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Baseball statistics are chock full of acronyms, from the familiar RBI, AVG, and ERA, to numerous new jumbles of letters representing modern ways to judge the performance of baseball players and teams. With this in mind, What does WHIP mean in baseball?
The acronym WHIP stands for walks plus hits per inning pitched. It represents an equation used to judge a pitcher’s ability to prevent baserunners: WHIP = Walks + Hits / Innings Pitched. The lower that sum, the better the pitcher’s performance at keeping runners off the base paths and, hopefully, from scoring runs.
It’s a solid pitching performance-measurement tool, as runners on base increase the odds of runs scoring, which after all is the ultimate goal in baseball.
A general measurement point is a 1.00 WHIP. That represents an average of 1 hit or base on balls per every inning pitched. Not bad ~ unless all the hits happen to be home runs.
A WHIP higher than, say, 1.25 indicates pitchers who let more runners reach first base. Consider that 2 base runners per inning means at least one into scoring position. Any WHIP of 2.00 or higher indicates poor pitching.
The WHIP was invented just over 40 years ago. Here’s the why, what, who, when, and how.
In the mid- to late 1970s and into the 1980s, very involved baseball fans began questioning whether the traditional baseball statistical lines truly told the story about on-field performance. Two categories seemed targeted most: batting average (AVG) for hitters, and earned-run average (ERA) for pitchers.
WHIP came about in 1979, or 5 years after a group of researchers started the Society of American Baseball Research and launched the term “sabermetrics” (named after the group’s common acronym, SABR). The group’s aim was to “search for objective knowledge about baseball.”
They wondered if ERA (among other statistics, like wins) truly indicate how well a pitcher throws. In 1979, writer Daniel Okrent invented what he then called “innings pitched ratio” ~ later changed to WHIP.
It is now among the few sabermetric statistics commonly used in baseball. It offers another look to balance out ERA. Whereas the old ERA will show how many runs (without aid from errors) a pitcher allows, some wondered if some pitchers maintained a low ERA due to luck.
Perhaps, one wondered, some pitchers are allowing way too many baserunners to truly be considered effective. The thought is, if pitchers allow too many baserunners all the time, eventually it will catch up with them in the form of runs. Sportscasters might term this “playing with fire,” or, “pitching on the edge.”
Hence the WHIP, which now can be compared against the ERA to provide a broader view of pitching performances. The WHIP better measures how effective a pitcher is against batters ~ regardless of how many runs he surrenders.
The new WHIP category especially became popular in the fantasy baseball leagues that began their growth in the 1980s, into the huge online business it is today. The WHIP is a standard category used in most fantasy leagues for managers to compete against one another based on real statistics gathered by MLB players each day.
Again, the lower the WHIP figure, the better the pitching performance. Since the statistic was invented many years after Major League Baseball was invented, how would previous pitchers have fared with the stat?
The results put a spotlight on pitchers of the past, most whom we knew were pretty good ~ but maybe not that good. Note that a WHIP at 1.00 or less over a whole season typically puts a pitcher among the leaders in the MLB.
For a single season, the lowest WHIP recorded was 0.7373, by Pedro Martinez of the Boston Red Sox in 2000. Previously the record was 0.7692, by Guy Hecker of the Louisville Eclipse, way back in 1882!
Hall of Fame hurler Walter Johnson has the 3rd-lowest WHIP for a season, with 0.7803 in 1913, statisticians learned after a long while of going back to revisit pitching numbers, and applying the new formula.
For an entire career, Addie Joss of the Cleveland Indians posted a 0.9678 WHIP over 2,327 innings pitched. Joss pitched spectacularly for 9 years, through 1910, before succumbing at a young age to tuberculosis meningitis. He was finally elected to the Hall of Fame in 1978. His 1.89 ERA over his career ranks second-lowest ever, behind Ed Walsh.
Walsh, a spitball pitcher with the Chicago White Sox from 1904 to 1917 (the final season was with the Boston Braves), is second lifetime in WHIP, at 0.9996 in 2,964 innings. Walsh was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1946.
For more modern players, Yankees Hall of Fame relief pitcher Mariano Rivera has a lifetime 1.0003 WHIP over 1,283 innings, ranking him 3rd overall in the lifetime category.
The biggest criticism of WHIP is that it treats every time on base equally. As in, a walk, single-base hit, home run, whatever: they all count as 1 time on base for the WHIP calculation. If a pitcher gives up a home run every inning of a game, but gets every other hitter out, he could carry a 1.00 WHIP yet a 9.00 ERA.
As with ERA, the WHIP numbers aren’t entirely in the control of the pitcher. Home runs, certainly, can be attributed to the pitcher, as can walks. But any other type of a hit can depend at least in part on the defense. A shabby outfield defense that allows a lot of hit balls to drop to the grass, or with infielders with limited range, can result in a higher WHIP.
Baseball stat-watchers say OPS (on-base plus slugging) percentage is the hitting equivalent of WHIP, and both have other statistics to further refine the data. For batting, stat experts might say wOBA (weighted on-base average) is more useful to truly gauge the impact of each hit, compared with just on-base percentage (OBP).
For pitching, perhaps a better way to judge effectiveness is not just batters reaching base per inning, but how many bases were reached per inning, or even per batter faced. This might provide a deeper look into pitchers who may be surrendering too many extra-base hits, even if their WHIP or ERA is low.
Baseball-statistics fans will point to the OBP against, or wOBA against, categories that weigh pitchers’ performances differently than straight WHIP. The bottom line is, managers and coaches want to know not only how well a pitcher prevents runners from reaching first base, but also how many extra-base hits are allowed.
The main purpose of pitching in baseball is to prevent runs. Hand in hand with this is preventing base runners, which is what the WHIP in baseball tries to measure. The relatively new baseball stats basically tells you how many base runners a pitcher allows per inning, on average. It’s aim was to provide a better view of how well a hurler pitched, beyond just the earned run average (ERA).
The WHIP is one of the few sabermetrics data categories to gain almost universal acceptance in baseball. It has its detractors, but used along with the ERA, the WHIP can give a pretty good idea whether a pitcher is dominating, or just getting away with luck.
Question: Is a 1.20 WHIP considered good?
Answer: Yes. Generally, anything from 1.01 to 1.20 is very good. Anything 1.00 or below is outstanding; 1.25 to 1.40 represents average pitching success. The cutoff for poor pitching is a WHIP of around 1.75, or higher.
Q.: Why aren’t hit-by-pitches included in the WHIP formula for base runners allowed?
A.: At the time of its invention, 1979, hit batsmen were not included in Sunday newspaper statistical updates of games. This was long before affordable computers became commonplace, and today’s fast crunching of numbers for all kinds of baseball statistics.
Q.: Who has the worst WHIP?
A.: For a single season, 3 pitchers recorded a final 24.00 WHIP: Joe Cleary in 1945 (he got 1 out, but allowed 8 baserunners, for ⅓ of an inning pitched), Jeff Ridgway in 2007, and Jack Scheible in 1894. It was the only inning Cleary ever pitched, so his lifetime WHIP also is the highest. His ERA? 189.00! It’s the highest lifetime ERA in MLB history.
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