April 25, 2014
This Week's New Pitching Lines, 4/25
When John Farrell asked the umpires to inspect Michael Pineda's person this week, leading to Pineda's unnaturally early exit from a start, it seemed to be a perfect scenario to produce a new pitching line. If Pineda hadn't been ejected, there is zero chance that he'd have been yanked after just 1 2/3 innings and four baserunners. Baseball's factory line, producing 15 barely distinguishable events per day for six months every year, does occasionally get jammed by something unexpected, and an early pine-tar ejection counts as something unexpected. But here's the crazy thing: Pineda's was the fifth 1.2/4/2/2/0/0 line in history. This is what we're up against when we go looking for newness in this sport.
a) had a higher strikeout rate. That was McHugh's 10th career start. In eight of them, he struck out three batters or fewer. Here he struck out 12 of the 22 batters he faced, which is the second-highest K percentage by any starter this year. (Behind Danny Salazar.)
b) is considerably less likely to be repeated, thanks to the partial inning. A pitcher is about nine times more likely to end a start with seven scoreless innings than with 6 2/3 scoreless innings. He's about 17 times more likely to end a start with seven scoreless, walkless innings than 6 2/3. This line that McHugh had is only the third time ever regardless of strikeouts--Chris Capuano once had the same line with four Ks, and Jeff Karstens with three.
c) was by Collin McHugh. A waiver-wire pickup who couldn't crack the Astros rotation to start the year. In his four Triple-A appearances, he struck out a total of eight batters. In parts of two previous seasons, he had a career 8.94 ERA. A unique line is a unique line, but it seems keeping with the spirit of this feature to prioritize the unpredictable.
The worst new line of the week: Kyle Gibson's 3/10/7/7/2/3. As we've found before, partial innings tend to make good starts unique, but full innings tend to make bad starts unique. If Gibson had thrown 2 2/3 innings, 3 1/3 innings, 3 2/3 innings, 4 1/3 innings, he would have had company. Indeed, 63 previous pitchers have had this exact line but with a different innings total, from Dylan Axelrod's 2.2/10/7/7/2/3 to Len Barker's 9/10/7/7/2/3. The X/10/7/7/2/3 combination is almost completely used up; only 6.1, 7.1 and 8.1 innings remain untouched, along with 2.1 innings or fewer.
The most surprisingly-new line of the week: Eric Stults' 5.1/10/2/2/0/3. Surprisingly because the very next box score I clicked, on the same day, had Kyle Kendrick throwing a 5.2/10/2/2/1/2, which is practically the same line (and which wasn't a unique line).
Stephen Strasburg's line: 6/5/2/2/1/9. As noted last time we did this, Strasburg's lines all seem to be unique or close to it. This line looks pretty normal--a clean six innings, no unearned runs, etc. But nine-strikeout, six-inning performances are a relatively new phenomenon, and this is only the fourth time anybody has had it. Indeed, this line is rarer than Pineda's tar-interrupted line. So Strasburg's lines this year, by historical frequency:
In five starts, he has produced pitching lines that had previously been seen a total of seven times in history, or about half as many times as Clay Buchholz's 2.1/7/6/6/1/1 line this week has been.
Crazy, crazy week for new pitching lines. Three starters managed to create two new pitching lines each.
Asterisk denotes a line that is unique because of unearned runs only.