How does WHIP factor into modern baseball?
The current trend in Major League Baseball is to lower WHIP by chasing strikeouts. Tampa Bay pitcher Tyler Glasnow, about whom Kings of Kauffman's Jacob Milham recently wrote, averaged 12.2 SO/9 in 2023; his WHIP was an outstanding 1.083. Current free agent and 2023 National League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell also delivers strikeouts aplenty. Pitchers like Glasnow or Snell are terrific pitchers, but they also come with salaries that exceed the Royals typical acquisition profile. The Royals profile takes into account the fact that individual investments come with higher risk potential.
But Kansas City can justifiably pursue less expensive options. We know, for example, that Lyles can cover a large number of innings which can in turn have a positive impact on the team's WHIP. And remember former Royal James Shields? Over 2 seasons, Shields pitched 455.2 innings, accumulating a 1.2095 WHIP with a 3.18 ERA. Shields was paid just under $24 million for those two seasons.
A historical prototype pitcher of this style is Hall of Famer Jack Morris, who carried a career 3.90 ERA into Cooperstown. Morris was not a strikeout pitcher; his SO9 was only 5.8; and his ERA is currently the highest among Hall of Fame pitchers. But Morris didn't get into Cooperstown because of strikeouts or earned run average, he got in because he successfully gobbled up innings. From 1979-1994, Morris averaged 6.96 innings per game. Morris had a respectable career WHIP of 1.296 and pitched 175 complete games.
When evaluating players, teams like the Royals are generally looking at shorter time frames. In today's environment, it is rare for a pitcher to spend their career with one team. It's common for teams to target free agents or arbitration eligible pitchers for their roster. Most pitchers reach these marks around ages 28-30. When Morris was 28 years old, he pitched an other-worldly 293.2 innings in 37 games, finishing the 1983 season with a super-human 7.924 innings per game average and a 1.158 WHIP. As the KC Royals plan out their pitching future, it's good to keep 1983 Jack Morris on their minds. There are always surprise innings eating pitchers on the market that could go far to reducing team WHIP.