Cubs Starters Ranked In Tip-Top and Bottom-Barrel Tiers of BP’s New “Command” Stat

Jeff Long, Jonathan Judge, and Harry Pavlidis of Baseball Prospectus recently unveiled their new control and command statistics, which could open up several additional avenues of nerdy baseball research. The BP trio coined their newly-minted command stat Called Strikes Above Average (CSAA). The percentage metric is described as “a measure of how many called strikes the player in question creates for his team.”

Now for the golden question: How do the Cubs starters rank in CSAA?

Kyle Hendricks: #4 (2.53%)

Jon Lester: #15 (1.89%)

John Lackey: #139 (0.6%)

Mike Montgomery: #676 (-1.22%)

Jake Arrieta: #703 (-1.44%)

I want to point out that these rankings include every pitcher who threw even a single pitch in 2016. That’s why Montgomery and Arrieta are ranked unrealistically low. Filtering the data to eliminate unreliable samples would yield different results, but Hendricks and Lester would still be tops, while Monty and Arrieta would remain in the bottom tier.

It’s no surprise that Hendricks, the starting pitcher in both the NLCS and World Series clinching games, is ranked as one of the best command pitchers in the league. Also not a shocker is Lester coming in just below Hendricks at #15. Think about all those low-and-outside cutters Lester threw to batters. It’s just unfair that MLB hitters had to face pitchers with some of the best command and have two catchers who’ve historically ranked as the best pitch framers in David Ross and Miguel Montero.

On the completely opposite side of the spectrum are Montgomery and Arrieta. The 2015 Cy Young Award winner’s most recent season was a soap opera of sorts, at least for me. Sometimes Arrieta was pinpointing pitches, and at other times he made me bite my fingernails down as low as his ranking here. In addition to Arrieta’s inconsistent command, his propensity for throwing flurries of wipe-out curves out of the zone contributed to his score.

Seeing Monty so low, however, was a bit of a surprise. Although he also has a wipe-out curve, he throws a fastball variation nearly 7 of every 10 pitches. There’s a possibility that his weak command won’t play as well for him as a starting pitcher. I personally love Montgomery’s stuff, but his CSAA score has made me more hesitant about his prospects for the rotation.

Many modern baseball tools missed out on pitchers like Hendricks, since many readily accessible stats are either predictive or are simply a snapshot of past performance with no real bearing on the future. Command, however, looks like more of a real-time indicator.

For the pitcher, the measurements are a means to an end. The most important thing is that the pitch delivers positive outcomes and/or helps set up other pitches to have positive outcomes. Having the best stuff in baseball doesn’t mean anything if you can’t get hitters out.

Being able to look at command and control through the lens of strikes is critical, because that is the currency in which pitchers trade throughout an at-bat.

Always nice to have another arrow in the quiver when it comes to targeting performance. Can’t wait to use this more often going forward.

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