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December 2, 1998

Pitcher Usage and Result Patterns: Seattle Mariners

Focus on 1998 Mariners starting pitching

by Jeff Bower and Christina Kahrl

Pitcher Usage and Result Patterns? What are these, you ask? This is the end result of a conversation the two of us started up in the spring on how to evaluate starting pitchers in terms of how they're used by their managers, and what that means in terms of results. We wanted to generate a team-wide statistical snapshot on how starting pitchers performed based on how they were used by their managers. In doing this, we used the quality start as our qualitative measure of pitcher performance, and we recorded them against rest and usage patterns. What comes out on the end? Starters (and teams) are evaluated in terms of how many games they've started on 3, 4, 5, or 6+ days' rest. Among each of those sets of information, we see how many quality starts (QS) and blown quality starts (BQS) the starter recorded, and what their average pitch counts were. What's a blown quality start? A game in which a starter has already logged a quality start (six or more innings, three or fewer
1998 Overall Pitcher Use Patterns
Days rest -> 2 3 4 5 6+ CS Totals
Starts 1 3 95 44 15 3 161
QS 0 0 42 17 3 1 63
%QS .00 .00 .44 .39 .20 .33 .39
BQS 0 1 11 7 0 0 19
%QS+BQS .00 .33 .56 .55 .20 .33 .51
Avg # pitches 85 96 102 103 90 87 101
runs) that either he blew by allowing a fourth run (or more) after the sixth, or that his bullpen blew by allowing baserunners that the starter left to them to score.

What can it tell us? It gives us a way to think about how a manager runs his rotation in terms of pitch counts and how regularly the starter pitches. As we work our way through the `98 season, we'll be able to come to some conclusions about some pitchers and some managers. How often does a manager have his starters take their regular turn? Is there a relationship between pitch counts and longer rest periods? How often did the starter give his manager a quality start? Are some starters more successful with longer rest periods than four days? Rooting through this information should begin to give us the answers to these questions.

Johnson            Days rest                 Moyer              Days rest
                3    4    5   6+   Totals                    3    4    5   6+  Totals
Starts          0   16    6    1       23    Starts          0   24   10    0      34
QS              0    6    2    1        9    QS              0   13    6    0      19
%QS           .00  .38  .33 1.00      .39    %QS           .00  .54  .60  .00     .56
BQS             0    2    2    0        4    BQS             0    2    2    0       4
%QS+BQS       .00  .50  .67 1.00      .57    %QS+BQS       .00  .63  .80  .00     .68
Avg # pitches   0  114  130  119      118    Avg # pitches   0  104  105    0     104

Fassero            Days rest                 Cloude             Days rest
                3    4    5   6+   Totals                    3    4    5   6+  Totals
Starts          1   19    9    3       32    Starts          0   17    8    5      30
QS              0    8    4    0       12    QS              0    8    2    1      11
%QS           .00  .42  .44  .00      .38    %QS           .00  .47  .25  .20     .37
BQS             1    5    3    0        9    BQS             0    2    0    0       2
%QS+BQS      1.00  .68  .78  .00      .66    %QS+BQS       .00  .59  .25  .20     .43
Avg # pitches 119  109  117   95      110    Avg # pitches   0   96   92   80      92

Swift              Days rest                 Spoljaric          Days rest
                3    4    5   6+   Totals                    3    4    5   6+  Totals
Starts          0   13    8    5       26    Starts          1    2    2    1       6
QS              0    4    2    1        7    QS              0    0    1    0       1
%QS           .00  .31  .25  .20      .27    %QS           .00  .00  .50  .00     .17
BQS             0    0    0    0        0    BQS             0    0    0    0       0
%QS+BQS       .00  .31  .25  .20      .27    %QS+BQS       .00  .00  .50  .00     .17
Avg # pitches   0   91   75   97       87    Avg # pitches  85   84   89   67      83

Suzuki             Days rest                 Abbott             Days rest
                3    4    5   6+   Totals                    3    4    5   6+  Totals
Starts          0    2    2    1        5    Starts          0    2    1    1       4
QS              0    0    1    1        2    QS              0    2    0    0       2
%QS           .00  .00  .50 1.00      .40    %QS           .00 1.00  .00  .00     .50
BQS             0    0    0    0        0    BQS             0    0    0    0       0
%QS+BQS       .00  .00  .50 1.00      .40    %QS+BQS       .00 1.00  .00  .00     .50
Avg # pitches   0   66  106   88       86    Avg # pitches   0  106   82   92      97

Bullinger          Days rest
                3    4    5   CS   Totals
Starts          0    0    0    1        1
QS              0    0    0    0        0
%QS           .00  .00  .00  .00      .00
BQS             0    0    0    0        0
%QS+BQS       .00  .00  .00  .00      .00
Avg # pitches   0    0    0   81       81

1998 was Lou Piniella's fifth season as the Mariner's skipper and over those seasons the way he handles players has been well documented. Only a player who has earned Piniella's trust (i.e. a veteran) will be used with regularity. A veteran starting pitcher will be used with over regularity. As far as young pitchers go--a sign should be hung with the greeting "Welcome to Sweet Lou's Pitching Funhouse", because they will soon have their manhood questioned, be verbally undressed on the mound, tested to see if they can pitch with pain and through "the wall" and ride the roller coaster to the bullpen and maybe even Tacoma, all while Piniella decides if they have the right "makeup". Now, this is not all a bad thing, for if they scale Mt. Piniella, they will forever have a job in the bigs (see Exhibit A, Bobby Ayala).

Piniella works his veteran Mariner starters as long or longer than any manager in baseball. Obviously, some of this is due to the Kingdome Arson Squad that he and his pitching coach du jour have kept at the ready the last few years. But, Piniella is old school and really likes the starters to finish what they began, to the point that they are left in the game longer than they should be. This helps to explain the extremely high 19 blown quality starts suffered by the Mariner pitching staff. Fortunately, this Piniella philosophy does not hold for the young pitchers-they are yanked when Piniella has his first nervous tick of the game. They are also often skipped in the rotation when an off day affords the opportunity. So, ironically, a young pitcher will likely leave Seattle for another city with his arm intact, even if his confidence is shot--and since Piniella hasn't developed a starter in his five years with the M's, young pitchers will leave Seattle.

Let's look at some of the veteran pitchers individually. Randy Johnson was put in a lame duck situation before the season began and his performance suffered because of it. Nevertheless, Piniella treated him the way you might an old car that you don't intend to keep--he drove him into the ground. Despite having three outings where he didn't get past the fourth inning, Johnson averaged 118 pitches per start. Jamie Moyer is an amazing pitcher to watch and his economical style is a perfect fit for Piniella's heavy hand. He continued to flourish with a 68% QS+BQS. Jeff Fassero really had a better season than the standard win-loss record and ERA indicate, as his %QS+BQS was a very respectable 66%. His problem was his number of blown quality starts--9! This number probably is higher than the total of some teams and really shows how careless Piniella was in his usage. Piniella deserves some credit for coaxing five months of pitching from Billy Swift's flaccid right arm before shutting him down in September. But given Swift's performance (27% QS), it was like spending time detailing a Yugo.

On to the "young" starters. Ken Cloude had the struggles that should be expected from a pitcher of his age and experience. Yet he actually performed pretty well when used consistently--59% QS+BQS with four days rest. Piniella's paranoia enabled him to physically survive the campaign. Still his situation bears an uncanny likeness to that of ex-Mariner Bob Wolcott. Piniella moved Paul Spoljaric into the rotation when the Big Unit was sent packing to Houston. Spoljaric had been Piniella's favorite whipping boy in the bullpen where, despite good stuff, he seemed to pitch with fear. Originally drafted by Toronto as a starter, Spoljaric was excited about the prospects of returning to that role. Unfortunately, he never really received much of a chance, as his starts were sporadic and he was shuffled back and forth to the bullpen. At age 31, Paul Abbott can be considered neither young or a prospect. He is, however, a nice story. After a couple cups of coffee with Minnesota and Cleveland, Abbott had toiled in the minors since 1993. He put up some very good numbers at Tacoma last year before blowing out his arm at mid-season. Abbott underwent Tommy John surgery and was back with Tacoma this July. Finally given another chance, he pitched well and survived the Piniella Litmus Test-being asked to throw 114 pitches in a meaningless 15-4 rout of Texas in game number 159. Afterward, Piniella proclaimed him in the mix for a starting role next year. Good luck, Paul.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  Lou Piniella,  Quality Starts,  Pitches

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