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Pitching by the Numbers: Double trouble

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

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No pitcher allowed more doubles in '13 than Cole Hamels. (USAT)

There’s a lot of talk every year around this time about hitters who had far more doubles than homers. The idea is that they are due for more homers this year. Call it the Manny Machado effect.

But this is a better stat for pitchers. Hitters control outcomes more than pitchers do. So you can be a doubles hitter more reasonably than you can be a doubles pitcher.

Yes, if you are a ground-ball pitcher, you can “earn” your higher double rate to some degree. While you are giving up hard contact, you arguably are controlling that this contact is of the ground-ball variety. And of course there are cheap doubles, too. But they are rare.

So this list (below) is a good check, generally, and especially at the extremes, for pitchers due for a homer correction. The major league average last year was 1.8 doubles per homer.

Let’s start with pitchers who had their hard contact turned into homers at a far higher rate than the league average (minimum 150 innings). Again, we expect a much higher ratio of doubles to homers among their hard-hit balls this year. Yes, I’m aware that some managers/ex-managers turned analysts believe that homers kill rallies and doubles are worse for the pitcher. But those managers are insane. Let’s be smarter than them.

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The higher up you are on this list, the more likely you are to get the positive ERA effect. If you need another reason or slight push to draft Darvish, here it is. Dickey’s homers make no sense. His home splits are horrible in this regard, too (24 doubles, 23 homers). Let’s say he earned all of his 47 hard-hit balls despite his neck/velocity woes. They should have been cut up into 30 doubles and 17 homers. Note, too, that doubles aren’t great to give up either, just better than homers.

Sale being unlucky is notable because the natural instinct is to expect regression in ERA but here’s evidence that better luck on hard-hit balls could make up for some/all of that. I don’t think Strasburg’s detractors, of which I guess I am one, would argue for ERA regression. With him, it’s just a matter of health. But for as long as that troublesome elbow holds up, he’s good for a sub-3.00 ERA in my projections, especially in the NL East.

I may be Jarrod Parker’s last big fan. Most think he’s some journeyman, replacement-level mixed leaguer/AL-only innings eater. I still see a star-caliber talent with the fastball/changeup profile that I love. One more middling year and I’ll abandon ship though. I am encouraged by his placement on this list.

Teheran and Miller? Yeah, we want those guys. This maybe is a tailwind for them so if you need a reason to reach just a little bit, you’re welcome.

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Now here are the guys who are going to cause arguments in the comments. I get that you don’t like bad news with the guys you like and my purpose here is to pretty much knock the high-flyers I think will regress. This wins me exactly zero friends.

Chacin, de la Rosa, Wainwright, Burnett (No. 2), Jackson and Cashner are all top 30 in ground-ball rate. That’s a factor but there is more to this story. Again, there are no “doubles pitchers.”

That’s a lot of double plus homers for Wainwright. I’m not saying Wainwright is not a great pitcher. But this is why projections that he will have an ERA over 3.00 aren’t just rote regression analysis. At least not mine.

Who cares about Kershaw’s distribution? That’s hardly any extra-base hits. I feel similarly about Cashner, who also has his ground-ball ways going for him. (You want extreme pitchers, either ground ball or fly ball, because you at least know they are taking a fair measure of control away from hitters. And that’s what good pitching is: taking more control over pitcher vs. hitter outcomes.)

Burnett is going to give up more homers, especially in Philadelphia. But I still like any pitcher who is No. 1 in his league in two key categories (ground-ball rate – Masterson led in AL/overall – and K/9). Do not let Burnett pass at his current ADP, which is a joke. And I’ve hated Burnett. You can search right now and probably find three columns of me trashing him. But I have no beliefs and am never entrenched with any of these baseball positions. Burnett’s proven me wrong. Good for him.

Those 62 doubles for Hamels should scare you away from him. I’m scared away for sure. Again, I like Hamels but there is nothing positive to take from that unless you accept two negative statements. Those double plus homers are about three ropes per start, way too many for his ADP.

Why no triples, which are also well hit? There aren’t many and adding them barely changes the analysis. We want the simplest way to get at what we’re after, not maybe a very slightly better way that definitely complicates the calculation.

Fire away with questions and if you don’t get a reply, send it to @MichaelSalfino, too. And remember we’ve been doing this pitching analysis for a month and you can see the archives here.

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