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Weird Pitching Decisions Almanac in 2010 December 24, 2010

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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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.”)

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Burnett, Hughes, and Playoff Rotations October 12, 2010

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There was much discussion of the Yankees’ specialized playoff rotation for the American League Division Series. As is conventional in the ALDS, Joe Girardi went with a three-man rotation. CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte were locks; the third starter could have been A.J. Burnett, Javier Vazquez, or Dustin Moseley. Girardi went with young All-Star Phil Hughes in the third slot. That, of course, led to a sweep of the Minnestoa Twins to advance to the American League Championship Series.

First of all, I think it was probably the right decision. Hughes pitched 176 1/3 innings and gave up 82 earned runs, for an ER/IP of about .47. In Burnett’s 186 2/3 innings, he allowed 109 runs for an ER/IP of about .58. Surprisingly, Burnett allowed 9 unearned runs for a rate of about .048 unearned runs per inning pitched, whereas Hughes had only one unearned run for a rate of about .006, but of course those numbers probably don’t say anything significant. With 730 batters faced, he allowed about .11 earned runs per batter, or about 1 earned run every 9 batters faced, while Burnett’s 829 batters faced mean he had similar numbers of .13 earned runs per batter and 7.69 batters.

Most importantly to me, Hughes was much more predictable. Burnett faced, on average, 4.68 batters per inning pitched, with a variance of .92. Hughes faced over half a batter less per inning – 4.13 – and had a variance of .33. That means that not only did Burnett allow more baserunners, but when he was off, he was very off. Although the decision gets tougher when you have a higher BF/IP and a lower variance, Hughes was both better and more consistent in a similar number of innings, so he has to get the nod.

(That said, it’s shocking that such similar numbers produced one 18-8 pitcher and one 10-15 pitcher.)

The only question now is what order to pitch the announced four-man rotation for the ALCS. Of the choices,

OPTION 3
Sabathia
Hughes
Pettitte
Burnett
Sabathia
Hughes
Pettitte

seems clearly superior to me. It allows Burnett to start but avoids starting him twice, gets Hughes in play quite often, and puts the very reliable Andy Pettitte in play for a potential Game Seven. The linked article lists as a con that Pettitte is considered the number 2 starter, but at the Major League level a manager can’t be concerned with such frivolities. Besides, Pettitte is an established company man. I’d be surprised if he balked at a rotation that both maximized the team’s chances to win and put him in position to be the clutch hero.

Incidentally, this option lends itself to using the same rotation in the World Series. Option 2:

Sabathia
Pettitte
Hughes
Sabathia
Burnett
Pettitte
Sabathia

leaves Sabathia unavailable to start Game 1 of the World Series and might put Pettitte on short rest depending on the schedule to start Game 1. I can’t see starting the Series with Hughes or Burnett.

Leadoff Home Runs June 19, 2010

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Jose Reyes led off today’s Mets-Yankees game with a home run off Phil Hughes. That’s the eleventh leadoff home run of the year. That’s a little over half as many as there were last year on June 19, when Nate McLouth hit the 19th leadoff home run of 2009.

Last year, there were 51 leadoff home runs over roughly 6 months (early April through the first week of October), which puts uniformly distributed homers at  8.5 per month (so McLouth’s #19 on June 19 was about 2.25 behind pace). So far, with eleven over 2.5 months, that puts us on pace for 26.4, or, to be generous, about 30 leadoff home runs.

The change probably isn’t indicative of anything other than chance, but in 2008 #24 of 52 came on June 20, and in 2007 they were already up to 28 of 59 by June 19. Over the past few years there’s been a slowing of leadoff home runs which may be due to chance or may be due to some other factor. Who knows? It’s way too small a sample to say anything about.