How does a pitcher go about the art of run prevention? There are many factors, but minimizing walks and maximizing strikeouts does usually lead to high level run prevention. The only thing that a pitcher can control is where he pitches the ball, and when he can spot his pitches it will lead to few walks and many strikeouts.
Look at the top 10 leaderboard in K/BB ratio and you’ll see it’s populated by the games elite. With the reigning Cy Young award winner, Rick Porcello, perched atop that list it shows that the best pitchers in the game are in control. So how is it that a man with a career K/BB ratio of 4.5 has an ERA around 4? Thats hard to say, because Michael Pineda passes the eye test. Pineda has the huge build of todays flame-throwing hurlers and he works with the power combo of a mid 90’s fastball and a wipeout slider to rack up elite strikeout and walk numbers, so where are these runs coming from?
Well when you look at 2011 and 2014, his two best statistical seasons, you see that the Batting Average on Balls in Play(BABIP) against Pineda was .258 and .233 respectively, but then he was plagued by .332 and .339 BABIP’s in 2015 and 2016. Many times BABIP is chalked up to simple luck, you do have to “hit em where they aint'” after all, but when a BABIP against a pitcher changes so drastically over 2 different sample sizes there has to be a foundational problem.
Lets take a look at how hitters are hitting the ball. In 2011 they hit line drives about 18.9%, groundballs 36.3%, and fly balls 44.8% of the time. Now look at 2016 where those numbers were 21.6 % line drives, 45.8% ground balls, and 32.6% fly balls. Then when you look deeper you see that Pineda went from giving homeruns on 9% of his fly balls in the cavernous stadium up in Seattle to seeing dingers fly out of Yankee stadium at an impressive 17% clip in 2016. Line drives result in base hits a lofty 75% of the time and ground balls will find holes much more often then fly balls, so when looking at those splits you can deduce that the drastic increase of line drives and ground balls Pineda gives has led to the large swing in BABIP. The decrease in fly balls has obviously not led to a decrease in homeruns, but when a pitcher goes from Safeco to Yankee Stadium that can be expected.
These numbers paint a picture of a pitcher who struggles within the strike zone. That is one of the only explanations for why a pitcher can limit walks and get strikeouts at such a high level, but then give up runs at a mediocre level.
Pineda needs to find ways to limit hard contact if he wants to turn his elite K/BB ratio into elite production. Any pitcher with a career ratio of 4.5 strikeouts to 1 walk has elite stuff and the ability to throw the ball within the strike zone. If he can gain focus and learn to spot his pitches in the zone where they won’t get smashed, then he can finally live up to his lofty potential.
All statistics are from fangraphs.com