Vance Worley is an unusual pitcher. Last night, Vance Worley was unusually good as he faced the San Diego Padres. Worley held the Padres scoreless for seven innings, walking three while striking out a career high eleven batters. He was on his game and knew it.
Consider this quote from the Associated Press game recap:
“It just happened tonight,” Worley said of the strikeouts. “I definitely don’t try to strike guys out. Today they were just swinging and missing. I don’t know how many punchouts looking there were, but there were a handful.”
A “handful” is very accurate. Five of Worley’s strikeouts were swinging…which is where the weirdness begins.
Those five strikeouts swinging — in which the batter swings and misses strike three — represent half Worley’s whiff total on the night. Worley struck out eleven batters but only managed TEN swing-and-misses. Out of 102 pitches. He only threw 59 total strikes total on the evening.
Once more, for emphasis: Vance Worley recorded more strikeouts than whiffs in a game where he recorded double-digit strikeouts. Weird.
Using Baseball Reference’s Play Index, we see that Worley’s total of 11 strikeouts with fewer than sixty total strikes has only happened six times since the year 2000. Worley is the only pitcher to throw more than 100 pitches and fewer than 60 strikes.
The Play Index doesn’t make swinging strike information sortable but, after digging through many, many starts, it seems the only other time a pitcher managed fewer whiffs than Ks was Maddux in 2000 versus the Expos. The shoe-in Hall of Famer and one of the best pitches of all time managed 13 Ks against only 10 whiffs.
In the “modern” age of Pitch f/x and much more neutralized strike zones (RIP Eric Gregg), this is highly unusual. Crazy, in fact. Worley already owns one of the lowest swinging strike rates in baseball, after last night it sits below 5.5% (league average is around 8.5%).
It isn’t that not getting whiffs is bad thing, it is a question of sustainability. If the umpire is less than generous, what then? I count six called strikes on the below Brooks Baseball strikezone map that are more than a foot from the center of the plate.
Whether or not we think Worley’s success will carry forward is besides the point. This was a class-A oddity and must be celebrated as such. Congrats, Vance, you google-wearing dynamo. May the Marine Layer keep your view of the plate foggy forever.