On Monday, Baseball Prospectus began what they are calling pitching week, and over the next five days they will be releasing new metrics and discussing new ways to look at pitching. To kick things off, they introduced a couple of new statistics aimed at measuring a pitcher’s control and command. You can get a detailed primer by following that link, but the short version is as follows.
The numbers use the same framework from which the BP stats team based its catchers framing metrics, the most used version of those numbers on the public sphere. Called Strike Probability — or CSBPROB — is their control measurement. It is, as the name suggests, the probability any given pitch will be called a strike. Called Strikes Above Average — or CSAA — is the command measurement. It’s much more complex than CSPROB, but it essentially strips away contextual factors and finds how many called strikes a pitcher can create for himself. Again, I would suggest reading their explanations and context, because they are obviously more knowledgeable than I am.
For now, though, let’s take a look at how some of the most important Red Sox pitchers fare by these metrics. In the table below, you can see the numbers for the top six Boston starters as well as their top two relievers. It also contains their rank, which is among the 328 pitchers who amassed at least 50 innings in 2016.
So, there are definitely a few things that stand out here. We’ll start with the CSPROB section, which is favorable for the Red Sox. The thing that immediately stands out is how well the rotation ranks in this regard. I think everyone knew that, individually, Sale, Price and Porcello were all outstanding at limiting walks. Put together, though, it’s kind of a jarringly great 1-2-3 punch. When you add in Steven Wright — whose ranking is pretty ridiculous for a knuckleballer — Boston has four pitchers in the top 23 percent of the league in terms of control.
On the other end of things, it’s not much of a surprise that Kimbrel ranks so poorly. It’s obvious that control was an issue for him last year, and his horrible ranking here reflects that. While he’s never really been a model of pounding the strike zone, this kind of poor showing does not match up with the rest of his career.
Moving on to CSAA, things are a little more surprising. Command is a less straightforward idea than control, so it makes sense that the numbers are harder to predict. With that being said, it’s hard to reconcile with Price showing so well here. The lefty’s peripherals were great last year, but the narrative (one that I agree with, for whatever that’s worth) was that his command was off. He was hit hard all the time because he left too many balls over the plate. Strangely, he was in the top five percent of the league in this new command metric. I don’t understand either. The rest of the table makes some sense, at least.
The most important takeaway from this section, though, is that stuff will always overrule the command. As they pointed out in their introductory post, the leaders in CSAA were mainly guys who struggle to hit 90 mph and need to locate well to survive. If you look to the bottom of the list, names like Aroldis Chapman and Max Scherzer appear. Even Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher since Pedro Martinez, was merely middle-of-the-pack in 2016.
Speaking of Pedro, the last thing I do whenever BP comes out with these stats is look back at some players from my childhood. When they unveiled their catching metrics, I immediately wanted to see how Jason Varitek fared. When they released DRA (which is the best pitching metric out there, in this guy’s opinion), I wanted to see what it thought of Pedro. Once again, I wanted to see how he ranked here as well. Sure enough, he was second in the league in CSAA in his amazing 1999 season and third in 2000. The Price stuff may have confused me, but the numbers giving the greatest pitcher of all time his due has me feeling very confident in their validity.