Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I BARELY EVEN KNOW 'ER: Baseball fans complaining of All-Star snubs, check out this comparison:

Player A: 12-5, 3.02 ERA
Player B: 11-4, 3.05 ERA
Player C: 5-8, 3.05 ERA
Player D: 8-5, 3.02 ERA
Player E: 3-9, 3.02 ERA

You only have room for one of these guys on your All-Star roster. Which do you choose? Probably nobody would say Player E. It seems like a lot of the traditional baseball writers are saying Player B was jobbed. The actual selection process ended up with Player D. But who are these players with silly names?

Player B, obviously, is CC Sabathia, Player D is CJ Wilson, and the principal differences between them, if you read the "who was snubbed?" columns, are that CC Sabathia is a proven winner and CJ Wilson is less so because he has a mediocre win-loss record, and also they have different middle initials.

Meanwhile, Player C is CC Sabathia if he had Doug Fister's game-by-game run support, and Players A and E are Doug Fister (if he had CC Sabathia's game-by-game run support) and Doug Fister (stuck with his awful actual run support). You could be excused for not knowing that Doug Fister is the #5 starter for the Seattle Mariners, as in: the guy who gets the ball for the Mariners when the four better Mariners starters don't have it.

This is not to say that CC Sabathia does or doesn't deserve to be in the All-Star Game (I think he does, but I'm not outraged) or that Doug Fister does (he does not, though he has been the best #5 starter in baseball this year, so that's something). It is just to point out, again, that the two principal statistics that major news outlets use to judge starting pitchers are totally useless. If one of your stats can't tell the difference between CJ Wilson, CC Sabathia, and Doug Fister, and the other one of your stats yields completely opposite conclusions if you flip the run support (which is mostly out of the pitcher's control, except that Doug Fister actually scored the only run he got in one of his games), then your stats are useless.

In fact, the way I think about pitcher wins nowadays is that they're like paper currency. You can tell something from paper currency. If you have so much of it that you have to stack it on pallets, it's a lot, and if you have so little that you can stick it in your front pocket, you don't have enough to buy a house. But you can't compare two stacks that are of anything close to equal size without knowing the denominations of the bills, and that's precisely what you're trying to do when you're evaluating people's credentials for the Hall of Fame or the All-Star Game.


  1. Indeed.  The Phillie with the fifth-most starts is Vance Worley, 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 8 GS (10 G overall), 1.224 WHIP and only 2 HR allowed in 49 IP.  And that's including a 3 IP, 5 ER start.

    In his last four starts (25 IP), he's gone 2-0 with a 0.72 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, including a pair of 1-0 wins and a 2-1 over the Sawks.

  2. weird. there was a post from Duvall above mine which has vanished. He asked, basically, "what's a fifth starter?"<span> </span>

  3. Duvall5:55 PM

    Sorry - I deleted after I saw that Isaac had already answered that in another paragraph.

  4. Benner5:56 PM

    CC couldn't play in the all star game, as like Whole Camels he's starting on Sunday. 

    Perhaps a solution might be to get rid of the all star game on the grounds that it's stupid and prevents games I might care about from being played for several days, meaning I might have to read or go work out when it's too hot to do anything but watch baseball with the shades drawn.  Fans want to see big offense in the ASG, anyway, so that tells me the entire pitching staff should be supplied by the Royals and Astros.

  5. Big Joe6:03 PM

    I agree with your point, but Washington's reasoning for choosing Wilson over Sabathia rings false.


    They won the pennant and he gets to pick his guy, but don't offer up these weak reasons to try to justify it.

  6. Of course, the pitchers at the All-Star Game are a whole separate vexing group of problems because:

    1.  No fan voting for pitchers, which eliminates the ever-popular (and not always incorrect) "Player A only got the call because he's rich/famous/a Yankee/a Red Sock" defense.
    2.  They're selected by managers, which introduces its own political games.
    3.  For rest reasons, few, if any, pitchers pitch for more than 2-3 innings, which really isn't the test of a starting pitcher's skills.  It's completely different in skill set and ability to pitch 100 pitches, rest for a week, and then pitch another 100 pitches or to pitch 30 pitches 2-3 times a week.  (Though this introduces an interesting idea--why doesn't a team just have six really good middle relievers, and have them pitch 3 innings each with a day off between?)

  7. isaac_spaceman6:11 PM

    You know why I think there always needs to be a mid-season All-Star Game?  These guys basically go out of town for Spring Training for a month or two and then play six days a week for six months, and they usually travel on their off days.  Yes, it's a great job and a great life, but I do think it's a good idea to give everybody except maybe 60 or so of them three days off in the middle of the season. 

  8. isaac_spaceman6:15 PM

    I won't disagree with that.  Didn't read the article, but I'm guessing that if Ron Washington said it, I probably have a different opinion. 

  9. isaac_spaceman6:34 PM

    You have 162 games in a regular season.  There are 9 innings per game (let's assume your extra-innings games and your eight-inning losses cancel each other out).  That's 1458 innings you have to assign. 

    Now let's say you want to do away with starters and just have all of your innings pitched by relievers (or "relievers," since some of them won't really be relieving).  Let's say you're using a pretty standard 11-man pitching staff.  That means that, on average, each of your relievers has to throw 132.5 innings.  In 2010, the Major League innings leader for relievers was Matt Belisle, who threw 92 innings. 

    So not only do you have to invent a new position -- high-frequency multiple-innings reliever -- but you have to find eleven different men who can fill that role, and who are willing to fill that role (at risk to their own careers) and then you have to have those 11 men be better than the combination of your starters. and traditional relievers.   And you have to take the financial risk of getting rid of your starters (some of whom probably are signed to long-term deals and who have trade restrictions) and paying for these HFMI relievers. 

    Not saying it couldn't be done in theory, but it's never going to be done in practice. 

  10. The "all games pitched by relievers" standard may not work, but, especially for low-revenue teams, it may make sense to have in essence two four inning pitchers as the fifth man in your rotation rather than shell out the money for a fifth traditional starter.

  11. The Pathetic Earthling8:03 PM

    I seem to recall that Tony LaRussa once tried to radically rework an approach to pitching frequency and duration while in his later years with the A's -- to assign groups of pitchers to pitch a predetermined number of pitches regardless of situation -- an experiment that lasted about a week and a half.  There's an enormous amount of intertia in the system, justified or not.

  12. isaac_spaceman8:36 PM

    Matt -- A league-minimum-salary starter costs the same as a league-minimum-salary reliever and will pitch more innings.  If a team wants to cut costs and is not overly concerned about competitiveness, it can get a fifth starter at the league minimum salary just by promoting a rookie from AAA.  The team has to fill the roster spot, and it's not possible to fill it with somebody earning less than the league minimum.  Splitting the role into two four-inning relief roles is essentially the same thing as having a fifth starter but then pulling him for no good reason after four innings and forcing another reliever to take over.  It doesn't save any money but it makes it harder to win games.  

  13. The Pathetic Earthling10:53 PM

    Isaac - did you roll these stats by hand, or is there a stats page where you can gin this stuff up?

  14. isaac_spaceman10:59 PM

    By hand.  And I realize it's not exactly right -- I didn't try to build in no-decisions where the bullpen blew a lead or the team scored late.  Basically I just took the number of runs that the team scored and compared it to the number of runs (runs, not earned runs) the pitcher gave up.  If they were even, I scored it a no-decision; otherwise, I gave the pitcher the win or the loss. 

    Also, I ignored Sabathia's last start, because he has one more start than Fister.  Otherwise, I just matched up Fister's first game with what the Yankees scored in Sabathia's first game, etc. 

  15. isaac_spaceman11:00 PM

    Though if I knew anything about programming, I totally would do that page, because it would be a ton of fun to see how pitchers would do on different teams.

  16. Fred App10:02 AM

    On the Yankees game last night, one of the broadcasters asked: "How can you leave someone with 11 wins off the All-Star team?" I guess the same way that you can put a catcher with a .220 batting average ON the All-Star team. I feel little sympathy for deserving Yankees left off the team when so many undeserving Yankees made it.

  17. Benner10:14 AM

    I'm all for having staggered bye weeks.  The game itself is stupid.

  18. Marsha11:10 AM

    As much as I enjoy your baseball posts, Isaac, I feel like this one is either beating a dead horse or fighting a straw man. Does anyone who is serious about baseball actually think that wins are a useful pitching stat? (And Yankee broadcasters do not count as people serious about baseball.) Pitchers have control over many thinks during a baseball game, and they may even have control over more of the game than anyone else, but they are not in control of whether their team wins. Your team has to score runs, or it is simply not possible for you to earn a win, no matter how well you pitch.

    Saturday I was at the Cubs-White Sox game, and Matt Garza threw a beautiful complete game 4-hitter (one of those hits could easily have been called an error). He had incredible control and made all of two mistakes in the entire performance. Philip Humber was hittable all afternoon, with the Cubs stranding runners left and right and not managing to score a single run. Garza took the loss, 1-0. Just another stat, but Garza didn't lose that game - the offense did. I shouldn't be as bothered about this as I am.

  19. Fred App1:29 PM

    There's another important point to be made about run support, other than its impact on wins. It's easier to pitch with a six-run lead than it is to pitch in a scoreless tie. You don't have to be as fine with your pitches, because a mistake won't hurt you. You're also facing a team that knows they've got a lot of ground to make up, and may be a little more eager to swing at bad pitches. So in addition to wins, if you get a lot of run support, your other stats are likely to look better, too.

  20. Benner2:01 PM

    I don't like the idea of talking about "run support."  Teams to not score runs in an effort to make the pitcher look good.  Teams score runs in order to win the game.  We don't talk about goal support in hockey, where goalies also get credited with wins. 

  21. isaac_spaceman2:34 PM

    I only wrote it because I read an article talking about what a crime it is that Sabathia and his 11 wins got robbed.  And also because I wanted to write the name Doug Fister a bunch of times.

  22. There are other arguments to be made about All-Star games in general, rather than going by this season's stats.  I like All-Star games as showcases for great players that I want to see play together. If this means giving someone who's historically been amazing a chance rather than someone who had a fluke 1st half, so be it.  Look, I know Jeter's not "worthy" this year, but his career makes me not feel so bad about it.

    That said, Beltran over McCutchen was indefensible.