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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Interesting Commentary On Texas' Scott Feldman

Appearing in the D Magazine's Inside Corner blog. Author Bob Sturm starts with a Bill James essay appearing in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract in which James writes
"If a pitcher’s strikeout rate is less than 4.5 per 9 innings, you can pretty much write him off as somebody who is going to have a real career.”

In fact, he writes, that if you desire a pitcher who has a chance to be one great pitchers of his decade, then you should know that all of those pitchers “were all above the league strikeout average early in their careers. Probably 7 of the 10 greats of any era led their league in striekouts at least once.” - One detail that may interest you is that in 2009, the league strikeout average rate is 6.8 per 9 innings.

Sturm then goes on to observe that Scott Feldman has a ... 4.49 K/9 this year. (B-Ref says 4.3, and no full season more than 4.4.)
Can Scott Feldman be the exception to the rule? My eyes say yes. Bill James says there is no example of this ever lasting for the long haul. I tried to call his bluff. I ran the numbers for every pitcher who has won 100 games in the big leagues since the year 1970. 40 seasons of major league baseball to see if I could find a few. 214 pitchers have won 100 games since 1970. Of those, 27 had a career K rate lower than 4.5 per 9.

Of those, only 1 pitcher has pitched in the last decade. Kirk Rueter. Kirk won 130 games with the Expos and Giants with a career K rate of 3.8 per 9. And there is your entire list.

Kirk Rueter was the first name to come to my mind, too. The top ten in major league history as measured by descending K/9 with more than 100 wins are
+-------------------+------+---------+------+
| Name              | K/9  | IP      | W    |
+-------------------+------+---------+------+
| Bill Gullickson   | 4.50 | 2,560.0 |  162 | 
| Eddie Plank       | 4.50 | 4,495.7 |  326 | 
| Jim Scott         | 4.50 | 1,892.0 |  107 | 
| Charlie Buffinton | 4.49 | 3,404.0 |  233 | 
| Preacher Roe      | 4.49 | 1,914.3 |  127 | 
| Kirby Higbe       | 4.48 | 1,952.3 |  118 | 
| Bob Groom         | 4.46 | 2,336.3 |  119 | 
| Mort Cooper       | 4.46 | 1,840.7 |  128 | 
| Whit Wyatt        | 4.46 | 1,761.0 |  106 | 
| Bob Shaw          | 4.45 | 1,778.0 |  108 | 
+-------------------+------+---------+------+
10 rows in set (0.01 sec)
(Note that some of the names on the list above appear to be 4.50 due to rounding.) In general, it's not an especially compelling list, 262 in all. If you filter for players who had above-average K/9 rates early in their career, the list would be even shorter. But the odds do not look good for a repeat performance from Scott Feldman.

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