Yesterday, Baseball Prospectus unveiled their first article in a series focusing on new pitching data. This particular column centered on pitching control and command, or more specifically, Called Strike Probability (CS Prob) and Called Strikes Above Average (CSAA). CS Prob is defined as the likelihood of a particular pitch being called a strike regardless of the outcome, while CSAA is how many called strikes a pitcher creates for his team, i.e., when a pitcher takes advantage of the part of the plate that isn’t always called for a strike. An important distinction is that CSAA, unlike CS Prob, only calculates pitches that are taken by the batter. It’s a very interesting read and isn’t behind the paywall so I’d encourage everyone to take a look if this subject matter captures your interest.
Toward the end of the column was this distinction between command and control:
Command thus differs from control because pounding the zone doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re hitting your spots. A guy like Clayton Kershaw can get away with having a high CS Prob (99th percentile) and an all right CSAA (69th percentile) because his raw stuff is so impressive. For someone like [Bartolo] Colon, however, elite command (top six percent in CSAA) is critical to his success. Luis Perdomo combines throwing a lot of strikes with poor command (59th percentile CSAA) to disastrous results—nearly 1.5 home runs per nine innings.
As such, command is something that you don’t need, provided you are blessed with dynamic stuff. For most pitchers, though, they need to work the edges of the zone effectively, gathering up extra strikes as much as possible in order to be successful.
Reading this made me think of Lance Lynn, or at least the first part did. He obviously doesn’t have Kershaw’s stuff, or even a balanced repertoire of Carlos Martinez or Alex Reyes. Instead, he throws almost exclusively fastballs and has still been effective. And not fastballs of the Reyes triple-digit variety either but rather the kind that come in at the low-90s and induce plenty of swings and misses.
In 2015, Lynn relied on these fastballs approximately 85% of the time and was still a 3-win pitcher. No other pitcher was that valuable while throwing strictly fastballs even 70% of the time – although to be fair, the only other two qualified pitchers who eclipsed the 70% mark in 2015 were Bartolo Colon (83.8%) and Mike Pelfrey (73.2%).
When Lynn struggled toward the end of the 2015 season, the blame was often put on his command (to say nothing of the fact that he was injured). Curious, I wanted to see if a preliminary look at this new data from BP would show that those concerns were overblown and that Lynn was actually one of the more effective pitchers where CS Prob and CSAA (or control and command) were concerned.
Turns out nope, not really. In 2015, for pitchers who logged at least 100 innings, Lynn was in the 15th percentile in CS Prob and the 58th percentile in CSAA. So he avoided Perdomo’s problem from above by not throwing too many meatballs over the plate – and had the 13th best home run per nine innings in baseball (0.67) to show for it – but unlike Colon he hardly excelled at command and wasn’t overly working that fringe area of the plate to buy extra strikes.
Even so, Lynn still had a higher than league average strikeout rate (22.9%) for pitchers in 2015, while missing bats at a rate slightly below league average. This is why Lynn is so interesting: When healthy he’s proven to be a much better than average pitcher and it’s not entirely clear why. Or at least not entirely clear to me. I’m not a pitching guru, maybe Joe Schwarz can give me a nudge in the right direction here, or perhaps the answer lies in BP’s column today on “pitching tunnels,” either way having Lynn and his fastballs back in 2017 should be a noticeable improvement to the pitching staff.