Certain measureable accomplishments are indeed undeniable. Ted Williams is the last major-leaguer to hit .400 for an entire season. No pitcher since Denny McLain in 1968 has rung up 30 wins in a season. Like it or not, Barry Bonds does hold a couple of MLB’s Home Run records.
Of course, even in matters measureable, MLB itself showed us over half a century ago what a little asterisk can do. And Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown in 2012 was thought by some to be undeserving of an MVP.
Nevertheless, individual awards are still regularly presented – and new ones invented. Fans, numerologists and sabermetricians have been slicing and dicing the data since Doubleday (or whoever) first laid out some bases in a pasture. Statistics are merely tallies of the occurrences of specific events. Blend in a little “long division” for the sake of ratio and proportion. And Presto – averages and percentages emerge, custom-made for comparing and combining (can you spell OPS?).
Baseball presents us with a series of compelling individual confrontations – at times on multiple levels – within the framework of a consolidated team effort. And none of this occurs – except perhaps for some exceptionally daring base-running – until the pitcher makes a purposeful release of the ball. The impetus for avoiding a loss, one might say, rests in his hand.
Funny how little impact (none at all, by American League rules) this guy has in the actual winning of a game. His job is to register outs, in batches of three, with minimal bleeding for as long as necessary/able. A team victory (or, better yet, the avoidance of a team defeat) is the ultimate objective, a winning decision a pleasant accoutrement.
So let’s see if we can construct a simple mathematical formula that will reward a pitcher for working deep into a game while holding him accountable for the outcome. We’ll penalize a pitcher for each of his starting assignments that the team ultimately loses, and impose an additional down-grade for each losing decision in a start. On the other hand, we’ll recognize each start (win or lose) that spans a full seven innings or more, and additionally reward all Complete Games.
[(Long Starts + Complete Games) – (Player Losses + Team Losses)] / Starts
Here’s how this would work. Pitcher “A” compiled 35 starts, 16 Complete Games, 26 “Long Starts” and a 25-3 record. His team lost but five of those games. The equation becomes: [(26 + 16) – (3 + 5)] / 35 = [42 – 8] / 35 = 34 / 35 = 0.971. Those familiar stats suggest a productive year – and “Point Nine Seven One” does sound impressive, huh?
Let’s consider two other seasons. Pitcher “B” posted 34 starts, five CG’s, 26 LS’s, a 19-9 record and 11 team losses: [(26 + 5) – (9 + 11) / 34 = [31 – 20] / 34 = 11 / 34 = 0.324. Pitcher “C” went 27-10 in 41 starts with 30 CG’s, 37 LS’s and only 12 team losses: [(37 + 30) – (10 + 12)] / 41 = [67 – 22] / 41 = 45 / 41 = 1.098.
That quite a body of work – 110 games and 82 victories, 71-22 combined, over three-fourths of them “long” and nearly half “complete.” Cy Young-worthy, for sure…though Pitcher “B” fell short last year to the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.
Nevertheless, the 0.324 grade recorded for the 2013 season by St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright topped MLB among all 127 pitchers with a minimum of 20 starting assignments. (Kershaw was second.)
Curiously, two pitchers received the score of an even “zero” on this scale – Patrick Corbin of Arizona and Tampa Bay’s David Price. (Corbin lost his 2014 season to the Tommy-John plague.) Even more curiously, this unimpressive little number placed both guys in MLB’s Top Ten (tied at No. 8), a group that includes the Mariners’ Hisashi Iwakuma at -0.030. (The lowest score, -1.200, belonged to journeyman Joe Blanton of the Angels, one of six players who graded out at -1.000 or lower.)
You see, just as winning percentages and batting averages work on a scale (0.000-1.000), this calculation has both an upper and lower limit. Hypothetically, a pitcher’s team could find a way not to lose every game he starts; hypothetically, a pitcher could throw every pitch of every game he starts – combine those hypotheticals and we get a perfect score, 2.000. Conversely, no LS’s or CG’s combined with all losing decisions creates the numerical bottom of the barrel, -2.000. (Out of last season’s pool of 127, the performance of 112 regular starters produced a value between zero and negative one on this scale.)
While the following numerical nuance may not necessarily fit the philosophical loss-avoidance nature of the pitching profession, we can modify the calculation in order to produce more user-friendly data (i.e. values greater than zero). Rather than using a player’s combined losses (individual and team), add his combined wins to the CG’s and LS’s. The subsequent division by the total starts will yield a value between zero and four.
A ranking by this “metric” gives us a similar though hardly identical set of results. For example, Wainwright’s score of 2.118 remains atop last season’s heap, but Cy Young recipient Kershaw falls to No. 4 at 1.909 behind the Nationals’ Jordan Zimmerman (2.000) and Detroit’s Max Scherzer (2.031).
Scherzer is one of several players whose ranking induces some head-scratching. That second-best showing by the new equation drops to No. 38 on the original scale (-0.281).
This modified calculation does produce a wider range of scores, from a high of 2.118 to a low of 0.350 – 1.768, as compared to 1.524.
We’ll see how all this compares with the 2014 data when all that mathematical grunt work is done.
Who the Heck Are Pitchers “A” & “C”, Anyway?
Those guys are, respectively, the 1978 version of the Yankees’ Ron Guidry and Steve Carlton, vintage 1972, for his incomprehensible season with miserable (59-97) Philadelphia Phillies.
And for the record, their numbers are surpassed by the 1968 accomplishments of a couple of guys named Bob Gibson and the previously-referenced McLain.