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Nationals pitching coach: “strikeouts are bulls***”

Jul 12, 2012, 8:23 AM EDT

strasburg ap AP

Nationals’ pitching coach Steve McCatty spoke with Yahoo!’s Les Carpenter and gave a less entertaining version of Crash Davis’ “strikeouts are boring, besides that, they’re fascist” speech:

“Strikeouts are bull[bleep],” he says … If you try to strike out every hitter you’re going to burn up pitches … Look, just do the math. If you’re taking 15-20 pitches to get through every inning that will multiply fast.”  He would rather his pitchers let the hitters hit the ball.

Probably worth noting that:

  • The Nationals are fifth in all of baseball and third in the NL in strikeouts per nine innings; and
  • Their two best starters, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, are striking out 11.6 and 10.4 batters per nine innings, respectively, which is number one and number three in all of baseball among starters.

Indeed, there is almost a perfect correlation between how many wins a Nationals pitcher has and how many he’s striking out: the more the better.

Which doesn’t mean that McCatty doesn’t have a point. Ideally, yes, you want your pitcher to throw fewer pitches if possible and striking out guys takes more pitches. But it’s also true that the best way to control damage as a pitcher is to allow fewer opportunities for things to go wrong. Contact can lead to errors and seeing-eye hits and homers and all kinds of bad things. Strikeouts, not so much.  Throw strikes and try to miss bats and you’re gonna be successful. And often times, a lot of strikeouts is the byproduct of that.

All of this reminds me of hitting coaches who get all worked up about wanting their hitters to take the ball to the opposite field, shorten their swing and not strike out despite the fact that the team’s best hitter is almost certainly a dude who pulls the ball with authority.

  1. natslady - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    Oh, so we are going by pitcher wins? Some of us think Jordan Zimmermann is the Nats’ best pitcher right now. Not a strikeout guy. Never, ever, goes less than six innings. Check it out.

    • sgoodmantzak - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:37 AM

      I totally agree. Edwin Jackson doesn’t get gaudy strikeout totals either and aside from an awful performance at Coors Field, has been incredibly effective. But I guess if we are going to go by the all-important win column…

      Perhaps McCatty’s comments aer also tied to his PTSD suffered from Henry Rodriguez’s stint as a closer.

    • voteforno6 - Jul 12, 2012 at 9:34 AM

      Zimmermann certainly has taken the pitch to contact philosophy to heart…he has strikeout stuff, he just would rather get groundouts.

      • kkolchak - Jul 12, 2012 at 1:25 PM

        Z-nn actually has the highest pitching WAR of any of the Nats starters.

  2. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    Do you really want a pitching staff like us, filled with pitch-to-contact guys? See how well it’s working out for us?

    Sincerely,

    Minnesota Twins

    PS – Great article on Trammell, Craig. Surprised you aren’t plugging the book this morning (unless I’m preempting a later post)

    • southofheaven81 - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:44 AM

      Yeah, but that has as much to do with the men behind the pitcher as anything else. Look at the Yankees, with their killer infield and (without Gardner) pretty good outfield. They have a lot of pitch-to-contact guys & they’re doing just fine with that.

      • Alex K - Jul 12, 2012 at 11:42 AM

        I wouldn’t classify Jeter (-10.8 UZR this year*) and A-Rod (-1.8 UZR this year) as killer when it came to defense. Cano (4.6 UZR this year) and Teixeira (5.5 UZR this year) have been good, though.

        *I know half season UZR is not nearly enough to say anything for sure about the true defensive skill of a player, but it does give you an idea.

      • Kevin S. - Jul 12, 2012 at 12:03 PM

        The Yankees lead baseball in K% (K/PA). Not sure which pitch-to-contact guys you’re talking about.

    • sabatimus - Jul 12, 2012 at 12:24 PM

      The real kicker here, though, is this: if the Nat’s pitching coach is saying strikeouts are BS, and the Nats have a ton of them, does that mean he’s not doing his job as a pitching coach? Or does it mean that someone else is telling him how to do his job? Because if he doesn’t want strikeouts, he’s sure not getting what he wants.

      • Francisco (FC) - Jul 12, 2012 at 1:03 PM

        Obfuscation, Misdirection. Of COURSE he’s not going to tell you what’s working for him. Not that it works…

  3. bduronio - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    Glad to see he is having such a big effect on his staff. Seem to be listening to his anti-strikeout ideas and going to the field with it.

  4. jcj5y - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:39 AM

    I think what McCatty means is that Ks are no better than any other kind of out. I’ve heard him talk about attacking hitters in the zone, and I think that’s a better reflection of his and the team’s philosophy. Go get pitchers with swing-and-miss stuff, then teach them that they can be successful by throwing that stuff for strikes. If you get ahead in the count, you don’t have to throw two pitches off the plate going for a strikeout. Throw a quality pitch in the zone, and you’ll most likely get weak contact, or the hitter will strike out anyway. I’m on board with that idea.

    • bduronio - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:43 AM

      He’s wrong if he’s trying to say that first portion of your statement. They are better, they tremendously reduce risk. The absolute worst that can happen during a strikeout is that the catcher drops it and the player gets to first. Obviously much worse things can happen when you pitch to contact.

      • natslady - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:53 AM

        Yeah, but a grounder can be a double-play… Even a fly ball can be a double-play… If you trust your defenders you don’t have to strike everyone out and leave after 5 innings.

      • jcj5y - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:56 AM

        I think McCatty recognizes that difference; he says in the original article that contact is like Vegas–there’s risk, but the odds are in your favor. I think the question is, over the course of a game, and a season, are you better off trying to strike every hitter out, or trying to make quality pitches in the zone?

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 12, 2012 at 9:07 AM

        The problem is it’s not that simple as there are probably only a handful of pitchers that can make quality pitches in the zone all the time. [I know you aren't] but it’s like saying, all you have to do is pitch to the corners and changed speeds, and you can be successful in MLB. It’s easier said than done.

        [RE: the odds are in your favor comment]
        Not necessarily. For instance, I’ve long argued about Joba Chamberlain being a pitcher of worth for the Yankees, using his peripherals to show how good he has been. Unfortunately, it seems like whenever Joba pitches and the batter gets any wood on the ball, it’s a booming line drive. So is your pitcher inducing weak contact (cf. Rivera, Mariano or Cain, Matt) or do they tattoo the ball all over the park? Because there are far fewer of the former guys than the latter.

  5. stex52 - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:46 AM

    Strikeouts are just a result of good pitching. I understand what he means. You don’t seek the strikeout. You pitch well. That can include pitching around a guy in a dangerous situation to get to the next hitter. It can also mean throwing a dangerous hitter your best stuff with a 1-2 count. The point is not that you seek the strikeout. The point is that you make the right pitch and execute it well. If you are a good pitcher, you will get a lot of strikeouts, but not because you were trying to.

    • stex52 - Jul 12, 2012 at 8:50 AM

      And actually I disagree with him on strikeouts as a metric. They clearly demonstrate whether a pitcher is doing the job well.

  6. chill1184 - Jul 12, 2012 at 9:08 AM

    Coaches say some interesting things sometimes.

  7. paperlions - Jul 12, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    Some quick math for you (all stats are for all of MLB in 2012):

    OBP: .319

    % of ABs that end in K: 19.6%

    OBP for ABs that do not end in K: .397

    That’s right, if you don’t strike a guy out, there is nearly a 40% chance he reaches base safely; about 8% of that is walk rate.

    While it may take more pitches to strike guys out, it take more pitches to get 3 outs when 40% of the guys you face reach base.

    • jcj5y - Jul 12, 2012 at 9:48 AM

      These are very interesting numbers. But again, I don’t think McCatty was making a sabermetric point. He’s talking about a pitcher’s strategy and mindset. He wants his guys to attack hitters. Not to give hitters pitches they can hit hard, but also not to be afraid of contact such that you walk people or waste effort.

      • Ben - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:18 AM

        jcj5y, I think you’re right–I think some pitchers can strikeout a shit-ton of batters but never actually learn to pitch well. Pitchers like that struggle in the high minors, or when they get promoted to MLB because they can’t blow people away anymore. Or they get hurt.
        Look at a guy like Max Scherzer–some nights he just blows guys away and is totally dominant. And on nights when his stuff is off, he gets pasted. I wonder if it’s because he never really learned how to do anything other than strike guys out.

    • stex52 - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:03 AM

      Not sure that I am buying into your methodology here. But I’m at work and I won’t be able to do a lot of research or calculations. But if the guy is getting on base 32% of the time (OBP=.319) or striking out 20% of the time, doesn’t that leave 48% of the time where he either grounds out, flies out, or gets on with an error?

      So if I assume for argument’s sake that the league grounds out 25% of the time, then the residual is 75%. And I would then say that if a man doesn’t ground out, then there is a 43% chance that he will get on base? So you should pitch to contact.

      Not seriously arguing that. I go back to my argument that you pitch smart and the strikeouts will come. But enlighten me if I am missing something obvious.

      • paperlions - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:33 AM

        The denominators aren’t the same: one is for all PAs, the other is only for PAs that do not end in a strikeout (i.e. what would happen if there were no strikeouts).

        One OBP is what happens in general, the other removes strikeouts as an option to demonstrate that if you don’t ever strike anyone out the results will be far worse than if you strike guys out at a league average rate. In other words, any other out may be as good as a strikeout, but without strikeouts your likelihood of getting those outs is far less than with them.

    • natstowngreg - Jul 12, 2012 at 11:23 AM

      All true, but McCatty is concerned seeing Strasburg and Gio struggle to get through 6 innings with high pitch counts. Yes, each strikes out a lot of batters, but each goes through periods in games where they throw too many pitches to get their Ks. McCatty wants them to throw more strikes and fewer balls. Not complicated.

      McCatty is also concerned for the long-term effects on the pitchers’ health. Especially Strasburg, who has not yet established durability.

      • paperlions - Jul 12, 2012 at 11:30 AM

        Mayhaps, but that isn’t what he said. There isn’t a pitching coach around that doesn’t emphasize throwing strikes and being efficient with pitches. If you want pitchers to be effective (i.e. prevent runs), then striking guys out is the best way to do that, pitching to more hitters (which is what happens when balls are put in play) is not an effective way to reduce pitch counts.

      • Kevin S. - Jul 12, 2012 at 12:07 PM

        Okay, but if they aren’t striking guys out, they won’t pitch as well over the innings that they do pitch. Even if they do make it into, say, the seventh, the team is going to be worse off because they’ll have allowed more runs. Strikeouts are good. Always.

  8. hisgirlgotburrelled - Jul 12, 2012 at 9:16 AM

    With Strasburg this season he has a point. If the idea of the innings limit is to lessen his workload then he needs to throw less pitches. What does 160 IP’s matter when he’s thrown 100+ pitches 6 times and 90-99 pitches 6 times? Strasburg is averaging under 6 innings per game, but is averaging 94 pitches per game and has not pitched in the 8th inning. He averages 16.19 pitches per inning, 145.7 per 9 IP’s. The 2 games he struck out 13 he went 6 IP and threw 103 and 119 pitches.

    Zimmermann averages 14.82 per inning and has thrown 32 more pitches than Strasburg in 11 1/3 more IP’s. Verlander, who hits 100 pitches every outing, averages 15.32 per IP.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 12, 2012 at 9:30 AM

      Strasburg is averaging under 6 innings per game, but is averaging 94 pitches per game and has not pitched in the 8th inning

      Well if we remove the one game where he was taken out due to heat exhaustion, he’s averaging exactly 6 IP per game. Also, he did have a few opportunities to go farther in the game but, thanks to NL baseball, he was pulled. For instance, opening game he pitched 7IP with only 82 pitches, but because the Nats were only up 1-0 in the 8th, he was pulled for a pinch hitter. In Game 6 against the Phillies he was pulled after 6 IP and only 76 pitches because the Nats were behind 3-1. Against Atlanta in his 11th Game he was pulled after 7IP and only 90 pitches because the Nats were only up 1-0.

      He’s still really young, and is still learning how to pitch. While pitch counts/innings limits are great for young pitchers, coaches have to understand that not all counts/innings are the same. A 115 CG 3 hitter is far less stressful on the arm than a 115 6IP affair.

      • hisgirlgotburrelled - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:57 AM

        I’m not knocking him for not going deeper into games. He’s defnitely giving his team a great chance to win. But 160 IP to him is not the same as 160 IP to another pitcher when Strasburg is throwing 16+ pitches per inning and so many of them for a 3rd strike.

        I agree, 115 pitches in a CG is easier on the arm, and 115 in 6 is more stressful. Strasburg has pitched over 100 pitches 6 times in 7 IP or less, and 5 were in close games. Also, when you’re getting that many K’s you’re throwing more stressful pitches, maybe over-throwing, to get that K.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 12, 2012 at 1:28 PM

        But 160 IP to him is not the same as 160 IP to another pitcher when Strasburg is throwing 16+ pitches per inning and so many of them for a 3rd strike.

        Oh definitely, but let’s not forget two things: he’ll be 24 in a few months, and he only has 191 IP of MLB seasoning on his arm. He’ll learn to do two things in the next couple of years, be more economical with his pitches (getting the K when it’s needed) and pitch deeper into games. He’s just a huge investment for Wash so they are being [over]cautious.

  9. crash1582 - Jul 12, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    Strikeout takes 3 pitches (at least) to get a hitter out. Pitch to contact takes less (sometimes). I can see if he thinks is pitchers are going out to strike out the side in every inning…. thats minimum 9 pitches per inning and 81 over the course of the game, if they are perfect) which can run up a pitch count. But this has to be situational and should not apply to batters that are first ball swingers and have a cold area on the strike zone, that you can establish a strike out confidence in your pitching and a struck out confidence in your oponents hitting. But completely situational!

  10. number42is1 - Jul 12, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    i guess its better than horse*hit or is it horses*it?

    • Alex K - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:22 AM

      It’s ho*seshit.

  11. Jonny 5 - Jul 12, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    Weaver is enjoying his lowest ever ERA, BB rate, WHIP, hits per nine, HR per nine, and believe it or not His lowest K per nine he’s EVER had. As a matter of fact Jered Weaver always has better numbers when his K rate is lower. Every single time his K rate rises, so do his other numbers that matter more quite frankly. And I’m sure there are men who have the same success with their best k rates ever too. Just food for thought, baseball players are individuals just like us and the exact same action could have opposite reactions to different individuals..

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 12, 2012 at 9:35 AM

      He also has the lowest BABIP of his career while giving up the highest LD% and GB% (and subsequent lowest FB%).

      He’s also faced these monster offenses:
      Minn x3, Bal x3, Oak x2, Cle x2 and SD and SF once each. When he faced the Rangers he gave up 8 ER in 3.1 IP and against the Yanks he gave up 3R in 0.0IP (and got hurt).

      • Jonny 5 - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:09 AM

        From 2008 up until now his BABIP had decreased every single season. Yet his 2010 season, the one in which he K’d the most of any pitcher, his ERA was also his highest ever, with a pretty darned low BABIP to boot. I’m only saying there is no set formula saying best k rate equals best success. Some pitchers have better numbers with less K’s, even if it may not make total sense.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:21 AM

        He’s an interesting case study, because the K% has fluctuated while BABIP has continued to go down (as you said). He’s a fly ball pitcher who happens to face two of the worst offenses, and best pitching ballparks so he’s got that going for him. Wonder if it’s just a confluence of circumstances that has him pitching in the best possible environment for him?

      • Jonny 5 - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:46 AM

        It is a head scratcher, as there always will be. People are involved. More than likely your guys K’ing the hell out of other teams will be a better pitcher, that’s not a dispute. It’s just that it doesn’t apply to everyone equally and some people it doesn’t even apply to at all. But they will be the minority of course.

      • Kevin S. - Jul 12, 2012 at 4:46 PM

        Is it that surprising that Weaver’s BABIP has been declining? He’s a fly-ball pitcher whose outfield alignment has gone from Anderson/L’il Sarge/Vlad to Anderson/Hunter/Vlad to Rivera/Hunter/Abreu to Wells/Bourjous/Hunter to a mish-mash this season that involves a whole lot of Trout, Bourjous, plus Wells and Hunter in the corners (well, then there’s Trumbo). I don’t think he’ll sustain his numbers from the past year and a half, but we shouldn’t be surprised if they stay below average.

  12. voteforno6 - Jul 12, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    As odd as it sounds, Strasburg does seem to have bought into McCatty’s philosophy of pitch-to-contact and no (or very few) walks. He gave an interview before the season in which he said that he tries to pitch to contact, it’s just that the batters don’t always make contact. Gio and the flamethrowers that they have in the bullpen may be the same way as well. Part of this could be that their stuff is just that good.

    • thefalcon123 - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:20 AM

      “He gave an interview before the season in which he said that he tries to pitch to contact”

      That is some fantastic failure on his end.

  13. thefalcon123 - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:16 AM

    Dear Steve McCatty:
    Teams that lead gave up the fewest runs and their rank in strikeouts:

    2012:Nationals, 5th in Strikeouts
    2011: Phillies, 3rd
    2010: Padres, 2nd
    2009: Giants, 1st
    2008: Blue Jays, 7th
    2007: Red Sox, 6th
    2006: Tigers, 22nd
    2005: Astros, 3rd
    2004: Cubs, 1st
    2003: Dodgers, 3rd

    For the past 10 years, the team that gave up the fewest runs was among the top 5 in Ks seven times, top 10 nine times, with just one outlier (2006 Tigers).

    I’d say strikeouts are a pretty important component to run prevention!

  14. someguyinva - Jul 12, 2012 at 10:38 AM

    Tom Boswell had a column in today’s Washington Post about the topic of how the Nats’ pitchers are being handled, and despite Strasburg and Gonzalez strikeout numbers, no Nats pitcher is in the top 40 in MLB in number of pitches thrown, which I find interesting. Read it for yourself here – wapo.st/S8kt0M

    • kkolchak - Jul 12, 2012 at 1:29 PM

      Given that the Nats’ pitching staff has gone from the worst in baseball to one of the very best in a short period of time, and that they are strong top to bottom beyond just Stras and Gio, I’d say McCatty knows what he is talking about.

  15. hansob - Jul 12, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    Pitch to contact guys tend to average 14.5 to 16 pitches per inning. Max Scherzer, who I would guess is a bit of the poster child for the kind of “BS” pitching that McCatty is talking about, is averaging 18 pitches per inning. So about 3 pitches per inning, and maybe one inning per start if you’re on a pitch count.

    I’ll take the K’s and let my bullpen throw one extra inning every 5 days.

    (http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/pitching/_/sort/pitchesPerInning/qualified/true/type/expanded-2/order/false)

  16. tuftsb - Jul 12, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    As Crash Davis said, “strikeouts are fascist!”

    • thefalcon123 - Jul 12, 2012 at 1:02 PM

      Crashing Davis was fucking wrong.

      Besides, what kind of team allows a pitcher to give up 18 walks in his professional debut? Plus, he struck out 18, meaning that if every K were on 3 pitches, every walk were on 4 pitches, plus 1 pitch for the other outs, means he would have thrown a minimum of 135 pitches in his debut. Since there’s a 0% chance that would have happened, Nuke’s debut would probably have been around a 200 pitch affair.

      And while we’re on the subject, what kind of stupid organizations keeps an apparently good fielding, great with pitchers and good hitting catcher in the minors for 12 or 13 years? I mean, Gary Bennett spent 13 years in the majors and posted an OPS below .700 in the minors! Did Crash bang the GM’s wife or something?

      • mgflolox - Jul 12, 2012 at 2:16 PM

        That was always one of my major beefs with that movie. A switch-hitting catcher with some pop and good defensive skills who was good at handling pitchers would have about a 15 year major league career. The second one is that Tim Robbins throws like a girl (apologies to all the ladies out there who actually can throw a baseball, but you know what I mean.

  17. Ari Collins - Jul 12, 2012 at 1:32 PM

    I skimmed the article, and when I saw you say, “Which doesn’t mean that McCatty doesn’t have a point,” I assumed that wasn’t his real name and you were making fun of him. You know, like, “Oh, there goes Complainy McCattyson again,” or some such.

  18. sfm073 - Jul 12, 2012 at 2:42 PM

    His point was about being efficient. Strasburg has the stuff to strikeout guys on 3 or 4 pitches. The problem is he is one of maybe 10 guys in the league that can do so. There are too many examples of guys coming into the league trying to strikeout everyone and only going 5 innings.

  19. F14TRex.com - Jul 12, 2012 at 2:52 PM

    Yes and no. Outs are outs, although ground balls are cheaper pitch count-wise and provide the possibility of netting two outs instead of just the one the strikeout gives you. But at the same time, runners can advance on ground balls and can’t on strikeouts.

    IDK, i wouldn’t call Ks completely worthless, but they’re pretty overrated unless they come in a situation in which you need one.

    • F14TRex.com - Jul 12, 2012 at 2:53 PM

      Also, there’s an obvious risk of a ground ball turning into a hit. Point still stands.

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