And now on to the pitchers. Pitchers are an interesting breed. There are so many ways to look at pitchers and what they are worth. While the debate between old and new statistical advocates is strong when discussing batters, it is at a whole new level when it comes to pitchers. It is amazing to watch the pitching win become marginalized. There are some still arguing for its importance, but they seem very out of touch and out of step with current trends, kind of like those still opposed to gay marriage. They keep talking, but is anyone listening anymore? Then there is the discussion about the importance or lack thereof regarding relief pitchers, especially closers. Many people have discussed how useless the save statistic is, or at the very least how all saves are not equal. I won’t even get into the mini-tempests stirred up when one mentions the hold statistic.
Having said all of that, what is the best way to value a pitcher? My baseball spouse sent me a copy of Joe Shehan’s newsletter detailing the utility of K% and BB%, which is very useful. As far as starters go, however, at least from a reality and not fantasy standpoint, I also find value in innings pitched and quality starts. Knowing that a guy is going to go out every fifth day (another debate, the five man rotation!) and give the bullpen a decent amount of rest while managing to keep his team close is a valuable commodity. If all of those things get combined, lots of strikeouts, few walks along with lots of good innings then, man, are we on to something.
Which lead us to the best player on the White Sox last year, Chris Sale. A bit of a point of clarification, I mentioned that Alex Rios was the WAR leader for the Sox in 2012, but I meant batters only. Sale was the overall WAR leader. Anyway, Sale had an excellent K% of 24.9%, meaning the percentage of all plate appearances ending in a strikeout. In Sale’s case that was just about a quarter of all plate appearances (can I say batters here or am I missing something?) He also had a 6.6% BB%, meaning the same as strikeouts, but with walks. In many ways it just demonstrates the truism, strikeouts good, walks bad. Sale also pitched 192 innings with 19 quality starts, demonstrating that he can go pretty deep into a game. Bill James has a similar amount of innings, 198 with high strikeouts and low walks. Since plate appearances are quite a dynamic variable, the percentage stats aren’t covered (probably should check fangraphs…Ok, fangraphs doesn’t add much to the discussion.)
The problem with Chris Sale is his incredibly violent pitching motion. Watching him pitch can make any White Sox fan worry. It appears that at any moment his arm is going to snap. Provided that he stays healthy, I can’t imagine a much better year for Sale than 2012, but he should be a stalwart in the rotation for 2013.