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Brushing Up On Brian Bannister

When you look at his fangraphs card (and I suggest everyone do so), you see nothing really there to like other than the low walk rate and the decent HR/9.  But he gets a below average number of ground balls, strikes out very few batters (though he's not exactly Jeremy Sowers...ugh) and doesn't do anything really quirky, like, say get a ton of infield flies like Verlander did before his K rate popped up.  This really is a perfect application, one hopes, of pitch f/x.  We're still in the rudimentary stages, but we can start to piece together what "pitchability" (a somewhat loathesome term, but it'll work here) is exactly.  It's command versus control.  As Goldstein noted in his Monday chat, command is throwing good strikes.  Control is just throwing strikes and not walking people.  The difference in batted ball outcome, as I believe Gavin Floyd can attest, is huge.

For starters, he doesn't waste his fastball.  He throws strikes to both LHB and RHB with it at an above average clip.  You can see how he picks at the zone, as he's basically cut it diagonally in half from high and away to low and in.  The pitches that have been hit hard fall at about the midway of that hypotenuse and are clearly mistakes.  This is the difference between "nibbling," a term I use somewhat derisively, and, imo, having command.  Bannister isn't afraid to get into the strike zone with the fastball and I think that's a big win right there. 

On the other hand, he's still got to get outs once he's up right?  Too many fastballs in any at bat and the odds of his success are going down, or so my theory goes.  So offspeed stuff doesn't get swing and misses, it gets outs.  Or at least particular pitches do.  Note the across the board terrible whiff rates.  Basically no one misses anything.  He has to induce poor contact to get outs.  To start, forget the BABIP.  The sample is too small for that to have normalized (right, rearden?) in this dataset.  What's important, as I've emphasized before, is the ISO.  Against righties, unsurprisingly, he gets crushed when his fastball is put in play.  It isn't plus stuff.  He gets away with it by getting above average called strikes than anything.  But with both breaking pitches, the ISO is below .150 for RHB.  That means groundballs and other weak contact.  Line drives fall for base hits about 75% of the time in MLB and the ISO is above .200.  Flyballs are something like .240 with an ISO of .500 or so (this is from recall from that Dan Fox table I post semi regularly).  To stop the damage, he stops the ISO.  And he lays off the walks.  It's a good formula, but one that's predicated on carefully commanded pitches and it's very clear how difficult this is for most.  If I had to pull out a comparable, I would say Greg Maddux a few years back when he could still get into the high eighties, but without as diverse an arsenal.

So how to attack him?  It's all about waiting for mistakes.  That plays into his game to some degree (get ahead, put batter away), but the idea is to see as many pitches as possible in order to force mistakes.  The fewer pitches thrown, the fewer chances for mistakes.  Capitalizing --as Q, for one, did not do last night-- is key.  Miss one with a guy on base and the chance for the crooked number is gone.  On the other hand, if his control appears to be off, he's doomed and the approach isn't altogether that important.  And I guess that's the primary lesson of facing this guy and other pitchers with good command.  When they're on their game, it isn't so much about the hitter, as there's only so much he can do with limited opportunity.  Despite DIPS theory, the fact as far as I see is that pitchers have the ability (if perhaps few are able to capitalize) to control the game.