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September 14, 2007
Blowing Hot and Cold
Diversity, Thy Name Is Baseball
Why is baseball the greatest game in the world? Well, apart from all the obvious stuff, there is the diversity of scoring. In what other sport can you have a score of 1-0 on one night followed by 16-10 on the next between the same two teams? The Red Sox and Devil Rays did just that earlier this week, with Tampa Bay winning 1-0 on Monday night and both teams breaking out the lumber the next. Scott Kazmir struck out 10 while Curt Schilling and the Boston bullpen kept the Rays relatively in check; the only Tampa Bay run came on a sacrifice fly. The next night the two teams combined for 38 hits and 26 runs, proving that you never quite know what to expect when you take in a ballgame.
There have been other such juxtapositions of excess and deprivation in modern times; 1-0 games are often preceded or followed by run bounties, although not usually to the extreme we saw in Boston this week. Here the five examples since 1959 that were equal to or just greater than the 2007 Boston-Tampa Bay version:
27: Royals 14-Twins 13; Twins 1-0 (September 28-29, 1970)
27: Cubs 18-Pirates 9; Cubs 1-0 (April 17-18, 1974)
26: Mets 15-Phillies 11; Mets 1-0 (June 16-17, 1989)
26: Tigers 17-Red Sox 9; Red Sox 1-0 (July 27-28, 1990)
26: White Sox 14-Tigers 12; White Sox 1-0 (May 27-28, 1995)
Finally, there has been one 25-run game juxtaposed with a 1-0 game since 1959-on August 29, 1986, the Yankees beat the Mariners 13-12, and were then two-hit by Bill Swift and Matt Young in the first game of a doubleheader the next day.
Another Way to Look At It
Brad Penny goes for the Dodgers tonight as they desperately try to keep their playoff hopes in the double figures category. Penny's start got me to thinking about the continuing general reliance on won-loss records. It's probably too much to hope that other metrics will take the won-loss record's place as one of the go-to marks for assessment by award voters and average fans, at least anytime soon. While I'd love to see one of BP's toolbox full of gauges take the lead, I have to be realistic and understand that it's going to take more time for that to happen.
Until that happy day arrives, I'm wondering if something else could at least begin to share space with won-loss records for pitchers. While there has been some resistance to Quality Starts, it has gained a good deal of acceptance. The problem is with the way it is usually delivered. What we are normally told is how many Quality Starts a pitcher has. Wouldn't it better if that information were given to us as if it were a won-loss record? Wouldn't that make it more digestible for those who have been brought up on won-loss records?
While a Quality Start record leaves a lot out (ballpark factors, quality of opponents) it is much more a reflection of what a pitcher has done independent of his team than is a won-loss record. Furthermore, it counts every game, not just the ones in which the starter got a decision. This is germane to Penny because through Tuesday he was tied for the major league lead in Quality Start percentage, a number that is, thankfully, carried by ESPN.com. (Ed. note: Sadly, ESPN doesn't count unearned runs in their definition of quality starts, so one external factor to the pitcher's performance--in this case, a scorer's decision--creates a definition where not all quality starts are of equal quality.) Turning that percentage into a won-loss style record, it reads as 25-5. Jake Peavy and Dan Haren are also 25-5 while John Smoltz is 23-5 and Fausto Carmona 23-6. Don't these read better than 15-4, 17-6, 14-7, 13-7 and 16-8, the actual won-loss records of these pitchers?
Personally, I much prefer it to the ancillary stat that is often used when discussing a pitcher's merit, and that's the won-loss record of the team when he starts. Again, that brings into play other factors that can often have nothing to do with the pitcher's effort, such as offensive and bullpen support. As I said, a Quality Start/Non-Quality Start record is not perfect, but, if we'd like to have a general indication of how a pitcher has performed independent of things he can't control-apart from where he's pitching and who it's against-this is an answer. Again, I'm putting this out there as a way of mollifying those who look askance at big-picture numbers that do take all those important factors into account, but which might have an acronym they find foreign and unapproachable.
With that in mind, here are a couple of more items from the QS/NQS tote board. All numbers are through Tuesday. 169 pitchers have made at least 10 starts this year. Just about 10 percent of them have registered Quality Starts in 70 percent of their games. The rest of the top 10 includes Shawn Hill, Erik Bedard, C.C. Sabathia, Tom Glavine, and Tim Hudson.
On the other end, these are the bottom 10 (minimum 10 starts):
1-10: Kei Igawa, New York Yankees 1-9: Jason Hammel, Tampa Bay 2-15: Rick Vanden Hurk, Florida 2-13: Mark Hendrickson, Los Angeles Dodgers 2-10: Dallas Braden, Oakland 2-8: Tomo Ohka, Toronto 2-8: Jae Seo, Tampa Bay 4-15: Robinson Tejeda, Texas 5-15: Mike Maroth, Detroit/St. Louis 5-14: Anthony Reyes, St. Louis
Which pitchers have the greatest dichotomies between their QS-NQS and Won-Loss records? Milwaukee's Claudio Vargas comes to the fore-he's 9-14 in his 23 starts with a 10-4 won-loss record. Adam Eaton and Matt Chico are tied for the league lead in Non-Quality Starts with 19 apiece (along with Scott Olsen), but are 9-9 and 5-8 respectively. On the other end, there's Mark Buehrle (20-8/9-9), Shawn Hill (11-3/4-3), Matt Cain (19-10/7-14), Gil Meche (19-11/7-12), Jeremy Guthrie (17-8/7-5), and John Garland (18-11/9-11) to name a few of the most glaring examples.
Two of the pitchers whose won-loss records most closely mimic their QS-NQS records happen to be facing each other tomorrow. Chien-Ming Wang and Josh Beckett are both 18-9 in QS-NQS, and 18-6 in their won-loss records. The closest overall is Jose Contreras (10-16/8-16), although Kip Wells (9-16/6-16) is also close.
As I said, this ground is better covered in BP metrics (Expected Won-Loss, for instance), but this suggestion isn't really for those of you reading this right now, it's for your friends and favorite sportswriters who are not fellow travelers of BP.
The Class War Will Be Televised
I was watching the Yankees play the Blue Jays last night, and saw a promo for the Jays that I thought I would share with you. It's a part of a series they've been doing the past couple of years featuring Toronto players using their baseball skills in real life. In this one, a garbage truck pulls up in front of a well-appointed house. The garbage man hops off the back of the truck, grabs a bag out of the can, and hops back on. The home's owner, Jays pitcher A.J. Burnett, comes out the front door in his bathrobe with a small package of garbage and tries to get the garbage man's attention. The garbage man sees him and smirks at him, seemingly enjoying the fact that they are not going to accommodate his wishes and back the truck up to get his aerodynamic package.
The garbage man looks away and is suddenly hit in the head by the package, which falls nicely into the back of the truck. He looks surprised and pissed off, while Burnett looks self-satisfied as he turns and walks back into the house. The screen says "It's Always Game Time." Then they show Burnett striking out three batters on pitches way outside the strike zone.
Realizing that all of the ads in this series have a bit of cruelty in them and that I should probably lighten up about it, there is something particularly disturbing about a rich man abusing someone in one of the least-respected lines of work there is. Being a garbage man is honest work, but let's face it, there isn't much social cachet derived from being in that profession. The fact that the ad takes place in front of a very nice house (not a mansion, really, but a McMansion to be sure), clearly delineating the class lines of the two parties involved. The poorer man's small victory over the rich man is quickly quashed (never mind that if the rich man hadn't been born with the right arm of a god, he'd probably be on the back of that garbage truck himself), clearly sending the message that it's pointless to even try fighting the power. The rich man will always hit you in the head with his garbage in the end.
Jason Pare contributed research to this column.