Hi there folks, I'm new to the site, obviously, and even more so apparent is this being my initial post. To quickly introduce myself I'm R.J. Anderson; I've written for the SBN Tampa Bay Rays blog, DRaysBay, for the past year plus and we've had great success; from interviewing the owner to a top executive who used to work for Baseball Prospectus Chaim Bloom, to even talking with top draft pick David Price. I also penned the Deadspin Rays' preview and currently working on two Rays-based books; LaMaritis, about the Chuck LaMar years, and the 2008 D-Rays Bay Minor League Guide, both due sometime around the beginning of the next season. I'm looking to expand my horizons and Beyond the Boxscore offers exactly that, so if everything goes right I'll be posting here every Friday, if you have any questions, comments, hate mail, ect. you can contact me here
As a Rays fan I've seen a lot of Scott Kazmir and James Shields, both recorded over 200 innings pitched this season and Kazmir leads the American League in strikeouts, Shields meanwhile was shut down early and fell 16 shy of a 200/200 year. Impressive numbers for sure, but just through observing the two pitchers work both have a different style other than just pitches, velocity, throwing arms, and approach, but rather the result against batters for non-out pitches. You see it seems Kazmir had a ton of foul balls hit extending at-bats and costing him an extra inning, this wasn't a rare occurrence either, but rather every start Kazmir would get trapped into 25 pitch inning and it would ruin his chances of going deep.
Naturally I began wondering what the difference in foul ball percentages were between the two, and possibly could high foul ball rates have a direct relationship with strikeout totals, or was this simply a isolated incident? To answer the first part of my question Shields' foul ball percentage was 26, Kazmir's at 32, keep in mind Kazmir struck out 239 this year, 55 more than Shields in nine less innings.
The thought process behind more foul balls being relevant to the strikeout number is simply the better the pitcher's stuff the more likely a batter is to foul it off rather than make good contact with it, or in theory at least. Of course a number of other roles play into the judgment of stuff and variables that exist when talking foul balls, but for this exercise I'm going with the approach that Kazmir had more fouls due to the imminent danger of a strikeout more so than Shields.
The second answer only comes through some extensive numbers punching and crunching, something I did using the most often used program outside of Word on my computer, that being God's gift to stat crunchers; Excel. Rather than punch in every single pitcher in the majors I decided to use strikeout rankings, namely the top 40 strikeout pitchers and the lowest 40 with at least 140 innings pitched, here are the results for the top 10 of each:
I'm not sure it comes as a surprise to anyone that Steve Trachsel is the worst pitcher when it comes to striking people out, maybe Jim Hendry, and although Trachsel is know for his strikeout inability he has a similar foul ball rate. I suppose one can chalk this up to his stuff being hittable but countered with his slow working pace which deceives hitters or he's just plain lucky. None of the other low end top 10 reached above 28 percent meanwhile six other K artists did, perhaps a slight differential might exist, say 30% would be the plateau between "likely strikeout master" and "likely finesse pitcher", for that I present the other 30 on each side as well as the total average for the entire 40:
Interestingly enough although the strikeout pitchers nearly double the amount of outs through strike threes both sides even out in terms of foul ball percentage, leading to the melodramatic conclusion that no, there really isn't a correlation between the two statistics. It did surprise me how many free agents from the upcoming class are on this list, and on the "wrong" side; Kyle Lohse, Curt Schilling, Carlos Silva, Livan Hernandez, and possibly Paul Byrd, admittedly most of them are outside of the top 10. So at least this post wasn't entirely wasteful, and we now know that a strike is a strike no matter how you get it.
Next week I promise the post won't have anything to do with the Rays, although I will present a proposition suggested by one of my readers a while back.