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That Explains It
2003-05-19 06:17
by Jon Weisman

Kazuhisa Ishii's wildness gives you good reason to think that he's a pitcher more lucky than good.

Still, it turns out that there's much more going on with Ishii than his addiction to Ball 4.

Ishii has walked 30 batters in 40 innings - sufficient to drive a guy like me batty. However, Ishii has allowed only 15 runs this season, putting him in the National League top 10 with a 2.76 ERA and violating the precept that all his walks will burn him to a crisp.

Something is going very, very right for Ishii this year - and this is what it is. When opponents actually do swing their bats, Ishii is working some bigtime voodoo on them.

This season, against Ishii, opponents are:

--batting only .213 overall

--slugging only .281 overall

--batting only .140 with runners in scoring position

--slugging only .186 with runners in scoring position.

In 45 2/3 innings this season, Ishii has allowed three doubles, a triple and two home runs - an average of 1.2 extra-base hits per nine innings and less than one extra-base hit per start.

His slugging percentage allowed is the lowest in the National League. Here are the major league leaders:

2003 Slugging Percentage Allowed, Starting Pitchers
.267 Esteban Loaiza, Chicago White Sox
.277 Tim Hudson, Oakland
.278 Ishii
.279 Zach Day, Montreal
.288 Brett Myers, Philadelphia
.294 Pedro Martinez, Boston
.295 Mark Prior, Chicago
.301 Mike Mussina, New York Yankees

These stats threaten to write over our image of Ishii as someone who has no control with a new image of someone who forces hitters to beat him with his best pitch, no matter what. Ishii may be walking guys, but so far this season, they can't get around the bases.

Imagine - from now on, perhaps we will no longer cry like a baby every time we see Ishii walk a batter. (Well, maybe I'll cry just a little - after all, I am a baby.) Instead, we can just be looking for him to keep working that no-extra-base hit magic.

In fact, my view of Ishii has almost completely turned around.

Beware, though. It could turn right back.

In 2002, Ishii allowed only two home runs before May 31 - same as in 2003. After May 31, however, Ishii allowed 18 home runs. The walks remained relatively constant, so it wasn't as if the homers were a substitute for the walks. Ishii's strikeouts remained strong throughout 2002 as well - in the neighborhood of eight per nine innings. For whatever reason, though, hitters started muscling up on Ishii around summertime.

Ishii is back at 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings this year, but you have to remain skeptical that Ishii can keep the batting averages and slugging percentages of his opponents at this 2003 microscopic level. It's hard to believe that at some point, those walks won't burn him yet.

But this analysis has given me something new to look at. For a while, at least, it may be more interesting to see what happens when opponents swing the bat against Ishii than what happens when they don't.

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