Sunday, July 5, 2015

MLB 2015 at 12 Weeks: Starting Pitching’s Durable and Dependable

Twelve weeks, 1,134 games, 245 starting pitchers – and the season has not quite reached its mid-point. 146 pitchers have started at least eight games; 128 have a minimum of ten starts; and 95 have answered every call to duty to this point in the season.

Out of 2,268 starting assignments, MLB starters have amassed 695 performances of at least seven innings, 42 complete games (including four of the rain-shortened variety) of which exactly half have been shutouts. Seven pitchers have recorded multiple complete games, led by Houston’s Dallas Keuchel and Toronto’s grizzled vet Mark Buehrle with three. Keuchel, Atlanta’s Shelby Miller and Max Scherzer of the Nationals (who also owns the season’s sole no-hitter) have notched a pair of shutouts.

Scherzer has been the paragon of durability so far in 2015. In all but three of his 15 starts, Mad Max has been credited with a minimum of 21 outs.  Ten other players have lasted a minimum of seven innings in 60 percent of their starting assignments, though two – San Diego’s Brandon Morrow, who has been disabled since early May, and Washington spot starter Joe Ross – have turned the trick on minimal (five and three, respectively) starts. Here’s a quick breakdown on that Nifty Nine. (The +/- score represents a value rating of performance in comparison with overall team performance; rank is among the 128 pitchers with 10 or more starts – we’ll get back to that momentarily.)

[NOTE: All our data reflects play through Sunday, June 28.]

Scherzer  15 starts (12 long, 80%), 2 CG’s, 1 No-Decision, +102 (No. 23)*
Johnny Cueto  14 starts (10 long, 71%), 0 CG’s, 5 No-Decisions, +49 (No. 48)*
Jeff Samardzija  16 starts (11 long, 69%), 0 CG’s, 7 No-Decisions, +65 (No. 43)*
Keuchel  16 starts (10 long, 63%), 3 CG’s, 4 No-Decisions, +155 (No. 9)*
Madison Bumgarner  16 starts (10 long, 63%), 1 CG, 4 No-Decisions, +70 (No. 40)*
Corey Kluber  16 starts (10 long, 63%), 1 CG, 4 No-Decisions, -227 (No. 127)*
Cole Hamels  15 starts (9 long, 60%), 0 CG’s, 4 No-Decisions, +110 (No. 21)*
Jacob deGrom  15 starts (9 long, 60%), 0 CG’s, 2 No-Decisions, +89 (No. 28)*
John Lackey  15 starts (9 long, 60%), 1 CG, 5 No-Decisions, -80 (No. 99)*

By “decisions,” MLB’s winningest pitcher has been Pittsburgh’s Gerritt Cole with 11, while the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez and Cardinals’ Michael Wacha have each earned 10. But David Price of Detroit is the only pitcher to take the bump for 13 of his team’s victories. Wacha and teammate Carlos Martinez have 12; Cole, Hernandez and six other American Leaguers (including two Houston Astros) stand at 11 “team wins.”

On the flip side, Aaron Harang of the Phillies and Colorado opening-day starter Kyle Kendrick top the heap with 10 losing decisions, though Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, reigning AL Cy Young winner, has seen his Indians drop 13 of his 16 starts. Seven other pitchers (all NLers, three of them Brewers) have endured double-digit "team losses."

Here’s a little ranking device for starting pitchers called the McGinnity Measure, designed to reward starting pitchers for durability while holding them accountable for the outcome of their games. A pitcher receives a credit for each start of seven innings or more (LS), and is awarded an additional credit for each complete game (CG). A credit is deducted for each start his team loses, and additionally for each losing decision as a starter. Total credits are divided by the pitcher’s total starts. Here are the top five in each league by the McGinnity Measure:

AL: Keuchel (.313), Price (.250), Hernandez (.125), Buehrle (.000), Houston’s Collin McHugh (.000)

NL: Scherzer (.267) and Bumgarner, Cole, Lackey, and Miller (.000).

They are trailed by the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke (-0.063) and Martinez, Wacha and KC’s Edinson Volquez (-0.067).

[For a more thorough discussion of the McGinnity Measure, read this.]

An alternate method adds wins to the LS’s and CG’s. The results and rankings are similar though not identical. From the Top 14 noted above, Lackey, Miller and Greinke are replaced by the Mets’ Jacob deGrom, SF’s Chris Heston and the Rays’ Chris Archer.

By this calculation, Scherzer (2.200) noses out Keuchel (2.063), the only pitchers to grade out above 2.000 (which, like 0.000 on the other scale, represents the mathematical midpoint for the range of potential scores). But let’s notice that Keuchel is only No.9 and Scherzer a perhaps improbable No. 23 using the +/- score referenced above.

What’s going on – and who else is so much better? You might be surprised to find out.

Not particularly shocking is that Price tops this heap, nor that King Felix is third, Cole seventh and “Big Game James” Shields eighth – maybe not even Oakland’s Sonny Gray sitting at No. 6.

But slots two, four and five are owned by the Indians’ Danny Salazar, Toronto’s Drew Hutchison and Tampa Bay’s Erasmo Ramirez, respectively.


Bear in mind, it’s a lot easier to exceed the performance of a .445 team like Cleveland than, say, a .558 team such as Scherzer’s Nats.

But before we dismiss this idea as inherently flawed, I’d like to point out that this “heap” has correctly identified the Cy Young award winners more often than not over the past four or five years. Here’s how it works. 

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 starts (including his No-Decisions).  Simply take the average of these two percentages; then just subtract the team's final winning percentage.

Consideration is limited to pitchers with a minimum of 10 games started.

Example A:  16 starts -- player (8-1, .889), team (11-5, .688); team overall (41-36, .532).  So, the equation becomes: [(889 + 688) / 2] - 532 = 789 - 532 = +257.  {Hutchison}

Example B: 16 starts -- player (3-9, .250), team (3-13, .188); team overall (33-41, .446).  The calculation this time: {(250 + 188) / 2} - 446 = 219 - 446 = -227.  {Kluber}

I’m inclined to view the best guys by this standard as the MVSP’s – the Most Valuable Starting Pitchers – at least when it comes to measurable team success. And let the record show that, despite being tenth best in the National League, Scherzer’s score of +102 tops a pretty darned good rotation for a division-leading squad.