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Quantifying Control and Command with the Milwaukee Brewers

Let’s take a look at Milwaukee’s pitching staff with the new Baseball Prospectus statistics.

Milwaukee Brewers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Yesterday over at Baseball Prospectus, the stats team of Jeff Long, Harry Pavlidis, and famed #BrewersTwitter member Jonathan Judge released a new set of pitching statistics. “Called Strike Probability”, or CSProb, defined as “the likelihood of a given pitch being a strike.” CSProb is meant to be a measure of a pitchers’ control (ability to throw strikes), showing how often that pitcher is likely to throw a called strike within a dynamic and varying strike zone dependent on the batter, pitch location, pitch type, and count (rather than a strike zone that would called by a robot umpire) by employing a mixed-model algorithm.

“Called Strikes Above Average”, or CSAA, measures “how many called strikes the player in question creates for his team.” Similar to the catching stat that measures pitch framing, CSAA for pitchers controls for the catcher, umpire, etc. in order to identify the additional called strikes created by the pitcher. CSAA is calculated only on taken pitches, since a pitch needs to be taken in order to be called a strike by the ump. So while CS Prob looks at all pitches, CSAA only takes into account pitches where the outcome is left up to the umpire. CSAA is meant to be a measure of a pitcher’s command of the strike zone - that is, the ability to hit a specific spot within the strike zone. This handy graphic pulled from the BP article should help illustrate the difference between command and control:

Using these new statistics, let’s take a look at how the pitchers currently on Milwaukee’s 40 man roster, as well as non-roster invitees who pitched in the majors last year, performed in 2016:

Brewers CSAA/CSProb

Pitcher Innings Pitched DRA CSAA CSProb Zone SwStr
Pitcher Innings Pitched DRA CSAA CSProb Zone SwStr
Brent Suter 21.7 4.54 0.39% 0.4847 53 8.40%
Jimmy Nelson 179.3 5.71 -2.79% 0.5074 52 7.40%
Ryan Webb 17.3 5.31 0.10% 0.487 51.4 8.90%
Neftali Feliz 53.7 3.76 -1.17% 0.4659 50.2 14.20%
Carlos Torres 82.3 4.22 -1.29% 0.4671 48.9 11.50%
Chase Anderson 151.7 5.66 1.21% 0.4688 48 8.30%
MLB Median 4.42 -0.15% 0.4663 48 10%
Corey Knebel 32.7 3.77 0.75% 0.4805 47.8 7.70%
Jacob Barnes 26.7 3.87 -0.82% 0.4678 47.6 14.80%
Rob Scahill 34.7 4.02 0.02% 0.4647 47.4 9.30%
Tyler Cravy 28.3 6 0.32% 0.455 46.9 11.30%
Matt Garza 101.7 4.29 0.00% 0.475 46.7 7.80%
Tommy Milone 69.3 4.66 0.38% 0.4415 46.1 8.70%
Jhan Marinez 62.3 4.71 -0.17% 0.4522 45.5 8.50%
Junior Guerra 121.7 4.43 -1.55% 0.4549 44.6 10.90%
Michael Blazek 41.3 4.94 0.58% 0.4617 44.4 9.50%
David Goforth 10.7 5.24 -0.80% 0.4412 44.4 10.00%
Zach Davies 163.3 3.58 3.51% 0.4279 43.9 8.40%
Taylor Jungmann 26.7 5.3 0.23% 0.4354 42.6 5.90%
Wily Peralta 127.7 4.47 1.97% 0.4148 41.4 8.50%
Joba Chamberlain 20 4.18 -1.20% 0.422 40.7 11.60%

We’ll start with CSProb. According to the chart, only eight of the twenty arms listed had a better probability than the median MLB pitcher of having their pitch called a strike. Someone like Jimmy Nelson would be considered an elite arm in this category; among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched last year, Nelson’s CSProb ranked third behind only Bartolo Colon and Rich Hill. Interestingly, however, Nelson’s CSProb is a little over 1% lower than his Zone% (number of pitches thrown in the rule book strike zone), meaning that he was sometimes penalized for throwing the ball in the zone by not receiving a strike call. The same would apply to Brent Suter or Chase Anderson, for a couple of other examples.

As Nelson demonstrated last year, however, having good “control” isn’t always an indicator of a successful season. Of the eight Brewer hurlers that posted an above-median CSProb last year, four of them posted worse-than-median Deserved Run Averages. This isn’t just limited to the Milwaukee Nine, either; of the top 20 CSProb pitchers (minimum 10 IP) from 2016, 12 of them posted a worse-than-median DRA.

CSAA, on the other hand, tends to be a much better indicator of success. While it’s true that only four of the 12 Brewers that recorded an above-median CSAA also registered a better-than-median DRA, when we broaden the scope to include the rest of the league we get a different story. Of the top 20 pitchers in CSAA (minimum 10 IP) in 2016, a whopping 16 of them logged better-than-median DRA. Notably, Zach Davies 3.51% CSAA in 2016 was the best in all of baseball. While Davies’ pure stuff isn’t all that impressive, his elite command of the strike zone allowed him to perform at a level far beyond what’s typical for a pitcher who struggles to hit 90 MPH consistently.

On the flip side, Jimmy Nelson and Junior Guerra were two of the worst “command” pitchers in the game last year, per CSAA. For a pitcher like Nelson, who generated only a 7.4% swinging strike rate last season, the result of throwing poorly commanded strikes was a sky-high DRA. Guerra, on the other hand, was able to outperform his poor “command” and post a roughly median DRA by getting batters to swing-and-miss on 10.9% of his pitches. Guerra’s got some decent company in the lower part of the CSAA leaderboard - Aroldis Chapman (-2.12% CSAA, 18.6% SwStr, 2.04 DRA), Max Scherzer (-1.56% CSAA, 15.3% SwStr, 3.01 DRA), and Jake Arrieta (-1.44% CSAA, 10.5% SwStr, 4.02 DRA) are all pitchers who graded out poorly for their “command” last year, but are still considered elite talents in the game today. It would appear that being able to get an above-average amount of swinging strikes helps mitigate some of the issues that stem from poor command of the zone.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs