This debate has been beaten to a bloody pulp and frankly, I am beyond tired of it, which is exactly why I'm going there.
It's inevitable. Following a poor Sonnanstine inning or start you'll see comments about how he's hittable. The sub-90 heater, questionable breaking stuff, etc. all gets mentioned. The latest argument (posed by Brickhaus) is that Sonnanstine's hittability is proven by his BABIP being higher than team average last year and the year before.
Maybe he's right.
Of the 43 pitches with at least 150 innings who had higher individual BABIPs than their team’s average BABIP, Sonnanstine had the second lowest amount of line drives given up behind only James Shields – who actually overperformed his team’s BABIP the season before. Sonnanstine actually falls 9th on the list when ranked by Team BABIP – Player BABIP behind Manny Parra, Kevin Milwood, Ian Snell, A.J. Burnett, Nate Robertson, Carlos Silva, Josh Beckett, and Livan Hernandez. Sonnanstine was also amongst the tops in Strike%, behind Nick Blackburn and ahead of Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay at 67%. He was fifth in flyballs given up, and 29th in grounders.
As for chasing out of the zone, Sonnanstine got more than guys like Burnett, Greinke, and Parra while finishing percentage points behind Josh Beckett. Sonnanstine finished with the same swinging strike percentage as Carlos Zambrano and more than Mark Buehrle, Kevin Milwood, and Mike Pelfrey.
Beckett and Burnett are flamethrowers who can top out over 95 miles per hour. Quite a contrast to the soft-throwing Sonnanstine. Both have also had wildly successful careers, yet here they are, allowing more hits on balls in play than their team by a decent margin. Does that mean their pitches were more hittable?
Sonnanstine's pitchf/x readings look fine. All of his pitches move and while his velocity is a touch low, it's not unbelievably so. Heck, he's closer to James Shields than Justin Duchscherer.
In 2007, the top "hittable" types were Kevin Milwood, Mike Mussina, Wells David and Kip, Jeff Francis, Jeremy Bonderman, Josh Beckett, Doug Davis, Jose Contreras, and John Smoltz. Outside of Milwood, Kip, and
Let’s go to 2006. Your top 10 "hittables": Bonderman, Pettitte, Byung-Hyun Kim, Blanton, Jake Peavy, Jeff Weaver, Joel Pineiro, Rorigez Lopez, Orlando and Felix Hernandez. After them comes pitchers like Javier Vazquez, Brad Penny, Aaron Harang, Roy Oswalt, Curt Schilling, and so on.
Felix appears for the second time. This is the same guy who might’ve been the most hyped pitching prospect this decade if not for Stephen Strasburg and Mark Prior. Proclaimed King Felix before he ever touched the majors, Felix’s average career fastball is over 95 miles per hour and his curveball is the ultimate finisher.
Meanwhile, the pitcher who second most outperformed – meaning had a lower BABIP – than his team? Josh Beckett. His FIP that season was a career high 5.12 thanks to a career low in strikeouts and a career high in homeruns allowed.
I guess he really is hittable.
This probably won’t end the debate and nothing really will until we get HitFx data and it proves one way or the other that Sonnanstine’s balls are hit harder than the average pitcher. For right now, the only methods we have are completely objective – thus rather worthless without proof – and subjective – which all suggest Sonnanstine is not more hittable than the normal pitcher.
Either way you lean, it's pretty clear that just having a higher BABIP than your team without having an unreasonably high LD% doesn't mean you're more hittable.