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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fangraphs: Q&A: Matt Harrison, Low K-rate Success

On his low strikeout rate: “It doesn’t bother me at all. My job is to get the hitter out, and it doesn’t matter to me how I get him out: fly ball, ground ball, the occasional strikeout. I know there are times you need a strikeout, like with a guy on third base with less than two out. But for the most part, I try to get the hitters out with one pitch. It obviously takes at least three to get a strikeout, and the more you can limit your pitches, the deeper into the game you can go. I like quick innings.

“For me, the meaning [of pitching to contact] is being aggressive and commanding the strike zone. Once you can start doing that, you’ll get the hitters in swing mode. If you’re pitching to contact, you’re allowing your defense to be on their toes a lot more, and any time I can do that, I feel like I’m doing my job.

“Pitching is all about location and keeping hitters off-balance. It doesn’t matter how hard you throw. I mean, it’s nice to have 98 to 100, but if you can’t locate that and are walking guys, it’s no good to you. You can also keep a hitter off-balance with mostly fastballs, if you use them differently. You can throw four-seamers, sinkers and cutters and move the ball around. You can do that and get weak contact. You don‘t need to strike guys out to get outs.”

Thanks to Gez.

Repoz Posted: August 22, 2012 at 09:25 AM | 6 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: rangers

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: August 22, 2012 at 05:21 PM (#4215182)
For his career, he has averaged 3.79 p/PA vs. a league average of 3.81 so he's not throwing fewer pitches. For his career, his strike %age is 62 vs. a league average of 63 so he's not throwing more strikes. For his career, he throws 57% 1st pitch strikes vs. league average of 59%. In fairness, he is having the best season of his career by those numbers, generally out-performing the league, so he may be a better pitcher now relative to his career. But last year those numbers were definitely worse than this year.

It's not a massive BABIP fluke though. It's low this year but not dramatically and he had fairly similar results last year with a league-average BABIP. (I'm not sure if that's park-adjusted or not ... and don't know if Texas helps BABIP.) While he probably can't sustain this level of ERA success with this approach, he's got one of the BABIP combos that works -- a K/BB over 2 and a low HR rate.

Remember, "DIPS theory" does not say you need a high K-rate to be a good pitcher. BIPs are good for pitchers, it turns all hitters into Willie Bloomquist (or somebody like that). It's that combination of K, BB and HR that makes the (most) difference. With a really high K-rate, you're almost guaranteed to have a pretty good K/BB/HR combination (unless you're Ollie Perez) but it's not necessary. Having a low K-rate (and Harrison's isn't super low, it's over 5) does kind of limit how good you can be and it has implications for how long you can last, but it doesn't mean you can't be successful.
   2. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: August 22, 2012 at 06:24 PM (#4215231)
The notion that low-K pitchers throw fewer pitches than high-K pitchers was thoroughly debunked years ago. Yeah, they have more 1-2 pitch at-bats, but you're also much more susceptible to 9-pitch at-bats when you can't make the guy swing and miss. I would think this point would be obvious to anyone that watches a lot of baseball. Just last week I was at a AA game watching what ended up being an 11 pitch at-bat (that ended with a popout, as I recall) and the pitcher was throwing nothing but fastballs once it reached 3-2. The batter, I pointed out to my companion on pitch 7, was not going to swing and miss if the pitcher kept throwing fastballs till sunrise. It's a spot where it would have been mighty handy for the pitcher to at least have a commandable curveball to end the at-bat with, for better or worse.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: August 23, 2012 at 01:14 AM (#4215469)
Yeah, they have more 1-2 pitch at-bats, but you're also much more susceptible to 9-pitch at-bats when you can't make the guy swing and miss.

Also by (generally) giving up more BIP, they're going to give up more hits and (generally) more baserunners. Yes a 3-pitch groundout is "better" than a 4-pitch strikeout but 3 3-pitch groundouts and a 3-pitch single is the same as 3 4-pitch striekouts. That's one of the reasons why low-K pitchers have to be low-BB pitchers.
   4. bobm Posted: August 23, 2012 at 03:59 AM (#4215506)
Harrison is really only one of a few low K/9 qualifying pitchers having success this year. ISTM that in addition to Harrison's good OBP against, his baserunners allowed are not advancing/scoring as much on SH, SF, SB, BK and WP as they do against some of the other low K/9 pitchers.

For 2012, (requiring SOp9<=6, batting_avg_bip>=0 and Qualified for league ERA title), sorted by greatest WAR for Pitchers

                                                                                                                               
Rk              Player  WAR SO/9 BAbip  Tm Lg  W  L    IP  R ER BB  SO  ERA ERA+ HR SH SF GDP SB CS WP   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
1        Matt Harrison  4.6 5.37  .285 TEX AL 14  7 161.0 59 57 46  96 3.19  142 13  1  1  16  1  2  1 .256 .308 .391 .699   83
2           Kyle Lohse  3.7 5.61  .269 STL NL 12  2 162.0 50 47 32 101 2.61  149 12  9  6  12  5  3  0 .242 .281 .359 .641   78
3        Scott Diamond  2.8 4.92  .296 MIN AL 10  5 128.0 49 42 18  70 2.95  139 13  3  3  23 12  3  8 .274 .304 .407 .710   94
4         Mark Buehrle  2.7 5.31  .286 MIA NL 11 11 161.0 70 66 31  95 3.69  109 20 13  7  17  2  3  2 .268 .302 .420 .722   97
5        Bartolo Colon  2.7 5.38  .287 OAK AL 10  9 152.1 62 58 23  91 3.43  116 17  3  4  14  1  0  0 .266 .292 .400 .692   90
6         Jason Vargas  2.6 5.57  .249 SEA AL 13  8 176.0 70 69 44 109 3.53  107 26  2  5  20  7  6  5 .239 .286 .404 .690   95
7       Bronson Arroyo  2.2 5.88  .297 CIN NL  9  7 150.0 68 66 27  98 3.96  107 21  6  4   5  6  3  3 .275 .309 .436 .744  100
8    Jeremy Hellickson  1.7 5.76  .261 TBR AL  8  8 134.1 55 49 48  86 3.28  114 19  3  3  10  6  3  3 .246 .313 .407 .721  103
9       Jake Westbrook  1.5 5.54  .301 STL NL 12  9 154.1 68 60 41  95 3.50  111 10  4  1  22  3  5  5 .265 .317 .369 .686   93
10       Clay Buchholz  1.2 5.99  .281 BOS AL 11  3 139.2 70 65 45  93 4.19  105 18  3  4  25  5  1  2 .258 .328 .423 .751   98
11       Rick Porcello  1.1 5.31  .347 DET AL  9  8 140.2 81 73 32  83 4.67   90 11  2  3  17 16  4  4 .311 .351 .445 .796  114
12     Wandy Rodriguez  1.0 5.95  .292 TOT NL  8 12 157.1 81 70 41 104 4.00   99 17  6  4  10 12  4  5 .264 .311 .412 .723  101
13     Clayton Richard  1.0 4.45  .263 SDP NL 10 12 176.0 84 73 35  87 3.73   98 21  3  6  17  6  3  2 .254 .293 .409 .702  102
14          Tim Hudson  0.8 5.51  .274 ATL NL 12  4 134.0 59 55 39  82 3.69  108  9  5  2   8  2  4  2 .244 .305 .354 .659   82
15       Ricky Nolasco  0.4 5.80  .326 MIA NL  9 12 149.0 87 84 44  96 5.07   80 16 15  6  17 11  4  6 .294 .346 .448 .794  117
16      Jeremy Guthrie  0.1 5.28  .307 TOT ML  5 12 129.2 88 78 39  76 5.41   84 24  5  5  13  8  4  2 .297 .353 .515 .868  126
17   Henderson Alvarez -0.2 3.43  .302 TOR AL  7 11 147.0 88 79 41  56 4.84   90 22  2  3  26  2  0  2 .301 .347 .482 .830  120
18          Barry Zito -0.3 5.14  .271 SFG NL  9  8 138.1 74 68 58  79 4.42   80 18 10  3  13  5  5  1 .257 .334 .430 .764  122
19       Kevin Correia -0.5 4.34  .280 PIT NL  9  8 128.2 72 65 36  62 4.55   85 16 11  6   9  6  3  0 .272 .321 .433 .754  111
20          Derek Lowe -0.8 3.42  .335 TOT AL  8 10 126.1 81 75 46  48 5.34   73  9  3  5  21  7  2  5 .319 .375 .443 .818  130
   5. bobm Posted: August 23, 2012 at 04:17 AM (#4215507)
7 of 39 (18%) qualifying pitchers in 2012, have K/9 less than 6, and WAR greater than 2.
20 of 97 (21%) qualifying pitchers in 2012 have K/9 less than 6.

For 2012, (requiring WAR_pitch>=2, batting_avg_bip>=0 and Qualified for league ERA title), sorted by greatest Strikeouts per 9 IP

                                                                                                   
Rk              Player  SO/9 WAR BAbip  Tm Lg  W  L    IP BB  SO  ERA ERA+ HR SH SF GDP SB CS BK WP
1         Max Scherzer 11.34 2.0  .355 DET AL 13  6 147.2 52 186 4.27   98 22  5  1   7 11  8  1  2
2    Stephen Strasburg 11.33 3.3  .315 WSN NL 15  5 145.1 43 183 2.85  139 12  5  3  14 12  2  0  4
3         Gio Gonzalez  9.45 2.8  .283 WSN NL 16  6 153.1 58 161 3.23  123  7  9  5   5  9  1  1  9
4          R.A. Dickey  9.29 4.0  .280 NYM NL 15  4 175.1 40 181 2.82  136 17  6  5  17  3  2  0  2
5      Yovani Gallardo  8.96 2.2  .299 MIL NL 12  8 154.2 60 154 3.67  113 18 11  4   9  8  2  0  5
6     Justin Verlander  8.92 6.0  .262 DET AL 12  7 181.2 45 180 2.53  166 15  4  3  13 13  2  1  1
7          CC Sabathia  8.89 2.0  .304 NYY AL 12  3 141.2 35 140 3.56  118 15  4  2  10  7  2  1  0
8          David Price  8.84 5.3  .275 TBR AL 16  4 170.0 50 167 2.28  164 13  1  1  18 11  6  0  6
9          Cole Hamels  8.82 4.0  .285 PHI NL 14  6 171.1 42 168 2.94  139 21  5  4   9 18 11  2  1
10     Clayton Kershaw  8.82 3.9  .271 LAD NL 11  7 178.2 42 175 2.87  134 13 16  4  13  8  7  1  5
11           Cliff Lee  8.79 2.4  .317 PHI NL  2  7 154.2 25 151 3.78  108 22  2  3  20  4  3  0  4
12        Zack Greinke  8.71 2.0  .336 TOT ML 10  5 155.0 41 150 4.01  102 12  6  0  14  7  6  0  6
13     Felix Hernandez  8.58 4.6  .282 SEA AL 12  5 187.2 45 179 2.54  149 11  1  2  19 14  7  2  9
14          Chris Sale  8.48 5.0  .275 CHW AL 14  4 145.1 35 137 2.72  158 13  1  2  14  9  6  0  6
15   Madison Bumgarner  8.39 3.1  .261 SFG NL 14  7 171.2 32 160 2.83  124 18  7  3  13 20  7  2  3
16           Matt Cain  8.27 2.6  .263 SFG NL 12  5 167.2 33 154 2.90  121 18  4  7   8 17  7  0  3
17       Chris Capuano  8.16 2.3  .291 LAD NL 11  8 157.2 46 143 3.14  122 16 12  2  12  4  3  0  3
18           Mat Latos  8.04 2.8  .270 CIN NL 10  3 156.2 49 140 3.56  119 21  8  1  12 16  3  0  2
19          Jake Peavy  8.04 4.3  .278 CHW AL  9  9 168.0 37 150 3.11  139 17  0  4  12  7  7  2  3
20        Josh Johnson  7.76 2.7  .317 MIA NL  7 10 154.1 48 133 3.73  108 10  5  4  15 18  3  0  5
21      Jonathon Niese  7.64 2.3  .274 NYM NL 10  6 152.0 38 129 3.49  110 19  5  3  14  7  2  0  6
22       Edwin Jackson  7.56 2.1  .263 WSN NL  7  8 144.0 45 121 3.69  107 19  8  5   6  6  3  0  1
23       Ryan Dempster  7.31 3.0  .259 TOT ML  7  6 129.1 35 105 2.99  138 14  5  3   5 16  2  1  1
24        Wei-Yin Chen  7.27 2.7  .278 BAL AL 12  7 151.0 48 122 3.87  108 20  4  5   8 10  3  1  2
25        Johnny Cueto  7.16 5.6  .295 CIN NL 16  6 169.2 37 135 2.44  174  9  4  3  13  1  8  2  0
Rk              Player  SO/9 WAR BAbip  Tm Lg  W  L    IP BB  SO  ERA ERA+ HR SH SF GDP SB CS BK WP
26      Ryan Vogelsong  7.08 2.8  .277 SFG NL 10  7 148.2 51 117 2.85  124 10  6  3   9 10  7  0  3
27        Jered Weaver  6.89 2.9  .233 LAA AL 15  3 141.0 32 108 2.74  138 14  0  1   8  4  6  0  1
28       Jarrod Parker  6.75 2.7  .291 OAK AL  8  7 129.1 50  97 3.48  114  6  6  4  12 16  6  0  7
29       Hiroki Kuroda  6.74 4.9  .275 NYY AL 12  8 167.0 38 125 2.96  141 17  5  2  15 15  7  0 10
30   Jordan Zimmermann  6.69 4.1  .286 WSN NL  9  7 156.0 29 116 2.54  156 13  8  4  15  8  1  0  2
31          Wade Miley  6.55 3.2  .287 ARI NL 13  8 143.0 26 104 2.96  146 10  4  2  12  1  5  1  5
32         Paul Maholm  6.41 2.3  .273 TOT NL 11  8 150.1 40 107 3.47  116 17  5  4  19  6  5  0  4

33      Bronson Arroyo  5.88 2.2  .297 CIN NL  9  7 150.0 27  98 3.96  107 21  6  4   5  6  3  0  3
34          Kyle Lohse  5.61 3.7  .269 STL NL 12  2 162.0 32 101 2.61  149 12  9  6  12  5  3  0  0
35        Jason Vargas  5.57 2.6  .249 SEA AL 13  8 176.0 44 109 3.53  107 26  2  5  20  7  6  0  5
36       Bartolo Colon  5.38 2.7  .287 OAK AL 10  9 152.1 23  91 3.43  116 17  3  4  14  1  0  0  0
37       Matt Harrison  5.37 4.6  .285 TEX AL 14  7 161.0 46  96 3.19  142 13  1  1  16  1  2  0  1
38        Mark Buehrle  5.31 2.7  .286 MIA NL 11 11 161.0 31  95 3.69  109 20 13  7  17  2  3  0  2
39       Scott Diamond  4.92 2.8  .296 MIN AL 10  5 128.0 18  70 2.95  139 13  3  3  23 12  3  0  8
   6. bobm Posted: August 23, 2012 at 04:42 AM (#4215509)
At first glance, success with a low K/9 does not seem to be very sustainable. Over the last 10 years, among starters only Hudson and Buehrle seem to stand out (by ERA+). However, even they are only ranked #17 and #30 by ERA+ out of 102 on the list below. Among these pitchers below with above average success, more of the low K/9 pitchers seem to have been aging/declining veterans who had already peaked and presumably had higher K/9 and better ERA+ earlier in their careers.

Spanning Multiple Seasons or entire Careers, From 2002 to 2011, (requiring earned_run_avg_plus>=100, IP>=500 and At least 60% games started), sorted by smallest Strikeouts per 9 IP

                                                                 
Rk               Player  SO/9 ERA+     IP From   To   Age   G  GS
1            Aaron Cook  3.83  106 1312.1 2002 2011 23-32 238 206
2       Chien-Ming Wang  4.11  106  733.0 2005 2011 25-31 120 115
3             Paul Byrd  4.60  104 1132.1 2002 2009 31-38 182 181
4          Kenny Rogers  4.69  107 1253.1 2002 2008 37-43 206 203
5           John Lannan  4.71  103  751.0 2007 2011 22-26 128 128
6           Tom Glavine  4.73  109 1293.1 2002 2008 36-42 213 213
7           Jon Garland  4.84  104 1896.2 2002 2011 22-31 303 301
8             Tomo Ohka  4.84  105  880.2 2002 2009 26-33 159 143
9           David Wells  4.94  101 1031.2 2002 2007 39-44 165 164
10       Jake Westbrook  4.98  100 1385.0 2002 2011 24-33 240 218
11         Joe Saunders  5.02  103  986.2 2005 2011 24-30 161 161
12         Mark Buehrle  5.03  118 2204.0 2002 2011 23-32 330 330
13           Brad Radke  5.17  110  913.1 2002 2006 29-33 147 147
14      Jarrod Washburn  5.22  107 1450.1 2002 2009 27-34 237 235
15          Greg Maddux  5.24  109 1457.1 2002 2008 36-42 239 239
16          Jamie Moyer  5.33  102 1728.1 2002 2010 39-47 281 275
17        Trevor Cahill  5.48  106  583.0 2009 2011 21-23  96  96
18       Jeremy Guthrie  5.52  104 1020.1 2004 2011 25-32 177 154
19         John Thomson  5.56  102  786.2 2002 2007 28-33 135 132
20           Jon Lieber  5.64  103  828.2 2002 2008 32-38 150 123
21           Tim Hudson  5.68  127 1929.2 2002 2011 26-35 290 289
22           Derek Lowe  5.71  108 2031.1 2002 2011 29-38 336 334
23          Mark Mulder  5.73  106  930.2 2002 2008 24-30 144 142
24           Brad Penny  5.91  100 1546.1 2002 2011 24-33 265 262
25          Randy Wells  5.95  105  500.1 2008 2011 25-28  86  82
Rk               Player  SO/9 ERA+     IP From   To   Age   G  GS
26       Bronson Arroyo  5.97  106 1714.2 2002 2011 25-34 283 266
27        Tim Wakefield  5.97  104 1713.2 2002 2011 35-44 315 258

28           Noah Lowry  6.11  109  618.1 2003 2007 22-26 106 100
29        Jair Jurrjens  6.15  119  702.1 2007 2011 21-25 115 115
30     Brandon McCarthy  6.20  106  543.1 2005 2011 21-27 135  81
31        Freddy Garcia  6.39  104 1512.0 2002 2011 25-34 241 240
32        Bartolo Colon  6.40  109 1327.2 2002 2011 29-38 211 207
33           Barry Zito  6.48  108 1945.0 2002 2011 24-33 319 313
34     Dontrelle Willis  6.60  101 1221.2 2003 2011 21-29 205 202
35       Kevin Millwood  6.67  104 1772.0 2002 2011 27-36 290 289
36        Hiroki Kuroda  6.73  114  699.0 2008 2011 33-36 115 114
37            Al Leiter  6.74  102  701.0 2002 2005 36-39 126 119
38       Jose Contreras  6.78  101 1154.1 2003 2011 31-39 275 175
39           Randy Wolf  6.86  103 1619.1 2002 2011 25-34 264 264
40           Doug Davis  6.90  104 1428.1 2002 2011 26-35 244 243
41         Johnny Cueto  6.97  108  687.0 2008 2011 22-25 116 116
42         Roy Halladay  6.97  148 2194.2 2002 2011 25-34 304 303
43           John Danks  7.00  111  917.2 2007 2011 22-26 150 150
44        Andy Pettitte  7.02  117 1605.2 2002 2010 30-38 261 258
45          John Lackey  7.03  107 1876.0 2002 2011 23-32 295 294
46     Justin Masterson  7.11  106  613.2 2008 2011 23-26 146  87
47      Chris Carpenter  7.16  130 1405.0 2002 2011 27-36 208 207
48        Ervin Santana  7.17  101 1297.2 2005 2011 22-28 206 203
49           Roy Oswalt  7.22  131 2012.1 2002 2011 24-33 311 306
50          Scott Baker  7.23  102  958.0 2005 2011 23-29 163 159
Rk               Player  SO/9 ERA+     IP From   To   Age   G  GS
51         Shaun Marcum  7.23  112  792.2 2005 2011 23-29 153 128
52         Mike Mussina  7.23  111 1324.1 2002 2008 33-39 215 214
53         Ricky Romero  7.24  120  613.0 2009 2011 24-26  93  93
54            Cliff Lee  7.25  116 1641.2 2002 2011 23-32 254 250
55         Brandon Webb  7.26  142 1319.2 2003 2009 24-30 199 198
56         Aaron Harang  7.37  101 1622.1 2002 2011 24-33 268 262
57            Matt Cain  7.41  124 1317.1 2005 2011 20-26 204 203
58          Wade Miller  7.44  108  567.0 2002 2007 25-30  98  98
59      Adam Wainwright  7.45  140  874.1 2005 2010 23-28 182 119
60           Matt Garza  7.50  109  923.1 2006 2011 22-27 152 149
61        James Shields  7.53  106 1227.0 2006 2011 24-29 185 184
62       Anibal Sanchez  7.57  112  673.1 2006 2011 22-27 114 113
63            Ted Lilly  7.58  110 1758.2 2002 2011 26-35 301 294
64          CC Sabathia  7.61  128 2184.0 2002 2011 21-30 322 322
65      Carlos Zambrano  7.61  124 1819.0 2002 2011 21-30 313 281
66            Dan Haren  7.64  119 1700.0 2003 2011 22-30 266 256
67      Wandy Rodriguez  7.68  102 1176.0 2005 2011 26-32 206 197
68           Ben Sheets  7.71  116 1396.0 2002 2010 23-31 216 216
69         Jered Weaver  7.77  128 1131.2 2006 2011 23-28 177 177
70    Orlando Hernandez  7.80  107  669.0 2002 2007 36-41 119 112
71          Chris Young  7.83  110  775.2 2004 2011 25-32 139 139
72         Zack Greinke  7.96  114 1279.2 2004 2011 20-27 238 197
73     Chad Billingsley  8.02  111 1013.2 2006 2011 21-26 192 163
74          David Price  8.13  116  575.1 2008 2011 22-25  94  89
75         Matt Clement  8.16  104  844.0 2002 2006 27-31 138 138
Rk               Player  SO/9 ERA+     IP From   To   Age   G  GS
76       Javier Vazquez  8.17  107 2071.2 2002 2011 25-34 326 320
77      Felix Hernandez  8.19  128 1388.1 2005 2011 19-25 205 205
78       Ubaldo Jimenez  8.20  123  916.1 2006 2011 22-27 149 148
79    Daisuke Matsuzaka  8.21  108  622.2 2007 2011 26-30 106 105
80         Josh Johnson  8.28  142  725.1 2005 2011 21-27 123 113
81     Justin Verlander  8.31  124 1315.1 2005 2011 22-28 199 199
82        Roger Clemens  8.35  136 1029.2 2002 2007 39-44 164 163
83           Jon Lester  8.40  128  957.2 2006 2011 22-27 155 154
84          Cole Hamels  8.45  125 1161.1 2006 2011 22-27 181 180
85         Josh Beckett  8.47  114 1697.2 2002 2011 22-31 275 272
86         A.J. Burnett  8.51  105 1663.0 2002 2011 25-34 267 262
87         Gio Gonzalez  8.59  105  535.1 2008 2011 22-25  95  89
88         Max Scherzer  8.72  109  617.0 2008 2011 23-26 110 101
89         Scott Kazmir  8.74  105 1022.0 2004 2011 20-27 180 179
90          Erik Bedard  8.76  119  951.1 2002 2011 23-32 168 165
91           Jake Peavy  8.84  114 1581.1 2002 2011 21-30 251 250
92       Curt Schilling  8.85  129 1102.1 2002 2007 35-40 179 157
93        Jason Schmidt  8.86  123 1046.2 2002 2009 29-36 161 161
94    Francisco Liriano  8.94  101  683.1 2005 2011 21-27 134 113
95        Johan Santana  9.03  150 1779.0 2002 2010 23-31 294 254
96          Rich Harden  9.20  117  928.1 2003 2011 21-29 170 160
97      Yovani Gallardo  9.25  113  712.1 2007 2011 21-25 118 115
98       Pedro Martinez  9.31  135 1134.1 2002 2009 30-37 180 180
99      Clayton Kershaw  9.36  135  716.1 2008 2011 20-23 118 116
100       Randy Johnson  9.49  125 1387.0 2002 2009 38-45 217 212
Rk               Player  SO/9 ERA+     IP From   To   Age   G  GS
101        Tim Lincecum  9.87  137 1028.0 2007 2011 23-27 156 155
102          Mark Prior 10.37  124  657.0 2002 2006 21-25 106 106

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