Laurila: The best stat to evaluate pitchers, from the players’ point of view

From SABR member David Laurila at FanGraphs on August 19, 2013:

I recently posed a question to 10 players. It was a question that doesn’t have an easy answer. Given the subjectivity involved, it doesn’t even have a right answer.

What is the best stat to evaluate pitchers?

Their responses are listed below in alphabetical order. 


Brian Bannister, former Kansas City Royals righthander: “The most useful stat when you’re out there on the mound is your zone-contact percentage. I think it’s a huge contributor to your long-term success. The better the pitches are, and the more swings-and-misses in the zone, is what differentiates a pitcher with an ERA in the threes and a pitcher with an ERA over 4.00.

“It’s valuable to be able to throw pitches in the zone, to get swings and misses and a potential strikeout, without feeling you have to pitch around the zone. I think you’ll see a huge relationship between the elite pitchers in the league and their zone-contact percentage. Whether it’s Clayton Kershaw, Johan Santana, Matt Harvey, or R.A. Dickey, statistically they will outperform pitchers who really struggle in that category. Pitchers who can’t get swings and misses in the zone tend to rely more on luck, or tend to go through periods where they under-perform the league because of variance in balls in play.”

Craig Breslow, Boston Red Sox lefthander; “Good question. I feel that all the things that come to my head, I could find fault with. I would dismiss conventional stats, like wins and losses. But if I started to think about WHIP, hits become subjective to a certain degree. There’s a difference between base runners and the severity of base runners, or not normalizing for defensive factors like range. Of course, you can obviously look at fielding-independent stuff.

“I think I might go with strikeouts-per-nine-innings. Probably the most significant metric of dominance… if you consistently strike out guys at a pretty high rate, you’re usually going to be successful. Or maybe strikeouts-to-walks, because you don’t want a ton base runners. Strikeouts might be a really good predictor of future success. They obviously don’t allow for as much volatility as batting average on balls in play.”

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Originally published: August 19, 2013. Last Updated: August 19, 2013.