Chipper Jones Has A Chance To Stay In An Elite Club

Chipper Jones announced today that he plans on retiring after the 2012 season. He is a lock for the Hall of Fame. He may go down as the second greatest 3rd baseman in the history of the game. Now what is interesting is the potential club Chipper Jones is in and hopefully can stay in at the end of his career. He is currently a part of the .300/.400/.500 club. While these milestones are not the greatest way to judge the greatness of players, it would be difficult to see how a player without great quality would achieve this milestone. Looking at the list of players that are career .300/.400/.500 guys, this seems to hold true. Now hopefully Chipper Jones has a good enough season to stay in this club because he should remain in this list of elite players.  He is not one of those players that makes you say, “What?” when you see his name in a list like this. Simply put, he belongs.

Joey Votto 2007- .313 .405 .550
Albert Pujols 2001- .328 .420 .617
Todd Helton 1997- .323 .421 .550
Manny Ramirez 1993- .312 .411 .585
Chipper Jones 1993- .304 .402 .533
Frank Thomas 1990-2008 .301 .419 .555
Larry Walker 1989-2005 .313 .400 .565
Edgar Martinez 1987-2004 .312 .418 .515
Stan Musial 1941-1944, 1946-1963 .331 .417 .559
Ted Williams 1939-1960 .344 .482 .634
Hank Greenberg 1930, 1933-1941, 1945-1947 .313 .412 .605
Mel Ott 1926-1947 .304 .414 .533
Jimmie Foxx 1925-1942, 1944-1945 .325 .428 .609
Lou Gehrig 1923-1939 .340 .447 .577
Lefty O’Doul 1919-1920, 1922-1923, 1928-1934 .349 .413 .532
Rogers Hornsby 1915-1937 .358 .434 .577
Babe Ruth 1914-1935 .342 .474 .690
Harry Heilmann 1914, 1916-1930, 1932 .342 .410 .520
Joe Jackson 1908-1920 .356 .423 .517
Tris Speaker 1907-1928 .345 .428 .500
Ty Cobb 1905-1928 .366 .433 .512
Ed Delhanty 1888-1903 .346 .411 .505
Dan Brouthers 1879-1896, 1904 .342 .423 .519

HOF in bold

Why Trading AJ Burnett For Nothing Makes No Sense

For the past week or so, the Yankees have engaged in trade talks with the Pirates and three other teams concerning A.J. Burnett.

Initially, I supported the idea of trading Burnett to the Pirates because of the reports that Garrett Jones would be coming back from the Pirates. That is a deal that made sense because Garret Jones would play an important role as a platoon DH/OF against right-handed pitchers (his numbers against righties last season: .346 OBP, .462 SLG, sOPS+ 117).

However, it turned out that the Pirates were not going to trade Garrett Jones for A.J. Burnett.

In fact, it looks like the Yankees will not be getting any player that can make an impact for this team in the present or in the future. Most likely, the player the Yankees will receive is going to serve as minor league depth for the rest of his time with the organization.

If the A.J. Burnett deal is merely a salary dump for the Bronx Bombers, then it is not the right move to make.

To all those who disagree, I want you to forget what A.J. Burnett’s yearly salary will be for the next two seasons (16.5 million); I want you to remember that the luxury tax threshold of $189 million comes into effect in 2014 which is after Burnett’s deal expires; I want you to realize that A.J. Burnett is clearly a player who is above replacement level.

Last season saw A.J. Burnett post a 1.5 WAR. That means that if you replaced A.J. Burnett with a replacement-level player (think of a AAAA-type player, someone who is too good for the minors but not good enough for the big leagues) you would see a drop in the Yankees total of 1.5.

Yes, I realize you cannot have half a win. If you must harp on that fact, then treat it as a 1.5 win drop from a calculated expected wins total.

Now, how does a pitcher with a 5.15 ERA turn out to be a 1.5 WAR player?

The answer lies in better statistics. First, ERA is an antiquated stat that very often misrepresents the quality of a pitcher. The defense behind the pitcher, the ballpark he pitches in, and for lack of a better term, luck, all can turn ERA into a stat that does a poor job of measuring pitcher performance.

Now let us look at some stats that better represent pitcher performance. Burnett’s K/9 (strikeouts/nine innings—which fell by quite a bit in 2010) was 8.18 in 2011. That is near the level that Burnett had in 2009 (8.48).

His K/BB in 2011 was the best he has posted in his time as a Yankee (2.08). His WHIP was 1.43 in 2011. That does not correlate to an ERA of 5.15.

A pitcher with a 1.43 WHIP should expect to have an ERA from 4.20-4.60 which in the AL East isn’t as bad as it looks. In fact, that would make Burnett a solid back of the rotation starter.

So what could explain A.J. Burnett’s poor ERA in 2011?

Let’s look at HR/FB rate. This stat shows what percentage of the fly balls a pitcher concedes wind up in the seats. The league average is 10.6 percent and most pitchers’ career averages hang around 8.5-11.5 percent.

Obviously it can differ for different pitchers and is affected by competition and ballpark factors. Season-to-season this stat can be highly volatile. That is what we saw with A.J. Burnett in 2011.

Before 2011, A.J. Burnett had a career HR/FB rate under 11 percent. During his time as a Yankee, his HR/FB rate was slightly above 11 percent. A.J. Burnett posted a 17 percent HR/FB rate in 2011. That’s an absurdly high rate and a ridiculously large jump from his career numbers.

A number like this screams bad luck and should regress to the mean in the 2012 season.

The effect of Burnett’s “bad luck” with home runs can be seen in the FIP (fielding independent pitching) and xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching).

FIP is a stat that attempts to strip away as many of the outside factors affecting ERA and come up with a number (on an ERA scale) that represents the quality of the pitcher’s performance (hence fielding independent). If you want to learn more about FIP and how it is calculated, check here.

A.J. Burnett’s FIP in 2011 was 4.77. Now, FIP does not take into account “bad luck” when it comes to HR/FB rate. That is where xFIP comes in. This stat is calculated exactly like FIP except it normalizes the HR/FB to the league average of 10.6 percent.

A.J. Burnett posted an xFIP of 3.86. The disparity between FIP and xFIP gives strong evidence to the idea that “bad luck” with fly balls becoming home runs led to Burnett posting a 5.15 ERA.

Now that I have plead the case that A.J. Burnett is not as bad as his ERA makes him out to be, I will say that A.J. Burnett should not start the season in the starting rotation.

The way I see the Yankees’ rotation is that CC is the No. 1 and the other four spots are filled by Pineda, Kuroda, Nova and Hughes. I believe Burnett should start the season in the bullpen as a long reliever.

Why we do not see more of this in the Majors is beyond me. Instead of burning roster spots by having eight or nine man bullpens, a team could have a long reliever.

This would allow a team to use less roster spots on the bullpen and have more hitters on the roster. This would increase a team’s ability to pinch hit, to make defensive substitutions and to take advantage of platoon splits during a game or game-to-game.

With his fastball and curveball, Burnett could be an effective long reliever. He would pitch about two innings an outing. He would rarely, if ever, see a hitter twice. He can focus on maximizing the effectiveness of his two pitches.

There are concerns that Burnett’s fastball has lost velocity, but if you put him in the bullpen, he can just let it rip. By just emptying all his bullets in two innings of work as opposed to pacing himself through a start, Burnett would probably see increased velocity on his fastball.

We also cannot predict injuries and Phil Hughes’ performance. If there is a long-term injury in the starting rotation or Phil Hughes shows that he cannot start in the Major Leagues, then you have Burnett there to fill in.

Of course, at this point in the year, it looks like the Yankees have too many starting pitchers. Yet, all it takes is an injury or two and you are searching for someone to hold down the fort in the fourth and fifth slots of the rotation.

Remember, we are talking about the Yankees, not a payroll limited team. The Yankees should not be in the business of duping salary for nothing. Especially when the contract ends after the 2013 season and the luxury tax level does not rise until 2014.

It just does not make baseball sense.

Pitching Dominance: Justin Verlander’s and Clayton Kershaw’s Historic Seasons

While Matt Kemp came up short in his bid for the Triple Crown this season, two pitchers completed the pitching Triple Crown. Both Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw led their leagues in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. However, like the hitting Triple Crown, the pitching Triple Crown has a stat that does a poor job at measuring pitching performance; the win. One need only look at Felix Hernandez’s 2010 season or Russ Ortiz’s 2003 season.  Since wins are such a poor measure of pitching performance (not to say ERA and Ks are perfect but at least they are far more dependent on the pitcher), let’s replace wins with WHIP. Then the question becomes whether Verlander and Kershaw achieved this version of the pitching Triple Crown and who has claimed that title in the past. Looking at the AL/NL era, let’s see what the numbers say:

Year Name Team ERA WHIP K
1901 Cy Young BOS 1.62 0.972 158
1905 Christy Mathewson NYG 1.28 0.933 206
1908 Christy Mathewson (2) NYG 1.43 0.827 259
1912 Walter Johnson WSH 1.39 0.908 303
1913 Walter Johnson (2) WSH 1.14 0.780 243
1915 Pete Alexander PHI 1.22 0.842 241
1916 Pete Alexander (2) PHI 1.55 0.959 167
1918 Walter Johnson (3) WSH 1.27 0.954 162
1918 Hippo Vaughn CHC 1.74 1.006 148
1919 Walter Johnson (4) WSH 1.49 0.985 147
1924 Walter Johnson (5) WSH 2.72 1.116 158
1924 Dazzy Vance BRO 2.16 1.022 262
1928 Dazzy Vance (2) BRO 2.09 1.063 200
1930 Lefty Grove PHA 2.54 1.114 209
1931 Lefty Grove (2) PHA 2.06 1.077 175
1934 Lefty Gomez NYY 2.33 1.133 158
1939 Bucky Walters CIN 2.29 1.125 137
1940 Bob Feller CLE 2.61 1.133 261
1948 Harry Brecheen STL 2.24 1.037 149
1963 Sandy Koufax LAD 1.88 0.875 306
1965 Sandy Koufax (2) LAD 2.04 0.855 382
1968 Bob Gibson STL 1.12 0.853 268
1971 Tom Seaver NYM 1.76 0.946 289
1973 Tom Seaver (2) NYM 2.08 0.976 251
1986 Mike Scott HOU 2.22 0.923 306
1995 Randy Johnson SEA 2.48 1.045 294
1997 Roger Clemens TOR 2.05 1.03 292
1999 Pedro Martinez BOS 2.07 0.923 313
2000 Pedro Martinez (2) BOS 1.74 0.737 284
2001 Randy Johnson (2) ARI 2.49 1.009 372
2002 Pedro Martinez (3) BOS 2.26 0.923 239
2005 Johan Santana MIN 2.61 0.921 265
2006 Johan Santana (2) MIN 2.77 0.997 245
2007 Jake Peavy SDP 2.54 1.061 240
2011 Justin Verlander DET 2.40 0.920 250
2011 Clayton Kershaw LAD 2.28 0.977 248

*Bold for numbers that led all Major League Baseball

Not only have Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw pitched fantastically this season, they have done something rather rare. Only two other times has a season seen a pitching Triple Crown winner and (prepare Tim Kurkjian voice) the last that happen was 1924. It is also the first time that baseball had two Triple Crown pitchers but did not have one achieve the Major League Triple Crown.

This list also testifies to how great Walter Johnson pitched. He leads all pitchers in winning this Triple Crown. Along with the five Triple Crowns, he has three Major League Triple Crowns. Pedro Martinez takes second place with three Triple Crowns and Sandy Koufax is second in Major League Triple Crowns with two.

Most of the names that make up this list would not surprise baseball fans. However, there is one name that came out of the blue (at least to me) on the list:

’86 Mike Scott

This name shocked me and probably because I only heard in his name while he sat in the dugout. In watching Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS, you can hear the announcers talking about how the Mets needed to win this game to avoid Mike Scott in Game 7. So who is this mystery pitcher?

Mike Scott made his Major League debut with the Mets in 1979 and the Mets traded him to the Astros in 1982. During that period, you could consider Scott a below replacement level player. Here are his numbers during that period:

W-L ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 ERA+ WAR
29-44 4.45 1.427 4.2 2.9 78 -2.4

In fact, in the 1984 season Mike Scott starting 29 games for the Astros put up a WAR of -2.2. So what changed for Scott to become the most dominant pitcher in 1986?

In the offseason before the 1985 season, Mike Scott came under the tutelage of Roger Craig. Roger Craig invented the split-finger fastball and was pitching coach of the Detroit Tigers in 1984. Many view his teaching of the splitter to many on the Tigers as an important aspect of their World Series run. That success got him the job as manager of the San Francisco Giants in 1985.

During that off-season Mike Scott learned the splitter. He scrapped his slider and change-up and became a fastball-splitter pitcher. In 1985 he pitched the best season of his career up to that point. A year later, he put together the most dominant pitching season of the 1980s. He pitched a no-hitter against the Giants (Roger Craig’s team ironically) to clinch the NL West title. While the Astros lost the NLCS to the Mets in six, their two wins came on the back of two fantastic starts by Scott. He outpitched Doc Gooden in a 1-0 Game 1 victory by posting a five-hit shutout. In Game 4, he pitched a three-hit, one-run, complete game. In his two starts Mike Scott has a 0.50 ERA, a 0.500 WHIP, 19 Ks, and 1 BB. His Game 1 performance got a Game Score of 90 and his Game 4 start got a score of 82. One can see, especially with Game 6 going 16 innings, the Mets could not afford to go against Scott in Game 7.

As his career went on, while he never reached the level he did in ’86, he remained an All-Star caliber pitcher in ’87 and ’88 along with having a good season in ’89. However, by ’90, the wear and tear of the splitter had led to consistent injuries. He retired in ’91.

One should not ignore the potential controversy with Mike Scott’s ascendancy. Many players and baseball insiders thought that Mike Scott scuffed the ball and that gave him the insane movement on his splitter. While that idea does persist, there has not been any conclusive evidence to back up the claims. This might be why we do not talk about Mike Scott’s season in the same way we discuss the other great pitching performances of all-time.

Both Verlander and Kershaw have given us dominant pitching performances this season, and, like Mike Scott, they have put themselves in a class with Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez and other pitching legends of the game. Many called 2011 the Year of the Pitcher and we have two who epitomized why this season deserved that title.

Great World Series Hitting Performances from Unlikely Sources

Regular season baseball is all about large sample sizes. The season is 162 games long; batters have over 500 plate appearances; starting pitchers throw more than 150 innings.  These large sample sizes cause, for the most part, the cream to rise to the top. Those players who are great are the players who lead in ERA, WHIP, OBP, and WAR. The MVPs and the Cy Young winners are most often players who are great having great seasons.

The playoffs are a different matter. Instead of a 162 game sample, player stats in the playoffs represent what happened over a minimum sample of three games and a maximum sample of nineteen games. Now, look at the World Series. The sample size ranges from four to nine games[1]. When the sample size gets that small, the odds of a great performance from a great player versus the odds of a great performance shrinks substantially. This has led to some memorable World Series performances from players who were nothing special during their careers. In this case, we are looking at high level World Series performances from players with a career WAR under 10. Here are the memorable World Series performances I found that fit the bill:

George Rohe (1901, 1905-1907), 3B, Chicago White Sox, 1906 World Series

G AB H HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR/oWAR
Career 269 868 197 3 81 92 .227 .294 .266 2.6/2.7
1906 77 225 58 0 14 25 .258 .316 .289 1.4/1.0
World Series  6 21 7 0 2 4 .333 .440 .571 N/A

George Rohe was a utility infielder for the White Sox. In fact, he was not the first choice to start in the World Series. Before the World Series, White Sox shortstop George Davis got injured. This led the White Sox to move their starting third baseman, Lee Tannehill, to shortstop and put Rohe at third base. His performance in the World Series helped the White Sox beat the Cubs in six and Charles Comiskey, the owner of the White Sox, stated that Rohe would have a place on the team for life. After putting up a .213/.274/.255 slash line as a starter, the White Sox released him and he never played professional baseball again.

Bobby Brown (’46-’52, ’54), 3B, New York Yankees, 1949 World Series

G AB H HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR
Career 548 1619 452 22 233 237 .279 .367 .376 7.1/7.2
1906 104 343 97 6 61 61 .283 .359 .399 1.7/1.6
World Series  4 12 6 0 4 5 .500 .571 .917 N/A

Probably better known for being the sixth president of the American League, Bobby Brown led the Yankees in AVG, OBP, SLG, hits, runs, RBIs, and triples among players with at least three ABs in the Yankees triumph over the Dodgers in five. On a team with Dimaggio, Berra, Henrich, Rizzuto, and Mize, it’s amazing that they were all outperformed at the plate by Brown. Had there been a World Series MVP in ’49[2], only Allie Reynolds, who outdueled Don Newcombe in Game 1 and closed out Game 4 with 3.1 innings of shutout ball, could have taken the award from him.

Billy Martin (’50-’53, ’55-’61), 2B, New York Yankees, 1953 World Series

G AB H HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR/oWAR
Career 1021 3419 877 64 425 333 .257 .300 .369 3.7/5.2
1953 149 587 151 15 72 75 .257 .319 .395 2.6/1.8
World Series  6 24 12 2 5 8 .500 .520 .958 N/A

Most remember him for his time as manager of the Bronx Bombers during the mid-to-late 1970s and the 1908s (George Steinbrenner is probably handing another pink slip to Billy Martin in Heaven right now), but his play in the 1953 World Series against the Dodgers may have been the second most remembered event during his time as a player[3]. In the six game series victory over the Dodgers, Martin led the Yankees in hits, HRs, RBIs, AVG, SLG, and OPS. That’s no small feat on a team with Mantle and Berra.

Bobby Richardson (’55-’66), 2B, New York Yankees, 1960 World Series

G AB H HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR/oWAR
Career 1412 5386 1432 34 643 390 .266 .299 .335 5.6/5.5
1960 150 460 116 1 45 26 .252 .303 .298 0.0/0.2
World Series  7 30 11 1 8 12 .367 .387 .667 N/A

 What we talk about when we are taking about WAR is the value (in this case wins) a player gives to a team above a replacement level player. In 1960, Bobby Richardson performed at the level of a replacement player. So it would have been hard to imagine, going into the 1960 World Series against the Pirates, that Richardson would end up leading the Yankees in triples, runs, and RBIs. He won the MVP award for the series making him the Chuck Howley of baseball (or does that make Chuck Howley the Bobby Richardson of the NFL?). That is not to say he was the Yankees’ greatest performer in the series. That distinction goes to Mickey Mantle. However, Mantle and Richardson, along with Maris, Berra, and Elson Howard, were not enough as the Yankees lost the fantastically lopsided 1960 World Series to the Pirates in seven[4].

Willie Aikens (’77, ’79-’85), 1B, Kansas City Royals, 1980 World Series

G AB H HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR/oWAR
Career 774 2492 675 110 301 415 .271 .354 .455 6.3/7.4
1980 151 543 151 20 70 98 .278 .356 .433 1.3/1.4
World Series  6 20 8 4 5 8 .400 .538 1.100 N/A

In a series with stars like George Brett, Mike Schmidt, and Steve Carlton, Willie Aikens outshone them all. In Game 1 and Game 4, he hit two home runs and until Chase Utley in 2009, he was the only player to ever hit two home runs in a game twice in the World Series. He also knocked in the game winning RBI in the 10th inning of Game 3. He led all players in the series in triples, HRs, RBI, SLG, and OPS and led the Royals in runs as well. Despite his performance, the Royals lost the series in six to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Billy Hatcher (’84-’95), LF/CF, Cincinnati Reds, 1990 World Series

G AB H HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR/oWAR
Career 1233 4339 1146 54 586 399 .264 .312 .364 2.0/6.1
1990 139 504 139 5 68 25 .276 .327 .381 1.6/1.5
World Series  4 12 9 0 6 2 .750 .800 1.250 N/A

The numbers say it all. Billy Hatcher, of all people, put together one of the greatest hitting performances in the history of the World Series. Let’s ignore how the performance stacks up relative to the other players in the series. He started out the series with seven consecutive hits. Hatcher set the record for batting average, and OBP in a World Series (min. 18 PA). He finished second in OPS for a series (behind 2.433 by Gehrig in ’28) and sixth in SLG (behind Gehrig ’28, Matsui ’09, Ruth ’28, Bonds ’02…ugh, Gowdy ’14 and tied with Jackson ’77). At  I would argue that it is the third greatest of all time (behind Gehrig and Ruth in ’28). Hatcher and the Reds swept the favored Oakland Atheltics. Hatcher did not win the MVP for the World Series as that honor went to a deserved Jose Rijo.

Mark Lemke (’88-’98), 2B, Atlanta Braves, 1991 World Series

G AB H HR R RBI AVG OBP SLG WAR/oWAR
Career 1069 3230 795 32 349 270 .246 .317 .324 5.3/-1.5
1990 136 308 63 2 36 23 .234 .305 .312 1.6/1.5
World Series  6 24 10 0 4 4 .417 .462 .708 N/A

The greatest World Series ever played deserved a great performance from an unexpected source. That is not to say that Lemke’s series began well. In Game 2, a miscommunication by between David Justice and Lemke led to Dan Gladden reach second on a routine pop up. This led to the Twins scoring two in the first and they went on to win the game 3-2 with just four hits on an eighth inning home run by Scott Leius. However, Game 3 and Game 4 saw Lemke play the role of hero. In Game 3, Lemke’s single in the 12th with two outs scored Justice and the Braves won their first game of the series. In Game 4, Lemke’s hook slide allowed him to avoid the tag by Brian Harper and won the game in the bottom of the ninth. Lemke led all player in the series in triples, AVG, OBP, and SLG (min. 5 AB). Had the Braves won the series, the MVP would have gone to him or John Smoltz.

(All WAR numbers come from Baseball-Reference.com)

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John Lackey’s Historic Season

John Lackey's season has been awful and may have cost the Red Sox a trip to the playoffs.

On September 19th, the Boston Red Sox started John Lackey in their second game of their doubleheader with the Baltimore Orioles. Lackey stayed true to his form this season going 4.1 innings giving up 8 runs and 11 hits and two walks. That’s an ERA of 16.6 and a 2.54 WHIP. That brings Lackey numbers for the season to 12-12 with a 6.49 ERA and 1.63 WHIP. In fact, his ERA is 1.15 runs above Bronson Arroyo’s who has the second worst ERA in all the Majors. Now let’s take it a step further, how does Lackey’s 2011 season rank among the all-time worst in ERA for starters? Let’s see what the numbers say.

(Sorted by ERA and WHIP rank in parentheses)

Rank Name Year Team Record ERA WHIP IP GS
1 Les Sweetland 1930 PHI 7-15 7.71 1.982 167 25
2 Jim Deshaies 1994 MIN 6-12 7.39 1.719 130.1 25
3 Jack Knott 1936 SLB 9-17 7.29 1.894 192.2 23
4 Jose Lima 2005 KC 5-16 6.99 1.660 168.2 32
5 LaTroy Hawkins 1999 MIN 10-14 6.66 1.709 174.1 33
6 Greg Harris 1994 COL 3-12 6.65 1.585 130 19
7 Jose Lima 2000 HOU 7-16 6.65 1.625 196.1 33
8 Chubby Dean 1940 PHA 6-13 6.61 1.776 159.1 19
9 Darryl Kile 1999 COL 8-13 6.61 1.752 190.2 32
10 Nels Potter 1939 PHA 8-12 6.60 1.762 196.1 25
11 Ernie Wingard 1927 SLB 2-13 6.56 1.868 156.1 17
12 George Caster 1940 PHA 4-19 6.56 1.699 178.1 24
13 John Lackey 2011 BOS 12-12 6.49 1.630 154 27
14 Terry Mulholland 1994 NYY 6-7 6.49 1.550 120.2 19
15 Eric Milton 2005 CIN 8-15 6.47 1.551 186.1 34
16 Dave Fleming 1994 SEA 7-11 6.46 1.855 117 23
17 Jimmy Ring 1928 PHI 4-17 6.44 1.835 176 25
18 Joel Pineiro 2006 SEA 8-13 6.36 1.648 165.2 25
19 Jaime Navarro 1998 CHW 8-16 6.36 1.737 172.2 27
20 Nate Robertson 2008 DET 7-11 6.35 1.660 168.2 28

(All pitchers had to have qualified for the ERA title in Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index)

If the season ended today, Lackey’s ERA would be the 13th highest in MLB history among starters. With another start like he had against the Orioles, he could shoot up above LaTroy Hawkins and take fifth place. It’s amazing to think that the Red Sox would keep sending him out on the hill. One could argue that the injuries to Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett force the Red Sox to start Lackey. But, Lackey has been historically bad this year. In August, he posted 4.61 ERA with a 1.61 WHIP and that was his best month in terms of ERA. In terms of WHIP, his best month was June where he posted a 1.28 WHIP with a 5.28 ERA. It is almost a complete certainty that when John Lackey pitches you need to give him at least 5 runs of support for the team to get the win. The Red Sox would have been better off promoting guys from AAA. At least the Red Sox would have had the chance of finding someone who can produce at a respectable level. And now with the Red Sox’s lead in the AL Wild Card shrinking, they have only one starter they can trust in Lester, are praying that Beckett stays healthy, and have three poor pitching performances guaranteed. Which means that the only reason to continue start Lackey is to justify the contract the Rex Sox gave him.

And if they start him because they have invested $82.5 million in him, then they risk not making the playoffs for the sake of attempting to justify a bad contract.

Mariano Rivera is the Save King: Fun Record But Does It Mean Anything?

The great Mariano Rivera is now the all-time leader in save. He is the greatest closer baseball has ever seen and that argument starts with the number of games he has saved. Right? Before we get into the meat of this blog, let’s have some fun with a blind resume.

Player A: 1.91 ERA, .913 WHIP,  93 K, 80 IP, 3.0 WAR

Player B: 2.41 ERA, 1.074 WHIP, 208 K, 246.2 IP, 7.9 WAR

Before the season, if you knew these players would post these numbers, and Player A was traded for Player B, who got the better end of the deal? Who would you vote for Cy Young? Who would you vote for MVP?

In 1992, voters were asked the latter two questions. Their answer? Player A. In the Cy Young vote, Player A finished first with 107 vote points and 19 first place votes. Player B received finished third with 48 vote points and four first place votes. In the MVP vote, Player A finished first with 304 vote points and 15 first place votes while Player B finished tied for 14 with 16 vote points and no first place votes.

Now why did Dennis Eckersley (Player A) win the Cy Young and MVP awards while Roger Clemens (Player B) finished 3rd and 14th in the Cy Young Award? What criteria did he fulfill to win the two awards? What was the driving force behind the bloc that voted for him? Saves.

That year Dennis Eckersley saved 51 games that season which was the second most saves in a season up to that point. How else could a closer win the Cy Young over a starter? If Eckersley puts up the same numbers as a set up man, he does not win the MVP or the Cy Young. Somehow the fact that he saved 51 games vaulted him from valuable relief pitcher to the Most Valuable Player in all the American League. So the question now becomes,”Are saves a measuring tool of a pitcher’s performance?”

Well let’s first look at how the save came into existence. In 1960, Jerome Holtzman, a writer for the Chicago-Sun Times, had a problem with the stats of the day. While he believed that W-L was apt at measuring the performance of a starting pitcher, he did not feel like it accurately reflected the performance of relief pitchers.  Wins and losses did not take reward relief pitchers for protecting leads. To remedy the issue, Holtzman came up with the save stat[1].

Initially, a save occurred when a pitcher finished the game for the winning team without being credited for a save. It evolved as the years went on. Later it became that a relief pitcher earned a save by closing a game in which the tying run was on base or at the plate or pitching three innings on the winning team without recording a win. A year later, the former requirement changed to closing a game with at most a two run lead.

Currently a pitcher earns a save if he fulfills the following criteria:

1) His team wins

2) He finishes the game

3) He is not credited with the win

4) He fulfills one of the following:

A) He enters the game with at most a three run lead and pitches one inning
B) He enters the game with at least the tying run on deck
C) He pitches three innings of relief[2]

So the save measures how successful a relief pitcher is at meeting the criteria, but how low has the save stat placed the bar for success?

Let’s say that in the top of the eighth, a reliever for the home team comes in with a three run lead. He faces the 3-4-5 hitters of the opposing team and they go down in order.

The closer comes into the ballgame with a three run lead in the beginning of the ninth inning. He gives up a two singles and a double and allows one run to score. With men on second and third he walks the next batter to load the bases. He walks another batter, allowing another run to score. With the bases loaded, the closer induces a double play that does not lead to another run scoring. He then walks another batter to load the bases again. He gets out of the inning as the batter’s flyball gets caught at the warning track.

The closer’s line for the night: 18.00 ERA, 6.00 WHIP, 0 K, 3 BB. But he got the save so he must have performed well, right? He got the save, so he must have been more important in winning the game than the reliever who pitched the eighth inning?

Let’s look at a second hypothetical. Let’s say it is the beginning of the bottom of the seventh with the home team up 17-4. A relief pitcher comes in and pitches a scoreless three innings. In the meantime, the home team tacks on 13 more runs and wins the game 30-4. So the relief pitcher comes in with a 13 run lead and leaves the game with a 26 run lead. And guess what else? He picks up a save since his outing fit the criteria for a save. So does not blowing an initial 13 run lead and not blowing a 26 run lead signify a good performance?

Actually, this hypothetical is not a hypothetical. As Orioles and Rangers fans may remember, this happened on August 22nd, 2007. The Texas Rangers beat the Baltimore Orioles 30-3 with Wes Littleton earning the save.

A save is rewarded to a relief pitcher who meets the bar set by the criteria, but when it comes to earning a save, the bar is set quite low.

Let’s ignore the fact that saves do not value shutting down the heart of the order in the eighth, but does value getting the 6-7-8 hitters in the ninth. If saves were a measure of performance, then, the better one pitches, the better one would be in the save statistic. Most often, the better a pitcher performs, the better his ERA and/or WHIP numbers become. That is what one should see with saves. Let’s look at another blind resume.

Player A: 62 saves, 68.1 IP

Player B: 47 saves, 73 IP

If saves are truly a measure of performance, then the other performance based statistics will show that Player A performed better.

Player A: 2.24 ERA, 1.288 WHIP, 7.1 H/9, 10.1 K/9, 4.5 BB/9, 2.26 K/BB

Player B: 1.73 ERA, 1.096 WHIP, 6.4 H/9, 12.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 3.50 K/BB

The reveal: Player A is Francisco Rodriguez in 2008 and Player B is Francisco Rodriguez in 2006.

While K-Rod had more saves in 2008, all the pitching performance metrics show that he pitched better in 2006. Even though K-Rod would probably say he pitched better in 2008 because he saved more games[3], he pitched better in 2006 and his best season came in 2004, setting up Troy Percival, but he probably hated doing that.

While Mariano Rivera is the greatest relief pitcher of all-time, the number of games he has saves should have no bearing, negative or positive, on that. It should not be a measure of a relief pitcher. It should not be the reason a closer is given $10 million a season for three years. It should not be the reason a set up man abhors his role. It should be seen for what it is; it is an event where the criteria are satisfied. Continue reading