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April 4, 2014

BP Unfiltered

This Week's New Pitching Lines

by Sam Miller

Two years ago, in one of my first articles for Baseball Prospectus, I wrote about pitching lines: the ones we see over and over, and the ones we’ve never seen. It went like this:

There are, technically, infinite possibilities for a starters’ pitching line, but realistically, almost all will:
  • Be between two and nine innings;
  • Have a Hits total that is no greater than IP plus seven;
  • Have a Runs total that is no greater than Hits plus one or Hits minus eight;
  • Have a Runs total that is no greater than Earned Runs plus four;
  • Not have a BB total greater than eight;
  • Have a Strikeout total that is no less than BB minus three and no greater than BB plus 10;

That’s still a huge range of possibilities, but with even with those broad boundaries (which would include such unlikely events as 2.2/9/5/2/7/4) it limits us to about 1.5 million pitching lines. And every day or two, a new line is formed for the first time.

This year, fearing that all of life is happening while I fail to notice, I decided I wanted to notice those new lines when they happen.

The best new line of the week: Mark Buehrle’s 8.2/4/0/0/1/11
A pitching line (Innings/Hits/Runs/Earned Runs/Walks/Ks, in case you're new) is a sort of a six-word novel, in a sense. Most of them are boring six-word novels, the equivalent of “I woke up and ate brunch.” Some of them are horror stories, some of them are meta, some of them are Joycian riddles impossible to decode. Buehrle’s novel is more about all the similar pitching lines that didn’t come before. The heroes that didn’t exist and the wars that weren’t fought. You look at his line and start to identify why it’s never been done: Why would a manager pull a pitcher one out away from completing a masterpiece like that one? Have we never seen this line because, in the world before pitch counts, it would be unthinkable that a pitcher would be yanked at this point? Or because, to pitch a game this well, the man on the mound would almost certainly have to be an ace, with the sort of prestige that keeps his manager in the dugout and earns him one more batter?

Had Buehrle not been pulled, and had he retired the next batter, he would have joined a group of nine other pitchers (most recently Jason Schmidt) who threw a 9/4/0/0/1/11. For that matter, had his manager pulled him after eight so that the ninth could start with a fresh reliever, he’d have joined four other pitchers with an 8/4/0/0/1/11. Further, here’s the frequency of starts in major-league history by innings:

  • Nine innings: 66,034
  • Eight innings: 29,999
  • Eight and two-thirds: 3,399

What that means is that most starts that go 8 ⅔ create a new pitching line. Baseball flat out hates the 8 ⅔ inning start.

Looking at Buehrle’s start, you can appreciate the confluence of events needed to get us to this line. Most importantly, it had to be early in the season, because Buehrle was on a tighter pitch count than usual. If Buerhle throws this start in May, this line never happens.

The worst new line of the week: Jorge De La Rosa’s 4.1/4/5/5/2/6
I’m guessing the rarity here is that De La Rosa got pulled before the end of the fifth inning despite pitching relatively well. He gave up all those runs, of course, but 83 percent of his baserunners had to score for that to happen, which is rare. If you start adding baserunners, one at a time—but you don't add any additional runs scored—you get results for every iteration. If you start removing baserunners, however, they remain virgin lines. So, basically, by baseball’s historical standards, De La Rosa pitched too well to get pulled from this game. That his manager decided to pull him from this game was, like, historic.

The most surprisingly new line of the week: Martin Perez’s 5.2/7/2/2/0/7
Most of the new lines we see feature either a partial inning or an unearned run. The gold standard for a surprising new line would have neither of those. There were no new lines this week that qualified as gold standard. Here’s the best we have.

Other new lines:

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

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Pitcher Profile: New A... (04/03)
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