Balls In Play

So, currently has the numbers for batting average on balls in play (BABIP) for all pitchers since 1950. Some interesting stuff digging through those numbers. First of all, the variances over entire careers are pretty substantial, enough to make you question the Voros McCracken thesis that BABIP has nothing to do with the pitcher. Granted, that thesis has been modified a good deal since it was first introduced, and it still remains ground-breakingly useful, if only because BABIP varies from year to year for individual pitchers so much more than other elements of pitching success or failure. And granted, that’s before you consider the differences in eras, park effects and the defenses pitchers pitched in front of.
Speaking of which, while the lowest career BABIP among pitchers with 3000 or more innings pitched is Andy Messersmith (.243), the highest is Andy Pettite at .312, and Chuck Finley is the only other guy at or above .300 (.300 on the nose). What could account for Pettitte’s historically poor defensive support? Well, among other things, he’s the only guy on the list to have thrown 2500 or so innings with Derek Jeter at shortstop. Mike Mussina’s BABIP as a Yankee: .307. Roger Clemens’: .300. (Mariano Rivera: .263. The lesson, as always, is that Rivera’s inhuman). Granted, BABIP have been up around the league in the past 15 years or so (Rick Reuschel was the worst until recently), but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Yankees’ poor defense, especially up the middle, has hurt Pettitte (though not as much as their offense and bullpen have helped him).
A few other notes:
The lowest BABIP season since 1950, among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title: Dave McNally, 1968 (.203), which should not be surprising. The highest: Kevin Millwood, 2008 (.358), which is why he was such a great candidate to bounce back in 2009 (this year’s another story). Also an unsurprising entry near the top is Jeff Robinson, who had the one really fluky year in 1988. Interestingly, the 6th lowest: Don Larsen 1956 (.216). And one guy who had generally worse (except for 1985-86) BABIP than the league: Dwight Gooden.

3 thoughts on “Balls In Play”

  1. The Pettit/Rivera conclusion you draw Crank might be seen this way instead:
    First, I do agree Rivera is inhuman (and might just be the first unanimous HOF choice ever), but he depends upon defense less than most other pitchers. Not just for the strikeouts, but the contact shots he gives up are dinkers, and easy fly balls. The occasional Texas Leaguer gets through, but the rest are easier to catch than a hard shot up the middle. And no question, Ozzie Smith would have given Pettit and Clemens better numbers.
    And I’ll ask this too: if this stat is so important, why did the (Damn) Yankees win so much with such a supposedly porous defense?

  2. “And I’ll ask this too: if this stat is so important, why did the (Damn) Yankees win so much with such a supposedly porous defense?”
    The Yankees have a tendency to score a whole lot of runs.

  3. Also the Yankees’ pitchers have contributed a lot – the 2001 team struck out what I believe was an AL record 1266 batters, the 2009 team 1260. They’ve struck out 1100 or more batters 8 times since 1996, and walked under 500 batters 8 times in that stretch (low of 375 in 2003), and allowed less than 160 homers 8 times. Basically, good hitting plus good pitching plus Rivera as the closer is enough to frequently overcome poor defense. (Also the defense was better when they won the 4 titles in 1996-2000).

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