If you are an avid reader of Field of Streams here at Full Spectrum, and you really should be, you have probably read just how ridiculously good Bud Norris has been at the Juice Box this year. You may also know that I adore pitchers with high Ks/9. The K/9 is why I have always liked Buddy Boy Norris. His career K/9 of 8.83 is quite tantalizing and that is why I have stuck by him, sort of, waiting for a breakout season. The long and short of it is, I am still waiting. His 3.77 ERA last season made it seem like he was turning the corner a bit, but this season has looked, well, not so hot. He is 5-12, but with the Astros and the light hitting lineup they have been trotting out onto the field for a large portion of the season, I would not hold too much stock in the win-loss record anyways. Let’s look at some other numbers, like his less than impressive 4.93 ERA and his subpar 1.42 WHIP. Not so good Al. The Ks are still flowing like wine, but he has not looked so good overall…..except when he pitches at home.
At home this year, Bud has been virtually lights out! His ERA is 1.90, his WHIP is 1.04, his K/9 is 10.18 and his K/BB ratio is 4.41. And this is not all smoke and mirrors, although he does have a BABIP of .280 and an 85.9 LOB %, his xFIP at home is 2.96. These are some extremely good numbers, but many pitchers are generally better at home, right? Right. But Bud is pitching in Houston, a somewhat notorious hitter’s park and look at how he stacks up against other starters at home. Here are the top five ERAs at home by starting pitchers whom have thrown more than 50 innings at home this season:
David Price (TB)- 1.66
Justin Verlander (DET)- 1.70
Chris Sale (CWS)- 1.72
Kris Medlen (ATL)- 1.75
Bud Norris (HOU)- 1.90
That is some pretty good company for Bud, but these guys generally also pitching fairly decently elsewhere as well. Below is the difference between home and road ERAs for these same pitchers:
5.44! That is an eye-popping difference! No need to do the comparisons for WHIP, but let’s just say there are probably not a ton of starters that have a WHIP that is .68 lower at home than it is on the road. Also, his K/9 is 2.4 higher at home than on the road, and hitters are hitting at a .210 clip, which is .84 points lower than it is on the road. The comparisons can go on and on, I’ve got plenty of statistics available, but I think you get the point. It is not just that he is dominating at home, but the fact that he is pitching so much better at home. So how in the heck is he doing it?
Well, Norris is walking half as many batters at home and somehow his strand rate at home is almost 25% higher. It also helps that at home he is indcuing more ground balls by an eight percent margin. So more walks, less strikeouts and fewer groundballs would tend to lead to more runners and more runs. His HR/FB ratio is twice as high on the road. With less grounders and more flyballs, but a similar line drive rate we can pretty much make the leap that more hard hit balls are getting hit in the air on the road leading to the uptick in the homers. So you can see how the numbers are happening, but it does not explain why. No starter in the majors has such drastically better numbers at home this season, so what is up with Bud?! Is he changing his approach on the road? Well let us look at his pitch breakdown for home and road starts.
On the road Bud seems to be mixing his pitches less and relying more on his fastball. On average he is throwing the heater 58.93% of the time on the road, as opposed to 53.07% at home. In fact, in over two-thirds of his road starts he has used his fastball more than 59% of the time, while doing that in only 10% of his home starts. At home Bud is using his slider about four percent more and his changeup around two percent more. The more steady diet of fastballs he is feeding hitters could certainly be the reason for more flyballs and the much higher HR/ FB rate on the road. Hitters are certainly not chasing as much on the road that is for darned sure. At home, on average, throwing less fastballs and a better mix of pitches, batters are chasing balls out of the zone about 34% of the time as opposed to about 28% on the road. That is a somewhat significant difference. It would make it seem that he is not mixing his pitches as much on the road and thus fooling batters less, right? While I do not have a home-road breakdown of his pitch movement, considering that when batters are chasing these pitches they are making contact 10% more on the road it would appear that either he is not mixing his pitches as well or he is not getting as much movement or perhaps a combination of both. Whatever you may think, Norris is clearly not fooling hitters as much on the road and the pitch selection and movement could be the biggest difference. So what does this mean for Bud Norris in the future?
Well, his home-road splits have not been this drastic in previous seasons, so there is a chance this is a big anomaly or fluke this season. In all likelihood Norris will still be better at home next season, but I would guess you would not see this large of a difference in the numbers. Look for a bit of regression in the home numbers next season as well as the road numbers improving a bit. However, if the start of next season resembles this year’s ridiculous splits, then the Astros may want to possibly hire a hypnotist to trick Bud into thinking he is pitching in Minute Maid Park every time out. They may want to avoid the one from the Simpson’s that made Roger Clemens think he was a chicken however.
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