By: Jared Ellis
Follow on Twitter @jarlyjarhead
During the 2014 season I will discuss and analyze sabermetric stats that may have previously eluded us and certainly eluded me. The statistics covered will be the most recent to stabilize.
In last week’s post we discussed strikeout rates for the Seattle Mariners hitters. We pick up this week on our Mariners sabermetric tour by taking a look at strikeout rate for pitchers, the most recent stat to stabilize on this still young 2014 season.
Spring Training opened this year with so much promise, not only because of the obvious awesome that is Robinson Cano and mainstay Felix Hernandez but because finally help was on the way. The incoming help was of the pitching variety and that of longtime prospects Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. Two pitchers that have topped prospect ranks for years were finally set to begin their first full season in the big leagues; so if I were to ask a Mariner fan in March who the first pitchers to surpass 70 batters faced were there would probably be a consistent smattering of guesses. Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma would be popular answers as well as Walker and Paxton.
Well those poor, poor Mariner fans would be oh so wrong. Walker is still yet to make an appearance in 2014 after dealing with shoulder issues since March. Paxton pitched 12 stellar innings before straining his oblique and has been out since the middle of April and Iwakuma just yesterday made only his second appearance of the season. In fact, only Felix of those perceived four starting pitchers have surpassed 70 batters faced thus far. He’s blown it away actually, in typical Felix fashion with 219 to this point of the season, not that it’s a competition or anything.
Here are the Mariners starting pitchers that have qualified and their corresponding strikeout rates:
This tells us some pretty obvious things, first is that Felix is so damn good at pitching baseballs. Fangraphs, while listing averages for this stat also lists what constitutes as being excellent. Spoiler alert Felix is excellent, striking out nearly a quarter of the batters that he faces.
Chris Young doesn’t surprise us either as he is known to be an extreme fly ball pitcher that pitches exclusively to contact. Young doesn’t have overwhelming stuff with a fastball that averages only 85MPH and is thrown 80 percent of the time. If Young strikes someone out, it’s by accident.
Erasmo Ramirez is boringly average, both in strikeouts per nine and his strikeout percentage. Blah.
But what I find to be most interesting is Roenis Elias, a guy that surprised all of us. Elias broke camp with the team straight from AA and only did so because of the injuries to both Walker and Iwakuma. It helped that he has a heavy curve and a fastball that averages near 92, but with no other alternatives he became the fourth starter and has been effective from the beginning. He’s worth writing an entire post about that is surely coming soon, and he is not only an interesting baseball player but an interesting human.
But his strikeout rates are stellar, so stellar in fact that I started looking early Felix. Here’s a look at Elias up to this point in the season compared with Felix’s first full season in 2006.
Isn’t that neat, a parallel between one of the top five pitchers in baseball and an unheralded rookie. Now in no way am I saying that Felix and Elias are one in the same, Felix in 2006 was 20 whereas Elias is 25 and will turn 26 this summer. In addition, Elias’ walk rates are far higher than Felix’s were in 2006. What could be the case though is a natural progression, even at 25, to become an elite strikeout pitcher and he isn’t far off already. I think most of his strikeout can be explained in two ways.
The first, while his walk rate is absolutely dreadful at around 11%, is that his first pitch strikes are actually above average. That coupled with a contact percentage that is better than average and we have a guy that is getting ahead of hitters and generating swings and misses.
If Elias can continue these trends while bringing his walk rate to even league average, I think we have a special player with the capability of striking out a lot of hitters. So much promise in such an unexpected place, now only if Walker and Paxton would hurry back.
Next week we’ll cover walk rates for the Mariners hitters, a stat that stabilizes at 140 plate appearances.