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Zambrano Back on the Horse May 27, 2011

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Last night, Carlos Zambrano pitched on one day’s rest after pinch-hitting against the hapless Mets for two RBIs on Tuesday. We’ve talked about Zambrano’s pinch-hitting prowess before, but last night he was an awesome 3 for 3 from the plate, including a double. In fact, in 26 plate appearances, Zambrano’s got 9 hits for a .375 batting average and, since he has no walks, a .375 on-base percentage. Not only is that impressive, but I hear he can pitch, too.

I figured that was pretty impressive. It can’t be often that a pitcher gets three at-bats and hits for all of them, can it? It’s happened 450 times since 1919, including, surprisingly, once already this year. The Mets’ Chris Young managed a 3-for-3 night while notching the win against the Phillies back on April 5.

In recent memory, the most at-bats by a pitcher who hit each time was Dan Haren, who grabbed a 4-for-4 as a Diamondback against the Cardinals last year (also as the winning pitcher). Haren also gave up a whopping 7 runs, so he’s lucky he was hitting.

Micah Owings has had two games where he pitched and hit in all of at least 3 plate appearances, including a 4-for-4 from 2007 in which three of his 4 hits were doubles.

Finally, Mel Stottlemyre (in 1964) and two pitchers from the 1920s had 5-for-5 games. Stottlemyre’s two-hit gem included him hitting a double and pitching to a game score of 83.

Complete Game in a Non-Quality Start May 26, 2011

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Dillon Gee of the Mets was credited with a complete game in last night’s win over the Cubs. His line: 6 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 0 HR, and 1 HBP, for a game score of 50. He qualified for a quality start under the Game Score definition, but not under the six-inning, three-run criterion. That makes it a form of Cheap Win, where a pitcher is credited with a win even though he didn’t pitch as effectively as expected.

Since the game was shortened by rain, Gee got a complete game, even though that usually involves 8 innings for the visiting pitcher on a losing team or 9 inning for a winning pitcher regardless. That made me wonder how many pitchers from the modern era, when complete games are less common than in previous years, have pitched complete games in non-quality starts.

A quality start, under the Game Score definition, is a start with less than 50 points. That represents that a pitcher had negative value for his team. It can’t be especially common, can it?

According to this list I queried from Baseball Reference, a non-quality start complete game hasnt been pitched since 2006 when Freddy Garcia pitched a rain-shortened 5-inning complete game for the White Sox to defeat the Blue Jays 6-4, with a game score of 42. The last nine-inning complete game non-quality start was Pete Harnisch with the Reds, who won a 10-6 slugfest in August of 2000 on 124 pitches with only one walk and three strikeouts. Aside from the six earned runs (all scored in the first three innings) it wasn’t a bad performance, somewhat reminiscent of Edwin Jackson‘s ugly but effective no-hitter last year.

Weird Pitching Decisions Almanac in 2010 December 24, 2010

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I’m a big fan of weird pitching decisions. A pitcher with a lot of tough losses pitches effectively but stands behind a team with crappy run support. A pitcher with a high proportion of cheap wins gets lucky more often than not. A reliever with a lot of vulture wins might as well be taking the loss.

In an earlier post, I defined a tough loss two ways. The official definition is a loss in which the starting pitcher made a quality start – that is, six or more innings with three or fewer runs. The Bill James definition is the same, except that James defines a quality start as having a game score of 50 or higher. In either case, tough losses result from solid pitching combined with anemic run support.

This year’s Tough Loss leaderboard had 457 games spread around 183 pitchers across both leagues. The Dodgers’ Hiroki Kuroda led the league with a whopping eight starts with game scores of 50 or more. He was followed by eight players with six tough losses, including Justin Verlander, Carl Pavano, Roy Oswalt, Rodrigo Lopez, Colby Lewis, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, and Tommy Hanson. Kuroda’s Dodgers led the league with 23 tough losses, followed by the Mariners and the Cubs with 22 each.

There were fewer cheap wins, in which a pitcher does not make a quality start but does earn the win. The Cheap Win leaderboard had 248 games and 136 pitchers, led by John Lackey with six and Phil Hughes with 5. Hughes pitched to 18 wins, but Lackey’s six cheap wins were almost half of his 14-win total this year. That really shows what kind of run support he had. The Royals and the Red Sox were tied for first place with 15 team cheap wins each.

Finally, a vulture win is one for the relievers. I define a vulture win as a blown save and a win in the same game, so I searched Baseball Reference for players with blown saves and then looked for the largest number of wins. Tyler Clippard was the clear winner here. In six blown saves, he got 5 vulture wins. Francisco Rodriguez and Jeremy Affeldt each deserve credit, though – each had three blown saves and converted all three for vulture wins. (When I say “converted,” I mean “waited it out for their team to score more runs.”)

Carlos Zambrano, Ace Pinch Hitter? June 21, 2010

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Earlier this year, Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella experimented with moving starting pitcher and relatively big hitter Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen, briefly making him the Major Leagues’ best-paid setup man. Zambrano is back in the rotation as of the beginning of June. I’m curious what the effect of moving him to the bullpen was.

The thing is that not only is Zambrano an excellent pitcher (though he was slumping at the time), he’s also a regarded as a very good hitter for a pitcher. He’s a career .237 hitter, with a slump last year at “only” .217 in 72 plate appearances (17th most in the National League), which was 6th in the National League among pitchers with at least 50 plate appearances. He didn’t walk enough (his OBP was 13th on the same list), but he was 9th of the 51 pitchers on the list in terms of Base-Out Runs Added (RE24) with about 5.117 runs below a replacement-level batter. Ubaldo Jimenez was also up there with a respectable .220 BA, .292 OBP, but -8.950 RE24.

It should be pointed out that pitcher RE24 is almost always negative for starters – the best RE24 on that list is Micah Owings with -2.069. Zambrano’s run contribution was negative, sure, but it was a lot less negative than most starters. Zambrano also lost a bit of flexibility as an emergency pinch hitter (something that Owings is going through right now due to his recent move to the bullpen) – he’s more valuable as a reliever, so they won’t use him to pinch hit. As a result, he loses at-bats, and that not only keeps him from amassing hits. It also allows him to get rusty.

It’s hard to precisely value the loss of Zambrano’s contribution, although he’s already on pace for -6.1 batting RE24. It’s likely, in my opinion, that his RE24 will rise as he continues hitting over the course of the year. His pitching value is also negative, however, which is unusual. He’s always been very respectable among Cubs starters. It’s possible that although he was pitching very well in relief, the fact that he has the ability to go long means that it’s inefficient to use him as a reliever. This is the opposite of, say, Joba Chamberlain, who is overpowering in relief but struggles as a starter.

As a starter, Zambrano has never been a net loss of runs. He needs to stay out of the bullpen, and Joba needs to stay there.

Pitchers with 4+ RBIs (Sorry, Mets fans) September 23, 2008

Posted by tomflesher in Academia, Baseball.
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Last night, the Cubs’ Jason Marquis hit a rare grand slam. Even rarer is that Marquis was the starting pitcher and got the win. Still rarer: Marquis had one hit and 5 RBIs.

That raises the question: just how common an event is Jason’s productivity?