View Full Version : Royals Brian Bannister: "I'm almost the prototype No. 4 starter,"

06-22-2010, 02:30 PM


WASHINGTON Brian Bannister won't have time to analyze Stephen Strasburg when the pitchers go head-to-head here Wednesday. He will have his own performance to take care of, not to mention having to bat against the Nationals rookie sensation.
No problem. Bannister, a Kansas City Royals right-hander, will do what he does after most games turn on his computer and dissect pitching performances everywhere, starting with his own.

He will be less concerned about how many hits or runs he allowed than with terms such as PITCHf/x, BABIP and xFIP. And while Bannister's performance this season 6-5 with a 5.70 ERA will not get him confused with Strasburg, the 29-year-old is unique in another way, as the only pitcher using the newest technology and latest advanced statistics to seek an edge and, in his case, possibly keep alive a major league career.

"I'm almost the prototype No. 4 starter," says Bannister, who has a 36-43 record in less than five major league seasons. "When this is important is trying to get a fringe guy to get the most out of his talent and ability. I'm not trying to reach new horizons. I'm trying to filter out what's applicable to player development. That's what's important to me."

He measures success like few of his peers, in ways few other players would even care to understand. He's become a student of physics as that branch of science affects how a baseball gets from a pitcher's hand to home plate. He's curious about the angle of spin on a ball and knows how much time gravity has to change a pitch's trajectory (about 0.4 of a second).

"The hardest thing for a pitcher at my level is: How do you know you're getting better and how do you measure it?" says Bannister, the son of former major league pitcher Floyd Bannister. "My goal is how to measure how am I getting better."

Bannister says he wouldn't bother showing the data on his laptop to Strasburg.

"It doesn't even apply," Bannister says. "(His) physical talent is so good. But about 80% of guys have average stuff."

Man of many interests

Teammate Gil Meche calls Bannister the smartest player he has met, and Zack Greinke, another teammate, credits him with some of his success last season, when Greinke won the American League Cy Young Award.

"I'm a follower, since Brian Bannister is on our team, of sabermetric stuff and going into details of stats about what you can control," Greinke says.

Bannister himself was unwittingly introduced to what would become his passion as he saw his dad forge a 15-year, six-team career, which ended in 1992 when Brian was 11.

"I watched my dad and saw what it's like to have average stuff and get the most out of it," Bannister says of Floyd's 134 victories and the 1982 AL strikeout title with the Seattle Mariners.

But Brian Bannister, who scored a perfect 800 on the math portion of the SAT, was curious about more than pitching. He attended Southern California because of its fine arts program and graduated cum laude. He took his $100,000 bonus for signing with the New York Mets as a seventh-round pick in 2003 and started Loft 19 Studios, a photography studio complex in a Phoenix building his dad owned.

Bannister made his major league debut for the Mets in 2006, going 2-1 with a 4.26 ERA, and was traded to the Royals in the offseason. The following season, when Bannister went 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA and finished third in the 2007 AL Rookie of the Year voting, was his most successful. Or was it?

"I was a train wreck waiting to happen," Bannister says. "My BABIP was favorable and I had no strikeouts."

BABIP is batting average for balls in play, and xFIP, or expected fielding independent pitching, measures how a pitcher fares on only the outcomes he can control walks, strikeouts, hit batters and home runs. Bannister can tell you that about three of every 10 batted balls are base hits, thus BABIP tends to average about .300 regardless of a pitcher's ability. He knows about 19% of batted balls are line drives, and about one of every 10 fly balls is a home run.

So he contends his '07 season was a statistical fluke, with a .266 BABIP that was the lowest in the AL. If and when it returned to the normal range around .300, Bannister would be far less effective, especially because the lack of strikeouts he had 77 in 165 innings in '07 meant plenty of balls would be in play.

He took preemptive measures.

"In '08, I was trying to strike out more people," he says. "I tried to throw harder, and there was an explosion in fly balls and home runs. Then I started trying to sink the ball. I had no idea what I was doing.

"I felt like I was doing something nobody else had tried. I figured I might as well go for it because I was going to be out of the big leagues anyway."

Then, during a 2008 season in which he was 9-16 with a 5.76 ERA and his home runs allowed increased to 29 from 15 the previous season, he discovered PITCHf/x.

The new system, created by Sportvision and contracted by Major League Baseball, had been installed in every big-league ballpark. With a camera along each foul line, the system measures the speed of a pitch at the time it is released and its movement to an inch.

"PITCHf/x, that was the missing link," Bannister says.

The missing link to his career, Bannister is certain. Maybe, too, a link to the future of developing pitchers.

Now, in addition to anticipating career trends like that oncoming "train wreck," he could work on how to make effective changes. Every pitch was recorded on MLB's website. Another site, Brooksbaseball.net, was created in 2007. It took the PITCHf/x data and created real-time reports and charts on every pitcher in every game.

Bannister could study his pitches as well as those of similar pitchers and the game's elite. He has used the information to find the perfect arm position to release pitches that produce the highest ground-ball rate (50% of the balls hit is his goal), improve his strikeout-to-walk ratio and limit the number of home runs he allows. He even tinkers with his pitches maybe a new grip or another adjustment at an innocuous point during a game, then checks it out on PITCHf/x.

"The definition of a pitcher is reducing the total number of times a batter hits the bottom half of the ball," Bannister says. "The bat provides 2 to 2 inches to make contact. That plane is the most important. A home run has to be hit on the bottom half. You either have pitches that sink you use gravity or have pitches they can't hit at all."

But everything that matters, from generating velocity to applying spin, is done while the pitcher has the ball.

"Once we let go, the physics are the same for everybody," he says. "It's like running. Most of it is God-given. You can only improve so much."

Spreading the word

Especially if you don't start using the technology until you're in the major leagues.

"My goal is to get information to guys at a lower level," says Bannister, a walk-on in college. "It's hard to get here and change. That's why I want to work with high school and college kids. I care about kids making the high school varsity, getting college scholarships."

Bannister says he's not sure his scientific approach is a good match for traditional coaching.

"The only way it's going to happen is if I write a book about it," he says. "When it becomes conversation among Little League coaches, I'll know I've made it."

But Milwaukee Brewers pitching coach Rick Peterson, who introduced Bannister to advanced statistical methods when both were with the Mets, disagrees. "This is the direction coaching is going," Peterson says.

Dan Brooks of Brooksbaseball.net says he's aware of one other major league player regularly visiting his site, Detroit Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer, 25.

However, there is one sign of growth at the lower levels at an Oklahoma City training facility.

Glenn "Butch" Schoenhals, a retired neurosurgeon and longtime amateur coach, is the owner and president of Scientific Baseball, which operates the only PITCHf/x system outside a major league ballpark. He's using the system to teach players as young as 9, and even to train umpires.

"This simplifies the process," Schoenhals says. "It converts what we think to what we know."

"That's great," Bannister says. "This is where I foresee all this going."

06-22-2010, 02:40 PM
Sabermetrics...... meh................

06-22-2010, 02:42 PM
Jeez, dare to dream, guy.
If he's number four on our current staff, that means he thinks he's less than Bruce Chen. Weak. Just weak.

When is Ho-Shaver coming back?

Mr. Laz
06-22-2010, 02:43 PM
strasburg is probably going to destroy us .... 1-hitter going into the 8th?

06-22-2010, 02:45 PM
Nice to see an athlete operating in the real world.

06-22-2010, 02:45 PM
Jeez, dare to dream, guy.
If he's number four on our current staff, that means he thinks he's less than Bruce Chen. Weak. Just weak.

When is Ho-Shaver coming back?

heh...exactly...this entire long a** story just to rationalize how he doesnt suck.

06-22-2010, 02:48 PM
I got a call from my 80 year old dad today. He was saying thanks for a Father's Day gift I sent him over the weekend. When we finished, he said "What the HELL is wrong with those Royals? They were on TV last night (he's in Arkansas). Can't they sacrafice or move a damn runner? They're a joke!"

I said "Yeah dad, I know. We have to watch that crap every night here in KC."

He said: "Watch the Rangers or the Cubs. At least they can hit."
This is from a guy who grew up and lived in KC for 60 years. He punted the Royals because he gets the Rangers from TV in Dallas and the Cubs on WGN and says they're more entertaining. Can't really argue with that.

06-22-2010, 03:13 PM
he's been blinded with science.

06-22-2010, 03:22 PM
Bannister is very smart atleast he is admitting he is almost a number 4 starter i always like the guy too bad he doesnt have a whole alot of talent with that damn brain

'Hamas' Jenkins
06-22-2010, 03:23 PM
Too bad it's in the Mexican League.

06-23-2010, 06:37 PM
Bump......For Banny's PITCHf/x system!!!

It really works kids!

09-08-2010, 07:45 AM
Bump...heres an oldie but a goodie. Timely too, considering last nights brilliance....

09-08-2010, 07:54 AM
This guy is a winner!

09-08-2010, 08:22 AM
Get this guy off the team, for serious.

09-08-2010, 09:53 AM
He should get his resume ready for Baseball Prospectus this offseason, because he's getting non-tendered.

09-08-2010, 11:40 AM
I hear the guy we traded for him is killing people