If there was a seminal moment in the movement towards statistical analysis in Major League Baseball, it may very well have been the 2001 publication of Voros McCracken’s research on Defense Independent Pitching Stats, which he shortened to DIPS. In a series of articles over the course of a few years, McCracken demonstrated that Major League pitchers were more or less equal when it came to preventing hits on balls in play. While there were huge and sustained differences in walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed, the same did not hold true for the rate at which balls were converted in outs when a pitcher gave his defense a chance to get involved. Whether it was Pedro Martinez or Aaron Sele, roughly 30% of all balls in play went for hits, with minimal variation between pitchers.
McCracken’s idea was so antithetical to general wisdom about evaluating pitching that the subject became a primary source of research in the analytical community, but guys like Tom Tippett (now working for the Red Sox) and Keith Woolner (employed by the Indians) mostly ended up confirming McCracken’s original thesis. Despite a conclusion that seemed absurd, for the most part, pitchers really didn’t appear to have much control over whether balls in play went for hits or outs.
Tippett did manage to find a few types of pitchers who could somewhat break the mold, most notably knuckleballers, and further research showed that the data suggests more that pitchers have “little control” rather than “no control” over their hit rates on balls in play, but even with a more muted conclusion, the reality is that most big league pitchers end up in the range of a .280 to .320 Batting Average on Balls in Play, or BABIP as it is usually called these days. There are differences in pitchers in that range, but by and large, that’s mostly where everyone fits.
Everyone, that is, except Chris Young.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.