Buck the Trends: WHIP and the future of the KC Royals

Exploring WHIP and the importance of innings pitched to the future success of the Royals
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
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Welcome back to "Buck the Trends," a Kings of Kauffman series named in honor of late Kansas City legend Buck O’Neil. This series looks at current market trends and explores how the KC Royals could buck the trends by moving in an opposite direction. This edition of Buck the Trends takes a look at the statistic WHIP and how it's analysis is important to the future of KC Royals pitching.

In 1979, journalist Daniel Okrent invented the statistical measure innings pitched ratio. In the years since, the statistic has become known as WHIP, an acronym for Walks + Hits divided by Innings Pitched. In short, it is an accurate representation of the number of baserunners a pitcher allows. Baserunners are necessary to score runs and runs are necessary to producing wins so a pitcher who can limit baserunners is a valuable commodity. As the KC Royals look towards their future, WHIP should be at the forefront of their minds.

How should WHIP affect what pitchers the Royals look for?

A low WHIP is a statistic commonly associated with great pitchers. Jacob deGrom is the only active major league pitcher with a career WHIP under 1.00, but active pitchers with a low WHIP include Max Scherzer, Gerrit Cole, and Chris Sale. These are all household names among baseball fans. On the home front, former Royal Bret Saberhagen still ranks among the top 100 pitchers in career WHIP (1.1406) and Zach Greinke is 101 (1.171). Greinke is all but guaranteed to make it into Cooperstown. These are great local legends to keep in mind as the KC Royals consider the teams future.

The current KC Royals team has struggled with WHIP. The Royals finished 2023 with 106 losses. The team's WHIP (1.407) ranked 23rd. Baseball teams that allow base runners tend to lose baseball games. Teams ranking in the bottom ten in WHIP averaged 94.6 losses in 2023. All six 90 plus loss teams were among this group. This highlights the importance of the WHIP metric. It is not only an individual metric, but a team one as well. In order for the team to improve, they can't just replace one pitcher. There must be team wide statistical improvements made to lower this metric.

For the KC Royals, there's some postive developments. Dynamic newcomer Cole Ragans finished the season with the lowest WHIP among Royals starters (1.074). Due to being a midseason acquisition, Ragans only pitched 71.2 innings for Kansas City. Time will tell if his WHIP remains low, but this was a promising start for Ragans, and highlights where the Royals should turn to improve their pitching.

The second-best Kansas City WHIP was Jordan Lyles (1.244). Lyles pitched 177.2 innings in 2023, the most of any Royals pitcher since 2018. The correlation should be clear —   because WHIP is divided by the number of innings pitched, a starting pitcher can improve their WHIP simply by increasing their inning count. 

In order for the Royals to be more competitive, they must lower their team WHIP. This can most easily be achieved by increasing inning counts for pitchers. In order to bring inning counts up, major league teams must decrease the number of pitches thrown per batter.