Who are the most difficult National League starters to hit against?

I realize and respect Voros McCracken’s work showing the inconsistent success pitchers have in determining whether batted balls hit in the field of play become outs, but as a long time fan of the game I stubbornly cling to the idea that some pitchers are harder to “square up”, or hit squarely, than others, and I have devised a crude little measurement I use to determine which pitchers are the most difficult to hit against.  I call it the pitcher’s “Relative Hit-ability Score”

I measure a pitcher’s relative “hit-ability” by comparing the hits he has yielded per inning to the hits the rest of the pitchers on his team have yielded per inning.  The difference constitutes his Relative Hit-ability Score.  For example, Milwaukee Brewer starter Shawn Marcum has allowed 123 hits in 141.2 innings pitched (0.871).  The rest of the Brewer staff has allowed 883 hits in 906.1 innings pitched (0.974).  Therefore Marcum’s Relative Hit-ability Score is an outstanding (0.974 – 0.871= 0.103) which is good for tenth best among National League starters.

I use a comparative approach to separate the pitcher’s success from the general success of the defense behind him.  A pitcher that is blessed with an outstanding defense will seem more difficult to hit than he perhaps is.  Of course, my approach is open to a chicken/egg critique and it somewhat unjustly punishes pitchers who happen to be on the same team with other outstanding pitchers. (Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain of the Giants, for instance).  But in general I think that effect is small and the statistic is fun and useful.

According to my “Relative Hit-ability Score”, these are the ten most difficult starting pitchers to hit against in the National League:

Josh Johnson Fla 0.336
Jhoulys Chacin Col 0.278
John Cueto Cinn 0.262
Jorge DeLaRosa Col 0.218
Dillon Gee NY 0.201
Clayton Kershaw LA 0.191
Ian Kennedy Ari 0.177
Josh Collmenter Ari 0.175
Cole Hamels Phi 0.151
Shawn Marcum Milw 0.101

A Surprising List

Bear in mind when reading the list the McCracken thesis mentioned above and the fact that hits given up is an incomplete and crude measure of a pitcher’s effectiveness (there are walks and home runs allowed to consider).  One other caveat concerning the list is that Josh Johnson, Jorge DeLaRosa and Dillon Gee have smaller sample sizes than the others on the list, though not small enough to exclude any of them from consideration.

With those asides, the list I produced contains some surprising names and omissions.  The list does not contain the aforementioned Lincecum, Cain, nor does it contain Philly star Cliff Lee, a pitcher generally considered the best in the National League.  Each of those three have low Hits per Inning averages, but each of them plays behind one of the better defensive teams in the league, and none of them really distinguished themselves in hits per inning yielded from the hits per inning yielded by their fellow pitchers.

But the players on my list did.  Johnson produced the highest differential, and the Marlins have clearly missed his dominant presence.  But if one considers the number of innings pitched, Colorado’s Chacin is the National League’s nastiest starting pitcher.  I admit, I did not know Chacin was so dominant. But it appears he is.

Some of the other pitchers on the list are not exactly household names either, but it seems a number of them have dominated Milwaukee Brewer hitters at one point or another this season (Arizona’s Collmenter for instance) so their inclusion did not surprise me.

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One Response to “Who are the most difficult National League starters to hit against?”

  1. David Says:

    Instead of comparing to the rest of the staff, why not compare to the staff as a whole? The staff has allowed 1006 hits in 1048 IP, which is .9599, and Marcum’s relative score would be .0889.

    You should check out SIERA over at Fangraphs; I believe it incorporates a measure for how difficult certain types of pitchers are to hit (the creator found a link between strikeouts and BABIP).

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