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Watching the clips of yet another great Pedro Martinez performance in
yet another close game got me thinking about the relative stress levels of
pitchers. It certainly seems that Martinez has pitched in an inordinate
number of close games this season, which means that most of his innings have
been fairly high-stress, at least in terms of game situation.

What I didn’t know is what a "normal" pitcher goes through, what
type of stress level is high or low for your average starting pitcher.
Without that information, it’s hard to gauge whether Pitcher X is pitching
in situations are unusually high- or low-stress. So as I am wont to do, I
called upon someone smarter than myself, in this case BP’s resident database
guru Keith Woolner.

Using 1999 data, Woolner generated a list of pitchers and the innings they
pitched, sorting them by the score of the game at the time the pitcher took
the mound. If Mike Mussina took the mound with the Orioles up three runs,
that inning went into the "+3" column. If Andy Pettitte started
the third inning of a 1-1 game, that went into the "0" column. And
so on.

Once we had that data, we sorted the pitchers by game situation, labeling
one-run and tied situations as "close" and games with differences
of four runs or more as "not close." By that metric, here are the
pitchers who pitched in the highest-stress situations last season (minimum
100 innings begun):

Pitcher           Inn   Close   Not Close

Juan Guzman 167 73.7% 13.8% Ryan Rupe 136 72.8% 13.2% Terry Mulholland 109 71.6% 5.5% Dennis Springer 165 70.3% 10.3% Andy Pettitte 175 69.7% 9.7% Chan Ho Park 155 69.7% 5.2% Jamie Moyer 201 68.7% 15.4% John Snyder 119 68.1% 11.8% Mike Mussina 184 66.8% 13.6% Ron Villone 117 66.7% 12.8%

I confess, I was surprised at how high some of these numbers were. One
possible explanation is that pitchers who don’t work deep into games–and
the first three names on this list qualify–have a higher percentage of
their "innings started" in early-game situations, when score
differences tend to be smaller.

But even at that, you have pitchers like Jamie Moyer and Mike
Mussina starting two-thirds of their innings in close games, or someone
like Chan Ho Park pitching almost 14 times as much in these
situations as in low-stress situations.

Which pitchers had the fewest high-stress innings?

Pitcher           Inn   Close   Not Close

Shawn Estes 179 50.3% 18.4% Mike Oquist 144 49.3% 21.5% Kent Bottenfield 144 49.3% 17.4% Kevin Tapani 108 49.1% 13.9% Hideki Irabu 147 48.3% 27.2% Mike Morgan 129 48.1% 28.7% Charles Nagy 177 47.5% 29.4% Mark Gardner 128 43.8% 26.6% Aaron Sele 202 42.6% 28.2% Tim Wakefield 124 41.1% 21.0%

A mixed bag: some of these guys had lousy seasons, and others had great run
support. Because of the "early-game" factor, 40% is probably the
lower bound on low-stress innings.

Looking at these numbers, I think you have to say that, oh, Andy
Pettitte had a much more stressful season than teammate Hideki
Irabu
, and that the differences in the situations in which they pitched
were significant.

How meaningful is this? I’m loath to draw conclusions based on one season,
but I am willing to say that we may need to factor this data into both our
ongoing considerations of pitcher workloads and our evaluations of pitcher
performance.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

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