to be around .300. So if Wang’s BABIP is much less than that, he was “lucky” and vice versa. I’m sorry if this is pedantic, but your recoil at a very standard method of looking a little further into pitchers’ numbers makes me think you haven’t heard this spiel before.
    I would imagine a low-K, low-SLG, average-BABIP guy like Wang just doesn’t allow much good contact.

    tom yf November 18, 2006, 2:37 am
  • I actually find that unbelievable, that he had an average BABIP.. since he does allow so many balls in play (which supposingly the pitcher has no control over)… I guess the lack of HR’s (only 12 last year) and maybe (haven’t looked for it) he makes it up in having more GIDP..

    Lar November 18, 2006, 3:16 am
  • YF:
    Why don’t you cut out the snide insults. I get accused, quite a bit (unfairly sometimes, I think, but that comes with territory), of being shrill and nasty. In this case, I am asking what I think is a legitimate question about the depth of this statistic. Your response is to demean me, call me ignorant, and put yourself up on an arrogant sabermetric pedestal. It’s bullshit. And ugly.
    We’ve had tons of civil discourse here lately. My initial snarky comment didn’t deserve your first arrogant response, and certainly my second question (completely legitimate, unless you can tell me, in intelligent fashion, why it is not – saying you aren’t going to do the math but that you KNOW that it is statistically irrelevant strikes me as insufficient) didn’t deserve your snottily condescending second comment.

    SF November 18, 2006, 6:36 am
  • A couple of comments about Corcoran’s piece as well. He speculates what it will take for Wang to become Brandon Webb, which would be to “return his K rate to it’s minor league levels (7.06 K/9)”. Does anyone have any idea how many pitchers, having spent significant time in the majors with a much lower K-rate, have ever been able to do this? This strikes me as being in the “never gonna happen” category, but I won’t make that claim as I simply don’t know the answer. Are there any pitchers whose K-rates dropped significantly, then re-ascended back to minor league levels?
    Secondly, it seems like the accepted anomaly in Wang’s pitching statistics seems to be the low HR rate, which, though in part attributable to the fact that he is a ground ball pitcher, seems to be the truly “lucky” part of his game. It would seem that Wang’s accomplishment on this front would serve as a statistical anomaly, and therefore reasonable expectations for next year would return his HR numbers to average, therefore forcing greater accomplishment on other fronts, pitching-wise. What are the chances of him doing that on that front?

    SF November 18, 2006, 6:54 am
  • Speculating on the answers to my own question, I wondered if Tom Glavine, not a “power pitcher”, had that track of K-rate reduction then re-ascension. It turns out that Glavine’s K-rate in the lower minor leagues was over 9. When he moved up to AA, it dropped to just over 7, and his cup of coffee in AAA had a K-rate of just over 5. When he was promoted, his K-rate moved back down to the 3s, and then bounced all over the place, ranging anywhere from the low/mid 5s to the low 7s. He never reached his lower ML numbers, ever. Later in his career, the norm for him seems to be somewhere in the 4s, though this year he shot back up to near 6.
    John Smoltz, a more conventional power pitcher, had much lower K-rates in the minor leagues, and it looks like when he hit his late 20s they shot up. He was consistently in the high 5s to low 7s until he turned 29, and then became more consistently in the 8s and 9s. This was interspersed with some serious injuries, from which he seemed to come back stronger.
    This doesn’t tell us anything about Wang, but I thought it interesting that these two high-level pitchers had differently changing K-rates.
    The best stats I found were at http://www.thebaseballcube.com.

    SF November 18, 2006, 8:10 am
  • Only one problem with your comment, attack gerbil, no one is “speculating” that wang’s season was an abberation. Speculation is guessing, mere conjecture, with no basis in fact whatsoever. Its throwing darts at a board.
    I don’t thinks its speculative to wonder if Wang can keep this up when there is actually a mountain of statistical evidence that shows that pitchers with low strikeout totals (below the League avg) have difficulty maintaining success and tend to regress to the mean. Instead of writing that they are speculating, you might write that they are predicting.
    In any event, as a yankee fan I hope that Wang redefines the rules. I suppose its possible given what the radar gun says (most of the abberational pitchers with lucky seasons weren’t power pitchers and by power I mean hitting 95 on the gun routinely), and maybe he’ll develop other pitches.

    jeb November 18, 2006, 9:11 am
  • SF: Typically, you start by hurling the insult, and then are offended when they come back at you. I was similarly ridiculed earlier this week for posting the line of Joba Chamberlain in Hawaii. Seems like, as our readers know, you can dish out the insults, but when can’t handle it when they come back. Bullies get what they deserve.
    Tom YF has covered the basics on BABIP.
    Wang has posted excellent numbers for 2 seasons now. Predictions of his imminent implosion have been coming from almost the moment of his arrival. But he’s not Aaron Small. It’s not going to happen unless he blows out his arm.
    As for your HR rate argument, i don’t think you know what you’re talking about. his hr/9 rate last year was .5. his minor league career hr/9 rate was .46. in 05 it was .07. not sure why there would be a dramatic change in this. but whatever. project his downfall at your peril.
    anyway, I find this whole comp system of analysis massively dubious (it’s the basis of the John Walsh article that was generated the gerb’s initial post.) Every player is uniqe, and Wang is an anomaly among pitcher, beyond sheer individuality. He throws a 94 mph sinke–history hasn’t seen too many of those. It’s a bitch to get it airborne. That’s why he’s good. And why he will remain good until his arm falls off. Which, god forbid, may be sooner rather than later. But i hope not.

    YF November 18, 2006, 9:56 am
  • Dude, the Joba Chamberlain thing was a friggin joke. That should have been eminently clear from my post (luaus, hula skirts, etc.). What a curmudgeon.

    SF November 18, 2006, 10:17 am
  • not sure why there would be a dramatic change in this.
    Uh, massive good LUCK, for a start? ;-)
    Anyhow, I have never predicted Wang’s imminent downfall. He’s obviously a darn good pitcher. God you are irritable and defensive.

    SF November 18, 2006, 10:22 am
  • Okay okay okay. Apologies great sayer of SF sooth. We’ve been drinking a bit too much caffeine this week…..Though occassionally misguided, our dear SF is no flat earther!
    You know how it is with us super-masculine types, we can’t handle it when someone criticizes our wang. Er, Wang. It’s a Freudian thing. I’m sure you understand.

    YF November 18, 2006, 10:53 am
  • Well, at least you didn’t accuse ME of being super-masculine. That would have really set me off…
    Peace out.

    SF November 18, 2006, 11:11 am
  • Jeb, we’re getting into a fairly fine parsing here, but I deliberately chose the phrase “speculated .. Wang .. will have a hard time continuing his success.” Note I did not say that people speculate about his current success, but his future potential for success.
    I chose the wording because many of the comments I have read that questioned Wang last season went something like, “he can’t strike guys out so there is no way he can keep winning like he has, he’ll get worse soon,” or, “you honestly think Wang is a legit number one/two starter? he’s gonna be a number four or five at best..” and so on. Speculation. I’m sure that there have been finely researched posts here regarding Wang’s potential that deserve more consideration. However, someone regurgitating a quote from a BP article that says Wang strikes out significantly fewer batters than his W/L/ERA would normally indicate, which means he’s due to tank soon, doesn’t rate as an insightful prediction to me.
    The fine article itself only goes so far as to make a prediction that it’s unlikely that most pitchers will ever get to 100 wins, and that the odds may be stacked slightly against Wang compared to the norm. It offers comparison evidence, and the author himself questions the value of similarity comparison as a predictor. There’s no direct evidence so far that Wang himself is due for an imminent decline in his second full year.
    That said, interesting point. It will hopefully keep me on my toes regarding my own speculations and predictions. I speculate I may get lucky with some of them, and I predict I won’t with most of them.

    attackgerbil November 18, 2006, 3:43 pm
  • Good points, gerb. I think that Wang will be good for awhile and I am willing to speculate on that only bc he’s so unique. But I still are him as a 3.

    jeb November 18, 2006, 8:53 pm
  • Wang is said to be really gifted at learning new pitches – the pitching coaches made him unlearn some pitches so that’s why he throws about 85% heavy sinkers..
    I’ll imagine if the hitters adjust, he’ll adjust as well, as with almost every pitcher.. but he certainly has the skills to succeed.. whether something like an injury kills him..
    To me, I’ll say he’s a a pretty good #2 starter..

    Lar November 18, 2006, 11:44 pm
  • …it wastes energy to overanalyze…assume wang will be good until he ain’t…to suggest that he has been lucky is as silly as suggesting that ortiz was lucky because pitchers simply hit his bat and he had nothing to do with hitting all those homers…this would be a different conversation if wang was a sox…

    dc November 19, 2006, 9:12 pm
  • this would be a different conversation if wang was a sox
    Why does every discussion have to end with a team inversion supposition? This should be the “Godwin’s Law” of YFSF. You lose.

    SF November 19, 2006, 9:21 pm
  • “Why does every discussion have to end with a team inversion supposition?”
    …because sfs’ perpectives on everything require such checks and balances…it’s a law of nature, just like “all sf’s are sensitive yankee-bashers”…i win…

    dc November 19, 2006, 9:42 pm
  • Actually, Wang was a Red Sox. Only then, his name was Derek Lowe. I remember all the arguments from Yanks Fans about his K’s and his luck when the balls were hit right at the fielders. Now, the shoe is just on the other foot, is all.

    Brad November 19, 2006, 10:21 pm
  • …no lowe criticism from this yf…i was thrilled when i heard lowe was leaving the sox…i thought he was a great pitcher…the myth that ground-ball pitchers can’t be effective is exacerbated by bad defense…the fact that wang has so many gg-ers behind him makes him seem that much more effective…[for sf's that can't recognize humor, that was tongue in cheek]…

    dc November 19, 2006, 11:18 pm
  • Derek Lowe’s sinker was high 80s.. while Wang’s at low-mid 90s. Lowe’s 2002 was good though.. but he was also a little lucky:
    http://www.fangraphs.com/comparison.aspx?playerid=199&playerid2=2074&playerid3=&position=P&page=7&type=full
    We’ll see how Wang deals with it when it’s his turn to be unlucky..

    Lar November 20, 2006, 12:40 pm

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