Pitching by the Numbers: Pitch charting

Michael Salfino Yahoo Sports

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R.A. Dickey has been a model of efficiency. (AP)

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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