Boston’s Best Tools 2012: Best Stuff

With Clay Buchholz healthy, the Boston Red Sox have three pitchers at the top of their rotation who can absolutely dominate a game. Last season, Josh Beckett was the team’s best pitcher worth 4.3 win above replacement by Fangraph’s system. In 2010, it was Jon Lester leading the way, with 5.7 fWAR. Buchholz was very good in 2010 as well, with 3.7 fWAR and the best ERA+ in the American League. In 2012, the rotation may get an additional boost from setup man Daniel Bard who is transitioning into a starter’s role this spring. If this quartet can remain healthy, the Red Sox are going to be tough to beat in a four game series.

Joining these four pitchers is new closer Andrew Bailey who takes the place of Jonathan Papelbon in the Red Sox bullpen and Mark Melancon, who will jump into Bard’s setup role. As we have seen in this series, all of these pitchers have excellent fastballs and at least one off-speed pitch that can baffle opposing hitters. Pitching is about more just one or two pitches, however. A pitcher needs to have a strong repertoire, good control of those pitches and the ability to effective sequence his pitches to maximize their effectiveness. Putting all of this together separates the top line starters and closers from the back end guys and middle relievers. So which Red Sox pitcher has the best stuff?

Name

IP

SwStr%

SIERA

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

GB%

FBv

wFB/C

Best Off-Speed

wBO/C

Andrew Bailey

174

11.80%

2.91

9.00

2.53

0.57

40.10%

93.9

1.90

Curve

1.44

Daniel Bard

197

11.20%

2.92

9.73

3.47

0.73

48.60%

97.5

0.88

Slider

2.40

Jon Lester

603

10.00%

3.32

9.43

3.31

0.81

50.60%

93.3

0.13

Curve

0.31

Josh Beckett

533

9.10%

3.53

8.27

2.57

1.11

44.40%

93.7

0.13

Curve

0.05

Clay Buchholz

348.1

9.30%

4.26

6.41

3.46

0.83

51.60%

93.6

0.44

Change

0.38

Here we have our typical 3 year data set looking at some fairly advanced metrics. The pitchers above are ranked by Skill Interactive ERA or SIERA. Like FIP and xFIP, SIERA is an ERA estimator, but unlike both FIP and xFIP, SIERA has some adjustments to help take into account the pitcher’s skill set and its effect on balls in play, where the other ERA estimator ignore this area entirely. As with ERA, FIP and almost every other pitching average, the relievers have an advantage in SIERA. Bard and Bailey are number one and two here, separated by .001 in there SIERA. The Red Sox two top starters are third and fourth, with Lester slightly above Josh Beckett by SIERA. Despite his excellent career ERA, SIERA doen’t believe much in Clay Buhholz, rating him near .75 runs worse than Beckett in it’s eyes.

It is telling to see just how well SIERA lines up with swinging strike rate. Buchholz has a slight advantage over Beckett in the at regard, but otherwise the whiff rates line up perfectly with SIERA. Two other stats that follows SIERA closely are the weighted fastball value per 100 pitches (FBv/C) and HR/9 once again Clay Buchholz is the lone exception.With a higher average value on his heater than any other starter and a HR/9 rate better than Beckett, Buchholz seems to be a better pitcher than SIERA believes.

Part of that might be his ground ball rate; Buchholz just beats out Jon Lester on ground ball percentage. Buchholz has often been regarded as lucky with respect to his ERA which is miles better than his FIP, SIERA and xFIP. It could be luck, of course, but it is also possible that Buchholz is one of the rare pitcher that truly does induce weak ground ball contact. Considering that his change up was our Best Off-Speed Pitch, Buchholz seems to be a better pitcher than the sum of his pitches.

Even so, doesn’t appear to have the best stuff on this talented staff. SIERA seems to love Andrew Bailey, who has the best K/BB rate and his excellent fastball results. That should be good news for all those concerned about the loss of Jonathan Papelbon, but the most traditional shown above works against Bailey, as he has the fewest innings pitched. He is an excellent reliever, but his stuff (and his arm) can’t handle the workload of a starter.

Daniel Bard, on other hand, will be moving into the rotation this season and we will get to see if his excellent stuff can hold up to the rigors of working through a line up multiple times. In Fangraph’s description of SIERA they note that the general difference between starter and reliever SIERA is 0.37 in favor of relievers. Using this simple adjustment, Bard’s SIERA would just edge out Jon Lester’s at 3.27. Does having two Jon Lester’s appeal to you? Bard makes an excellent case for best stuff and not just with his SIERA .

Bard throws the hardest with his crazy 97.5 mph fastball. He has the most valuable pitch by linear weights in his devastating slider. And while his ground ball percentage ranks third, behind Buchholz and Lester, 48.6% is still a whole lot of ground balls. As Bard transitions into his new role, he will need to develop a true third pitch and his change up certainly has promise.

When you consider the full repertoire, Jon Lester begins to emerge as the clear favorite. Among starters, he has the highest swinging strike rate and the second highest ground ball rate. Where Andrew Bailey falls short on innings pitched, Jon Lester has the highest total over the past three years. His fastball velocity is a tick behind both Beckett and Buchholz, but Lester is also a left hander, keeping up with two of the league’s hardest throwing righties is not to shabby. His curve doesn’t have the value you might expect it to, but he also throws a change up, primarily to righties, that is excellent, just missing the cut in our best off-speed category by falling under 10% usage. This gives Lester three pitches that all have a positive weighted value. If that isn’t best stuff, I am not sure what is.

On this topic, the OTM writers had a wide range of perspectives. The idea of Best Stuff is relatively vague. I have tried to balance results and repertoire in my analysis, but I leave the meaning up to everyone’s own inner scout. Marc Normandin and Brendan O’Toole both picked Clay Buchholz on the strength of his three pitch repertoire, which is, in fact, quite awesome. Lone1c went with Josh Beckett, citing his killer curve and the many ways he can use it in the destruction of a hitter’s psyche. Matthew Kory went with my pick, Jon Lester, feeling no elaboration would be needed. Five writers and three picks for Best Stuff equals good news for Sox fans. And that is without giving Andrew Bailey or Daniel Bard their due for having the best results these past few seasons.

However you interpret the idea of Best Stuff, you are going to like these five names. So, as always, I turn the debate over to you.

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