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Quality Starts and Differential Luck July 12, 2014

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball, Economics.
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Zack_Wheeler_on_July_25,_2013On July 11, Zack Wheeler gave the Mets a quality start by either definition – he pitched 6 2/3 innings and allowed only one run for a game score of 64. The  Mets managed to convert it into a win, which they’ve managed to do in 27 of their 46 wins thus far this year. Zack’s made 12 quality starts this year (by the sabermetric definition of a game score of 50 or more), but the Mets have managed to convert only 5 of them into Ws for Zack; the team is 7-5 in those games, while Zack himself is 5-2. That’s a far cry from the Giants’ freakish Tim Lincecum (9-0 in 12 quality starts) and the Angels’ Garrett Richards (10-0 in 15 quality starts). (The whole list of pitchers with quality starts so far is here.)

That got me thinking – which teams do the best at converting quality starts into wins? Which teams are the worst? What’s the relationship? I grabbed all of these numbers and put them together into a spreadsheet in order to play with them.

First, a quick review of terms: A cheap win is a pitcher win in a non-quality start. A tough loss is a pitcher loss in a quality start. “Luck” is whatever I happen to be measuring at the moment, but today ‘luck differential’ refers to the difference between the percentage of wins that are cheap and the percentage of losses that are tough; in other words, luck differential = 100*[(CW/W) – (TL/L)]. For an individual pitcher, these are fairly random occurrences – no pitcher in MLB today hits reliably enough to consistently earn himself cheap wins – but it seems that aggregating by team allows for the quality of batting to smooth out over a large number of games.

The Texas Rangers lead the league in this sort of luck differential, with 4 of their 38 wins coming cheaply for over 10% cheap wins but only 2 of their 55 losses tough (3.64); the Atlanta Braves have the worst luck differential in the league with a high proportion of tough losses (17/42, or 39.53%) and a low number of cheap wins (3/50, or 6%) for a total of -33.53. The Mets themselves convert less than 50% of their quality starts into wins for the starting pitcher.

These numbers are indicative of a general trend. The more quality starts a team has, the more negative its luck differential is (ρ = -.72 – an extremely strong correlation) and the more wins a team has, the more negative its luck differential is (ρ = -.20 – a bit weaker). Essentially, teams with more quality starts generate more wins (ρ = .56), regardless of the fact that sometimes they lose those quality starts, too. Surprisingly, the Mets have a -21.67 luck differential, one of the most negative in the league, probably due to the fact that they convert so few quality starts into wins.


Quickie: R.A. Dickey Does It Again September 13, 2011

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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Last night’s Mets game offered a familiar situation: R.A. Dickey started the game and pitched seven strong innings. He allowed only three runs. He was also the losing pitcher.

By any measure, his 7 innings, 3 runs (2 earned), no walks and 7 strikeouts were a quality start. (They gave him a game score of 58, and matched the 6-inning, 3-run criterion MLB uses for a quality start.) Three innings was enough, though, to give the Mets the loss. The Mets have given up an average of 4.57 runs per game this season, putting them .39 above the NL average and 13th in the league. That’s not too bad – except that they only score 4.44, and that extra 13% of a run adds up over time. (Note that when I crunched numbers for home field advantage, the Mets’ home advantage was quite high, at 1.4 more runs scored at home, so last night’s performance was quite a letdown.) The Mets weren’t running a September callup lineup, either – Mike Nickeas was at catcher, but the rest of the lineup was pretty consistent.

Dickey’s had a rough year. A loss in a quality start is called a Tough Loss, and he’s had six of them. That doesn’t lead the league – Hiroki Kuroda and Jeremy Hellickson split that honor with eight each – but it’s tough to pin all of the blame on Dickey when he’s pitched to six tough losses. Worse, he has seven Quality No-Decisions, which are, predictably, no-decisions in quality starts. Those are more common, but it means that of Dickey’s 30 starts, with 19 of them quality starts, a whopping 13 of them haven’t gotten him a win. By contrast, of his 8 wins, only 2 came in non-quality starts. (We call those Cheap Wins.) That kind of breakdown shows a lack of support from the team.

It’s not like the Mets are this unsupportive all the time, though – Dickey’s six Tough Losses were over one-third of the 17 Tough Losses earned by the team this year, and his seven Quality No-Decisions are around one-third of the Mets’ 22 quality starts with no-decisions for the pitcher. His two Cheap Wins? The Mets have sixteen.

Dickey just can’t get lucky this year.

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.

Utility Pitchers II: Alternate Definition January 3, 2011

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In the previous post, I discussed utility pitchers, which I defined as players who primarily play a defensive position who are called on to pitch. It never occurred to me that Bleacher Report had previously defined it otherwise – as a pitcher who can perform well in any role.

How can I quantify that? Well, it seems to me that a sign of quality as a starter is the vaunted quality start (game score above 50, or six innings with three or fewer runs allowed, depending who you ask), and a sign of quality as a reliever is the save. Thus, a good utility pitcher is one who can muster at least one quality start and at least one save in a given season. It’s not perfect, since it relies on the manager being willing to insert a primary starter at the right point in a game to earn a save (or starting a primary reliever, as Joe Girardi did with Brian Bruney back in 2008). Nonetheless, eight pitchers managed that feat this year.

By far the most versatile was Hisanori Takahashi of the Mets. Tak managed six quality starts, a handful of appearances as a left-handed specialist, and eight saves when he stepped in as the Mets’ closer after Francisco Rodriguez became unavailable.

Mike Pelfrey also represented for the Mets, although he made only one relief appearance (in the crazy 20-inning game against the Cardinals).

Matt Garza of the Rays made some news this July when he showed his versatility by starting and saving games in the same series.

The other five pitchers were Bruce Chen, Nelson Figueroa, Tom Gorzelanny, Matt Harrison, and David Hernandez.

Shockingly, Carlos Zambrano wasn’t among the pitchers listed, even though he spent some time in the bullpen for the Cubs and some time as a starter. (Big Z was briefly the highest-paid setup man in the league.)

My guess for the 2011 season? Neftali Feliz of the Rangers was among the best closers this year but has the ability to start games as well. Most likely, though, it’ll be someone like Pelfrey, who was pressed into service in relief for an extra-inning game.