SWIP- Measuring A Pitcher\'s Dominance
Grover Cleveland Alexander - Photo From Library of Congress
Is there a simple way to build off of the idea of WHIP to produce a another number that reflects a pitcher’s level of performance?
WHIP: A REVIEW
My contention is that WHIP, while a nice measure of a pitcher’s general level of success, could be augmented by a similar to figure metric which I believe might be more reflective of a pitchers ability to control the strike zone and therefore limit batters ability to get on base. Perhaps I should start by defining WHIP before I move on to the “new” option – and sorry if this seems like a review of how to add two plus two.
WHIP has become all the rage in the past decade or so – especially in fantasy baseball. You measure WHIP by adding walks and hits together and then dividing by innings pitched.
WHIP = (Walks + Hits) / Innings Pitched
WHIP is one of the many measures that can be used to address the success, or lack thereof, for a pitcher. I believe that the vagaries of hits allowed compromises the measure somewhat. Think about the type of factors that can effect whether or not a batted ball falls for a hit: a ball lost in the sun a wind gust, a misstep by a fielder or a coach positioning players in the wrong spot can often offer a “false” indicator of a pitcher’s performance by charging a hit to his ledger. Should a pitcher be “punished” for situations like this that are completely out of his control?
If you think about it, the pitcher is directly in control of few things during the game. Two of those “events” that a pitcher is directly able to influence the outcome of deal with whether or not he throws strikes or balls (I'm not going to worry about the vagaries of umpires strike zones or batters willingness to swing at pitches that are out of the strike zone). About the only other events that the pitcher relies solely upon himself and not his fielders, coaches or terrain is the homer and the hit by pitch. Since WHIP does not count HBP, I won’t consider it here either. To address the issue of the importance of keeping batters off base while limiting free passes I invented the idea of SWIP.
In PART I of this three-part series I will define what SWIP. In PART II, I will break down the SWIP leaders amongst starting pitchers from 2010. PART III I will deal with the men who pitch out of the bullpen.
PART I – WHAT IS SWIP?
Following the simple methodology of WHIP, I invented a new measure of a pitchers dominance called SWIP (it must be the mad scientist in me).
S- Strikeouts (abbreviated as K) W- Walks (abbreviated as BB) IP- Innings Pitched
Numerically speaking, the formula for SWIP works along the same lines as WHIP. Therefore SWIP is determined by the following equation:
Strikeouts minus Walks divided by Innings Pitched equals SWIP.
SWIP = (K – BB) / IP
Another way to look at this is to say that for each positive result, the recording of an out in the form of a strikeout, the pitcher receives a (+1). For each negative encounter, in the form of a walk, he receives a (-1). Simple enough right? Here is an example of how you can figure out SWIP so you can see what I’m talking about (and yes, it really is as simple as it sounds).
Dan Haren had 216 Ks and 54 BBs in 235 IP in 2010.
(216-54) / 235 162 / 235 0.69 SWIP
Haren’s SWIP for the 2010 season was therefore 0.69.
Though SWIP is recorded in the same manner as WHIP, the way to read the results is slightly different. Whereas the lower the WHIP the better one has performed, SWIP works in the opposite direction: the higher the SWIP the better.
Here is a rough estimate of what the results mean to help you to put things in perspective, a key if you will.
.90 and Up: Excellent season. Hall of Fame level. .70 to .89: An all-star performance. Worthy of Cy Young consideration. .50 to .69: Borderline all-star to decent starting pitcher. A guy you’d like to have on your staff. .35 to .50: A guy who should be nothing more than the 3rd or 4th starter with his club. .20 to .34: His major league days are likely numbered. Below .20: Minor leaguer in training.
Let's take a look at how all major league hurlers performed in 2010.
34,302 Strikeouts 15,778 Walks 43,304.2 IP
So in order to find out the major league average for SWIP during the 2010 season we simply plug the numbers into our simple equation.
SWIP = (K – BB) / IP (34302-15778) / 43304.2 18524 / 43304.2 0.4277 SWIP = 0.43
Not surprisingly, last year’s 0.43 mark mirrors the major league SWIP totals of the past few years though it is an 11-year high.
2010: 0.43 SWIP 2009: 0.39 SWIP 2008: 0.38 SWIP 2007: 0.37 SWIP 2006: 0.37 SWIP 2005: 0.36 SWIP 2004: 0.36 SWIP 2003: 0.34 SWIP 2002: 0.35 SWIP 2001: 0.38 SWIP 2000: 0.30 SWIP
Now that I have enumerated what SWIP is and how it is figured, I will spend a brief moment detailing its major flaw.
LIMITS OF SWIP
As almost every metric out there that measures anything, SWIP is limited, in this case because of its simplicity. The major flaw of SWIP is that it favors pitchers with strikeout potential while often shortchanging those pitchers who might actually be “better” real world pitchers. We all know that this type of pitcher, the one who gets by more on guile than pure stuff (a guy like Jeremy Guthrie), but SWIP is concerned with “stuff” so it favors pitchers with power arms.
Starting pitchers have multiple innings to set up batters and vary pitch sequences, not to mention the time needed to work themselves out of trouble. This freedom allows starters to pitch with a variety of styles, all of which can be successful. At one end of the pitching spectrum there are “stuff” guys like Tim Lincecum who dominate hitters. However, you have hurlers like knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and soft-tossers like Dallas Braden who can be very successful as well. Obviously these pitchers do not record strikeouts at the same rate as their power pitching compatriots - their stuff simply isn’t overpowering enough.
All pitching styles can be successful whether they rely upon the strikeout or the ground ball if the pitcher has enough time to work out of jams and if he knows how to pitch. However, the more often that a pitcher can limit a batters ability to put the ball in the field of play, the more often he has “control” over the at-bat. So everything being equal, a pitcher is better off by not allowing the batter to hit the ball – it’s as simple as that. Again, that doesn’t mean there is only is only one path a pitcher must follow for success. As a result, some of the pitchers that you will read about with a poor SWIP marks will have been successful in 2010 even if their path to success was slightly unconventional.
As far as relief pitchers, they operate under a different set of “rules.” Relievers usually don’t have multiple innings to set up batters and they often come into games with runners already on base. They don’t have time to find their grove and work on touch pitches like change-ups and curve balls. Relievers need to come in and throw strikes – immediately. As a result it appears that SWIP might be a more useful tool to pass judgment on pitchers who rely mostly on “hard stuff” (fastballs, sliders and fork balls) than soft tossers. These hard throwing pitchers, as a general rule, tend to congregate more toward the bullpen than in the starting rotation since relievers can come in, throw gas, and not have to worry about pacing themselves to last multiple frames.
Therefore, SWIP can be termed a “dominance stat” in that it helps us to track which pitchers are best at limiting hitters ability to hit that ball. So in the analysis you are about to read don’t take the results of SWIP to mean that I necessarily think that Brett Myers was a better pitcher than Chris Carpenter because he had a better SWIP mark in 2010. Take the analysis for what it is, and remember this simple axiom…
Everything being equal, the pitcher who limits hitters ability to hit the ball, as well as limiting the free passes he allows, is the pitcher more likely to be consistent from year-to-year.
In PART II, you can read about how SWIP is applied to starting pitchers.
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Fri 5-8 PM EDT and Sunday 7-10 PM EDT), Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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