Friday, April 13, 2007

Scoring Runs: An Open Letter to All Pitchers (Part 1 of 2)

This post started because I was studying how many runs the 2007 Giants should score. And it morphed into this open letter to pitchers everywhere (I will follow up with my research on runs scored next, in part 2).

Dear Pitchers,

Do you like winning? Got your attention now? I have started examining the scoring of runs, based on a regression run on scoring runs, based on the OBP and SLG of each of the position of the lineup. And it appears to work, for example, the Giants scored 4.6 runs per game last year and the formula worked out to 4.6 runs per game, based on the production by lineup position.

What I found amazing is that the 9th position of the lineup can be very key to the offense. According to the regression, OBP is very important in the #9 position. Basically the second most important after the leadoff hitter. And this makes sense, you should have your best hitters hitting 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and if the 9th hitter can get on base, those spots will get a shot at driving him in. Power don't mean so much, because typically you are hitting behind the worse hitters in the lineup in 7/8, so there is not as much to drive in, but getting on base is almost like gold, which for pitchers are spelled W-I-N-S.

How so? Because the pitcher can contribute greatly to the offense just by being able to get on base in that spot. Last year, the Giants pitchers collectively contributed 0.6 runs per game. Yeah, I was amazed by that too. It is almost as much as the 8th place hitter for the Giants in 2006.

Do some of you pitchers ever moan about the fact that your team didn't score as much runs for you as they did for one of your fellow pitchers? "If only I had run support! Then I would win more games!" Have you ever thought about the fact that the answer is probably staring you right in the mirror?

In 2006, the range of runs contributed per Giants pitcher was wide. It ranged as high as Jamey Wright's 0.81 down to Jason Schmidt's 0.47. That is 0.34 runs difference! Thus, on average, the Giants scored 4.37 runs per game with Schmidt's hitting, and 4.71 runs per game with Wright pitching (of course, this is assuming if they pitched, say, 1000 games, and hit like they did in 2006). If Schmidt's ERA was 4.37, then he would have been a .500 pitchers, because the offense should score about 4.37 runs when he hits like he did in 2006..

Let's say you have an ERA of 4.37, which is not spectacular but not too bad either, you will make your money. Still, if you hit like Jason Schmidt did in 2006, you are a .500 pitcher. If you add another 0.34 runs to the team scoring when you are pitching, your expected winning percentage rises to .537. In 30 decisions, you go from a 15-15 season to a 16-14 season.

Not much you would say, but what would you rather have, a 15-15 season or a 16-14 season? Think 16-14 will get you more money than 15-15? Thought so. (Sabermetrically, wins don't mean a thing, but in the real world, it usually registers in dough-to-mi). Plus it gets you that much closer to the playoffs.

Now that is just, basically, poor hitting pitchers. What if you are a better hitter, like a Russ Ortiz? He sometimes get OBP better than Pedro Feliz, which isn't saying much if you are a position player, but it speaks volumes (as in runs) in baseball. From 1998 to 2003, Ortiz's run contribution ranged from 0.73 to 1.06, and he regularly was in the 0.9's. That 1.06 pushes the runs added to 0.59 over what the worse starter did in 2006. That's a .563 winning percentage and a 17-13 record. Getting my drift now?

Now everyone likes to pick on Feliz's hitting and rightfully so. He takes walks as often as there are solar eclipses it seems. Well, his sad sack hitting would have contributed less runs than Ortiz's best season (admittedly, he didn't play a full season, but even then his average season is not far from Feliz's past two seasons).

So pitchers, you don't even need to hit like a homerun hitter to help yourself win games. The main things you need to do is: 1) take bad pitches and 2) swing at good pitches. And take batting practice regularly, to stay in sharp batting shape. Take the pride in hitting that you may have once had when you were in high school or even college, and be just a so-so hitter like Feliz.

You don't even need to get extra base hits. If you can just average a hit and a walk every 6 PAs (basically what you get each game before you get taken out of the game, for two games, so a hit in one game, a walk in the other), you would have a .200 BA, .333 OBP and .200 SLG, and that would be worth 0.96 runs. If you can just be an OK starter, giving up 4.37 runs per game, you can be talking the difference between going 17-13 and 15-15, based just on your hitting, if your team scores 4.37 runs when you are a lousy hitting pitcher, and 4.86 runs when you are a good hitting pitcher. At the margin, your hitting as a pitcher can make a big difference in your win total, putting you 4 wins over .500, instead of just being .500.

I would say that would look good on your baseball card (or your baseball-reference.com page). And it would put you that much closer to making the playoffs. Could even help you win a game during the playoffs. And that's what it is all really about, though obviously the money is a huge plus.

Your friend,
obsessivegiantscompulsive

3 comments:

  1. Excellent observation. Russ Ortiz has always been much more valuable than his ERA would indicate. Right now, how many ERA runs should be subtracted when comparing Ortiz to absolutely worthless hitting Zito?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very good point!!! Didn't think about that! I don't remember Zito's exact numbers but zero across the board would probably not be far from the truth. That's nearly a full run lost, due to his hitting.

    That also screws up any analysis that says that Zito's lower ERA, due to NL's use of pitcher's hitting, should result in more wins (don't recall if I said that, I don't think so though, but I think I've read it somewhere before). Even if we had Feliz as the DH, that's about a full run difference if Zito continues to hit goose-eggs.

    Even marginal hitting pitchers can contribute a lot to the offense - even Schmidt's poor hitting contributed half a run - but ERA's do not go down more than 0.25-0.50 in moving leagues to the NL. If your hitting then costs the offense a whole run lost, you end up with a lower winning percentage, theoretically, keeping all things equal.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Good points, Martin. I appreciate the work, the numbers. It is nice to have something specific - as opposed to just guessing.
    In watching last nights game, it looked to me like 'Feliz has abandoned his 'new' batting approach. His 'new' approach was to not take a stride, the idea being it gave him a olonger look at the ball and made it easier to hit the ball where it was pitched - ie, hitting the outside pitch to RF. Last night he seemed to be striding as he did last year.

    ReplyDelete

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