Monday, May 23, 2005

« Stat Neuroses: Look at quality starts, not record »

By Suss
Sportscasters will talk about how Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens are, in all likelihood, two of the last 300-game winners.

But is getting the 'W' all that matters?

The win is a measurement of how well your team does while you pitch, because you could give up one run in nine innings of work, but your team doesn't score jack. Likewise, your team could score 15 runs, but you give up only 8 runs in 5 innings for the win.

Doesn't sound fair, does it?

Adamant baseball fans and stat trackers know this. That's why they've compiled many other stats (besides ERA) that can tell just how good a pitcher is, regardless of the win or the loss.

Quality start: A pitcher lasts at least six innings and gives up fewer than three earned runs. The average team scores five runs a game, so quality starts measure the starting pitcher's ability to keep their team in the game.

Run support: Run support is the number of runs the pitcher's own team scores in the games he wins or loses. The stat factors out no-decisions.

Quality start leaders as of May 23:
T-1. Roger Clemens, Astros: 9
T-1. Mark Redman, Pirates: 9
T-3. Kenny Rogers, Rangers: 8
T-3. Livan Hernandez, Nationals: 8
T-3. A.J. Burnett, Marlins
If we look at their win-loss records:
Clemens: 3-2
Redman: 3-3
Rogers: 5-2
Hernandez, 7-2
Burnett, 3-4
We see that the win-loss record doesn't really gauge how well a team did.

The Cy Young award should not take win-loss records into that much consideration. For example, let's re-examine Clemens and Livan Hernandez.

Their ERA's are both good, but Clemens is much better:
Clemens: 1.29
Hernandez: 3.29
And let's look at the run support, which is how many runs their team scores when they are the pitcher of record:
Clemens: 2.00
Hernandez: 5.20
In NL pitchers who quality for ERA stats, Clemens has the second lowest run support only to the Nationals' Esteban Loaiza (1.79). Loaiza by the way, has 7 quality starts and a 3.08 ERA, but is only 1-2. His teammate Hernandez has a worse ERA and six more wins.

In fact, Clemens has quality starts in all 9 of the games he's pitched in this year. First let's see his wins:
4/8 CIN (W 3-2) 7 IP, 1 ER
5/9 @FLA (W 2-1) 7 IP, 0 ER
5/14 SF (W 4-1) 8 IP, 1 ER
And his losses:
4/29 CHC (L 2-3) 7 IP, 3 ER
5/19 ARI (L 1-6) 6 IP, 2 ER
And now for those frustrating no-decisions:
4/13 @NYM (L 0-1) 7 IP, 0 ER
4/18 ATL (L 0-1) 7 IP, 0 ER
4/23 @STL (L 0-1) 7 IP, 0 ER
5/4 PIT (L 4-6) 7 IP, 2 ER
Any pitcher would take any of those starts. Well, maybe not one with five walks.

Run support has no direct effect on a pitcher's performance except on whether they win or lose. But it could transform a good pitcher into the taste of the league:

Top run support:
1. Jamie Moyer, Mariners (8.08)
2. Jon Garland, White Sox (7.99)
3. Carl Pavano, Yankees (7.82)
4. Chan Ho Park, Rangers (7.52)
5. Sidney Ponson, Orioles (7.33)
With the exception of Moyer, whose Mariners are actually weak in scoring so far this year, all other teams have hit the tar out of the ball.

Their win-loss records are impressive:
Moyer: 4-1
Garland: 8-0
Pavano: 4-2
Park: 4-1
Ponson: 5-2
And now for the truth-telling stats: ERA and quality starts:
Moyer: 6.11, 3 of 9
Garland: 2.41, 7 of 8
Pavano: 3.69, 6 of 10
Park: 4.61, 4 of 9
Ponson: 5.83, 3 of 9
Granted, Moyer earned his wins:
4/4 MIN (W 5-1) 5 2/3 IP, 0 ER
4/14 @KC (W 10-2) 7 IP, 2 ER
4/19 @LAA (W 5-3) 6 IP, 3 ER
4/24 CLE (W 9-1) 8 IP, 1 ER
Three are quality starts (the fourth was off by one out). He deserved his loss:
5/6 @BOS (L 2-7) 2.2 IP, 6 ER
And let's look at his no-decisions:
4/9 TEX (L 6-7) 5.1 IP, 3 ER
4/30 @OAK (L 5-6) 3.2 IP, 10 ER
5/11 @NYY (L 9-13) 2.1 IP, 10 ER
5/18 NYY (W 7-6) 5 IP, 6 ER
A final stat which combines quality starts with run support is tough losses -- when a pitcher gets the loss in a quality start. Let's look at players who have at least two quality wins but lost in at least half of those games:
Jake Westbrook, Indians: 5 QS, 5 TL
Danny Haren, A's: 5 QS, 4 TL
Kevin Millwood, Indians: 5 QS, 3 TL
Rich Harden, A's: 4 QS, 3 TL
Barry Zito, A's: 4 QS, 2 TL
Ryan Franklin, Mariners: 4 QS, 2 TL
David Bush, Blue Jays: 4 QS, 2 TL
Daniel Cabrera, Orioles: 3 QS, 2 TL
Joe Blanton, A's; 3 QS, 2 TL
Scott Kazmir, Devil Rays: 2 QS, 2 TL
Cabrera's the anomoly in this bunch and should probably have a talkins-to with his team, one of the best offenses in the game. But the other teams, especially the Indians and A's with multiple pitchers on that list, have suffered more from bad hitting, not pitching.

Now, this won't necessarily comb through the players with several losses and find good ones (Westbrook's ERA is well above 5) but it will give the hard-luck pitchers their due as well as demonstrate which teams don't put up the runs when their aces are on the mound.

Haren, Harden, Zito and Blanton have a combined 11 tough losses between them -- yet they are only 8 games back of first place.

There's only so much a pitcher can do on his own.