Monday, August 1, 2011

Guest Post from Donovan Moore: Freaky Friday Swap - The Luck of the Starting Pitcher

Hello again. This is yet another guest post by Donovan Moore, who I again thank profusely for giving some of his effort to keep some new content on here until I get back on track. Donovan gave this to me on Friday evening but I was working all weekend and did not see it until this morning. So any outdated references are completely my fault. But the meat of this post remains relevant...and fun.

It’s officially that time of year in baseball when following the Baltimore Orioles has become something that legitimately just really kind of gets you down. Posts about how bad the Orioles are playing aren’t particularly interesting to write. Lately, that’s about all there has been to write about—and consequently that’s all there has been to read about. As someone who not only writes about the Orioles but also reads a great deal about them as well, I have decided that at least in the immediate time being I am going to try to shift focus in the blog-O-sphere away from a tone of sulking, whining, and second-guessing. I’m not starting any sort of campaign against negative writing, because really the bottom line is that when the team one writes about is a really bad team, often times a disheartened reader would like to read someone write the angry things that he is himself thinking. I am also not attempting to write with a tone of seeming like I think that I am better than anyone who is writing negative things about the Orioles. The team is bad…in pretty much almost every way. We get it. I am not refuting it.

In the next couple of days, the non-waiver trade deadline will come and go and either the Orioles will make a few swaps, or they won’t. After the Orioles either make a couple of deals—or not—there will be a flurry of posts about the trades they managed to pull off, the treades they didn’t manage to pull off, and the trades that they didn’t manage to even look into (Colby Rasmus?). It’s really sort of difficult to not get sucked into the same day-to-day moaning and groaning that seems to come along with covering this Orioles team, however in order to do so, let’s imagine an alternate reality (you’ve got my attention, now…)!

This alternate reality is not one where the Orioles are actually a very good team, because—well I am not trying to hurt anyone’s brain just quite yet. This alternate reality is one where mainstream baseball recognizes the complete uselessness of the W/L statistic for pitchers! This idea came to mind when, not just but a few days ago, the on-air announcers for the Orioles game mentioned that the Orioles have scored nine runs or more six times this year, and that Arrieta had been the starting pitcher four of those times. This game became the seventh time the Orioles scored nine or more runs—and Arrieta was the starting pitcher again.

I would assume that any person reading this blog is already of the opinion that the W/L statistic for pitchers (particularly starting pitchers) is almost completely useless. The point of this post is not to argue this point. The point of this post is to demonstrate through example that the W/L statistic is rooted pretty deeply in luck. How will this be accomplished? Well, I am going to pull off a Freaky-Friday-type swap of the luck of Jeremy Guthrie and the luck of Jake Arrieta. Again, I am not formulating this as any sort of logical argument for or against the W/L statistic—I am merely using my magical luck-swapping skills in a demonstration purely for the enjoyment and excitement of onlookers. Let me also say that my intention is not to pick on Jake Arrieta. I chose these two pitchers for reasons that are pretty obvious. Jeremy Guthrie in this season (and really in other past seasons, too) has suffered from poor run support and terrible bullpen intervention. Despite the fact that he is pitching to a very respectable 4.33ERA, 4.36FIP, and 4.31xFIP he is leading THE ENTIRE MLB in losses (4-14). This really just does not seem fair at all. The won/loss record of a starting pitcher is typically the first one any person hears that is associated with the given pitcher. Guthrie’s 4-14 is simply not a good reflection at all of how he has pitched in 2011. On the other hand, there is Jake Arrieta. Arrieta is not the most lucky pitcher in the MLB or AL, but he does in fact receive the highest run support of any starting pitcher on the 2011 Orioles (Guthrie gets the lowest). For this reason, he is the obvious choice to be Guthrie’s counterpart in this Freaky-Friday-type swap. Arrieta’s current won/loss record is 10-7. He boasts a 5.12ERA, 5.28FIP, and a 4.31xFIP. These numbers are not awful by any measure, but they are worse than Guthrie’s—even though he mysteriously has a much healthier looking 10-7 won/loss record. Additionally (as of 7/28), each pitcher has made 21 starts on the year, with 11 of them being “quality” starts (6IP or more with 3 or less ER). Quality starts are a pretty good measure of what sort of chance a starting pitcher has given his team to win—with obvious exceptions, such as pitching 5 perfect innings only to get injured and leave the game.

Okay…time to wave the magic wand.

Bizarro Guthrie: 12-8 W/L record
Bizarro Arrieta: 5-12 W/L record

In order to achieve these figures, all I did was match up Guthrie and Arrieta’s starts (numbered 1-21) to each corresponding start and swap out their pitching performances in order to come up with a W, L, or nd. The bullpen performances after each of the pitchers left the game was left the same, as were the offensive performances of the Orioles.

This is quite obviously not a perfect measure because it fails to take into account many important factors that are impossible to adjust for. For instance, it is not exactly fair to correspond Arrieta’s performance against Seattle with Guthrie’s performance against Boston—but this is the best we’ve got without any actual magic.

A couple interesting things that I came across while plowing through all of the numbers for each of the 21 games that these two men have started in 2011:

Arrieta has only pitched into the 7th inning four times this year. He has not pitched past the 7th once.

Guthrie has one win stemming from a non-quality start. Arrieta has three.

Guthrie has eight (EIGHT!?!?) losses or non-decisions in a quality start. Arrieta has only one.

Due to poor run-support and bad performances by the bullpen, Jeremy Guthrie (the better pitcher of the two) has a far poorer W/L record than Jake Arrieta. 4-14 and 10-7 really do appear to be worlds apart—and neither truly reflects the true performances of the pitcher that they are assigned to. Arrieta has been luckier than your average bear, while Guthrie has been unluckier. If there were somehow a way to make W/L a fair measure of the performance of any given starting pitcher, each of these gentlemen would have their mark sitting somewhere between what it is now, and what their bizarro counterpart’s mark is.

Unfortunately, there is not really a way to make this statistic fair—it relies too heavily on things that are out of the control of the starting pitcher. Guthrie’s 14 losses lead all of the Majors. Given Arrieta’s luck, Guthrie’s 12 wins would be third best in the AL.

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