Sunday, September 14, 2014

MLB Pitching 2014: Leaders in the “Iron Man” McGinnity Race

Joe McGinnity was a major-league pitcher, a mainstay in the rotation of Muggsy McGraw’s scrappy New York Giant teams of the early Twentieth Century. McGinnity and the incomparable Christy Mathewson did much of the heavy lifting as a team that had most often existed as a mere afterthought grew into the face of an emerging sport.

In 1903, the Iron Man, as the off-season foundry worker was known, took the bump for his team 48 times – on 44 of those occasions, he also threw his team’s final pitch. That’s a National League record that stands to this day.

While not quite extinct in today’s game, the Complete Game in such quantity is indeed ancient history. In this season’s first 2,136 games (through Sunday, Sept. 7), MLB hurlers have notched 103 CG’s, led by Clayton Kershaw’s six. Nevertheless, there are some standards by which we can acknowledge Starting Pitcher Durability, on both an individual and team basis.

During that long-ago record-breaking season, McGraw’s M & M tag-team combined to start 90 (and finish 81) of his team’s 139 games, which included 19 double-headers (a handful of times on back-to-back days). In these days of the five-man rotation, steady work (through 140 or so games) is represented by 28 starting assignments.

This year, 54 players (48 players ended the season qualified -- the linked list has been up-dated) have attained this standard – six in spite of changing teams. Excluding the transients, 21 of these players proportionally represent a mere seven teams, all but one in the National League – and yes, including the Giants. (Ten additional teams have enjoyed similar “perfect attendance” from two rotations slots.)

Only four teams, just one in playoff contention, have been required to “spot-start” their entire rotation – Pittsburgh, Houston, Texas and Boston (though the Sox parted ways with three of the five “transients”).

Now, showing up for work every day is all well and good, but how long do you stick around when you get there?

As noted, complete games have become obsolescent – but so too, thankfully, has the Quality Start. A seven-inning stint, though, has begun to gain some acceptance as a measure of commendable performance; there are ten pitchers who have secured a minimum of 21outs in at least 60 percent of their starts, led again by Kershaw’s phenomenal 19 out of 23 (83%).

From a team perspective, Johnny Cueto’s Reds get a “long start” in 44.8 percent of their games, easily ahead of No. 2 Detroit’s 39.9 percent longevity rate. Colorado, at 15.4 percent, resides in this basement, just below Texas (21.0%).

Of our ten 60-percent long-starters, four are among the pool of 54 who’ve answered every call to duty: Cueto, Cardinal ace Adam Wainwright, Seattle’s King Felix Hernandez and David Price, one of the transients, sent by Tampa Bay to Detroit at the trade deadline. Here are some relevant numbers for each. (*This represents a value rating of performance in comparison with overall team performance; rank is among all pitchers with 20 or more starts. The calculation is explained below.)

Cueto  30 starts (20 long, 67%), 4 CG’s, 5 No-Decisions, +188 (No. 6)*
Hernandez  29 starts (22 long, 76%), 0 CG’s, 10 No-Decisions, +147 (No. 10)*
Price  30 starts (23 long, 77%), 3 CG’s, 6 No-Decisions, +62 (No. 40)*
Wainwright  29 starts (21 long, 72%), 4 CG’s, 3 No-Decisions, +120 (No. 16)*

The National Leaguers appear stronger in CG’s and ND’s while the AL guys pitch deeper into a game more frequently.

Using the same criteria for the previous two seasons (32 starts = “full-time”) produces similar numbers and familiar names:

[EDIT: Clayton Kershaw should have been included among the 2013 elite. Oops!]
James Shields  34 starts (21 long, 62%), 2 CG’s, 12 No-Decisions, +74 (No. 32)*
Kershaw  33 starts (25 long, 76%, 3 CG's, 8 No-Decisions, +40 (No. 50)*
Wainwright  34 starts (26 long, 76%), 5 CG’s, 6 No-Decisions, +79 (No. 30)*

No-brainer here, wouldn’t you say?

Cueto  33 starts (21 long, 64%), 2 CG’s, 5 No-Decisions, +74 (No. 31)*
R.A. Dickey  33 starts (22 long, 67%), 5 CG’s, 7 No-Decisions, +261 (No. 1)*
Hernandez  33 starts (22 long, 67%), 5 CG’s, 11 No-Decisions, +75 (No. 28)*
Kershaw  33 starts (22 long, 67%), 2 CG’s, 10 No-Decisions, +92 (No. 24)*
Justin Verlander  33 starts (21 long, 64%), 6 CG’s, 8 No-Decisions, +115 (No. 20)*

But not so clear-cut here…

Perhaps my second cousin and alter-ego, Horatio N. Proportion, can conjure up an appropriate combination for all this data so as to rank the guys who meet these minimum requirements.

However any such ranking may turn out, hats off to all. The “Iron Man” would approve.

*Abacus Starting Pitcher Index
We'll identify the pitcher's won-loss record in his starts (decisions from relief appearances not allowed), as well as the team's record in all his starts (including No-Decisions).  Simply take the average of these two percentages; then just subtract the team's final winning percentage.
Example A:  33 starts -- player (16-7, .696), team (21-12, .636); team overall (85-77, .525).  So, the equation becomes: [(696 + 636) / 2] - 525 = 666 - 525 = +141.
Example B: 32 starts -- player (10-14, .417), team (15-17, .469); team overall (76-86, .469).  The calculation this time: {(417 + 469) / 2} - 469 = 443 - 469 = -26.