Most starting pitchers have made six starts at this point in the season, with a few aces having made seven. While that’s not enough of a sample to draw meaningful conclusions from many statistics, one of the selling points of True Season Score, which I introduced last week, is that, by nature of its being cumulative and incorporating several types of outcomes, it aims to portray a pitcher’s effectiveness over any period of time, even a relatively short one.
If you’re new to Season Score and now TSS, it’s based on Bill James’s Game Score, with adjustments to weigh those outcomes most within a pitcher’s control more heavily than context-dependent outcomes, and is expressed in comparison to a theoretical replacement pitcher. If you’re keeping score at home, each pitcher starts with 50 points per start, adds a point for each out recorded and a two-point bonus for every inning completed beyond the fourth, adds an additional point for each strikeout, and subtracts one point for a hit, two points for a run allowed, two points for a walk, and two points for a home run allowed. Finally from each start, we subtract the 57 points a replacement starter is likely to have earned in the starter’s place.
Through Monday night’s games, it should come as no surprise that Jered Weaver, who has authored a no-hitter and eight innings of four-hit, ten-K baseball on Opening Day, leads the majors with a TSS of 123. Here are the top ten in leach league:
J.Weaver, LAA, 123
F.Hernandez, SEA, 118
J.Peavy, CWS, 109
J.Verlander, DET, 98
J.Hammel, BAL, 69
C.Wilson, LAA, 65
B.Morrow, TOR, 60
B.Colon, OAK, 60
D.Price, TB, 59
C.Sabathia, NYY, 58
M.Cain, SF, 102
S.Strasburg, WAS, 81
C.Hamels, PHI, 78
J.Cueto, CIN, 76
L.Lynn, STL, 75
G.Gonzalez, WAS, 75
R.Halladay, PHI, 75
C.Zambrano, MIA, 67
R.Dempster, CHC, 64
M.Garza, CHC, 62
A few observations: There’s a sizable gap between the top five pitchers overall and the field. I find it interesting that four of the top five are American League pitchers, since the deeper, more talented league is typically harder to dominate. The AL has been stronger in recent years, and with the movement of a few key hitters to the AL this offseason, it seems like the gap is widening. This is probably a meaningless observation, but it caught my attention.
In past seasons, Cain has been a poster child for pitchers who consistently outperform their FIP. By inducing weak contact, the story goes, Cain has been able to hold hitters to abnormally low BABiPs all but one season in his career, resulting in a 3.32 career ERA despite a less-striking 3.67 FIP. True Season Score rewards pitchers who give up fewer hits and runs, but emphasizes true outcomes like strikeouts and walks, so I would expect the metric to be harder on a pitcher will Cain’s skillset (if outpitching one’s FIP is truly a skill). Cain’s early results, however, have put that narrative to rest, as he’s struck out more batters than Peavy or Strasburg, while walking just six, or two innings’ work for Daniel Bard. Any metric worth its salt will be high on Cain so far in 2012.
My former metric, Season Score, which did not emphasize true outcomes, has Lynn second in the NL and fifth overall at 130. Lynn has certainly been the beneficiary of some luck, holding hitters to a 2.09 BABiP and stranding almost 94% of baserunners to achieve a 1.40 despite a (still-excellent) 2.90 FIP. Look for Lynn to remain effective, but to reside somewhere outside the top ten in the NL.
Anyone who’s been paying attention knows that the Nationals have strong pitching this year, and TSS confirms this, with two of the NL’s top seven pitching in the capital. Jordan Zimmermann is 16th in the NL at 55, while Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler are in the top 35 with True Season Scores of 30 and 28, respectively. Every Nationals starter and every Phillies starter has been better than any starter in Boston, Minnesota, Kansas City, or Colorado. Quality of competition plays a role in that, but there’s no denying the NL East has some solid pitching this year.
I’m surprised to see two Cubs in the NL’s top ten, given their 12-17 start, but their starting pitching has actually been quite good, with a 3.81 ERA and a 3.45 FIP. Only the Angels have two of the AL’s top ten, and with Dan Haren struggling, no other Angels starter is in the top 30.
Jair Jurrjens, who was shipped to the minors after four starts, is last in the NL with a TSS of -63. Francisco Liriano, owner of a 9.45 ERA, has been even worse in the AL, at -80, but not as bad as Clay Buchholz, the worst starting pitcher in baseball so far, at -81. The Red Sox and Yankees each have two starters at -25 or worse, while the Twins, Royals, and Rockies each have three. Throw in Jamie Moyer’s -24 and Jeremy Guthrie’s -17 and the Rockies have five of the (non-park-adjusted) 15 worst pitchers in the National League.
Generally, the True Season Score leaderboard at this point tends to showcase great pitchers at the top. Lynn and Hammel have been pleasant surprises, while Jon Lester (13) and Mat Latos (0) score surprisingly low, but enough time has elapsed that we can expect most of the pitchers near the top of the list to stay there for a while.