Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Mid-Season Look at the Iowa Baseball Team: Part II

This time, pitching!

Note: Once again, the stats from this post are through March 31 only. No Big 10 games are included in this data.

That looks a lot better than the offense. Now, Iowa's pitchers aren't what you would consider world beaters. However, they do get the job done. The most important thing in any sport is scoring and keeping the other team from scoring. Well, Iowa's pitchers have been decent at keeping runs off the board. Iowa's 5.22 R/9 allowed is 4% better than the league average of 5.42.

A big part of Iowa's ability to keep runs off the board has been keeping the ball in the park. Iowa's 0.27 HR/9, is third in the Big 10, and good for 18% above the league average of 0.33. As mentioned in the first post, Duane Banks Field should also help with this.

When it comes to strikeouts and walks, however, Iowa is below average. Iowa's 6.21 K/9, is 3% below the Big 10 average of 6.42. While, their ability to find the strike zone is a little worse, as their 4.23 BB/9 is 9% worse than the league average of 3.87.

Iowa's pitching graded out overall to 2% above average when taking into account all four scores from above. Their score of 102, tied Illinois for fourth best in the Big 10. Basically, Iowa has a bunch of pitchers who don't miss a lot of bats, walk too many guys, but keep the ball in the park, which keeps runs off the scoreboard. It may not be the prettiest, but it can get the job done. Kind of.


To start off, we'll look at the number of innings pitched by all Iowa pitcher's this year:

Unsurprisingly, Nick Brown, Jared Hippen, and Matt Dermody all lead the staff in innings pitched. This is unsurprising, because that is basically Iowa's starting rotation. Hippen and Dermody started 6 games when I gathered the stats for this post, and Brown had started 5 games. Ricky Sandquist is the other guy who started at least 4 games this year. Ben Bergman also started 1 game. For the bullpen, Kevin Lee (10 appearances), Patrick Lala (9 appearances), and Tim Fangman (8 appearances) all seem to be the go to guys in the pen for the Hawkeyes this year.

Looking at the starters, the first thing that pops out to me is Dermody's strikeout rate. His 8.65 K/9, or 20 strikeouts in 30.1 innings pitched looks pretty damn impressive for a starter. It's second best on the team to Zach Kenyon, who has a crazy strikeout rate out of the bullpen. Dermody's problem, though, is that while his strikeout rate is 35% above average and his home run rate is 12% above average, his walk rate is 19% below average and his runs allowed per nine is 7% below average. Since I have yet to actually see an Iowa game on the Big Ten Network this year, I can only guess that Dermody has some very nasty stuff, but lacks the control to always get it over the plate. Feel free to let me know if I'm wrong.

Coming into this post, I figured Hippen would be by far and away the best pitcher on the staff so far this year (Mainly, because he was the only starting pitcher who I remembered from last year). However, while Hippen has been pretty good, Nick Brown looks to have performed a little better so far. Their numbers are pretty similar, but Brown has had the slight edge in strikeouts, while also giving up over a full run per nine innings less than Hippen. Hippen has a slight advantage in walk rate, but Brown is no slouch there and has been better at limiting home runs. Overall, both pitchers are above average in every category, except for K/9. They both seem to be pitch to contact guys that don't walk many batters, give up many homers, or give up many runs.

Sandquist is.... well, he hasn't been very good. He is giving up almost as many runs per nine as Dermody is striking guys out. Speaking of striking guys out, Sandquist doesn't do that. Add to that the fact that he seems to be allergic to throwing strikes, and it's not a great recipe for a pitcher. But, hey, that's why he's the fourth option.

As was mentioned above, Zach Kenyon has K'd guys at a crazy rate this year. His 17 strikeouts in 13.2 innings pitched is good for 11.59 K/9. The problem is, that he seems to have a little bit of a problem throwing strikes, and he's given up way too many runs. 10 runs in 13.2 innings really takes the shine off of that strikeout rate.

Kevin Lee seems to be a clone of Kenyon. Except, that the strikeout rate is lower and the runs allowed per nine is higher. Once again, strikeouts are good, but runs are bad.

Tim Fangman has been pretty decent this year. He's got the most innings pitched by a reliever so far. He's doesn't do anything spectacular. He doesn't strike out or walk many guys, but he also gives up less runs than the average Big 10 pitcher. Now, if only Kenyon and Lee could also do that.

Patrick Lala walks way too many people.

Finally, one thing I always like to know about pitchers, is whether they have a propensity to get a lot of ground balls or if they give up a lot of fly balls. Needless to say, ground balls are better because they can't go over the fence. However, fly balls aren't necessarily a bad thing, and with a park factor of 63, Duane Banks Field seems like a place where fly ball pitchers can succeed. The crappy thing about college box scores, is that they only keep track of ground outs and air outs. Well, luckily, a couple of months ago, I came across this post at FanGraphs, which found a way to come up with expected ground ball rates from a pitcher's ground-out to air-out ratio. Needless to say, the nerd in me thought this was awesome, and wanted to put it to the test with the Iowa team.

Iowa seems to have a lot of fly ball pitchers on the roster. Jared Hippen (and Steve Hague, who has only pitched 2 innings this year, so ignore him) seems to be the only one with a propensity for inducing ground balls, with an expected ground ball rate (xGB%) of 55.28%. The other regular starters, Brown and Dermody seem to be fly ballers. Especially, Dermody who has an expected ground ball rate of 29.02%. Iowa's fourth starter, Sandquist, seems to be pretty decent at getting ground balls, with an expected ground ball rate of 47.35%.

In the bullpen, Iowa has extreme fly ball pitchers like Phil Keppler, Ben Bergman, and Kevin Lee. They also have some pretty decent ground ball pitchers in Fangman, Pacha, and Kenyon.

Overall, Iowa as a team, has an expected ground ball rate of 41.47%. So, while they have a propensity for fly balls, they still do a pretty decent job of keeping the ball on the ground.


Overall, Iowa's pitching staff isn't great, but it is solid. Hippen and Brown are both good starters. While, Dermody seems to have some nasty stuff, but can't always seem to control it. Sandquist isn't good, but he is also the fourth starter, so whatever. If you take out Sandquist and look at only Iowa's top three pitchers, those three have combined for: 4.71 R/9 (Big 10 average = 5.42), 6.54 K/9 (Big 10 average = 6.42), 3.28 BB/9 (3.87 Big 10 average), and 0.45 HR/9 (Big 10 average = 0.33). So, the first three pitchers in Iowa's rotation are above average in every category except for home run rate, and that's because Hippen has given up 3 long balls this year. The rotation is very solid.

The bullpen looks like: 5.98 R/9, 6.46 K/9, 5.30 BB/9, and 0.18 HR/9. They aren't great, as they give up more runs than average and walk more batters than average. However, they do strikeout more batters than average and allow fewer home runs than average. They do some good things and some bad things. Unfortunately, the bad things are walking guys and allowing runs. So, it looks like Iowa's starters really have to pitch well, because they probably don't have a lot of confidence in their bullpen holding a lead.

If you add Iowa's 102 pitching rating to their 83 offensive rating from the first post, Iowa comes out to an overall rating of 93, or about 7% below average overall. That places them (in my ratings, at least) ahead of Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Ohio State. That also places them right on Illinois (94 overall rating) and Indiana's (95) asses. The top three of Purdue (115 overall rating), Penn State (114 overall rating), and Michigan State (113 overall rating) rated so much better than the other teams, and pulled the average up so high, which led to only three teams being rated over 100 total. So, basically, it looks like three really good baseball teams at the top, and then the rest of the Big 10 below.

With Iowa's pitching, they should be able to hang with almost anybody in the Big 10, outside of Michigan State, Penn State, and Purdue, of course. The Hawkeyes aren't going to put a lot of runs up on the board. So, the key to their success will be their pitchers not allowing teams to plate many runs, and pray that the offense puts up just enough runs to scrape by with the win. That worked for Iowa 9 times before Big 10 play, but it also failed 13 times. How will it go during conference play? Well, we will soon find out. Hopefully, better. Go Hawks!

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