Simple Sabermetrics: Command Ratio


Jeff Samardzija’s command ratio says that 2013 should be good to his fantasy owners. Photo by Minda Haas.

Some people criticize sabermetrics because they claim they are made-up, “invented statistics.” Let me share you some other baseball statistics that were made-up and invented:

  • Batting Average is a statistic that was invented in the late 19th century by Henry Chadwick, an English statistician raised on cricket. Keep those bloody Brits out of America’s pastime, I say!
  • Earned Run Average (ERA) Again, it was Henry Chadwich, father of the box score, who made-up another American classic. Before 1900 a pitcher was expected to pitch a complete game, but the sissies began allowing relief pitchers, which gave rise to ERA because W-L record was no longer considered a reliable gauge of a pitcher’s effectiveness (sound familiar?).
  • WHIP is a stat that was invented in 1979 by Daniel Okrent. Okrent needed a stat for the new game he invented, Rotisserie League Baseball. More than 30 years later, we simply call his game fantasy baseball and WHIP is displayed on scoreboards at Major League ballparks.

You can get the point I’m trying to make: all baseball statistics were invented by someone at some time or another. Some statistics like WAR or FIP were invented more recently and aren’t as wildly known. That doesn’t mean that these new statistics aren’t useful or can’t be a valuable tool in fantasy baseball.

The statistic we’re going to focus on today is Command Ratio. I’ve written about command ratio for other sites, and I’ll review what I said there, plus go into more depth here. Command Ratio is the #1 tool I use in evaluating pitchers for my fantasy baseball teams. Last season I finished with a team ERA below 3.00 in my primary fantasy baseball team, so I’m throwing all humility aside and I’m asking you to pay attention, because command ratio is an excellent predictor of future ERA.

Command ratio is simply a pitcher’s strikeouts divided by his walks allowed, or K/BB. Strikeout rate is often referred to as dominance, while walk rate is often referred to as control. High dominance (K) coupled with good control (BB) is command.

Strikeouts are a common fantasy baseball scoring category so fantasy owners are conditioned to look for guys with high dominance (K rates). But they too often neglect to take a look at a pitcher’s walk rates, and you only get the full picture when they are used together.

By using only two inputs – strikeouts and walks – you can project a pitcher’s ERA with surprising accuracy. Historically, a guy who walks as many guys as he strikes out will have an ERA around 5.40. Using that 1:1 ratio as a starting point, here’s a chart to highlight potential ERA at varies levels of command:

Command Ratio (K/BB)Projected ERA
1.0 – 1.45.10
1.5 – 1.94.60
2.0 – 2.44.20
2.5 – 2.93.80
3.0 +3.40

Simply, if you target pitchers in your fantasy baseball draft that strike out 2 1/2 times more guys than they walk, then you can expect an ERA around 3.80 and if they strike out three or more for every one hitter they walk, then you can expect an ERA at 3.40 or lower. You only have to track 2 numbers and a site like FanGraphs will even sort by K/BB for you. That’s sabermetrics made simple.

More proof for you, a pitcher with a command ratio of 3.0 or higher has only a 5% chance historically of having an ERA over 4.50, but has a greater than 60% chance to carry an ERA below 3.50. The percentages are on your side if you draft pitchers according to their command ratio.

To skew the numbers even greater in your favor, you’ll want to give priority to the high command pitchers who also have high dominance (high K numbers). Sorry Twins fans, but there is little upside for a soft-tosser with pinpoint control. You really do need to strike batters out.

Draft pitchers with a command ratio of 2.5 or higher, coupled with a dominance of 5.6 or higher and you have yourself a winning fantasy baseball pitching squad.

I can’t leave you without giving you some names. Cliff Lee, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and Cole Hamels are no fun because everyone knows they are elite. Instead take a look at Chris Sale, Jordan Zimmerman, Jeff Samardzija, Jonathon Niese, and Mike Minor, because they just might fly under the radar, but their command ratio says good things are ahead.