Saturday, October 17, 2015

MLB Starting Pitching 2015: Prime Performers, Significant Digits, Trending Topics

Quick question to get class started:

Over or Under 300 – the number of pitchers who started at least one game in 2015?

You have five seconds … tick, tick, tick!



The “Overs” win with a lucky 13 to spare – which just happens to be how many guys started games for two different teams this season. That baker’s dozen of nomads includes bonafide stoppers (David Price, Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto), over-the-hill dudes (Mat Latos, Dan Haren), a couple of still decent prospects (Daniel Norris, Felix Doubront) as well as some “who-dats” (Mike Fiers, Matt Boyd).

Forty percent of those pitchers (124, to be exact) started a minimum of 20 games; slightly over half of them (65, to be exact) took the bump 30 or more times, topped by the Rays’ Chris Archer with 34 starting assignments.

Among this fraternity of 124 regular workers are 23 what I like to call “10-and-10” guys. These are the starters whose team had exactly 10 wins and exactly 10 losses in their first 20 outings. Joe Maddon’s NLCS-bound Cubbies had three – Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, nomad Haren – in their rotation at season’s end. (The same is true of the vacationing Twins.)

The 2015 season also produced four “15-and-15” pitchers … even one, the Dodgers’ Brett Anderson, who maintained this perfectly balanced mediocrity through both 20 and 30 starts. In all, there were 94 pitchers – out of 124, mind you, basically 75 percent of the players who qualify – to start at least 10 games ultimately won AND at least 10 games ultimately lost. Twenty-one of that number, including names like Max Scherzer, James Shields, John Lackey, Lester and Cueto, tallied a minimum of 15 games in both the “team win” and “team loss” ledgers.

A total of 13 pitchers accumulated 20 or more team wins on the season, led unsurprisingly by the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta with 25. The list includes two of the traded nomads (Price, Hamels), shockingly two Houston Astros (Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh) and last year’s NL Cy Young recipient. Curiously, the AL winner was one of only two pitchers with sufficient bad luck and persistence to hit the 20-plateau for team losses.



There were 17 starters who rang up a dozen or more “Notorious No Decisions,” the leader of this pack also a Cub, Hendricks this time, who left accountability to Maddon’s bullpen on 17 separate occasions in his 32 efforts. Before being too critical, let’s credit the second-year-man for his durability. You might say he had perfect attendance for the season – only twice did as many as six games elapse between his starts. Quite acceptable work from a guy who was the team’s No. 5 starter when the season opened.

On the other end of the spectrum, there were several starters who took full ownership of their work – most notably the Yankees’ Ivan Nova. A victim of 2014’s contagion of Tommy John injuries, Nova did not begin his season until late June and worked 17 starts in his team’s final 91 games, earning the decision in every last one of them. The closest anyone else comes in such perfection is Detroit fill-in man Kyle Lobstein with 11, and a quintet (including journeyman and current Royal Joe Blanton) who went four-for-four [RIP Moses Malone]. Alas, the only one of these dudes with a winning record is Toronto’s Marcus Stroman, who earned the winning decision in four of the division champs’ last 21 contests, three times working through the seventh inning.

A tip of the cap and an extra serving of post-game ice need to go to the 22 pitchers who recorded 21 or more outs in at least half of their starting assignments [minimum 10]. The seven-inning “long start” (LS), in and of itself, has become a more recognized accomplishment nowadays in MLB, especially as the Complete Game (CG) creeps closer and closer to extinction. The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw topped the Bigs (and enhanced his chances for a third consecutive Cy Young) by going long in two-thirds of his 33 starts, one of just seven pitchers to deliver 20 or more such efforts for the season.

In 2015, MLB fans were treated to a near-record seven no-hit games. Two near perfectos were woven by Scherzer, highlights in an otherwise disappointing debut campaign in the Capital. The DH-less National League produced five of these gems.



Well we started off this class with a quickie-quiz, so let’s end with some vocabulary study.

Here’s an oxymoron for ya.

AL hurlers threw nearly twice as many CG’s as did their NL counterparts (66 – 38) and over 40 percent more shutouts (30 – 21).

Hmmm!

NL guys enjoy the advantage of the occasional “freebie” out afforded by the pitcher’s spot in the batting order … hence, an easier route to something like a no-hitter.

Somewhere along the way, though, there appears to arrive a “tipping point” in this simple logic.

The advantage an AL pitcher enjoys when it comes to working deep into a game is that the odds of his removal from the game for offensive purposes are “slim” and “none,” with “slim” running a very weak second.

At just what point that juxtaposition sets in remains, if not a mystery, a bit nebulous. Wherever that point may lie, herein lies the Legacy of Longevity wrought by MLB’s Pitching Class of 2015.

Despite the gleam of all those no-no’s, its 104 Complete Game performances – the handiwork of 64 different arms – represent the lowest total in the history of the sport … ya know, like since ever.

For a discussion of alternative approaches to the use of a pitching staff from the perspectives of the 2015 World Series participants take a look at this.