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No earned runs to start the season April 9, 2014

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Fernando Rodney saved his second game for the Seattle Mariners last night, after being set up by the combined efforts of Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen in the 7th and 8th innings. What really looked interesting about this box score is that all three relievers have yet to allow an earned run this year – Rodney (2 2/3 innings pitched) and Farquhar (4 1/3)  have each appeared in three games without allowing a run, and Wilhelmsen has appeared in four (3 1/3). (In the interest of fairness, Wilhelmsen was credited with an unearned run.) Mets closer Jose Valverde is in the same position, having pitched in four games and 4 1/3 innings without allowing the opposition to score. The Dodgers’ J.P. Howell has appeared in six games, mostly in the 8th inning setup role, without giving up a run in 5 1/3 innings (and in fact earned the win in extra innings last night), and he seems to be sharing that role with teammate Chris Perez, who matched that six-game streak over four innings. The two Dodgers share the longest streak, counting games; Chris Withrow (5 games) and Zach Britton (3 games) each have fewer games played but more innings without surrendering a run.

Last year’s mark was set by Arizona’s Matt Reynolds, who opened the season with 19 games and 17 2/3 innings of scoreless relief; Alex Torres (20 innings in 10 games), Louis Coleman (21 innings in 18 games) and Juan Perez (22 innings in 14 games) each had more innings but fewer games.

Though he looked shaky last night in his non-save situation, we can all hope that Jose Valverde outdoes himself from last year – only five games and five innings before giving up his first run.

Big Doin’s This Week July 27, 2011

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Michael CuddyerWhen I was a baby sports economist, my father used to refer to busy days as ‘Big Doin’s.’ Well, Major League Baseball has been doin’ big things since my last entry, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t try to mention at least a few of them.

The Braves and the Pirates slugged out a marathon game last night. (Well, maybe not a marathon, but 19 innings is pretty close to 26.2 miles.) I can’t weigh in on the obviously blown call that ended the game, but I was thoroughly impressed with Cristhian Martinez, who pitched a career-high 6.0 innings in relief for the Braves. Martinez had previously pitched 4 innings twice. Scott Proctor got the win when converted starter Daniel McCutchen ‘allowed’ the winning run in the 19th during his 6th inning of work. Fifteen pitchers combined for both teams to get the 37.1 innings covered, all of whom pitch as their primary position.

That’s distinct from Michael Cuddyer, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the Twins in their blowout loss (20-6) to the Rangers on Monday. He allowed two hits but maintains his career 0.00 ERA (since this was the first time he pitched professionally, even counting the minors). Since Cuddyer has DHed a couple of times for the Twins, he joins Mike McCoy and Don Kelly as a 2011 inductee into the prestigious* Spectrum Club (for players who play at both ends of the defensive spectrum in the same season).

Not to be outdone, Mitch Maier of the Royals (a career outfielder who’s also done time at first base and designated hitter) pitched a scoreless ninth against the Red Sox. Mitch has taken two at-bats as DH this year, so welcome to the Spectrum Club!

So, what do Maier and Cuddyer have in common with Reds starter Johnny Cueto? Neither of them allowed an earned run in their last appearance. Unfortunately for Cueto, while Mitch and Michael both had decent defense behind them, Cueto allowed SIX unearned runs in his start against the Mets. Errors by Joey Votto (1B, 1st inning), Brandon Phillips (2B, 3rd inning), and Miguel Cairo (3B, 6th inning) contributed, although Cueto plunking Daniel Murphy didn’t help.

Appendix A: 2011′s Spectrum Club, as of today

Appendix B: All starters since 2002 who have allowed at least 6 runs, all of them unearned

Photo credit: Keith Allison. Used under ShareAlike license.

* not a guarantee

A fifteen-inning offensive drought July 18, 2011

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Last night’s ESPN game, between the Red Sox and the Rays, was a pitchers’ duel of the highest magnitude. John at Baseball Reference already looked for other games where both starters had game scores of 85 or higher, and neither team had to call on a position player to pitch, but I thought one of the most interesting things to happen was offensive in nature.

Neither team scored until the sixteenth inning, at which point Dustin Pedroia followed up a John Reddick walk, a Jason Varitek sacrifice, and a Marco Scutaro infield single (to move Reddick to third) with a single to right field. Every batter up to that point was productive and helped manufacture that run… except Jacoby Ellsbury, who flied out to left between Scutaro and Pedroia. In fact, every lineup spot had either a hit, a walk, or a productive out except for Ellsbury, who led off. (Granted, Varitek’s only productivity was his sacrifice, but that’s enough.) Ellsbury had 8 plate appearances, all of them at-bats, and didn’t reach base at all.

Even getting 8 plate appearances is rare. Since 2002 (and through July 7), only 403 batters have had 8 plate appearances, including a handful with 10 and quite a few with 9. All five of the 10-plate-appearance games took place on April 17, but some of them took place in 2008 and some in 2010. (Just an odd coincidence.) Of those 403, only 12 failed to reach base at all. Corey Patterson and Trot Nixon share the record for most plate appearances without reaching base, with 10.

Ellsbury’s streak of 8 plate appearances without reaching base is especially weird because he’s so talented. Ellsbury has a .370 OBP, meaning that on average he reaches base 37% of the time (or, he only gets sent back to the dugout 63% of the time). If we assume last night’s plate appearances were random draws, the probability of 8 times without reaching base would be

.630^8 \approx .025

or, in English, vanishingly rare.

One-Third of an Inning Pitched, 6 or More Earned Runs June 1, 2011

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Carlos Marmol came in last night to close a fine performance by Carlos Zambrano, who had pitched 8 innings and allowed one earned run on 7 hits, no walks, and 7 strikeouts for a game score of 71. (Zambrano went 0-2, dropping his batting average to a paltry .346.) Marmol had allowed 3 runs in 23 innings pitched prior to last night, with 10 saves, two blown saves, and a record of 1-1.

Then came last night.

On one third of an inning pitched, facing the 6-7-8 part of the Astros’ lineup, Marmol first allowed Brett Wallace to single, followed by Chris Johnson doubling and sending Wallace to third. Matt Downs hit for catcher Robinson Cancel and doubled, sending both Wallace and Johnson home. (Two earned runs.)

At this point, I’d have been willing to let pitcher Fernando Rodriguez hit for himself, but Angel Sanchez came in and sacrifice bunted Downs to third base. Credit Marmol with one-third of an inning pitched. Michael Bourne singled to bring Downs home from third (three earned runs), then stole second to put the winning run in scoring position. Clint Barmes walked, followed by Hunter Pence homering (six earned runs). Mercifully, Sean Marshall came in to finish off the inning, allowing one more single but getting the two outs to end the inning.

It’s surprisingly common to have at least 6 earned runs in one-third or less of an inning pitched. Ryan Dempster even managed to allow seven earned runs in .1 IP to start the game and his team bravely held on for the loss, and Jason Marquis once allowed seven earned runs in NO innings pitched (although in Marquis’ defense he left the bases loaded and Miguel Batista allowed all three inherited runners to score).

So, buck up, Marmol, and buy Mr. Zambrano a steak dinner.

Complete Game Shutout… PSYCH! May 30, 2011

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Jered Weaver pitched a brilliant game Saturday night for the Angels against the Twins. He’s had a strange opening to the season, starting with six straight wins and then beginning May with four straight losses followed by a no-decision. Saturday, on four days rest, he pitched nine scoreless innings with 2 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts, no hit batsmen, a Game Score of 88, and a career-high 128 pitches. It’s a good thing he grabbed another win… wait, no he didn’t. The game went into extra innings, the Angels lost, and Weaver walked off the mound with a no decision.

Put another way, if anyone had managed to hit a home run, or if Hank Conger had singled instead of popping fly to third in the eighth, Weaver would have a two-hit complete game shutout, and we’d be talking about how he still had it. Instead, he gets a no decision, and the Angels lost the game.

That doesn’t happen a whole lot, but it does happen enough to take notice. For example, on May 12, a 2-1 win for the Orioles over the Mariners was 0-0 into the 12th. So, both the Mariners’ Jason Vargas (9 IP, 7 H, 0 R, o ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 76 GSc) and the Orioles’ Zach Britton (9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 86 GSc) left with complete game shutouts that weren’t.

Similarly, last year, on July 10, Roy Halladay was outpitched by the Reds’ Travis Wood in an 11-inning 1-run loss. Wood managed a game score of 93 on one hit, no walks, and 8 strikeouts, whereas Halladay had a paltry 85 on 5 hits, 1 walk and 9 strikeouts. Neither man got the win, which went to Phillies reliever Jose Contreras.

Pitchers Hit This Year (or, Two Guys Named Buchholz) December 23, 2010

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Okay, I admit it. This post was originally conceived as a way to talk about the supremely weird line put up by Gustavo Chacin, who in his only plate appearance for Houston hit a home run to leave him with the maximum season OPS of 5.0. Unfortunately, Raphy at Baseball Reference beat me to it. Instead, I noticed while I was browsing the NL’s home run log to prepare to run some diagnostics on it that Kenley Jansen had two plate appearances comprising one hit and one walk. (Seriously, is there anything this kid can’t do?)

In Kenley’s case, that’s not entirely surprising, since he was a catcher until this season. His numbers weren’t great, but he was competent. What surprised me was that 75 pitchers since 2000 have finished the season with a perfect batting average. 9 were from this year, including Clay Buchholz and his distant cousing Taylor Buchholz. Evan Meek and Bruce Chen matched Jansen’s two plate appearances without an out. None of the perfect batting average crowd had an extra-base hit except for Chacin.

Since 2000, the most plate appearances by a pitcher to keep the perfect batting average was 4 by Manny Aybar in 2000.

At the other end of the spectrum, this year only three pitchers managed a perfect 1.000 on-base percentage without getting any hits at all. George Sherrill and Matt Reynolds both walked in their only plate appearances; Jack Taschner went them one better by recording a sacrifice hit in a second plate appearance.

Finally, to round things out, this year saw Joe Blanton and Heureusement, ici, c’est le Blog‘s favorite pitcher, Yovani Gallardo, each get hit by two pitches. Gallardo had clearly angered other pitchers by being so much more awesome than they were.

Tough Losses July 8, 2010

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Last night, Jonathon Niese pitched 7.2 innings of respectable work (6 hits, 3 runs, all earned, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts, 2 home runs, for a game score of 62) but still took the loss due to his unfortunate lack of run support – the Mets’ only run came in from an Angel Pagan solo homer. This is a prime example of what Bill James called a “Tough Loss”: a game in which the starting pitcher made a quality start but took a loss anyway.

There are two accepted measures of what a quality start is. Officially, a quality start is one with 6 or more innings pitched and 3 or fewer runs. Bill James’ definition used his game score statistic and used 50 as the cutoff point for a quality start. Since a pitcher gets 50 points for walking out on the mound and then adds to or subtracts from that value based on his performance, game score has the nice property of showing whether a pitcher added value to the team or not.

Using the game score definition, there were 393 losses in quality starts last year, including 109 by July 7th. Ubaldo Jimenez and Dan Haren led the league with 7, Roy Halladay had 6, and Yovani Gallardo (who’s quickly becoming my favorite player because he seems to show up in every category) was also up there with 6.

So far this year, though, it seems to be the Year of the Tough Loss. There have already been 230, and Roy Oswalt is already at the 6-tough-loss mark. Halladay is already up at 4. This is consistent with the talk of the Year of the Pitcher, with better pitching (and potentially less use of performance-enhancing drugs) leading to lower run support. That will require a bit more work to confirm, though.

Welcome to the Majors, Jay June 22, 2010

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Jay Sborz had a rough debut in relief of Justin Verlander during tonight’s Tigers at Mets game when there was a rain delay in the top of the 3rd. He faced seven batters in two-thirds of an inning, plunking the first two – Rod Barajas and Jeff Francoeur – and giving up hits to the last three. As Sborz, who was obviously struggling with nerves, tried to pitch his way out of the inning, Mets commentator Gary Cohen was mocking him mercilessly. “That’s got to be some kind of record,” for one.

Though Gary said it, that pinged my “Stuff Keith Hernandez Says” meter, and I trotted off to Baseball-Reference.com to look it up. Since 1973, six other pitchers who debuted in relief have two hit batsman. Were any of them as bad as Sborz?

We don’t have to go back too far to find someone who was. In 2002, Justin Miller of the Blue Jays made his debut against the Devil Rays and hit Chris Gomez, then Jason Tyner. Miller deserves special recognition – after that beautiful start, he held on to pitch 2 2/3 and got the win!

Honorable mention goes to Mitch Stetter of the Brewers. In a 2007 game against the Pirates, Stetter debuted in the last inning of a 12-2 blowout. He was on the winning side, though it ended up 12-3. Stetter hit Jack Wilson. He threw a wild pitch in the process of walking Nyjer Morgan, then iced the cake by plunking Nate McLouth. That was followed up with a groundout that scored Wilson and a merciful game-ending double play.

At the other end… June 22, 2010

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Although AJ Burnett had a bad first inning last night, the Oakland As had a bad tenth inning. After taking a 2-2 game into extra innings, the Cincinnati Reds knocked three out of the park against pitchers Michael Wuertz and Cedrick Bowers. The first was hit by Ramon Hernandez; Joey Votto and Scott Rolen went deep back to back. Although extra-inning home runs aren’t very rare (there have been 35 so far this year), only three pitchers have surrendered more than one, and neither of the other two (Chad Durbin and Matt Belisle) gave them both up on the same night.

Last year, everyone’s favorite balk-off artist, Arizona’s Esmerling Vasquez, gave up two home runs in extra innings against the Texas Rangers on June 25th. Those were two of 83 free-baseball homers in 2009. Extra-innings home runs are more common in the tops of innings, because in a tied game a home run for the home team is a walk-off whereas the road team will get the chance to capitalize on their momentum, but I would have expected the proportions to be much more different than they are. In 2009, for example, of those 83, only 44 were hit by the away team with 39 hit by the home team (and 33 of those were game-enders).

So far, no batter has more than one extra-innings home run this year, but last year there were several. Andre Ethier led the pack with 3, with a bunch of batters who had 2.

AJ Burnett: Statistical Anomaly June 21, 2010

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Tonight, A.J. Burnett had a weird first inning in a game that’s still going on as I write this. He got the first two outs fairly easily, and then surrendered home runs to Justin Upton, Adam LaRoche, and Mark Reynolds. Before he knew it, he was down 5-0 in the bottom of the first. That can’t happen very often.

I queried Baseball-Reference.com’s event finder for home runs, then narrowed it down to first inning home-runs with two outs this year. Prior to tonight, there had been 82. None of them came in three-homer games – that answers that.

Just for fun, I checked 2009 as well. In total, there were 209 2-out, first-inning home runs in 2009. Only one of those home runs happened in a three-homer game, so it didn’t happen then, either.

Poor AJ.

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