After watching Matt Palmer struggle once again to throw strikes in last nights game, I got to wondering, why do Giants pitchers always seem to walk so many batters? Poor Palmer walked 6 hitters in 4.1 innings pitched — he walked a total of 13 hitters in 3 major league starts. The “real Matt Palmer” that Mike Krukow told us was going eventually show up, never did, and as a result the “actual Matt Palmer” is now riding a bus back to Fresno.
Such is the life of a 29-year-old minor league baseball player. You get a few brief chances and if you don’t take advantage of them, you descend back into the darkness of long bus rides, empty stadiums, and rainouts. I was hoping that Palmer would stick around to absorb some innings but it looks like it wasn’t going to happen. Jonathan Sanchez is coming off the D.L. and starting on Monday.
It’s seemed to me that over the past 4-5 years, Giants pitchers have become increasingly walky. Here’s a quick graph showing the Giants team pitching ranked by how many free passes they’ve issued from 2000-2008. The higher the ranking, means less team walks. The lower the ranking, means higher team walks. Also, remember that this is for the National League only which has a 16 teams. The walk rate is slightly higher in the AL because of the DH and I’m not interested in comparing the Giants across leagues.
This plot is from 2000-2008 or the Righetti Years.
In 2000, Righetti’s first year, the Giants were smack dab in the middle of the National League for walks. In 2001 the team walked more hitters, falling to 4th most walks issued by a team in the NL. In 2002 Giants pitching threw strikes, they ranked 14th in the National League in bases on balls. In 2003 they were middle of the pack at 9th and in 2004 they dipped a little to 7th, still middle of the pack. From 2005-2008 the Giants have been at the top of the NL for walks finishing 3rd, 4th, 2nd, and they are currently 2nd in ’08. We are currently just 7 walks behind Pittsburgh for the 1st spot. The 3rd place team in walks, the Marlins, are over 30 walks behind us. Chances are that the Giants will finish in the top two this year for walks.
You’ll also notice that I included team strikeout rankings. I thought this might help shed some light on the team walk situation. Walking a bunch of hitters might not be as bad if you’re also striking a bunch of hitters out. In 2000 the Giants pitching ranked 8th in the NL for strikeouts. In 2001 they fell to 12th and in 2002 they slipped a little more to 13th. Overall, the 2002 team was poor at striking hitters out but they excelled at not walking hitters and they played good enough defense — the ’02 team was 8th in the majors with a DER of .712, meaning that they turned 71.2% of balls hit into play into outs. From 2004-2006 the Giants were 13th in the NL in strikeouts, below average. They climbed the ladder slightly in 2007, moving to 11th. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez have moved the Giants up 8 spots this year to 3rd overall. The Giants are striking out a lot of hitters this year but they are also walking a lot of hitters.
Why so many walks? That’s a good question. Is it a organizational pitching style that’s taught to Giants pitchers? Or is it that the team tends to acquire pitching that lends itself to the free pass? A combination of both things?
To try and understand if it’s a organizational philosophy, I wanted to look at pitchers that spent time on the Giants during the Righetti years of 2000-2008 and then left to pitch for other teams. My plan is to look at the BB% of that pitcher during his time on the Giants with Righetti and then compare it to his BB% after leaving the Giants.
Here’s my list of pitchers who started at least 32 games for the Giants from 2000-2008 and are not currently pitching for the Giants.
Ouch, you can see my problem already. Of these 9 pitchers: 2 retired once they left the Giants and never pitched for another team (Rueter and Gardner), 1 was injured and barely pitched post-Giants (Schmidt), and 2 barely pitched at all once they left the Giants (Jensen and Morris).
That leaves us with Livan, Tomko, Jerome, and Estes who went on the pitch with other teams after the Giants and their time with Righetti. All four of them accumulated an additional 2,436 innings pitched after leaving the Giants, the majority of which is from Livan Hernandez who has always been a workhorse. Livan pitched 1,307 innings after the Giants as compared to Estes’ 669 innings, Tomko’s 311.2 innings and Williams’ 148.1 innings.
If we lower our threshold from 32 starts to just 200 innings pitched — this means we’re including relievers, something I’d rather not do — our list looks like this.
Note: I’m excluding the starters were already listed above.
This group poses some of the same problems that we had with our starters, mostly that of these four players, 1 was injured and never pitched again (Nen), and Rodriguez, Worrell, and Brower just didn’t pitch much once they left the Giants. Their post-Giants innings pitched totals 254 innings. Worrell pitched another 127 innings after he left the Giants, and Felix and Brower bounced around accumulating 73.2 and 53.1 innings respectively.
Let’s examine the starters BB% during and after the Giants.
Note: I’m using the starters of Hernandez, Tomko, and Estes because of the reasons stated above. I decided to toss out Jerome Williams because he only had 600 PA’s as a pitcher after he left the Giants and that equals to less than 150 innings pitched. That’s just too small for me.
Starters With Giants
Starters After Giants
As a group, we saw our 3 pitchers lower their BB% once the left the Giants by .60 percentage points. Hernandez and Tomko have always been strike-throwers, but they both improved slightly after they left the Giants. Estes’ BB% of 12.1 reminds me a lot of Zito right now and there isn’t many places to go other than down with walk-rate that high, he subtracted 1 percent from his BB% after he left the Giants.
I’ve decided not to examine the relievers before and after even though I listed them above. Their samples are just too small and by nature relievers bounce around a lot between seasons, so I’m not sure how useful it would be to look at them. If anyone can convince me otherwise, I might post the numbers.
Could their be truth to the oft-cited phrase that: “The Giants teach pitchers to nibble” ? Potentially, yes. Our brief examination of the surface has shown 3 pitchers that all saw their walk-rates improve once they left the Giants. But, I’d like to point out some problems with this study.
1. Sample Size – It’s still a extremely small sample of just three pitchers who’ve pitched under Righetti and then gone on to pitch else where. I can’t put much faith into just three pitchers.
2. Changes in the pitcher – My numbers haven’t taken into account what happens as pitchers age. They can lose velocity. They can get injured — such is the case with Estes. Many different things can happen and all of these changes can affect their walk-rate.
This is just a cursory look at the topic that will need to be revisited, cleaned up, and re-examined. But Giants pitching has tended to issue a lot of walks over the past four years. Whether or not that’s a cause of coaching or the type of talent that the Giants as an organization value is still to be determined. Like most things, I think it could be a combination of both. The Giants have historically been a pitching-centered franchise, choosing to deal in arms rather than hitters. We’ve developed more impact pitchers than positions players. So, I would assume that the Giants have created guidelines of how they want pitchers to throw, perform, workout, etc.
This is one of those things that I started with a hope that at the end, I’d know more than when I started. I need to think of how to revise this and make it more appropriate and valid. But, as unsatisfying as it is, all I can say is that, right now, I can’t be certain why Giants pitching has walked so many hitters over the last four years.
To quote Socrates:
As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.
Comment Starter: Why do you think the Giants walk so many hitters? What can I add to my study? What would make it better?