Forecasting Pitcher Performance

The 2003 season saw 40 pitchers at age 23 or younger.   This group saw 7 of the 40 pitchers reach 10 wins or more, but only 16 pitchers with an earned run average of 4.00 or less.   In fact, 21 pitchers out of the group of 40 had an earned run average of 4.50 or higher, indicating more seasoning or developmental time or an inability to function at the major league level.    

Evaluating or forecasting rookie pitchers, or those with less than three years of professional league experience beyond Double A levels, requires three primary indicators – dominance, command, and control ratios.   These abilities fall outside of park effects and league averages to an overwhelming degree, focusing solely on the talents of the pitcher in question.

Dominance (Strikeout) Ratio

Dom = (k*9)/ip

The 2003 starting pitchers with the highest Dominance Ratios include:  Pedro Martinez, Javier Vazquez, Mark Prior, Randy Johnson, Jason Schmidt, Josh Beckett, Brandon Webb, Kerry Wood, Johan Santana, and Curt Schilling. 

These pitchers have dominance rates of 8.50 strikeouts per 9 innings of higher.   The strikeout ratio provides the biggest indication of whether a pitcher has a prime career ahead of him.   The strikeout pitcher allows fewer runs by virtue of his ability to pitch out of potentially game-altering situations.   He possesses an arsenal of pitches that trouble or give hitters a high degree of difficulty at the plate.   Most of all, the strikeout pitcher has a longer career on average than others at the position.   These pitchers are especially effective in their late thirties, as they’ve learned to rely more heavily on their secondary pitchers.  

Pitchers without high strikeout ratios require more emphasis on control and team defensive ability.    They see higher fluctuations in their earned run average and strand rates.  

The danger with strikeout pitchers comes from wildness or inconsistency.   These pitchers often “throw” more than “pitch” in the earlier parts of their career, leading to instances where they frequently serve as their own worst enemies.  

Johan Santana experienced horrific 2000 and 2001 seasons because he couldn’t control his pitches.   With his breakthrough in 2003, Santana stands as the best left-handed power pitcher in the game, perhaps only behind a healthy Randy Johnson.  

Having the pitcher with a high strikeout ratio makes winning championships much easier, also providing less stress and utilization of the bullpen figures.   This collection of top strikeout pitchers posted a 121-81 record over the 2003 season.  

Control (Walk) Ratio
Con = (bb*9)/ip

The 2003 starting pitchers with excellent control ratios include:  Sidney Ponson, Kevin Brown, Brad Penny, Esteban Loaiza, Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt, and Mike Mussina.  These pitchers earned a 114-59 record over the 2003 season.  

The best control pitchers also have moderate or great strikeout ability, but they survive by their ability to throw strikes, issuing a low rate of bases on balls.  

The control pitcher differs from the strikeout artist in that he relies more heavily on team defense.   These pitchers allow a higher amount of hits per 9 innings because they don’t possess authoritative pitchers.   They survive by mental awareness and deception as much as the quality of their pitches.  

Command Ratio
Com = k/bb

Looking at strikeout or walk ratios in isolation, rather than as two essential components, misses the mark in observing pitchers.   Some pitchers like Kazuhisa Ishii and Oliver Perez have excellent dominance ratios but have difficulty finding the plate with a majority of their pitchers.   A similar or equivalent number of walks and strikeouts diminish the power component of a pitcher.   Ishii and Perez combined for a 13-17 record.   They threw such a high number of pitches per game that they rarely made it past the fifth or sixth innings.  

Pitchers with similar walk and strikeout totals rarely have long careers in the major leagues.   Ishii and Perez receive more opportunities than other pitchers because of their high strikeout totals.   Managers hope for a slight mechanical adjustment or pitch selection measure that will diminish their liabilities.

Desired Indicator Levels
Dominance = 8.5 or more
Control = 2.75 or less
Command = 2.5 or more

Rookie Pitching Stars
Pitchers with these indicators levels have a great opportunity for success in the major leagues. The best pitchers for 2004, or the ones with the greatest upside or expectations, include
Los AngelesEdwin Jackson and Cincinnati’s Ryan Wagner.   These two players, barring any unforeseen events or circumstances, should reach All-Star level by 2007.   Though both players are extremely young, they score well enough in these indicators for justifying such expectations. As a general rule of thumb, great pitching wins championships.  The best pitchers are those with the highest strikeout ratios.  

Taking Jackson or Wagner is one of the best decisions you can make in any 2004 draft.   Even if they don’t develop, they possess the skills and attributes necessary for big league success.  Taking a flyer on pitchers with these expectations or levels of talents always comes across as a “no brainer,” a decision too good to pass up.  

Top Strikeout Pitchers (Age)
Edwin Jackson (20)
Ryan Wagner (21)
Chad Cordero (21)

Oliver Perez (22)

Rich Harden (22)

Francisco Rodriguez (22)

Mark Prior (23)

Josh Beckett (23)

Top Control Pitchers (Age)

Mark Prior (23)

Chad Cordero (21)

Jason Davis (23)
Jimmy Gobble (22)

Danny Harem (23)
C.C. Sabathia (23)

Top Command Pitchers (Age)
Mark Prior (23)

Chad Cordero (21)
Josh Beckett (23)

Francisco Rodriguez (22)
Dontrelle Willis (22)

C.C. Sabathia (23)
Ryan Wagner (21)

Top Rookie Pitchers
  Edwin Jackson
2.  Ryan Wagner
Chad Cordero
  Rich Harden
5.  Dontrelle Willis

6.  Oscar Villarreal
7.  Jimmy Gobble
8.  Jeremy Bonderman
9.  Jesse Foppert
10.  Jerome Williams