Michael Salfino

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Michael Salfino provides quantitative player and team analysis for the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! Sports.

  • Pitching by the Numbers: Well hits and misses

    Let’s look at well-hit data via the cross-checking of multiple video scouts of MLB stat provider, Inside-Edge, who actually watch every at bat. We’re focusing on pitchers’ rates of well-hit average allowed.

    These rates are as a percentage of at-bats. So they include strikeouts and homers. This makes the well-hit stat far better than line-drive percentage, which is only calculated based on balls in play. So if you strike out 10 guys, those count. With LD%, they don’t. So being absurd for the purposes of illustration, if you strike out 98 of 100 hitters but one hits a line drive, your LD% is 50%.This way, your well-hit average is .001, as it should be. 

    Let’s set the averages. MLB pitchers allow well-hit balls on 15.4% of at bats. I’ve also included Inside-Edge’s swing and miss rates as a percentage of strikes. All the sites seem to do variations of this. This DOES NOT count a first-strike foul ball though. You have to miss the pitch. And its not a percentage of pitches, either, it’s a

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: What have you done for me lately?

    After April showers, Hutchison is blossoming. (Getty)After April showers, Hutchison is blossoming. (Getty)You never get a second chance to make a first impression. But this rule of relationship building can be a handicap in fantasy baseball. We wait so long for the season to begin that how our players perform during it can become the pole to which we tether our season-long perceptions.

    Of course, the first five weeks of the season is a significant sample. But we’ve now had five weeks since then. So let’s back out the first five weeks entirely and look only at the five weeks since, taking us from May 7 through Wednesday (June 10).

    I believe this is a far more important exercise with pitchers than with hitters. Pitchers are more prone to turning on a dime for reasons that we detailed before training camp even began. While you don’t want to chase a five-week sample with a hitter, necessarily, I do think it can be smart to do this with a starting pitcher. There’s just a lot more data with pitchers over five weeks than with hitters, in addition to pitchers having so many more ways to make

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Taking a swing at strikeouts

    Tim Lincecum could be headed for a K spike . (Getty)Tim Lincecum could be headed for a K spike . (Getty)Strikeout rates and swinging strike rates have generally stabilized, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t change. It merely means they are bettable.

    But assuming that they are stable can provide some predictive insight into a handful of pitchers who have greatly divergent rates of swinging strikes and strikeouts. It stands to reason that both of these rates should correlate. And since strikeouts are more rare events than swinging strikes, we would reasonably have a bias in favor of the guys who are much better in SS% than K%, and against the pitchers who are significantly lower in SS% than K%.

    Looking at our sample of all starters who qualify for the ERA title, meaning they’ve pitched at least one inning per team game, we see that these stats tend to track pretty nicely. The average K% of all these starters is 19.8% and the average swinging strike rate is 21.5%. Pretty close. So we’ll expect SS% to be about 2-3% points ahead of K%. Note these stats are current through Wednesday.

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Special K relievers

    Betances has been a set-up sensation.  (Getty)Betances has been a set-up sensation. (Getty)We have enough of a sample now to look at relievers given that it takes only about 70 at bats for a pitcher’s K-rate to stabilize. The stat we’re interested in with them is primarily saves but also their ability to generate surplus Ks. My formula is keeping their K-rate at a solid 9.0 per nine innings (a winning number in innings-capped leagues) and giving the surplus Ks from that reliever to the rest of your staff.

    Each surplus strikeout actually raises the K/9 rate of other pitchers by a full K/9 for, of course, nine innings. So when we look at the top surplus strikeout pitcher on our list, the Yankees’ Dellin Betances, we get a better sense of his true impact on a staff with this calculation. His 41 Ks in 26 innings for a surplus of 15 Ks will raise the K/9 of the rest of the staff by 1.0 for 135 innings (15 times 9). 
    Let’s look at the other leaders among relievers in surplus Ks, through Wednesday’s action.

    Basically now we have a closer ranking that includes this surplus

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Harvey climbs the charts

    Matt Harvey: Smokin' ace  (Getty)Matt Harvey: Smokin' ace (Getty)We did our draft do-over at Roto Arcade and were limited to two starting pitchers each. Let’s look at some of the pitchers whose value has changed the most since our Friends and Family draft back in March.

    Here’s how they came off the board for us this week, and in parentheses is where they were drafted in March among starting pitchers. (Also, the asterisks indicate the starters I selected in our do-over draft).

    1. Clayton Kershaw (1)
    2. Max Scherzer (2)
    3. Felix Hernandez (4)
    4. Matt Harvey (11)
    5. Johnny Cueto (14)
    6. Corey Kluber (9)
    7. Madison Bumgarner (7)
    8. Chris Sale (6)
    9. Gerrit Cole (15)
    10. Zack Greinke (8)
    11. Stephen Strasburg (3)
    12. Jake Arrieta (20)
    13. Sonny Gray (36)
    14. David Price (5)
    15. Jacob deGrom (19)
    16. Cole Hamels (12)
    17. Chris Archer (52)
    18. * Danny Salazar (51)
    19. * James Shields (18)
    20. * Carlos Carrasco (23)
    21. Jon Lester (13)
    22. * Dallas Keuchel (64)
    23. Michael Pineda (53)
    24. Shelby Miller (77)

    Now let’s more closely examine some of the
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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Nelson an off-speed ace

    Milwaukee mix master Jimmy Nelson.  (Getty)Milwaukee mix master Jimmy Nelson. (Getty)

    Let’s look at 2015 MLB play-by-play data to assess which pitchers have the best off-speed pitches according to the hitters — meaning they swing and miss at them the most.

    I firmly believe that it’s the fastball that’s the foundation for all successful pitching. If you can’t evade hard contact with that pitch you cannot get ahead of hitters and set up these secondary offerings. But once you have the count in your favor, and especially with two strikes, you need to finish hitters with pitches that wrinkle. 

    So this is a 2015 skills analysis. I have a high confidence level that these numbers are bettable, however injury always looms for hurlers and that’s typically going to impact these pitches the most. 

    Let’s start with the curveball. I had a scout tell me at length years ago that the curve was a dying pitch because the break is so large that umps do not call it a strike nearly as often as they should. Major league pitchers who feature it have verified that this is still true, even

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Bet on Buchholz

    Bet on Buchholz turning his rocky start around.  (Getty)Bet on Buchholz turning his rocky start around. (Getty)We have at least 30 innings in the books for 83 starters and more than that for most. So it’s time for our first look at the 2015 stat that matters most (K-BB)/IP. 

    I caution you that you will get angry about how some apparent dogs are flying high in the stat and how some ERA kings are lagging badly. You will scream about the unfairness of it. But forget your stakes and just consider that the stat is obviously generally good at identifying the best and worst pitchers. Therefore, shouldn’t having elite strikeout-minus-walk skill predict better results IF the strikeout-minus-walk number holds steady? Vice versa for the pitchers with a bad strikeout minus walk numbers.
    Yes, you can argue that this past performance in the stat doesn’t predict future performance but we are certain it’s much more predictive than ERA. So we bet the stat hoping it’s stable and that the ERA corrects in line with league averages. These numbers are entering Thursday’s action:

    The calls to make here are pretty
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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Believe in Rays' Archer

    This is the worst time of the year for a guy like me because we don’t have enough numbers. But that doesn’t mean we just shut our eyes.

    Two stats that I pay particular attention to always are ground-ball percentage and strikeout rate. Strikeouts don’t risk bad breaks on balls in play and grounders, even if they sneak through, are almost always singles. Trying to string together three baserunners is tough and even then it’s one run. So pitchers who combine these skills are good bets to avoid bad innings and, especially, bad starts.
    And it’s a rare combination as most ground-ball pitchers tend to pitch to contact. The ground-ball specialist who can also ring up Ks is fantasy gold.
    So let’s at least see who these guys are so we know who to target in early season bidding and who to watch to see if these trends continue. Here are the top 20 pitchers in combined ground-ball rate and strikeout rate. But this doesn’t mean that a corresponding percentage of batters either walk or hit a ground
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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Getting ahead

    Wacha: King of the 1-1 count. (Getty)Wacha: King of the 1-1 count. (Getty)Last week we looked at pitchers’ ability to compete when behind in the count by getting outs anyway.  But the league average rate of outs on only 51% of these counts last year made it clear that Job 1 for starters is not falling behind in the first place.

    We all know about the importance of the first pitch, and first-pitch strike percentage is widely available. But what is arguably even more important than that is turning a 1-1 count into a 1-2 count rather than falling behind 2-1 and giving yourself the steep, uphill climb to retire the batter.
    So let’s look at how pitchers with at least 100 IP last year fared in that stat. The league-wide rate was 57%. Here are the best pitchers last year at turning the at-bat decisively into their favor instead of against them:

    Remember one of the things we found last week with our “getting outs from behind in the count” stat is that the trailers were close to the league average. That meant that the leaders were hardly ever falling behind and the

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  • Pitching by the Numbers: Falling behind

    Falling behind in the count was no big thing for Phil Hughes in '14. (Getty)Falling behind in the count was no big thing for Phil Hughes in '14. (Getty)I’m very pleased that so many of you last week liked the deployment of my unconventional but easy-to-understand stats that help us better assess pitchers. And starting pitching is where the profits are made or lost and thus where our fantasy championships are decided.

    I’ve been at this here since February though. If you missed anything and want to see how your pitchers graded last year, check out my archives.
    This week, let’s use our MLB play-by-play database from last year to try to put a finger on something that’s usually chalked up to intangibles: competitiveness. Namely, how effectively do pitchers battle when they are behind in the count (2-0, 2-1, three-ball). The first thing to note is how very important it is to NOT fall behind in the count. In 2014, the league average in getting outs on these counts was 51%, meaning that batters have a .490 on-base rate in these situations (either via putting the ball into play or walking as this data set includes every walk).
    So pitchers
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