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Great Lakes Royals


June 24, 2010 12:20 AM

Bannister Victorious on 4th Ever Strasmas

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Brian Bannister throws over to first base against the Boston Red Sox during the second inning of their American League MLB baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts May 27, 2010. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)
More than a couple thoughts regarding the most anticipated Royals game since, well, probably some Zack Greinke start not too long ago.

Greinke Day was created in 2009 -- probably sometime around May when fan moral was high -- as a holiday that would come every five days.  Fans could greet each other over this calendar occurrence, as days seemed to move faster, and then we would all move to our TV's or computers at night to watch something magical happen.

Nominally, Greinke Day is still every fifth day during the baseball season, but at 2-9 on the year with an ERA pushing 4.00, there's nothing really magical about a pretty good pitcher taking the hill and keeping his progressively more terrible team in the game for two or three innings until it's clear that even the team's singles hitters (i.e. everyone) are happy taking the day off to strike/pop out.  Greinke Days do not last as long as they once did, usually about six or seven all-too-quick innings sped up even further by a hacktastic squad of hitters that would make Joe West proud to say he knew them.

Washington fans, yet another fan base in desperate need of a superstar (seriously, KC fans, Jamaal Charles?), and so "Strasmas" is their slightly more creative version of a Greinke Day: every fifth day on the calendar, the Nats get their chance to go out and beat a big time ball club they should have no chance against.

Or, at least, that's the idea.  Stephen Strasburg has powered his way to a 1.78 ERA in four starts, proving that even though he built up his hype against college, AA, and AAA hitting, his game is very transferable against offensive powerhouses such as, um, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, uh, the Chicago White Sox, and our Royals!  Hey, these teams are basically AAA offenses.  The more things change...

Strasburg's ridiculous strikeout rate supports the idea that he's going to be able to do this in cities across America that aren't embarrassed to admit they have Major League Baseball clubs.  And so the idea of Strasmas will continue in the nations capital -- at least until Donovan McNabb dons a Redskins uni at home for the first time.  But their fans are getting the very first taste of what it's like for a team that is unable to score runs for it's superstar, and the frustration that causes when you really get up to watch a great game, and you're rewarded with some really horrible offensive baseball.  Indeed, the Natinals have not scored a run for Strasburg in his last 13 innings pitched.  That's not quite a four game stretch of zero run support, but it's halfway there, and still an active streak.

The story of Strasmas IV, however, was really all about Brian "Sunday" Bannister, who gutted out six scoreless innings before turning it over to a Royals bullpen that not only held his 1-0 lead, but was actually expected to, which really shows how far this team has come in just one calendar year.  Last June, the Royals were a hopeless, pathetic baseball team that couldn't buy a win with the eventual Cy Young award winner on the mound, couldn't score a run for any other pitcher, was ravaged by injury, playing not one, not two, but THREE sub-replacement players on an everyday basis, made terrible baserunning plays, played horrible defense, and if the bullpen managed to actually have a lead, they gave it up.  This years team is also bad, but is improved in defense, a bad baserunning team still but with better team speed, leads baseball in team batting average, which has caused their team OBP and SLG and runs scored to float into the middle of the AL pack.

This year's team is bad not because of it's position players, but because of it's starting pitching -- Greinke days are disappointing in part because of Zack's inability to keep his putrid offense within striking distance of the opponent, a certainty when he took the mound last year.  It's bad because Luke Hochevar and Gil Meche are injured, because Kyle Davies is not injured, and because Bannister hasn't been able to shake the disaster start.

Almost needless to say, Bannister's disaster starts have occurred in night starts.  Bannister's stark day/night splits were first recognized back in 2008, when in the midst of a disappointing year, it appeared that Bannister was going out and getting crushed in night starts.  In 2009, however, that split disappeared, for the most part, and it was easy to dismiss as a mere sample size issue, random occurrence.

Though we aren't into the realm of statistical significance in the day/night trend, it's getting pretty close.  In 2010:

  • Brian Bannister is 3-5 in 9 starts at night with a 7.66 ERA
  • Brian Bannister is 4-0 in 6 day starts with a 2.37 ERA
This season, Bannister's K rate is, at best, unaffected by his day/night splits.  He's actually striking out just 4.3 per 9 innings during the day and 6.3 per nine at night, which is a pretty big difference.  Where Bannister is getting killed in night starts is in the walks and home runs department...the control categories.  It's 3.8 BB/9 and 2.1 HR/9 at night vs. 1.9 BB/9 and 0.7 HR/9 for day games.

When he takes the hill at night in 2010, Bannister has been an extreme example of a "three true outcomes" pitcher.  The problem is that two of those outcomes are very bad for a pitcher.  Daytime Banny is a lot luckier than nighttime Banny, but when he's putting just over a guy/game on base via the free pass, and keeps the ball in the park at a much better than league average rate, there's only so much damage those random bounces of the ball can do to you.

The events of this season have also solidified his pronounced career day/night splits.  For Banny's career:

  • He is 16-35 at night with a 5.43 ERA
  • He is 20-8 for day games with a 3.97 ERA
And not just that, his career numbers show the same true outcomes trends at night compared to at day.  He goes 4.7 K/9 in day games and 5.4 K/9 at night, but his walk rate more than doubles at night, and his home run rate increases by more than 50%.  Brian Bannister's control issues after dusk are very real, and while night games are good for his strikeout rates (and we all know how he stresses improvement in that area), he hasn't been able to sustain improvement in home run or walk categories for a meaningful amount of time.

For those who would propose that Bannister is the beneficiary of BABiP induced luck at night, as opposed to day, consider that his .294 night BABiP is not out of line with his sub-.300 career figure.  His .278 at day does smell of a bit of fortune, especially considering the Royals infield defense, but a lot of that is simply the effect of players behind in the count putting the baseball in play.  Batted ball luck is a small -- not significant -- factor in Bannister daytime success.  For the most part, he's just a different, better pitcher, who can't always control his destiny.

It's frustrating to watch Brian Bannister, but when he goes and pitches around jams and outduels a guy like Stephen Strasburg for six innings without the benefit of the generous strike zone that the Washington pitcher was getting, and when the bullpen doesn't go out there and ruin what he started, it's very rewarding to be on the winning side of a pitchers duel, for once.

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