In the discussion over whether Olsen or Morton should be 5th starter, Rainja brought up the point that Morton's .320 BABIP and 62% strand rate over his 250 inning MLB career are not unlucky. His logic stated that since great pitchers are ones who get outs in all situations, great pitchers will have great strand rates because they are better at getting batters out in all situations. I decided I'd do some research on the past year and see if there were any pitchers most people would consider good who put up subpar strand rates, to see if this theory held up. I also checked to see if there were many pitchers with high strand rates and weak peripherals, (for ease of search, I defined weak periphs as having a K/BB ratio 1.80 or under, arbitrary yes, but I think most would agree that 1.8 is not good as far as K/BB goes). Here are some of my findings.
GOOD PERIPH- BAD STRAND RATE CLUB
These are the pitchers that most people would consider to be viable MLB pitchers who have put up a bad strand rate in the past year, this is out of 92 qualified pitchers. Best 1/3 I considered "high strand rate" and worst 1/3 I considered "low strand rate"
"Elite Pitcher group"
Zack Grienke- 3rd worst in the league among qualified pitchers with 65.3%
CLIFF LEE- 9th worst in the league among qualified pitchers with 67.9%
Hiroki Kurudo- 15th worst in league among qualified pitchers with 68.9%
"Good pitcher group"
Doug Fister- 7th worst in league among qualified pitchers with 67.7%
James Shield- 12th worst among qualified with 68.4%
Wandy Rodriguez, (maybe he deserves elite status based on numbers) 20th worst among qualified with 69.4%
Yovani Gallardo- 24th worst among qualified with 69.8%
BAD PERIPHERAL- GOOD STRAND CLUB
Clay Buchholz- 8th best among qualified with 79%
Jon Garland- (worse K/BB than Morton!) 23rd best among qualified with 75.9%
Randy Wolf- 30th best among qualified with 75.3%
This data is only a one year sample size, and as all of you know, (or should know), one year doesn't tell you everything. What it does tell to me though is that strand rate is obviously not always going to be good for great pitchers and bad for lesser pitchers, (though the data seems to imply that bad strand rates for "good" pitchers are more common).
What does this mean for the Charlie Morton/Scott Olsen debate? What it says to me is that strand rate, like BABIP, is very hitter dependent. It says that the .320 BABIP and 62% strand rate over 250 innings for Morton actually COULD BE, (I'd say extremely likely is) the result of small sample size. Cliff Lee for example pitched around 500 innings between 2005-2007 with a strand rate of 69.3% then 400 innings in 2008-2009 with a strand rate of over 77% and then pitches 210 at a 67.9% rate in 2010. The fact is that while Scott Olsen might very well be a better choice than Charlie Morton, data such as strand rate and BABIP should not be used to support that fact.
Comments are welcome, I'm sorry I didn't go more in depth as I should have, but I wanted to at least show a little bit of info about why judging a player on their strand rate can be dicey. BABIP judging been done to death in other places, so I just decided to show a little about why strand rate is suspect to similar problems. I'm guessing Vlad could explain it better and give the amount of data needed to actually make the argument, but I figured I'd at least foster discussion.