Bannister finished 12-9 with a 3.87 earned-run average, and that was after his two final starts kicked up the ERA nearly a half-point. Otherwise, in his rookie season, Bannister would have finished among the top five in the American League with a record well above .500 in spite of playing for the moribund Royals.
To explain Bannister’s success in spite of his inability to overpower hitters is the crux of the scouts vs. stats debate that has raged for years but took root with the arrival of “Moneyball” five years ago. Scouts attribute Bannister’s success to intangibles – wiliness, toughness and other -nesses – as well as the ability to keep hitters off-balance with his slow curveball.
Statistical analysts? Well, they just think Bannister was lucky.
Then again, his good fortune may continue. In a late January interview with Tim Dierkes that outlined much of his sabermetric leanings, Bannister theorized that he could keep his BABIP down if he got to two-strike counts more often. It was a brilliant hypothesis that melded the practical – hitters are taught to, and thus tend to, take more defensive swings with two strikes – with numerical data.
Analysts tested Bannister’s idea, and he was right: there is a difference, though not terribly significant. Still, Bannister’s interest prompted Mike Fast to run a detailed series of analyses on Bannister with Pitch f/x, the two-camera system that tracks a ball from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s glove and details its speed to the tenth of a mile per hour and movement to the inch.
If anything convinces pitchers to become converts, as on-base percentage has done with a generation of hitters, it will be Pitch f/x. Its uses are manifold, and when Bannister learned about it in the middle of last season and figured out how to download and sort the data, it was as though he’d found religion.
“I find Pitch f/x to be more useful than video,” Bannister said, “because you’re actually seeing what the pitches are doing late in the zone, and that’s what it’s all about. Everybody can throw a fastball, but if one guy’s explodes in the last 10 feet and the other’s goes dead straight, there’s a huge difference, even if they’re both throwing 95 mph. That’s where the magic lies: in tweaking your pitches in order to get the most out of your ability.”