April 29, 2010
Welcome to Seidnotes, a new column I'll pen a couple of times each month that focuses on researching quirky events or tidbits. It might not help you win a fantasy league, but it will certainly help you excel at Quizzo or those mid-game trivia questions on television broadcasts. Today's debut piece will focus on Jamie Moyer's odd season through his first three starts-he had allowed 12 runs, 10 earned-- but had only allowed those runs in three of his 18 total innings- and it will also take a look at the road less traveled with regards to early-season performance, finding players whose end-of-season slash lines actually do resemble what they produced in their first 10 games. It has to happen some of the time, right?
Moyer and the Tale of Scoreless Innings
Moyer is quite the conundrum when it comes to projections. While he isn't the first pitcher over 40 years old to succeed with 78-80 mph pitches, most of his peers in this regard were knuckleball specialists. As I explored before the beginning of last season, he is largely unprojectable from a comparables sense because, well, there aren't comparable players. Entering his age-47 season, most Phillies fans expected the worst but hoped for an ERA close to the 5.00 mark with the ability to go five or six innings each time out. In his first three starts, Moyer tossed 18 frames, an average of exactly six per game-and he lasted exactly six innings in each start-with an ERA of precisely 5.00. However, what actually transpired in those 18 innings was rater interesting.
In his first start against the Astros, Moyer surrendered five runs in the bottom of the third inning. The rest of his five innings were tremendous, as the Astros only managed five hits and were not issued any free passes. A week later, Moyer took on those feisty Florida Marlins, whom he normally dominates, and again allowed five runs in six innings. However, those five runs were produced in the first inning; after that, Moyer lasted five more frames, allowing just two hits while whiffing seven. Through two starts he had thrown 12 innings, allowing 10 runs, but 83 percent of those innings were scoreless.
Fast forward to last Thursday, when Moyer allowed two runs-neither earned-in the same inning, holding the Braves scoreless in his other five frames, surrendering just four hits while allowing no walks and whiffing three more hitters, including Jason Heyward. Overall, of his 18 total innings, only three involved runs crossing the plate; in 83 percent of those frames (15 of 18) Moyer did not walk a batter, struck out 10, and allowed just 11 hits. In the other three innings: 12 runs, eight hits, four walks, and just one punchout.
His odd start to the season got me thinking about the percentage of scoreless innings in general: Has there ever been a starter with a poor ERA who did not allow a run in an above-average percentage of his innings pitched? From 1974-2009, across all pitchers with 100 or more innings in a season, the weighted average rate of scoreless innings is 75.1 percent. The table below lists the highest scoreless percentages for pitchers with an ERA greater than or equal to 5.00 in 100-plus innings:
Overall, only 27 pitchers satisfied the criteria over the last 3 ½ decades, suggesting it is certainly rare. The odds are against Moyer sustaining one of the numbers-if he continues to be stingy with runs to the tune of a scoreless rate above 75.1 percent, his ERA is going to come down or vice versa. Across pitchers with that same 100-innings floor, the weighted average ERA is 4.01, and amongst those with a scoreless innings rate above the 75.1 percent average, the ERA is 3.43.
These numbers might not be predictive in any way-a story for another day-but are certainly interesting to digest in the context of Moyer's peculiar season so far. Just as a foreshadowing for a potential article down the road, what I am referring to in the sense of the rates being predictive is that maybe these pitchers with higher ERAs but above-average scoreless rates are due for an evening out of sorts in the following season, with the inverse also true. It is certainly worthy of further research and contemplation even if it amounts to nothing, with the central theme being that a blowup inning in which five or six runs score could be different than allowing five runs distributed throughout five innings.
Beginning Slash, Meet End Slash
At the beginning of the season, many writers take it upon themselves-and rightly so-to remind fans that what happens in the first two weeks stays in the first two weeks. If three months still constitutes a small sample, and it does, then 55 plate appearances' worth of data represents a minuscule sample. Through April 16, Jeff Francouer was hitting .457/.535/.857 in 43 PAs, paving the way for a bevy of scribes to opine on how his slash line at the end of the year would be around half of each of those components. So often is the case early on in a year that the numbers will not resemble the eventual year-long production. But, given that I'm sort of an odd person, I started to think about the reverse side of this: looking over the last 10 seasons, has anyone finished the season with a slash line similar to their line through 10 games?
After creating game logs in my database for each season from 2000-09, I calculated the slash lines for the first 10 games of each season for every player, and added overall slash lines to every row. In order to prevent batters who amassed around 40 PA in the first 10 games but finished the season at, say, 53 PA, I added the stipulation that the PA total for the season had to be 300 or more. In order to determine distance from each component of the slash line I fooled around with different intervals; plus/minus ten points for each, plus/minus eight points, and so forth, trying to find as small an interval as possible where at least five batters finished what they started, quite literally.
The table below shows the five batters I found from 2000-09, with 35-plus PA in their first 10 games, 300-plus PA on the entire season, and a BA, OBP, and SLG after those 10 games within five points on either side of where those numbers fell at season's end.
So there you have it; these five players finished the season with their beginning slash lines over the past decade. It is rare but certainly not unprecedented. Kelly Johnson isn't going to slug .814 all year, but would a .273/.333/.500 from Alex Rios really be out of the cards? Only time will tell.
Until Next Time
That concludes our regularly scheduled Seidnotes. Next time out I'll be looking into the dichotomous starts from Nationals starting pitchers Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis, amongst other topics. If anyone has a quirky idea that seems worth researching, please post them in the comments.