Tonight's game showed in a nutshell why Baseball Prospectus and The Hardball Times and all the rest of the statheads can't do something so simple as accurately predict yet another dominant season from Roy Oz.
Four strikeouts per nine innings is not only below star-player level, it's probably below replacement level as well. But Oswalt made up for that with an absurdly low .185 batting average on balls in play, and a ridiculous 20 - 3 ground ball-fly ball ratio.
Bill James likes to say that the ability to strike out batters is roughly as important to the major league pitcher as height is to the average basketball player, and I might suggest that Oswalt is the exception who proves the rule. As the National League average in strikeouts per game this century has hovered between 6-3/4 and 7, Oswalt has seen his K/9IP decline steadily from 9.14 in his debut year of 2001 to 6.77 in 2006.
And he's at 3.78 this year.
Yet this decline in whiffage has not been accompanied by any much expected decline in production. On the contrary, Oswalt has just gotten better and better.
Here's another way of looking at it: the 76 Game Score Oswalt spun this evening is now tied for fourth-best pitched game this year. Of the top ten games, only one featured a strikeout total at or below the four Roy put up. That was Ben Sheets' effort on Opening Day. And not to downgrade Sheets' performance, but the Milwaukee ace took 20 more pitches to turn in the complete game.
Us Houston fans are well aware that Oswalt is the *best* pitcher in the NL, but what even we may not realize is that he's rapidly also become the *most unique*.
Roy reminds me of haiku when he pitches. Economy of form, and effectiveness of function are all to him. He is baseball's version of the minimalist; flash and decoration mean nothing to him. He's gotten away from the strikeout because, while popular with the crowds, they simply take too many pitches.
Why use five pitches to get a guy to whiff when you can use two to induce a soft groundout to first? It'd be a dangerous tactic for most (witness how all these "pitch to contact" programs instilled by any number of pitching coaches always fail), but because of his 90th percentile control, and unequalled ability to keep his balls in play on very soft trajectories, Roy has managed to pull it off.
He is absolutely without peer in the game today.