If you missed Part One of this first edition of BirdStat, “Opining on OPS,” be sure to check it out here.
As we’ve discussed, OPS is a jumping off point for taking a “sabermetric” look at hitters. While there is exciting work done in the field every year on the topic of pitching, the preferred starting point for judging hurlers’ values is WHIP.
WHIP stands for (walks + hits / innings pitched). It is one of the few sabermetric stats (like OPS) that has wiggled its way into the mainstream box score. Traditionalists will often look at things like ERA (earned runs average) and wins to determine a pitcher’s value.
Image Courtesy of the Baltimore Sun
But what if your team stinks and you give up a bunch of runs and never win any games? How do you determine the pitchers who are actually helping?
This is where WHIP can come in handy. One could argue that ERA judges how often a pitcher’s opposing lineup bats in runs. There are many arguments on the internet on the value of WHIP vs. ERA, but in short defense of WHIP, I will say that putting runners on base, over the course of a 200-inning season for a pitcher, definitely adds up. Being saved by great defensive plays or runs scored on errors may keep a starter’s ERA down in the short term, but over time, as with all things in baseball, the sample size will catch up to you.
Generally, 1.3 or lower is considered a “good” WHIP for a starter. As you approach the 1.0 and below mark, you are getting into record book-worthy territory. Let’s start by examining the players currently (as of 3/31/09) on the active roster who might be in the mix for the rotation year (with 2008 WHIPs).
Baez 1.570 (2007)
Brian Bass only started 4 games last year for the birds, and looking at his 4.53 ERA in those starts, you may shrug your shoulders. However, walking just 9 batters in 21 innings, his 1.095 WHIP is enough to take notice. Guthrie, the ace, is of course the only pitcher who ffalls under the 1.3 mark. It’s not news that this was not a good staff last year, but it gets worse. Let’s look at the dead weight the O’s cut and just how bad things were:
I’m sorry if that was traumatic for some of you to relive. To put things in perspective, a WHIP of 2.0 like Trachsel’s essentially means that you are putting a runner in scoring position EVERY SINGLE INNING. But what did Baltimore do to correct the situation? Let’s examine the WHIPs of the four pitchers they brought in to help the rotation:
Uehara 1.182 (Japan)
Hill 1.195 (2007)
Obviously, Uehara was facing different competition last year in the Japanese league than he will in the AL East, but his numbers are promising. Hill never got healthy in 2008 and only made a couple of starts, so I used his 2007 numbers for a fair evaluation. Even though Hendrickson and Eaton’s numbers are spotty, they are still improvements over Olson and Trachsel. With these additions, it appears the O’s are moving in the right direction in terms of WHIP, but let’s take this one step further. Sometimes the best indicator of how a team is evaluating players is through the MLB Draft. Here is what I found when I looked at the 2008 draftees:
Matusz 1.00 (NCAA)
Haughian 1.32 (NCAA)
Zagone 1.39 (NCAA)
Moreau 1.48 (NCAA)
There is one obvious trend: Baltimore is finally targeting effective college pitchers more than flame-throwing high schoolers. Four of the first five pitchers the O’s took were college pitchers from good baseball conferences. As you can see, their WHIP numbers were fairly good (in Matusz’ case, great) against college hitters, but it remains to be seen how effective they will be in the pros.
With hitters, the only way to improve is to dump the guys who don’t get on base and bring in guys who can. With pitching, the same holds true: lose the Steve Trachsels of the world and find pitchers who will keep the dishes empty.