Stats tell everything and nothing at the same time. Stats can be misleading. But a coach who monitors the right youth pitching stats with the right context has an advantage over those who don’t.
We’ve all been there. It’s the championship game or some other important match-up. “Why is Jimmy pitching??” they ask. Sometimes, it’s an honest question from a misinformed parent. But if the coach knows what he’s doing, the decision is supported more by statistics than gut instinct.
As always, you can use pitching stats to tell whatever narrative you want. Just choose the right ones. But if you consistently use the highest quality stats that do the best job of isolating performance for a single player, you’re more likely to put players in position to succeed.
Today’s post is an overview of the many pitching stats that I use when evaluating player performance and the methods that I use to track them.
Pick a Scorekeeper Wisely
Quality statistics allow you as a coach to reward players who succeed. They help you place players in a position to succeed and differentiate between meaningful results and a string of good or bad luck. Of course, this relies infinitely on the quality, consistency, and objectivity of the logged events.
Subjective scorekeepers may want to make their son look good and another player at a competing position look bad. It’s very easy to fudge results to do just that. Subjective scorekeepers are of no use to a coach.
Inexperienced scorekeepers may not know how to score a fielders’ choice or a sacrifice fly. If you record errors, the results can be disastrous. An inexperienced scorekeeper who isn’t willing and able to learn is of no use to a coach.
Many of the pitching stats that I believe matter most require objectivity, diligence, and a deep knowledge of the game to be useful. Understand that some of these stats can only be kept if you have a dependable scorekeeper who attends every game and logs the smallest of details consistently and objectively.
Great scorekeeping goes beyond knowing when to register a hit, walk, error, or run. It requires accurately logging balls and strikes, who is playing each position at the right time, and both the type (line drive, fly ball, pop-up, ground ball) and quality (hard hit, medium hit, soft hit) of balls put in play.
This position isn’t for everyone. You may not even have the ideal scorekeeper. If that’s the case, see the value and dependability of your pitching stats through that lens.
Sample Size Matters
The difficulty about acting on stats is first getting a sample size that means something. It can take several games or tournaments to achieve that.
The results players produce are reliant on many factors. What was the quality of the opponent? Did the umpire significantly impact strike zone (for good or bad)? Was the defense missing a key player?
Over the course of the season, these things tend to even out. But it’s the job of the coach to act appropriately on results, even when the largest of sample sizes aren’t available.
Early on, use your instincts and understanding of context to act on results. But certainly be aware as a player is making progress over the course of a season and needs to be rewarded.
Tools to Use
GameChanger is much, much easier to use — both for the scorekeeper and for those wanting to follow a game. I use GameChanger so that parents, families, and friends who don’t attend can follow the game.
Of course, iScore may be a technical disaster, but it’s far more valuable for me as a coach. With it, I can record every distinct detail of a game that leads to deeper metrics and results. And of course, iScore provides access to stats that GameChanger does not.
I have a bench coach score using iScore. This is where I get many of the deep pitching stats that you’ll see listed below. I mostly don’t look at the GameChanger stats, but it can be valuable to have both when needing to verify results.
High Priority Pitching Stats
There are many pitching stats that I look at when evaluating performance — some more than others. The iScore app records many of these stats exactly as listed. Some others need a little manual manipulation (taking totals and creating percentages, for example) to access them.
Here’s a sampling of those valuable pitching stats…
Strike Percentage: It’s very difficult to be consistently successful throwing at or around 50% strikes. While the count (three strikes vs. three balls) favors a pitcher who can throw at least half strikes, such a pitcher won’t last long in a game due to the number of pitches that will need to be thrown.
This is especially true for pitchers who miss bats. If a pitcher is difficult to hit and doesn’t throw a high percentage of strikes, he will routinely work deep into counts. He’s bound to face many full counts and walks will be inevitable.
That said, the pitcher who throws to contact has some margin for error here. By throwing a little more than half strikes, more of those strikes will be put into play and — hopefully — recorded as outs.
I prefer a strike percentage of at least 60-percent. That said, the type of pitcher is again important here. Throwing 70-percent strikes is great for a pitcher who is difficult to hit. Swings and misses and poor contact are common for this pitcher, so keep the pitches in the zone.
On the flip side, a “hittable” pitcher can throw too many strikes. Throwing a high number of strikes while also getting few swings and misses and a high percentage of hard contact will end in a poor outing. This pitcher needs to work the edges and entice batters to hit pitches just outside of the zone or pitches in the zone that are more difficult to hit.
Walks + Hit Batters + Wild Pitches per Inning: This is the wildness metric. It’s not reported in iScore, though the app gives you all of the stats you need to calculate it.
Control isn’t only measured in balls and strikes. A truly wild pitcher can hurt his team even more with hit batters (resulting in baserunners) and wild pitches (resulting in additional bases and runs).
First Pitch Strike Percentage: Often times, the success of a pitcher can be traced back to the first pitch. Starting with a strike puts the pitcher in control. He can then start working the edges and take more risks with offspeed pitches.
A pitcher who starts the count with a ball becomes more predictable. A fastball is likely coming next, and working the edges is a risky proposition. With each additional ball, the favor in terms of predictability moves more and more to the batter.
Strikeout to Walk Ratio: Pitchers who get a high number of strikeouts almost always get a high number of walks, too. The level of dominance typically leads to more pitches taken, more pitches swung at and missed, and deeper counts.
As a result, the challenge is for pitchers to have the highest disparity between strikeouts (high) and walks (low) as possible.
1-2-3 Inning Percentage: This is a great measure of control, efficiency, and dominance. Getting all three batters requires a combination of all of these things, if not a little luck and help from the defense.
While luck and defense help, a 1-2-3 inning can’t happen if the pitcher is walking or hitting batters. The pitcher who needs the least amount of luck (and can consistently repeat the 1-2-3 inning) is the one who can get the most strikeouts without leaving the rest up to the defense or chance.
16-Pitch Inning or More Percentage: Highly valuable for a coach who needs to be conscious of pitches thrown, even when pitch count isn’t restricted by the tournament or league. Low leverage innings of low pitch counts make a pitcher more likely to last longer into a game.
Partially related to the 1-2-3 inning, but a dominant pitcher who gets a high number of swings and misses is at a disadvantage here. They often work deep into the count, and getting low-pitch innings is difficult for them.
A pitcher who can consistently complete low-pitch innings is either a dominant strike thrower or a crafty pitcher who can work the edges for poor contact and gets help from his defense.
Strikeouts per Inning: The nice thing about strikeout pitchers is that they can be effective regardless of the quality of the defense behind them. That’s what makes such a pitcher so valuable.
That said, the high number of strikeouts recorded can also be related to the inability of the defense to convert outs in other ways. Still, when comparing pitchers’ ability to get strikeouts for the same team, the defense factor should more or less equalize.
Hits per Inning: A high number of hits per inning suggests a pitcher is either unable to get helpful strikeouts or doesn’t have a quality defense behind him. Once again, it’s important to compare pitchers on the same team since defensive factors will vary from team to team.
Batting Average Against: Another way to measure hittability. The results should be similar to Hits per Inning.
(Walks + Hits) Per Innings Pitched (WHIP): Hits Per Inning can be misleading if a pitcher is wild, leading to walks and hit batters. As a result, I prefer this metric over Hits Per Inning.
On Base Percentage Against: Once again, walks and hit batters are entirely within the pitcher’s control, whereas hits allowed is at least somewhat (if not significantly) impacted by the pitcher’s defense. OBPA provides a much clearer representation of overall efficiency and effectiveness.
Soft Hit, Medium Hit, Hard Hit Percentage: The value of the next two stats rests entirely on the ability of your scorekeeper to log them accurately. But when done well, these stats are valuable.
Clearly, soft contact is good for your pitcher. If a pitcher consistently allows hard contact, that’s bad. And if such a pitcher is yielding good results, it’s a sign that such results will not continue.
The problem with these stats, of course, is how you determine soft, medium, and hard hit baseballs. Where is the line drawn? While it will ultimately be imperfect and subjective, consistency is the key.
Ground Ball, Line Drive, Popup Percentage: A low line drive rate, when compared to the rest of your pitchers, would be a sign of a pitcher who is good at inducing poor contact. Ground balls are generally good, though the velocity of these hits does matter. Pop-ups, though, are almost always good.
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP): The purpose of FIP is to focus on what’s within the pitcher’s control (walks, hit batters, strikeouts, home runs) and limit what’s outside of their control (defensive results outside of the norm).
The formula itself will make anyone who isn’t a mathematician glaze over, but here it is…
((13*HR+3*(HBP+BB)-2*K)/IP) + 3.1
I love the concept, but I prefer it more for the professional and higher levels because of how it treats home runs. Basically, the formula says that a home run is within the pitcher’s control because the defense can’t prevent it. It assumes a ball over the fence. But at the youth level, poor defense can also lead to the more common inside-the-park homer (even without errors).
I’m sure there’s a way to create a version of this that separates types of home runs, but I’m not the guy for the job.
Earned Run Average: Generally seen as the be-all-end-all pitching metric for baseball traditionalists, I have ERA last for a reason. I still value it, but I value many other stats more.
Yes, ultimately, we need to prevent the other team from scoring. A pitcher certainly contributes to that, but I see allowing runs as more of a team stat.
Particularly at the youth level, allowing runs is heavily influenced by defense. Even if you have a diligent scorekeeper who accurately and consistently scores errors (not easy to find), this doesn’t account for poor defense that can’t be measured with an error (bad range, in particular).
Again, it’s a metric worth looking at. I just prefer others that are more focused on the effectiveness of the pitcher only.
Any important pitching stats I missed here? How do you monitor pitching performances?
Let me know in the comments below!