Pitching by the Numbers: Pitch charting

This is the time of year where the contending teams start looking at their pitching staffs and worrying about whether certain pitchers who are racking up higher than expected innings paces will be shut down early or simply lose steam down the fantasy stretch.


But should we even be looking at innings? It seems pretty ridiculous that teams count innings instead of counting pitches. So let's use three-year averages of the average number of pitches that starters threw per inning and do a simple recalculation. The result: pitchers this year who are below the three-year average of 16.1 pitches per inning really aren't on pace for the number of innings suggested by their stated totals. And we can calculate exactly how much less. Conversely, pitchers who throw more than 16.1 pitches per inning are on pace for a greater workload than their actual innings pace suggests.
Our formula is the number of pitches thrown divided by that 16.1 P/IP three-year average to get a new innings number. Not sure what to call this new number. But for the purposes of the chart, there's "actual" innings pace and P/IP innings pace. The difference is what the net result would be at the end of the year, everything else being equal.
We're only charting pitchers who have an ERA+ (ERA adjusted for league and park factors) of more than 120 (league average is always 100).

Player

ERA+

Actual IP pace

P/IP Pace

P/IP Diff

R.A. Dickey

189

233.6

201.3

-32.4

Edwin Jackson

132

203.7

178.8

-24.9

Kyle Lohse

130

206.9

186.3

-20.6

Wade Miley

184

194.3

173.8

-20.5

Brandon McCarthy

156

184.1

164.6

-19.5

Clayton Kershaw

134

222.6

205.1

-17.5

Jordan Zimmermann

137

196.7

182.5

-14.2

Matt Cain

153

236

222.1

-13.9

Jake Peavy

155

232.9

219

-13.9

Madison Bumgarner

123

225.8

212.4

-13.4

Anibal Sanchez

121

202.2

189.8

-12.4

Colby Lewis

146

226.6

214.5

-12.1

Cole Hamels

121

228.9

217.4

-11.5

Wandy Rodriguez

121

225.8

214.3

-11.5

Ryan Dempster

189

191.2

180.3

-10.9

Matt Harrison

128

217.9

207.1

-10.8

Justin Verlander

158

256.5

246.3

-10.2

Jered Weaver

159

177

166.8

-10.2

James McDonald

165

191.9

181.8

-10.2

Brandon Morrow

140

183.3

174.1

-9.2

Trevor Cahill

122

214

205.5

-8.5

Chris Capuano

141

203.7

196

-7.8

Ryan Vogelsong

149

211.6

205.2

-6.4

Johnny Cueto

174

223.4

218.1

-5.3

Joe Saunders

123

191.2

186.2

-5

Chris Sale

172

189.6

186.5

-3.1

Stephen Strasburg

162

198.2

195.2

-3

Johan Santana

126

198.2

196.3

-2

Shaun Marcum

122

194.3

195.2

1

Wei-Yin Chen

121

189.6

190.6

1

C.J. Wilson

156

217.9

219

1.1

Gio Gonzalez

158

185.7

188.1

2.4

Zack Greinke

134

205.3

207.9

2.5

Brandon Beachy

201

191.2

195.1

3.9

Jason Hammel

141

192.7

197.2

4.4

Lance Lynn

138

204.5

209.5

4.9

Yu Darvish

127

209.3

221.9

12.7


Clearly, efficiency in pitches per inning is a big factor in success. But the only large outlier here is Darvish, who I've had the sell sign on all year because all the stats say to sell. Here's another one.
The big issue for one owner in every league is whether Strasburg gets a break. Not much. He's three innings under his actual pace of 198 innings and still well over the 160 that the Nationals had planned for him in March. Plans do change, however, and Davey Johnson at least used to be old school. He threw Dwight Gooden for 19 innings in a Triple-A playoff series after Gooden threw 191 innings with 300 Ks and 112 walks in A-ball as an 18-year-old. Johnson took over the Mets the next year and had Gooden throw 218 innings. I suspect Johnson will be dragged kicking and screaming to a Strasburg shutdown (no matter what he's saying now).
Sale similarly gets just a little break but the White Sox don't appear to have a strict innings limit planned.
On the plus side, Dickey seems able to pitch more if the Mets execute the plan their pondering to do just that. Dickey's on pace to throw just 201.3 innings worth of pitches – nothing for a knuckleballer, even one who throws hard. Fun stat of the week – Dickey is in his age 37 season and famed knuckleballer Phil Niekro from his age 38 season on threw 2,644 innings – or more than Roy Halladay and Derek Lowe have compiled in their careers.
Wade Miley threw 153 innings in the minors and is not much past that pace now, so I wouldn't worry about him fading. But who knows if the Diamondbacks are doing this type of adjustment.
As for pitchers who are struggling and thus didn't make the chart, Max Scherzer is on pace to throw 26-plus innings of pitches above average, which boosts his pace to just 211. But all this fat is another reason to avoid him.
Other pitchers to note with their extra innings pace in parentheses are Tim Lincecum (22.8), Kyle Drabek (22.7), Brian Matusz (20.9), Phil Hughes (18.3), Matt Moore (17.4 and a 196-innings pace, another problem for his disappointed owners).

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