Saturday, May 24, 2014

MLB 2014: A Quarter-Season of Starting Pitching

Starting pitcher is the most unusual role in all of sports. No other player on the team more influences the outcome of a ballgame – but then he has nothing at all to do with the next four. Gets full pay, too!

In this day of five-man pitching rotations, a starter’s full slate of work is 32 or 33 games and MLB offers 150 rotation slots at any given time. Through seven weeks and 652 games, 205 pitchers had been granted at least one starting assignment, and of these 141 have thrown their team’s first pitch five times or more. The Red Sox and Brewers are the only teams who have utilized only five different starters through May 18, while the White Sox and Rangers have trotted out nine apiece.

To dispel the many rumors of its extinction, the Complete Game has made 26 appearances this season, over half (15) resulting in shutouts. Four hurlers have tossed multiple CG’s, led by Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto with three, two of them shutouts. He’s matched in the latter by Miami’s Henderson Alvarez and Martin Perez of the Rangers. (Unfortunately, Perez has followed up back-to-back April shutouts with an appointment for Tommy John Surgery.) Tampa Bay’s peerless David Price rounds out this endurance crew.

Mr. Cueto’s unprecedented opening flurry – nine consecutive starts of seven or more innings and two or fewer runs, for the first time in over a century – has brought some luster back to the pitcher who can consistently provide a 21-out performance. In point of fact, over a quarter (28.8%) of MLB starting assignments have lasted at least seven innings. The Reds alone account for 22 of this season’s 375 such Long Starts. Over half of all teams have gotten a Long Start from five or more different pitchers … Seattle’s had seven pitchers go seven innings at least once.

Overall, National League pitchers hold an edge over their A.L. counterparts in all areas of endurance: Long Starts (203-172), Complete Games (14-12) and Shutouts (8-7).

The Most Valuable Starting Pitcher in MLB thus far has been Andre Rienzo of the Chicago White Sox. He entered the rotation in Detroit on April 23 and hasn’t missed a turn since. The Pale Hose have emerged victorious all five times, Rienzo earning three of the decisions. That’s a month’s worth of perfection for a team with a .467 winning percentage.

Sadly, poor Jeff Samardzija is living the flip-side of Rienzo’s experience on the other side of Chicago for an even worse team.