Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 10/2/14
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Homer Bailey threw a no-hitter last night, putting him in the same group as a lot of other people. It was actually his second no-hitter, putting him in a much smaller group of guys who have done it twice. This post is not really about Homer Bailey’s no-hitter — I’m working on one of those too, but it’s a little more research intensive — but about the fact that Homer Bailey shouldn’t have needed to throw another no-hitter to get some attention. Because, even before last night, Homer Bailey was pitching like an ace. I’m going to show you a table of pitchers, the qualification being that they met minimum thresholds based on just two statistics. These lines were somewhat arbitrarily drawn, and there is more to pitching than clearing these made up dividers in these two metrics. That said, I think these parameters illustrate the point pretty nicely. Below is a list of every starting pitcher in the Major Leagues (minimum 75 innings) that has thrown at least half of their pitches in the strike zone while also getting hitters to make contact less than 78% of the time. Name IP ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR Contact% Zone% Anibal Sanchez 81.2 2.76 2.07 2.57 3.2 2.4 73% 50% Max Scherzer 110.1 3.10 2.69 2.79 3.4 3.1 74% 51% Matt Harvey 117.0 2.00 2.00 2.64 4.2 4.6 74% 51% Corey Kluber 81.0 4.33 3.53 3.13 1.2 0.5 75% 52% Chris Sale 106.1 2.79 2.86 2.99 3.1 3.3 76% 52% A.J. Burnett 89.1 3.12 3.32 3.09 1.3 1.9 76% 50% Clayton Kershaw 130.1 1.93 2.59 3.12 3.4 4.7 76% 50% Madison Bumgarner 111.0 3.08 3.42 3.49 1.6 2.1 77% 51% CC Sabathia 117.0 4.15 3.93 3.52 1.8 1.6 77% 50% Homer Bailey 111.0 3.57 2.67 2.98 2.9 2.0 77% 50% Hisashi Iwakuma 115.1 2.42 3.47 3.22 2.0 3.7 78% 53% Justin Verlander 105.0 3.77 3.05 3.42 2.8 1.8 78% 51% Justin Masterson 124.0 3.48 3.43 3.39 2.3 2.7 78% 52% Mike Minor 102.2 2.98 3.47 3.60 1.8 2.2 78% 52% Total 1,500 3.07 3.04 3.15 2.5 2.7 76% 51% 14 pitchers in baseball are pulling off this neat little trick, and Homer Bailey is one of them. Now, these arbitrary lines exclude guys like Adam Wainwright and Stephen Strasburg are both over 49% on in-zone pitches, and it excludes Cliff Lee and Shelby Miller who are pitching to just slightly more contact than this. You can be a good pitcher without meeting these exact parameters. But, you know, throwing a lot of pitches in the zone while also getting hitters to swing and miss a lot is a sign that you’re doing most of the things that good pitchers do. And that list is full of pretty great pitchers, plus Corey Kluber, who Carson Cistulli thinks is a pretty great pitcher. As a group, they’re averaging 4.2 WAR per 180 innings pitched, and no, it isn’t full of guys like Kluber who are underperforming their FIP, as their overall ERA is a little lower than their peripherals would suggest. Throwing strikes and missing bats is the majority of good pitching. It’s not the entirety of it, and this list is primarily missing a variable that would account for home run rate, but Homer Bailey is doing the two things that are most likely to make you an ace. And despite his name and the not-really-deserved reputation, he’s not giving up home runs either. If his first name was Mat or Bronson, I wonder if he’d be viewed as a pitcher with a long ball problem, given his career 10.5% HR/FB ratio and 1.01 HR/9 rate. Bailey’s main problem has been that his strikeout rate has never really matched his stuff before. He’s basically been a league average strikeout hurler, which limited his ability to reach his potential. It takes some kind of special command to be a true ace while only striking out 20% of the batters you face in the National League. This year, though, Bailey’s striking out 25% of the batters he faces, and that difference has allowed him to make the leap into the top tier of NL starting pitchers. He’ll have to keep this up for more than three months to be considered a true #1 starter, but his combination of high strikes/low contact is a recipe for greatness. Bailey’s no-hitter last night wasn’t a frustrating young pitcher finally putting it all together; it was a high quality pitcher having a great night in the middle of a great season. Homer Bailey didn’t arrive last night. He’s been really good for a while now.
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