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rules, and swinging strike rates

late last night, at least a dozen baseball GM's googled "retrofit retractable roof" from their smartphones. the weather last night was horrible across the midwest, and numerous games were postponed.

the win last night should probably be laid at tony la russa's feet, or maybe the loss should be laid at dusty baker's. the turning point seemed to be when the lineups were handed in. tony la russa proved his ability to listen to a weather forecast and realized there was a substantial likelihood that the game would start, stop, and then start again after a rain delay. dusty baker, for whatever reason, did not. 

shortly before game time, la russa swapped out kyle mcclellan for batista. batista, incidentally, was fresh. he did not pitch at all through the washington series, perhaps because he plunked a national during a spring training game. dusty baker left edinson volquez in the starter's slot on his lineup. lineups were turned in, batista pitched to one batter (a walk, natch), and the game was put on rain delay.

now, the timing was considered suspicious for some reds fans, who called shenanigans on tony la russa for gaming the rain delay system. there's an interesting division of labor on that rule. under rule 3.10(a), the home team manager can order that a game shall not be started.  once the game starts, under rule 3.10(c), the umpire-in-chief gets to decide whether play should be halted. however, rule 4.01(d) states that as soon as the lineups are exchanged, the umpire-in-chief has the authority to halt the game. while everybody knew the weather was getting bad, the umpire could have stopped the game. he didn't - at least not till the first batter took his pitches. so, it's a little unfair to blame la russa. more likely, the reds' struggles had more to do with baker's inability to anticipate this turn of events and prepare for it than any gamesmanship from tony.

another interesting abstruse question that arose was the failure of volquez to pitch at all. under rule 3.05(b), a pitcher who is announced for the game must pitch to and retire (or allow to reach base safely) at least one batter.  however, a comment to rule 4.12(c) indicates that in the case of a suspended game - a suspended game means one halted and resumed on another day - the pitcher listed on the lineup or introduced into the game may, but need not, resume the game. now, last night's game was not technically a suspended game, but it may be that the rule comment informed the umpires. or maybe tony la russa just decided he'd rather see the arse-end of the reds bullpen pitch than object to the practice.

the early part of the season is a terrible time to try to do any kind of statistical work, because the sample sizes are terribly small. i do want to try to run down a leading indicator, especially as it relates to our bullpen's effectiveness and the closer role.

one of the better isolated pitching factors for identifying a good pitcher is the swinging strike rate. it presages a lot of strikeouts, naturally. it's not the be-all and end-all, but it's significant.

our team leader, as you might suspect, is eduardo sanchez with a 17.1% swinging strike rate. now, he's pitched only a handful of innings, granted. however, last season at AAA, he pitched a full season at 14.9% swinging strike rate. while you'd expect some decline in that number from AAA to the majors, sanchez's AAA swinging strike numbers are a good sign that he will remain near the top of the club in swinging strike rates. how close are AAA numbers to ML numbers? that brings us to the next fellow on my list.

jason motte comes second with an 11.2% swinging strike rate. motte is interesting because in 2008 he posted a 16.3% swinging strike rate at AAA. his swinging strike rates have been varied, maybe in part because of the endless pitch-tinkering that goes on. in two full seasons with the big club, he's managed an 8.9% swinging strike rate (2009) and an 11.6 (2010). so, you'd look for sanchez to drop from his AAA numbers several percentage points, but he's basically in motte's league. certainly the 17% swinging strike rate won't continue.

jaime is actually next on our list at 10.9%. it's a tribute to him that, as a starter, he's up here with some strong relievers. and this is not a small sample size issue. maybe we should have spotted this sooner - last year, statcorner gives him a 10.5% swinging strikeout rate. in his partial season at AAA recovering from TJ, he had a 12.9% swinging strike rate. his 10.5% (10.0 by fangraphs - not sure why statcorner and fangraphs differ) last year shows a better swinging strike rate than adam wainwright has ever had. his success in getting that swinging strike tends to show that garcia's 2010 was less of a fluke than people have projected. tim lincecum's career swinging strike rate is 11.0%.

mitchell boggs is not far behind, with a 9.4% swinging strike rate, which is still well above average. while boggs has a pretty likeable 10.32 K/9 this season, it's unclear why, after two seasons in the majors with similar swinging strike rates (9.2 & 9.4%) he's only managed to strike out about 7 men per nine innings in those two seasons. his walk rate was brutal in 2009, his season as a starter (5.14 bb/9). he began to get that under control in 2010 (3.61 bb/9), and, in an admittedly small sample size in 2011 has a fine 2.38 walk rate. watch boggs's numbers to see whether early peripheral success translates into improved results. he's always had elements of being a good major league reliever. if he can keep his walk rate down and start striking guys out in line with his swinging strike rate, he should be a serviceable closer.

most of the rest of the staff falls into the creamy middle - roughly around 7-8% swinging strikes. at the bottom, though, are three names that are intriguing.

kyle mcclellan's swinging strike rate dropped precipitously, probably from his changed role. he went from low-normal swinging strikes (7.0 and 7.1 the last two seasons) to 5.8% percent this season. his strikeout rate has dropped substantially too, lingering around 7 k/9 as a reliever, and below 6 right now. all peripheral signs point to him being serviceable as a starter and not much more. in fact, he looks remarkably like . . .

kyle lohse is next to last (5.2%) despite having an outstanding start to his season. but that's pretty much how lohse rolls - he doesn't get a lot of swinging strikes. since joining the cardinals, he's only had one season with a swinging strike rate above 6%. instead, he's getting by on pixie dust. he has a HR/FB rate of 3.7% and he's walking no one. although he generally doesn't walk much (career 2.74 BB/9), he's not going to keep up the 1.15 rate he's got going on now. there's nothing else going on that's interesting - he's getting grounders at a usual 45.9% clip. he's just coasting on some good luck, and let's hope it lasts.

as you might have guessed, ryan franklin trails the whole squad at a shocking 3.5%. not only at the bottom of our team, he's rubbing shoulders with some of the worst in the league -- guys who keep team trainers up at night - phil hughes (2.9%) and brad penny (3.9%). he's at less than half his career average - 7.2%. to me, this is one more piece of evidence weighing in on the side of franklin being seriously NOT RIGHT, not just unlucky. whether it's injury or age, franklin should only see very low leverage innings for a while, until his peripherals show that he's better.