Evaluating D-I softball pitchers sabermetrically

Evaluating D-I softball pitchers sabermetrically

As I stated in yesterday’s post, I’m in favor of using a variety of metrics to evaluate pitchers for post-season awards beyond just won-loss records, saves, and ERA. With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at the top 25 pitchers in 2017 according to RA7, the softball version of RA9. I’ve also analyzed these pitchers according to FIP and BABIP. For good measure I threw in how many runs each pitcher’s offense (Off RPG) averaged on the season, since offense has such a large impact on won-loss records despite the fact that offensive run production is typically out of a pitcher’s control.

So without further ado, here are the 25 pitchers I hope are considered for D-I All-American honors:

Player, School RA7 Rank RA7 ERA Rank ERA FIP BABIP IP Off RPG W-L  SV
Kelly Barnhill, Florida 1 0.57 1 0.33 0.22 .269 146.2 6.13 22-1 3
Megan Good, James Mad. 2 0.84 2 0.47 1.74 .189 207.2 6.89 34-1 1
Delanie Gourley, Florida 3 0.91 4 0.80 1.01 .233 131.2 6.13 18-3 2
Sara Groenewegen, Minn. 4 1.01 3 0.60 1.15 .239 174 7.50 27-2 1
Emily Watson, Tulsa 5 1.38 5 1.03 1.80 203.2 3.98 26-4 2
Whitney Gillespie, Jacksv. St. 6 1.38 10 1.12 2.76 .240 162.2 5.72 17-4 2
Jessica Burroughs, FSU 7 1.42 9 1.08 1.45 .236 168 6.78 23-4 3
Megan Betsa, Michigan 8 1.45 21 1.25 1.62 207 6.39 23-7 5
Danielle O’Toole, Arizona 9 1.47 7 1.08 2.41 .224 195.1 7.35 27-4 1
Aleshia Ocasio, Florida 10 1.48 12 1.17 2.05 .243 66 6.13 8-1 0
Holly McKinnon, USC Upst. 11 1.54 24 1.28 2.80 .205 186.1 4.60 23-7 3
Megan Kleist, Oregon 12 1.58 22 1.25 2.51 .256 128.1 6.42 16-3 1
Alexis Osorio, Alabama 13 1.59 27 1.34 2.36 .207 167.1 4.51 14-7 2
Sydney Littlejohn, Alabama 14 1.61 18 1.23 2.23 .254 148.1 4.51 20-7 2
Cielo Meza, Long Beach St. 15 1.62 20 1.24 3.56 .198 56.2 2.57 5-3 0
Haley Chambers-Book, SIUE 16 1.64 15 1.19 1.99 .260 188.1 4.78 24-6 1
Sierra Hyland, Cal Poly 17 1.64 6 1.05 1.80 213.2 3.52 20-11 2
Kaylee Carlson, Auburn 18 1.64 13 1.17 3.40 .227 179 5.69 25-3 4
Mckenna Bull, BYU 19 1.65 26 1.30 2.55 178 6.23 28-4 1
Lexi Shubert, USC Upstate 20 1.67 36 1.52 2.66 .229 147 4.60 17-4 4
Allie Walljasper, LSU 21 1.68 17 1.20 2.43 .232 117 4.93 14-4 1
Devin Brown, South Ala. 22 1.68 34 1.50 2.40 158.2 3.90 17-6 3
Maggie Balint, Oregon 23 1.70 11 1.13 2.25 .229 111.2 6.42 19-3 3
Savannah Jo Dorsey, Ohio 24 1.72 19 1.23 1.74 187.1 5.08 20-6 2
Randi Rupp, Texas St. 25 1.76 14 1.18 1.61 .279 226.1 4.33 25-8 1

If I’ve made the selection process more difficult than when we were just using won-loss records, saves, and ERA to evaluate pitchers, then I’m satisfied. Context is needed for pitching stats, and offensive run production is an important one. Take for example Minnesota’s Sara Groenewegen, James Madison’s Megan Good, and Florida State’s Jessica Burroughs. These are three amazing pitchers with fantastic records, but they have also benefited from the second, fourth, and fifth highest scoring offenses in the country, respectively.  Compare that to Cal-Poly’s Sierra Hyland, whose 20-11 record no doubt flies under the radar for post-season awards like All-American status. But Cal-Poly has only scored 3.52 runs per game this season (238th in the country), making Hyland’s work over 213.2 innings pitched this season, the second highest total on this list, all the more commendable. To the NFCA’s credit, Hyland was an All-Region selection in 2016. She deserves as much or more again this season.

My hope is that Emily Watson gets All-American honors on some level, although that’s never a sure thing when your team is on the bubble at 37-15, which doesn’t seem fair. She is after all 5th in RA7, 5th in ERA, has a very good FIP, has thrown over 200 innings, and has a shiny 26-4 record and two saves to boot. She has done all of this with the 172nd ranked scoring offense in the country. Would seem to be worthy of All-American honors but it might take a run by the Golden Hurricane deep into the post-season for Watson to garner such honors, which doesn’t seem right.

I also made the case yesterday that Whitney Gillespie of Jacksonville State got the short end of the stick last year. With the 6th best RA7 in the country this season, I’m hopeful that this is her year to be recognized as an All American. But much like Watson, Gillespie’s chances likely rely on her performance in the post-season.

Call me a fan of the underdog, but how about the season Randi Rupp from Texas State is having. She comes in at 25th in RA7, but is 14th in ERA, and more importantly 5th on this list for FIP. Rupp has also thrown the most innings of any of these 25 pitchers. Granted her BABIP is high, much like Kelly Barnhill’s, which just means that hitters have success when they put the ball in play against her, it’s just very, very tough to do so.

Although Long Beach State’s Cielo Meza made the above list, her innings were limited due to an injury.

As a final note, six pitchers couldn’t be evaluated for BABIP because their schools don’t provide stats on the number of batters faced, which is required for the formula when calculating BABIP.