• Deconstructing Diamond

    Warning: Stats ahead! If you prefer to learn about Scott Diamond's unique place in baseball history, you can read it here.

    2012 was a completely lost season for the Minnesota Twins. I don't need to rehash all the details, as we all lived it together. One of the few bright spots was a 26-year-old former Rule 5 draft pick in Scott Diamond. Diamond shined brightly for the Twins in 2012. He won 12 games, posted a 3.54 ERA and dazzled hitters and fans alike with his pinpoint control. Diamond will go into the 2013 season as the only certainty and likely would have been the Opening Day starter, had he been healthy. As it stands, the expectations for Diamond are high. Should we expect to see a repeat of 2012, or will he revert to pre-2012 Scott Diamond? Let's use any and everything FanGraphs.com has to offer to find out.

    This article was originally posted at Kevin Slowey was Framed!


    The very first thing I see when I look at Diamond's stats is his below-average strikeout rate. Diamond posted a 12.6% strikeout rate in 2012, where league average was around 19%. This stat alone means only one thing - Scott Diamond doesn't strike out a lot of batters. Not exactly breaking news. However, the rate is so far below the league average, that it bears a closer inspection. Here is a list of "successful" pitchers with a career K rate of 13% or lower (from 1993-2012). I used an ERA- of 100 or less as the gauge for success, but within that number there is much fluctuation. A 100 ERA- is considered league average. I used ERA- instead of FIP- because I wanted to reflect actual performance and not peripheral skill. I only looked at pitchers who were considered starters through the majority of their career.



    Note: ERA- is a stat that standardizes ERA for park factors and era. It is a great way to compare ERA from players in multiple seasons and eras. A smaller number is better and 100 is always the average, much like IQ.

    Aaron Cook
    Chien-Ming Wang
    Mark Gubicza
    John Lannan
    Jon Garland
    Paul Byrd
    Dennis Martinez
    Tomo Ohka
    Butch Henry

    9 names and no one that really jumps off the page. We can add players who posted a 13 to 14% K rate and then these names appear: Mark Buehrle, Kenny Rogers, Orel Hershiser, Ken Hill, and Jarrod Washburn. The names are a bit more impressive, but we are also talking about a 10% increase in K rate. It is possible to have success with such a low strikeout rate, but it is pretty rare. However, K rate is just one part of the puzzle. What else should we look at?

    Diamond's walk rate was 4.3% last season, almost half of the league average of 8.1%. How rare is a walk rate that low? Looking at the same sample as before, here is a list of pitchers who posted a walk rate as low as Diamond's 4.3%?

    Bret Saberhagen
    Bob Tewksbury
    Kevin Slowey
    Greg Maddux
    Scott Sanderson
    Josh Towers
    Brad Radke

    7 names, and all but Towers and Slowey won at least 100 career games. Sanderson doesn't really fit, as the sample was from the tail end of his career. Towers and Slowey couldn't keep balls in the park, something Diamond did at roughly the league average. Maddux, Saberhagen and Radke are the class of this group. Each had a significantly higher K rate than Diamond. However, it is clear that Diamond had elite control last season. If he can maintain that control, he should remain effective.

    Limiting walks as Diamond does really keeps runners off of the bases. The low walk rate masks his low strikeout rate a bit. His 2.9 K/BB ratio last year was well above league average. in our 1993-2012 sample, only 75 pitchers had a K/BB ratio higher than 2.9. Of those 75 pitchers, only 6 posted an ERA- over 100: Kevin Slowey, Ricky Nolasco, Bob Tewksbury, Josh Towers, Scott Sanderson and Steve Woodard. We discussed Slowey, Towers and Sanderson in the prior paragraph. What is the deal with the other three?

    Let's talk a bit about LOB% or left on-base percentage. This is basically the percentage of batters that pitchers put on-base, but then strand. Low strikeout pitchers often have troubles with LOB% because they can't just rear back and get a strikeout when they need it. This seems to be why Tewksbury was only league average. He had a 11.6% career K rate, even lower than Diamond. Nolasco and Woodard have low LOB% as well, but did not have the same issues with strikeouts, as each approached league average. Their low career LOB% could indicate that they pitch worse out of the stretch, or perhaps they just pitch poorly with runners on base. Whatever the reason, this seems to be hurting their overall performance. Scott Diamond has a LOB% above league average. Now, that could regress a bit, but if he can maintain that rate, he could continue to succeed as a low-strikeout pitcher.

    Another reason for Diamond's success was a significantly improved ground ball rate of 53.4%. Only 58 pitchers in my 1993-2012 sample posted a rate that high. High ground ball rates mean fewer line drives and fly balls, therefore leading to fewer extra-base hits. Here is a list of pitchers from my sample who posted a ground ball rate comparable to Diamond's with a walk rate in his neighborhood: Roy Halladay, Kevin Brown and the oft-injured but always effective Brett Anderson. Not bad. Each of these pitchers gets more strikeouts, but no one limited walks like Diamond did in 2012.

    So, why was Diamond more effective in 2012? Why did he get more ground balls? Why did his walk rate dip? Let's look through some PitchF/x data and see if we can figure it all out.

    A couple factors jump out at me. Diamond has a great curve ball. He gets far more swinging strikes on that pitch than is considered normal. Batters swing at roughly half of his curve balls outside the strike zone (30% is about average), but only make contact on those half the time (68% is about average). This is pretty impressive.

    His fastball doesn't generate many swings and misses at all, but the fastballs that are put in play against him are mostly ground balls. This improved ground ball rate on fastballs pretty much explains his overall increase in ground ball rate. Is this something he is doing differently with his fastball? The heat charts are not perfect because the sample was much smaller in 2011, but it seems that he is working away from left-handed batters more and working in on right-handed batters a bit more. It also seems that there is a trend toward him working lower in the zone, which certainly could explain the extra ground balls.

    There are a couple other items I learned looking at his PitchF/x data. First, he almost exclusively uses his change-up against right handed batters. He keeps it low and away and works that pitch mostly out of the strike zone. He induces mostly weak contact with that pitch, making it an out pitch of sorts. He likes to put his curve ball down and away from left-handed batters and down an in on right-handed batters. This indicates a match in approach with his fastball. Consistently keeping the ball down is a great way to get ground balls.

    Looking at two specific games shows the two sides of Scott Diamond. On June 24, against the Cincinnati Reds, Diamond was efficient. He went 8 innings, struck out 7 and walked just one. PitchF/x shows that he worked the outer parts of the strike zone, kept his curve ball down, but not too far down, and ran his fastball in on righties. He kept the ball away from lefties as well. On September 16, the White Sox tagged him for six runs in 5.1 innings. Against righties, His curve ball was all over the place and his fastball was out over the middle of the plate. Against lefties, the ball was up more over the middle of the plate.

    A few other items. Diamond didn't have much of a platoon split in 2012, showing relatively equal effectiveness against lefties and righties. Lefties actually made better contact, but Diamond gets more strikeouts and walks against lefties as well. Home/road splits don't vary much either, although he did get hit a bit more on the road. Diamond's walk rate increased and his ground ball rate decreased as the year went on. This would help to explain his ever increasing ERA.

    Diamond's FIP (fielding-independent pitching, which measures peripheral skill) was pretty comparable to his final ERA. His extra-base hit rate was in line with league average, as was his home run to fly ball ratio. His BABIP was around league average as well. Basically, when Diamond was effective, he wasn't lucky, he was good.

    2012 Scott Diamond started hot and cooled off as the year went on. He gets a lot of ground balls with his fastball and he has a really good curve ball. He doesn't get a lot of strikeouts, but his curve ball generates a lot of swings and misses. He has truly elite control.. He can overcome the lack of strikeouts when he keeps his pitches down. He is an efficient pitcher who can go deep into games. If 2012 Scott Diamond is the real Scott Diamond, the Twins have found a uniquely effective pitcher who can defy a lot of widely-held notions about starting pitchers.
    This article was originally published in blog: Deconstructing Diamond started by Brad Swanson
    Comments 12 Comments
    1. jorgenswest's Avatar
      jorgenswest -
      I wish there was similar data to study Allan Anderson.

      What made him so effective for such a small window of time? Parallels to Diamond? His first full season was his best. I hope we haven't seen the best of Diamond yet.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      I hope so too. There are certainly reasons to be encouraged by what he did last year. I find no reason to think that he can't be equally successful, if he pitches as he did last season.
    1. ericchri's Avatar
      ericchri -
      That was a really fun read. It's nice to know that his success last year wasn't really based on luck, but just by pitching really well. His late regression is still worrying, of course, but maybe he's just the rare guy who has really, really good control, and it just took him a while to find it. Here's hoping.
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      No one even knows when this guy will be able to pitch.
    1. twinsfaninsaudi's Avatar
      twinsfaninsaudi -
      Yes! I knew he was for real! Thank you for doing the research and analysis that I am not capable of. Awesome article!
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by twinsfaninsaudi View Post
      Yes! I knew he was for real! Thank you for doing the research and analysis that I am not capable of. Awesome article!
      Haha, you are welcome. I will say this. He is as real as that walk rate. Without that command/control, he could really struggle. As ericchri said earlier, if this control is real, there doesn't seem to be any particular reason to think he will regress too much.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      I looked at Diamond's brooksbaseball profile for 2012 and was struck by 2 things. 1 is how infrequently hitters are swinging in 2-0 and 3-1 against him, and, how Diamond seemed to thrive in those counts. 8:1 and 7:1 GB/FB ratios on his fastball in those counts, and only 1 HR.

      edit: actually those are GB/FB ratios to righthanders only. LHH seemed to fair a bit better
    1. mcrow's Avatar
      mcrow -
      I think last year was his ceiling and that unless he has lights-out control all season this year like he did last year he's going to come back to the pack some. Not many pitchers in the history of MLB have been able to do what Diamond did last year for their entire career so I suspect that we'll find out this year if it was a one year semi-fluke or if he's just that good.
    1. Joe A. Preusser's Avatar
      Joe A. Preusser -
      What gives me hope that Diamond could be a lasting talent is that even when he "regressed" after the ASB, his 2nd half ERA was still just over 4. Not exactly terrible. My prediction for '13 is an entire season of 3.90 ERA ball.
    1. mcrow's Avatar
      mcrow -
      Quote Originally Posted by Joe A. Preusser View Post
      What gives me hope that Diamond could be a lasting talent is that even when he "regressed" after the ASB, his 2nd half ERA was still just over 4. Not exactly terrible. My prediction for '13 is an entire season of 3.90 ERA ball.
      I think he's probably going to be a little over 4 ERA for the year and somewhere around that for his career. I think that would make him a very nice #2 guy in the rotation but they'll still be missing a staff ace.

      So i'd say he'll be a 4.20 ERA type of pitcher from year to year, +/- about 0.25. So he's probably a #2-#3 type of pitcher I think, talent wise. If you can get guys like that out the Rule 5 draft you're pretty happy with it.
    1. bobby_baseball's Avatar
      bobby_baseball -
      Quote Originally Posted by Joe A. Preusser View Post
      What gives me hope that Diamond could be a lasting talent is that even when he "regressed" after the ASB, his 2nd half ERA was still just over 4. Not exactly terrible. My prediction for '13 is an entire season of 3.90 ERA ball.
      I think Joe Saunders is a good comp for Scotty Diamond... Mid-4 ERA a guy who will benefit from pitching at Target Field and will be hurt/helped by the defense. Can always hope for Jon Danks/Cliff Lee type season sprinkled in!

      The Twins 2014 rotation could look something like this anyway:

      Vance Worley
      Kyle Gibson
      Mike Pelfrey
      Scott Diamond
      Liam Hendricks
      ** Trevor May & Alex Meyer knocking on the door
    1. mcrow's Avatar
      mcrow -
      Quote Originally Posted by bobby_baseball View Post
      I think Joe Saunders is a good comp for Scotty Diamond... Mid-4 ERA a guy who will benefit from pitching at Target Field and will be hurt/helped by the defense. Can always hope for Jon Danks/Cliff Lee type season sprinkled in!

      The Twins 2014 rotation could look something like this anyway:

      Vance Worley
      Kyle Gibson
      Mike Pelfrey
      Scott Diamond
      Liam Hendricks
      ** Trevor May & Alex Meyer knocking on the door
      Saunders is probably a good comparison but given that Diamond is younger there could be more upside. I think Diamond is already better than Saunders was at the same point in their careers so I think there is potential for him to be the better pitcher when comparing careers.

      If Diamond can repeat close to what he did last year he'll be a 3.7-4.00 ERA player over his career.
©2014 TwinsCentric, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Interested in advertising with Twins Daily? Click here.