Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Who's the Filthiest?

Dirty. Nasty. Wicked. Sick. Filthy. Whatever the lingo maybe on the field some pitches will simply leave opponents muttering to themselves on the way back to the dugout following a foolishly empty swing. In June 2007 Stats Inc analyzed Boof Bonser's WHIFF profile to find that through that month of the season, Bonser had the necessary pitches that made some batters feel shame. To that point Bonser's curveball had a .388 WHIFF average - making batters swing and miss nearly 40% of the time. His slider boasted a .310 WHIFF average. As the season progressed and his pitch totals increased his ability to maintain that WHIFF average decreased. Bonser witnessed his WHIFF average on his curve plummet to .247 while his slider dropped to .204. Up until June 27th when the Stats articled was penned Bonser had been striking out 21% of batters faced (83 of 379) but the rest of the season Bonser's strikeout rate dropped to 13% (53 of 393 batters faced). This may because of advance scouting recognizing Bonser's pitch sequencing or simply that his curve and slider lost their bite as the season wore on. Conversely, Johan Santana's December 2007 WHIFF profile indicated that his change-up, as obvious as it is to Twins fans that spent years watching it be delivered, had a WHIFF average of .399 - a well-above average rate on a change-up (.277 MLB change-up average) that he sustained all season long. For the 2007 season, the righty Bonser and the lefty Santana finished with a 17.6% and 26.8% strikeout rates, respectively.

This year's rotation is not a strikeout rotation. Currently the team's starters boast a collective strikeout rate of 13%. This is below the American League average (16%) as a staff for the first time in three years. In 2007, the Twins had a 17% strikeout rate as the league had a 16% strikeout rate. Prior to that in 2006, the Twins had a 18% strikeout rate as the league maintained a 15% strikeout rate. Needless to say it does not hurt when your rotation has Johan Santana and his .399 WHIFF average change-up. In 2006 the Twins not only had Johan Santana, but also had a healthy Francisco Liriano and Brad Radke interspersed with Matt Garza, Boof Bonser and Scott Baker. Who on the 2008 Twins staff has the pitch that is generating the most swing and misses so far this season?

Minnesota Twins' Scott Baker throws against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first inning of a baseball game Friday, June 20, 2008, in Minneapolis.

Top 5 in the Rotation Pitch Usage Thrown WHIFF
Scott Baker Slider 31.2% 182 .223
Nick Blackburn Cutter 27.4% 261 .215
Scott Baker Fastball 60.3% 350 .173
Livan Hernandez Slider 16.1% 183 .169
Nick Blackburn Change-Up


95 .164
Scott Baker's slider at .223 is leading the staff as the highest WHIFF pitch. Baker, in fact, has two of the best pitches among the staff with his fastball (.173 WHIFF) as he is the only true "strikeout pitcher" on the staff. Not surprising he is leading the staff in with a 20% strikeout rate. Nick Blackburn, on the other hand, also has two pitches in the top five which is probably more indicative of the make-up of the staff rather than his stuff. True, his cutter is registering a .215 WHIFF average but Blackburn has a below American League average strikeout rate. While AL starters are striking out 16% of batters they face, Blackburn is striking out 12.6%. Strikeout rate aside, Blackburn has seen success because he uses an assortment of pitches and does not rely on just one. For example, Blackburn throws five pitches: the fastball (15%), sinker (36%), curveball (11%), change-up (10%), and a cutter (27%). It is this ability to change his sequencing with pitches that he throws with impeccable control, all in the k-zone nearly 70% of the time, that has given him an era of 3.68 well below the AL average of 4.25 in spite of his low strikeout rate.

Top 5 in the Bullpen Pitch Usage Thrown WHIFF
Matt Guerrier Slider 16.7% 118 .439
Dennys Reyes Slider 64.4% 154 .378
Joe Nathan Slider 28.6% 107 .328
Boof Bonser Curveball 16.1% 183 .323
Jesse Crain Splitter


104 .259

Matt Guerrier has the honor of having the best WHIFF pitch in the entire stable of very good arms. When the Twins bandied the notion of life without Joe Nathan during this past offseason, Guerrier's name was one on the top of the list. "With his big breaking ball," Gardenhire said, "as a starter he'd get through two times through the lineup. But now you put him in the pen and let him go through the lineup once, and he eats them up." The accolade was for the curveball, as it is the most visually prominent of his pitches with its textbook 12-6 break, but it is his slider that has benefited him to most. That isn't to say that his curveball isn't very good. In fact, the curveball (.167) has been far inferior to his slider (.439) yet it would be the 5th best pitch among those in the rotation. Guerrier has seen his strikeout rate slip for a high of 19% last season to 14% this year which could have something to do with his fastball. He is throwing his fastball in the k-zone less than 50% of the time (42%) which is a problem since he is using it nearly 70% of the time. Logically enough, his walk rate has increased from 6% in 2007 to 10% in 2008.