Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Twilight Zone scenario: Rod Serling as a
stand-up comedian...
The ninth inning--home of the quirky, often reviled baseball job description known as the "closer"--has crossed over into something resembling The Twilight Zone, a world of shadow and lack of contact where the K/9 inning rate is now exceeding nine on average. (There are now 39 teams in the Forman et fils Play Index split date whose pitchers are averaging ten or more K/9 in the ninth; pitchers for the 2014 Braves are attempting to set a new record at over 13 K/9, which would break the record--12.8--set by the Cubs' relievers in 2010.)

Of course, here at BBB we have quirkier ways of representing this "uber-power" relief pitching trend. Along with the rise in K/9, there is the rise of the "blow away" phenomenon. What's that, you ask?

OK, we'll bite. The "blow-away" is an inning in which the relief pitcher strikes out the side. We can count these for relievers with the current Play Index "layman" features; doing the same thing for starting pitchers will require a "non-layman" in order to find out how many times Sandy Koufax or Randy Johnson or Curt Schilling performed the "blow-away."

The chart at the right shows the evolution of the single-season record for these "blow-aways" as performed by relievers (who, of course, receive far fewer innings in which to do this). The record is held by (who else?) the Braves' Craig Kimbrel, who had 16 "blow-aways" in 2012. (He'd set the previous record--13--in the previous season, blowing past the Cubs' Carlos Marmol, who had 12 "blow-aways" in 2010.)

The chart also captures the number of pitchers with at least four "blow-aways" per season all the way back to 1960, when Ryne Duren (aka "the Bespectacled One) set the record while hurling for the New York Yankees. (You can follow the progression of the record by the off-colored squares in the table.)

We've created a "weighted total" for these "blow-aways" where we add up the total number of 'em as represented in the leader board. The total for 2013 (130) reflects the number of "blow-aways" contributed by pitchers with at least four of 'em in a season.

As you can see, 2013 has the high value here by a wide margin. Time will tell if 2014 will exceed it.

Some of the other "blow-away" luminaries from 2013 include Aroldis Chapman (12) and Greg Holland (11), both of who had more last year than Kimbrel (who had "only" 10).

Other names near the top from a bit further back in time: Eric Gagne and John Rocker (11, in 2003 and 1999 respectively--yes, that means that Rocker set the record, as that orange-shaded "1" in the 1999 row reveals). Brad Lidge rounds out the double-figure "blow-away" achievers, with 10 in 2005.

So who has the lifetime lead in this category? The answer--at the moment, at least--is Billy Wagner, with 66. Billy the Kid, not exactly the big, hulking type of closer that seems to have become the dominant image of later, clearly was the pioneer for what seems to be the inescapable advent of the "uber-power" reliever. (Kimbrel, however, has 48 "blow-aways" in 4+ seasons, so barring some kind of catastrophe, he looks likely to become the record holder at some point in the not-too-distant future.)

It looks as though the 2010s will become the "decade of the blow-away"--and, the way things are going, that could happen as early as mid-2016....