December 23, 2010
The Rodrigo Lopez All-Stars
Every now and then I will come across a statistical line or trend that catches my eye. The numbers don’t necessarily need to be staggeringly positive or negative, either, as I tend to gravitate toward inane accomplishments as well. For instance, Adam Dunn’s bopping of exactly 40 home runs every year from 2005-08 stands out, as does Aaron Harang’s raw unintentional walk totals from 2004-08: 48, 48, 48, 49, 45. Last season, Rodrigo Lopez piqued my interest, as it seemed like he pitched the entire season for the Diamondbacks without being demoted or missing time, and yet he never really pitched all that well. Sure enough, Lopez finished the 2010 season with exactly 200 innings and exactly zero wins above replacement level produced.
Think about that for a second: it is relatively rare for a starting pitcher to stay on the mound for 200 or more innings, and even less likely that a player who accomplishes such a feat would literally add nothing above what a freely available minor leaguer could provide. Lopez has had an interesting career. In his first full season with the Orioles in 2002, he produced a 3.57 ERA and 3.8 WARP in 196
From there, however, his career has been derailed by injuries and ineffectiveness; he has become an afterthought. He has pitched well enough at times to merit additional looks from teams, but the version on display over the last couple of years was nothing to write home about. This makes his line from last season all the more remarkable. Not only is it odd to see someone throw so many replacement-level innings, but this level of performance was expected. If I told you before the season that Lopez would finish with no wins added, it would not have been a surprise. If, however, I told you before the season that Lopez would pitch 200 innings you would probably call me silly.
After all, there were only 45 pitchers in the majors that surpassed the 200-inning threshold in 2010. Of them, Lopez had the second-worst ERA at 4.99. James Shields actually produced a higher ERA, but as we will discuss below, Shields and Lopez were not exactly kindred spirits. Lopez’s line got me thinking about how often a pitcher amasses as high of an innings tally while being as, or more, ineffective? Turning to the trusty database, I queried for anyone with 200 or more innings who produced zero wins above replacement or fewer. In total, 72 pitcher seasons were returned. I use the term pitcher seasons instead of just pitchers because a few pitchers showed up multiple times—they are obviously not unique names.
Here are the pitchers with the worst WARP totals and 200 or more frames logged:
I’ll be honest… I haven’t heard of half of those pitchers. The only recent pitcher to make the top of the list was Clement, and he was still a young pup back in 2000. Matt Morris finished just off the trailerboard with his 2004 display of awfulness at -1.0 WARP in 202 frames, tied with the aforementioned Shields from a year ago. But most of the list consists of pitchers from past decades and a different era, when it was more common to stay out on the mound even in spite of mediocre or worse performance. Nowadays, at the first sign of trouble there is talk of the bullpen warming up.
But what about Lopez’s contemporaries, the guys at exactly the replacement level with the same innings pitched minimum? Since 1954, here are the pitchers fitting this criteria, but the list is rather small:
Lopez has but seven contemporaries in this rare category. In fact, it is actually more common for a pitcher to throw 200 frames while costing his team more than a half of a win per season that it is for a pitcher to finish between -0.5 and 0 WARP. The next question that sprung into my head was how these pitchers got to this point. As I mentioned before when talking about Shields and Lopez, the former had put together several solid seasons in a row before finishing a win below replacement in 2010. So, how many of the 72 pitchers could have been expected to perform at that level? In other words, how many pitchers were like Lopez, cobbling together poor performance for a couple of seasons before suddenly passing 200 innings with their replacement levelness, instead of Shields, who by all expectations should have been much better?
To answer the question I added the WARP totals in the three previous years for each pitcher in the overall group. Of the 72 originally on the list, only 52 transferred over due to injuries and such preventing them from pitching for three straight years prior to the year in question. I then averaged those WARP totals. Lopez himself did not actually make the list because he did not pitch in 2008, but in 2006, 2007 and 2009, he managed -0.8, 0.6, and -0.8 wins, for an average of -0.3 over the span. So even though he did not have three consecutive years, I am looking for the pitchers with 200 or more innings in a season with zero or fewer wins produced, who averaged zero or fewer wins over the prior three seasons, similarly to him. The list, not surprisingly, is quite small:
And there are the Rodrigo Lopez All-Stars, the pitchers who managed 200 or more innings in a season either at, or below, the replacement level, after having fallen below the replacement level over the prior three seasons. For Richard, the 1972-74 seasons marked the start of his short, injury-plagued career. The 1975 season was his first as a full-time starter. From 1976-80, his strikeout rate soared and he managed WARP totals of 4.0, 6.5, 4.3, 4.7, 3.7. Whitson is known more for the mock moniker in his name doled out to solid pitchers who struggle to handle the New York limelight. From 1984-86 he struggled, but did manage to put up 4.7 wins in 1989 and 6.7 in 1990, which happened to be his second-to-last season.
Danny Jackson was very solid from 1985-88, before slumping mightily. He experienced a resurgence in 1993 and 1994 with the Phillies, but he had at least proven himself capable of higher workloads and effective performance; throwing 200 innings in 1992 was not as shocking as it was for Lopez. Krausse is the odd man out here, as he was never really effective yet was consistently allowed to pitch. He pitched from 1961-74—though not at all in 1962 or 1963—and managed a mere 0.2 wins for his career. His highest mark was 2.3 wins in 1966. From 1967-69, he produced -2.0, 1.4, and -0.7 wins. His innings pitched in that same span of time: 160.0, 185.0, 140.0. In 1970 he threw 216 innings while costing 1.2 wins. Lopez fits somewhere in between Jackson and Krausse, as he did have a couple good seasons early in his career, but is clearly at a very different level now. That he managed to throw 200 innings while defining the replacement level is very interesting given that, as the data here shows, it’s rare for a pitcher at or below the replacement level to amass that high of an innings tally.