following essay was originally sketched out back in May of 2006.
It is being presented here as a From the Backpack special, but…
haven’t been able to track down any records showing it was posted
on the In
My Backpack web site, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find
out that it was. On a few occasions there have been some changes
and updates made around The ‘ville. Some involved computer issues,
some general redesigns and overhauls. The end result has been
that a few pieces—intentionally and unintentionally—were once
posted and are not today.
last notes I can find for dates list the most recent version before
this, effectively the final draft version, as being saved on May
have gone over the material from that older draft and re-written
a large portion of it for this posting.
~ ~ ~ ~
didn’t take long.
was watching the Boston Red Sox opening day game against the Texas
Kevin Millwood completed his warm-up tosses, Don Orsillo (on NESN)
tossed out the information most of us knew was coming: Millwood
had a great ERA in 2005, but his losing record was at least in
part attributable to lack of run support.
this is nothing against Orsillo. He’s a very good broadcaster.
Underrated and underappreciated. I really enjoy his work, and
the true details of the claim about Millwood are accurate. In
fact, it was virtually a requirement that he pass it along once
or twice. And… well… he did go on and mention it a second time
during that very first stretch of the telecast.
thing is, I really consider run support to be one of the most
meaningless of statistics.
so much else needs to be factored in the idea before you can arrive
at that result. It’s like saying all strikeouts are the best outcome
of an at bat for the team in the field.
strikeouts are good. But usually, strikeout pitchers end up throwing
more pitches. And while research may show that in many cases,
high strikeout pitchers aren’t throwing more total pitches, I
would say we might need to consider the weight of a true purpose
a tremendously higher number of pitches, I believe you should
be investigating the weight and stress of those pitches. By that,
a pitcher throwing for a strikeout might be trying to throw harder
or be a bit more precise with location, thus increasing the load
of each pitch. In short, all 80-pitch outings are not the same.
strikeouts can add stress.
they also create an action-reaction scenario. Sure, one batter
struck out. But did that end the inning? If not, then perhaps
instead of a groundball double-play, the strikeout of one batter
leads to the next batter stepping up to the plate.
are not always the best outcome.
does great ERA and bad record mean no run support?
was the opposing pitcher? ~ Quite often, the pitcher you consider
the ace of your staff will be matching up with one of the top
two starters on the opposing team. If the rotation was able
to stay on track… I admit it often doesn’t, for a wide variety
of reasons… the ace of your staff should be getting less run
support because the opposing pitcher will often be the best
that other club has. (By that theory, your fourth and fifth
starters should be getting the best run support. They’d matched
up against the weaker members of the opposing staff. But we
also need to begin getting into which pitchers are getting the
most starts and so on.)
good is the defense? ERA doesn’t reflect the unearned runs.
It doesn’t take into account errors. You could have a wonderful
ERA while opposing teams are still crossing the plate.
was the schedule like? ~ No series lasts five games during the
season. So, every starting pitcher in a regular five-man rotation
doesn’t pitch against the same line-up, in the same stadium,
at the same point of the year.
are just a handful of ideas. And many things balance out over
time. Start enough games, over the course of a season, and the
numbers that work against you on one night work for you the next.
But there are outliers. It’s why I team can have massive success
in the outcomes of one-run decisions one year, and then be brutally
bad the next.
we’ve begin seeing discussed a bit more often is how good pitchers
can have poor records. ERA is one measuring stick, and low run
support matters. But it often isn’t just that simple. What are
the batting averages of opposing hitters? How good or bad is the
defense backing that pitcher up? Does the pitcher tend to average
a high or low number of runners per inning?
pitcher that is coasting along, few runners on base, may not need
tremendous play after tremendous play to get out of danger. But
one giving up hits and walks could have a low ERA in spite of
what they are actually doing.
what do I know about the Cleveland Indians in 2005? The team won
93 games and lost 63. They had a winning record. Kevin Millwood
pitched for that 90-plus win team and had the best ERA in the
American League. He had a losing record (9-11 in 30 starts). A
lot of material in there. But no one has told us who he pitched
against and whether or not Cleveland did score fewer runs in the
games he started. You know, the details that might provide some
yeah… as I put the finishing touches on this piece, Texas is 11-11
this year. Millwood is 1-2. Must be because the Rangers can’t
score runs with Millwood on the mound either.
the same lines… but it really isn’t a stat… I want to mention
a theory on why I never get the Rookie of the Year Award right.
teams rarely play rookies.
out the basic starting line-ups of Boston and New York. With the
exception of Robinson Cano last year, you won’t see a rookie.
It takes extremes… unexpected extremes… to put a rookie into the
starting line-up of a team with playoff potential, especially
one of the teams that is spending money to bring free agents in
to fill holes instead of promoting from the farm system.
teams just don’t get the same amount of rookie exposure as others.
Some situations change from February and March in amazingly unexpected
ways. Oakland consistently brings in new talent because they don’t
spend $150 million to keep their players. The A’s have had the
last two American League rookies of the year. Last year Ryan Howard
(Philadelphia) got his chance because of an injury.
point is, it just isn’t as easy to get a grasp on unproven talent
as it is to say that Guerrero or Pujols will be one of the best
admit this theory needs a bit of ironing out. But the fact remains
that no one expected Dontrelle Willis in 2003 to perform at that
level for the Marlins.
and numbers matter. But they don’t exist in a vacuum. As a result,
occasionally statements of truth end up not being supported by
the entire set of facts.