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April 26, 2004

From The Mailbag

Unearned Runs, Devil Rays, and the Waiver Wire

by Baseball Prospectus

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Not Earning Its Keep: Why the "Earned" Run Needs To Go

Can you run some tables showing how the great ERA pitchers stack up against the great UERA Pitchers? Meaning, Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove are considered the greatest pichers who ever lived - are they still the greatest using UERA? People have it in in their minds how the all time great pitchers are ranked. I would imagind using UERA vs ERA probably wouldn't change the order of that list much, right? Two ways to look at it then - 1) if the order stays relatively the same, people will be more open to the change, or 2) if the order stays the same, how bad could ERA be and just leave it alone!

--L.P.

These may not answer all your questions, but here are the all-time leaders in UERA (min 2000 innings), expressed as a percentage of league UERA:


                   UERA     ERA
Curt Schilling     49.5    79.7
Mike Mussina       52.3    77.0
Dennis Eckersley   60.7    88.6
Tom Seaver         60.9    78.4
Ed Brandt          61.7    96.7
Dave McNally       62.4    93.0
Ron Guidry         63.1    81.3
Nap Rucker         64.3    83.8
Luis Tiant         64.8    91.7
Alvin Crowder      65.0    94.4
Billy Pierce       65.5    82.8
Bret Saberhagen    65.8    80.4
Bob Shawkey        66.2    87.1
Babe Adams         67.2    85.2
Jim Palmer         68.2    77.0
Don Sutton         68.5    88.1
Bob Feller         69.1    78.2
Eddie Plank        69.5    81.6
Pedro Martinez     69.5    58.0
Dazzy Vance        69.6    79.2

And here are the all-time leaders in ERA, along with their UERAs:


                    ERA    UERA
Pedro Martinez     58.0    69.5
Ed Walsh           65.9    75.6
Walter Johnson     66.9    75.1
Hoyt Wilhelm       67.1   113.7
Lefty Grove        69.3    76.2
Addie Joss         69.4    82.6
Mordecai Brown     71.3    83.7
Whitey Ford        71.4    80.1
Randy Johnson      71.4    95.1
Greg Maddux        71.5    97.6
Roger Clemens      72.8    75.3
Christy Mathewson  73.2    78.7
Kevin Brown        73.9   113.4
Lefty Gomez        74.3    79.8
Sandy Koufax       74.6    70.3
Carl Hubbell       75.2    70.4
Pete Alexander     75.4    73.4
Mike Mussina       77.0    52.3
Jim Palmer         77.0    68.2
Bob Feller         78.2    69.1

The rankings of great pitchers won't change dramatically by including unearned runs, although guys with big discrepencies like the knuckleballers and Kevin Brown will drop a few spots. And in response to your last point -- as I said in the article, you could argue that this isn't a battle worth fighting, since unearned runs are always a relatively small percentage of a pitcher's overall runs. I still think the causes of simplicity and sensibility in evaluation -- plus some extra accuracy -- make it worth raising the argument.

--Michael Wolverton

I saw your list of "pitchers who had average-to-excellent ERAs combined with terrible UERAs". I have a similar list of pitchers with extreme *RA+ to *ERA+ ratios at http://members.cox.net/~harlowk22/ratoera.html . My three final thoughts on that page were:

1. Lots of knuckleballers on the low RATIO list: Wilhelm, Candiotti, Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough, Wilbur Wood, Gaylord Perry just missed it by 0.08.

2. Borderline HOFers that get a favorable boost by looking at *RA+: Luis Tiant, Ron Guidry, and Lolich (I wouldn't consider him HOF-worthy but he was on the 2003 VC ballot).

3. Borderline HOFers that get an unfavorable shot by looking at *RA+: Jim Kaat and Tommy John.

Anyway, if you get bored, take a look at my site.

--Jeremy Barr

Good stuff. Your mention of Tommy John brings up another issue that I didn't raise in the article -- the possibility that certain styles of pitching can lead to more errors (and therefore more unearned runs). For example, since there are more errors on ground ball than on fly balls, it serves to reason that extreme ground ball pitchers would give up more unearned runs. A superficial glance at a few names seems to support that idea: Tommy John, Kevin Brown, Bob Knepper, and Kirk Rueter all had lousy unearned run rates, while Sid Fernandez and Jim Deshaies were spectacular with unearned runs.

Looking at a few names doesn't constitute a study, obviously. But whether the ground ball/fly ball theory pans out or not, the larger point is that there are some characteristics of pitchers -- lots of balls in play, ground balls, hard-hit balls, etc. -- that you'd expect to produce more errors and more unearned runs. It's just another way that the unearned run rule is wrong-headed.

--Michael Wolverton

Teams: A Critical Guide

Why do you, and every other BP author, feel the need to take a dig at the Devil Rays during any mention of them on your site and in the book? Do you not realize that there are fans that read your articles to learn from them, and the constant insults get in the way of what could be useful information? We get it, the Rays have not been good. But if you have to rely on the insults to consider your writing entertaining, you may need to re-evaluate your writing style.

Please, this site was built on smart, intelligent baseball writing. Lose the 3rd grade wisecracks and just rely on the foundation you guys have built. I don't come here for amatuer night, I come here to learn about baseball. Please do a better job of this.

--Jay Bradley

Thanks for taking the time to write. I appreciate your comments. I can think of several responses and I'm not sure which is best. Let me give you the highlights version:

In regards to "Teams: A Critical Guide," my intention is to give each team as much attention as events and inspiration demand while staying within BP's recommended word limit. This week that meant that the Astros got 250 words and the Yankees got a haiku and two sentences. Next week, the D-Rays may get the 250 words, the Astros the two sentences, and (the only thing I can promise) no one will get a haiku.

My D-Rays comment was not meant so much to poke fun at them as to ask a question that had been on my mind since reading Michael Lewis' NY Times piece: has Piniella really become legendary? He has his positives as a manager, but I've never thought of him as one of the great baseball minds of our time. I wanted to throw that question open for discussion, because maybe I'm missing something; I haven't seen Lou on a daily basis since his Yankees days, and he was none too impressive then. This is a serious baseball topic - Lou's place in history - if you care about such things.

I can't speak for the rest of my BP comrades, but I don't think we're neglecting the Devil Rays. The team has been so stubbornly resistant to improvement that I, at least, find it difficult to come up with meaningful things to say at this time. Later in the season, when we can see how their off-season plans have worked out, it will be different. We credit our readers with being immersed in the status quo of the game. From my point of view, if I write extensively about the Rays, telling you that Tino Martinez is past it, that over-aged vets never did anyone any good, or that the team needs to grow its OBP in a hurry, I would greatly fear that I was stating the obvious, boring you with things that you already knew. Last year's Rays, with their promotion of extremely young players, had issues to chew on. This winter's retrenchment, with players like Blum, Sanchez, and the aforementioned Tino, is something we've seen hundreds of times before.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying that when I have something useful to say about the Rays I'll be certain to write about it. In the meantime, yeah, they're an easy joke. As their season moves from comedy to tragedy or triumph, there will be more meat for the inquiring mind to master.

I hope this satisfies. Feel free to write anytime.

--Steven Goldman

Transaction Analysis: March 16-21, 2004

What gives? How can a Rule5 pick be claimed off of waivers? Does this mean the Pirates weren't interested in having him back for $25K? That makes no sense!

Red Sox Claim LHP Frank Brooks FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) --
The Boston Red Sox claimed lefty pitcher Frank Brooks off waivers from Oakland and returned right-hander Colter Bean to the New York Yankees on Thursday. Brooks is 35-31 with 19 saves and a 3.46 ERA in 185 appearances in the minors. He spent more than four seasons in the Philadelphia organization, was traded to Pittsburgh last July 30 and then claimed last December in the major-league Rule 5 draft by the New York Mets, who sent him to Oakland. Bean was 1-1 with a 20.22 ERA in three spring training appearances with Boston, which also chose him in the Rule 5 draft.

--T.S.

A Rule 5 pick gets passed through waivers before he gets offered back to his original club, so anyone had the chance to claim Brooks before he was returned to the Pirates. Consider it the punishment for lacking the good sense to put him on the 40-man in the first place. If the intelligent make their own luck, you can flip the values of that observation around to say something about the undersmart.

Thank you for taking the time to write in, and sorry about taking my sweet time getting back to you.

--Chris Kahrl

Related Content:  Unearned Runs,  Haiku

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