Searching for the Modern Screwball
Over at Fangraphs, Owen Watson has written up a nice story on the near death and the possible accidental rebirth of the screwball in the changeups being thrown today.
We got the news last week that Mark Buehrle will likely start the season sitting at home waiting for an opportunity to arise so the praise of the statistical oddity he is started off at Fangraphs.
Darren Wilman, the guy behind BaseballSavant.com and now the Director of Baseball Research and Development for MLB.com, has given us another look at the kinds of things that can come out of Statcast. The newest thing to appear is launch angles.
In a different tweet, he gave a look at what this can tell you about pitchers.
Comparison of launch angles for two different types of pitchers. Brett Anderson ground balls, Hector Santiago FB pic.twitter.com/0ncJ6cTYUE— Daren Willman (@darenw) February 4, 2016
Looking at this, it becomes a little clearer why Hector Santiago had a HR/9 of 1.44 which was the sixth worst among qualifying starting pitchers. By the way, Ian Kennedy was first last season at 1.66 HR/9, so the Sox have something to look for when the Royals come to visit next season.
What's this have to do with Hector Santiago?
A lot like Mark Buehrle, Hector Santiago is another statistical oddity. He gives up homers at an heavy pace and while his walks have decreased, he's still heavy discounted as a pitcher by FIP and fWAR.
He does have one thing going for him. He's not incompetent as a fielder. His 10 defensive runs saved over the past three seasons ranks one behind Mark Buehrle over the same time. Pitchers with ERAs much lower than their FIP are thought of as having a lot of luck or maybe a good defense behind him. In Buehrle's case, he's been a big help to his ERA over the years and it's quite likely that the same has been helping Hector Santiago as well.
There is a bit of a lesson in this. While a lot of sabermetric focus for pitchers has been on improving the components of FIP, working with pitcher to do a better job at fielding their position can almost help a pitcher out even more. FIP is based solely on a pitchers three true outcomes, and the same goes for fWAR. But for guys that are above average fielders like Buehrle and Santiago, FIP and fWAR is an incomplete story that ignores the fielding and base running kills they provide to the team. Last year, Buddy Bell said that Chris Beck had become obsessed with his stats, specifically his low strikeout numbers. Hopefully, rather than just saying "Don't worry about it," the White Sox took the time to talk to him about pitchers like Mark Buehrle and Hector Santiago and how doing the right thing as a fielder can be almost more important than getting an extra strikeout here and there.