Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Brian Bannister

PRELUDE: We're piggybacking off the work of others in this post, merely summarizing some really interesting points made by some obviously really hard-working people. Let it be noted that we take no credit for the following.

There’s always going to be criticism because I’m definitely a statistical anomaly. I’m becoming immune to it, but it’s always going to be there because of the arsenal that I have.

--Brian Bannister, in the KC Star

In case you missed it, Mike Fast over at Most Valuable Network did a comprehensive three-part analysis of Bannister's rookie campaign last week, and we do mean comprehensive. Fast looked at every pitch Banny threw in 2007 in an attempt to figure -- dissertation-style -- "exactly how Brian Bannister wins in the major leagues with a below-average fastball speed."

Specifically, Fast -- a Royals fan -- is double-checking Bannister's claim -- made in the now-famous three-part MLB Trade Rumors interview -- that he manipulates counts and situations to his advantage, specifically playing percentages so that his unnaturally low BABIP (batting average (of opposing hitters, in this case) of balls in play) is less an indicator of luck than a reflection of skill. Bannister takes issue with the DIPS theory, which essentially claims the outcome of all balls in play is completely beyond the pitcher's control. In other words, Bannister believes himself an exception to a generally accepted rule: pitchers with a low BABIP one year will, according to the law of averages, give up more hits and runs the next. (The opposite is true for batters: those with high BABIPs one year will generally regress the next.)

Among the questions asked (and answered) in the three-part series:

  • "Does he actually pitch in favorable counts and get balls in play those counts more often than other pitchers? If he does, does that explain his BABIP performance more often than other pitchers?"
    Answer: Bannister's claim that he works himself into lots of pitcher-friendly counts is largely refuted by the data. MVN: "In fact, in 2007, Bannister pitched less often in those counts than the average pitcher, entering the 0-2, 1-2, or 2-2 count with 63% of batters he faced, compared to the league average of 66%."
  • "What pitches does Brian Bannister throw?"
    Answer: Several. Click on Part 2 to find out more.
  • "Did Bannister face weaker than average hitters?"
    Answer: No.
  • Let's cut to the chase. How much of Bannister's success last year as a pitcher should be attributed to luck?
    Answer: Like a good mystery novel, the three-part series slowly builds the intrigue until this moment of truth, when the smoke clears and the killer materializes, eyes aslant, smoking a cigarette with the murder weapon in his other hand... MVN: "In summary, Bannister’s BABIP performance appears to be partly luck and partly skill. He’ll probably have a few more fly balls fall in for hits than he did in 2007, but he also induces a favorable mix of batted balls and seems to use the strengths of the defense behind him well. It’s not clear how well that will carry over."

The article in its entirety is highly recommended. If Bannister isn't already your favorite player, he just might be after you understand how in the past couple of month he's single-handedly made baseball more enjoyable to mull over and discuss. He is, in effect, a godsend for the guys at Baseball Prospectus -- and quite good enough for the rest of us. He's already Joe Posnanski's favorite player, as pointed out in this rather incredible post about component parts of championship-caliber teams, and he's Rany's Reason #14 why it's great to be a Royals fan right now (that post is highly recommended, by the way). And in the interest of full disclosure, he's fast become our favorite, too. If ever there were an athlete that nerdy bloggers could get behind without needing to say, "Well, he's smart for a jock," this is the guy. And while intelligence doesn't always translate to success in sports -- otherwise Jacque Vaughn would be running the Spurs, not Tony Parker -- it usually doesn't hurt*. It certainly might, as we mentioned last month, help Bannister defy conventional wisdom and actually improve on 2007.

As Rany puts it:

Brian, if you’re reading this, just remember that the numbers aren’t saying you can’t remain effective. What they’re saying is that you can’t remain effective the same way. So while your efforts to keep your BABIP at a low level are laudable, focusing your efforts on getting more strikeouts is going to yield a lot more bang for your buck.

Something tells me Bannister will read that, and that he's already a step ahead.

*A shortage of intelligence or perspicuity may actually be favorable to baseball players, but more so for batters. Just ask Billy Beane.

POSTSCRIPT: Twice a month, apparently, Bannister will answer your questions. The first fan chat transcript is here, in which, among other things, Bannister calls his wife his lucky charm and "the best thing that's happened to me," reveals he's tweaked his off-speed pitches (oooooh), mentions his photography work and calls Kansas City "one of the best baseball towns in America." Not bad for a day's work.

Send questions to We know our first already:
Mr. Bannister... why do hot dogs come in packets of eight when hot dog buns come in packets of 12?
(Big brownie points to anyone who can name the 90's show that question comes from.)

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