You have heard real estate agents espouse the three most important statistics regarding real estate value, location, location, and location. Well, the three most important stats for evaluating pitchers are strikeouts, strikeouts, and, uh, location.
A pitcher`s strikeouts/walk ratio history is a better indicator of future ERA than even his ERA history. If two pitchers` ERAs and K/Ws are the same, take the guy with the greater K/Inning. If you don`t believe me, count my trophies and read Bill James.
There are some pitchers the K/W rule doesn`t seem to apply to. When Jose Mesa was developing his craft in the early 90s, his K/W was dreadful, but he had good stuff. Hence, scouting reports are very important when judging pitchers, too.
The ones with great stuff are given more chances to prove themselves worthy, and have higher ceilings of greatness. Furthermore, it is more difficult for major league hitters to figure them out. Often a finesse pitcher will come up and impress. Then the 2nd or 3rd time around the league he gets eaten up. That brings us back to strikeouts, which are about as good an indication of a pitcher`s stuff as his scouting reports.
Strikeout pitchers also last longer than finesse pitchers. It helps being tall, too. Tall hard throwing lefties are apt to develop later and last later. Of course, knuckleball pitchers are a whole other story. They develop the latest and last the longest (given equal peak value).
You have to evaluate young pitchers differently from older veterans. A 30 year old who puts in 230 innings a year is a heck of a lot more valuable than a similar aged pitcher who has to be coddled for 190 innings. However, if you are comparing 23 year olds, I`d rather take the one with the lighter workload. Unlike a hitter who becomes a star in his early 20s is considered a Hall of Fame candidate, a pitcher who becomes a star at such a tender age is likely headed for a very short career - unless they can adapt to being a finesse pitcher (eg. Frank Tanana). Keep in mind, however, the ever advancing medical practices, which are reviving pitching careers at record rates. Once again, scouting reports are important to know if a pitcher has a smooth efficient motion.
It actually makes more sense to watch a veteran pitcher`s strikeout totals than his age when determining how many years he has left. The key to look for is a significant drop in his strikeouts per inning ratio. As long as that strikeout rate remains high, the only thing to worry about with an aging pitcher is an increase in injuries. Nolan Ryan was a perfect example. He pitched as well as ever into his 40s, but his injuries kept coming more and more often. That`s what finally ended his great career.
Getting back to pitchers who are starting out, another thing I look for is intelligence and psychological stability. Unfortunately, there are no clean statistics on this. The best indicator I`ve found is what universities they`ve attended. The pitchers who attend Stanford or similarly competitive schools seem to be able to handle success and learn the intricacies of pitching better than less educated prospects of equal tools. I recall a project Bill James conducted showing that college draftees have had better success than non-college draftees. Part of the explanation for the James study could be that the tools possessed by college draftees and non-college draftees are not equal. The high school draftees are obviously younger, so therefore are given more allowance for developing their talent.
The psychological stability is a concern for hitters as much as pitchers. Based on my observations, head cases tend to get injured more often, go on sulks, get hooked on drugs, get traded out of the league and are more quickly given up on. Who needs the headaches?
Finally, you`ve got to remember this is supposed to be fun. It is fun to root for players to succeed that you have respect for, not the selfish jerks.
- John Carter