Wednesday, July 27, 2011

2010... Year of the Pitcher? Better Check Again

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports-Cleveland

Saint Louis, MISSOURI--The city of Cleveland will need some time to rebuild after the onslaught of storms that recently rolled through town. These storms carried no precipitation, just more oppressive heat. When this year ends, people will surely remember the three days when Haren, Weaver, and Santana devastated every Clevelander's morale.

Even though the Indians managed an exciting victory in game one of the series, Cleveland could put up very little resistance against the massive front. The lone highlight was Jason Kipnis' first Major League hit and RBI, coming in Tuesday's walk-off win. That was one more hit than the entire Cleveland lineup could muster Wednesday against Ervin Santana. All told, Cleveland averaged 1.6 runs and 4.3 hits in the three-game series with the Angels. That will not win you very many American League games.

But let's give credit where credit is due. Why spend time beating the dead horse; the bats have been anemic for the Tribe recently and everyone in baseball knows this. They would not be pursuing a right-handed bat if they thought all systems were firing. But this story is not about Cleveland, unless we are talking about Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin. The bigger headline is how dominant starting pitching has been league-wide in 2011... even better than last year.

Every baseball analyst on either side of the Mississippi labeled 2010 "The Year of the Pitcher." Upon further review, we all should have held out for this current campaign before handing out the crown.

Pulling up the Pitcher Rating numbers from this exact date last year was an eye-opening experience. Back then, the world was toasting the rise of a young star, Ubaldo Jimenez--with his 15-2 record and no-hitter under his belt. Fast forward to today, and Jimenez is 6-9 with a 4.35 ERA. These numbers are the tip of the iceberg on what a difference a year can make.

The side-by-side analysis was first used to find consistency among the madness. 18 pitchers can be found in the top 45 both years; mostly the usual Cy Young suspects--Sabathia, Halladay, Lee, Hernandez, et al. The names that may surprise are C.J. Wilson, Yovani Gallardo, and Jaime Garcia. They are the young aces-in-the-making that have the staying power Jimenez has yet to figure out.

Beyond the roller coaster ride of Jimenez, the overall Pitcher Rating numbers speak of a major disparity among the elite. Even with a gaudy win percentage, Jimenez could only pace the field with a 41.90 PR. This July, there are four pitchers: Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, and Clayton Kershaw that all have numbers exceeding 42. In particular, Weaver's 48.78 is so astonishingly high that it is greater than 1996 AL Cy Young winner Pat Hentgen accumulated his entire award-winning season.

As someone wise once said, "the more things change, the more they stay the same." The irony of the 2010-2011 comparative is that the Pitcher Rating of the last ranked pitcher is exactly 19.22 in both years. For as different as the rankings are at the top, the bottoms are identical. This makes the 2011 feats of Weaver, Verlander, Sabathia, and Kershaw even more impressive; by and large the field is in the exact same place it was last year, yet the leaders are head and shoulders above 2010's best.

The numbers do not lie, but can be interpreted two different ways: baseball has either won the war on performance-enhancing drugs or the Dead Ball Era is as naturally cyclical as the tides. Regardless, starting pitching is back to dominating professional hitting. The sub-2.00 ERA is to 2011 as the 40 home run season is to 1996, where the opposite combinations of stats and years produce a calculator error. Weaver has been dominant, but mid-90s pitchers like Hentgen were equally as good; both are victims/benefactors of the times they play.

After Ervin Santana's no-no, he is now knocking on the door of the next Pitcher Rating rankings. This would make the Angels the third team (in the two years of Pitcher Rating, all occurring this year) with three ranked starting pitchers: San Francisco's Vogelsong, Lincecum, Cain and Philadelphia's Halladay, Hamels, Lee. With Weaver (1st), Haren (9th) and now Santana, the forecast in American League cities around the country will likely be calling for storms during the the next few months.

Pitcher Rating July 27 2011

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bochy and Washington's All-Star Bullpen Blunders

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports-Cleveland

Saint Louis, MISSOURI--The rosters have been set for the 2011 Major League Baseball All-Star Game next week in Arizona. Yet again, it appears that the managers who make the tough decisions need some serious help.

These guys obviously make it more difficult than it needs to be, by not to relying on objective data. They do not have the time to watch every single pitcher around the league, keeping tabs on their nightly performances.

This year's scapegoats are San Francisco skipper, Bruce Bochy, and Texas' Ron Washington. For appearing in the 2010 World Series their prize will be a handful of angry colleagues from the teams in their respective league, a few scorned players, as well as thousands of fans of said scorned player.
The solution is quite simple: give people parameters/rules of the game and the complaints magically dissipate. If Major League Baseball would simply adopt a minimum criteria a player must meet for selection, the game (now to be taken seriously) will be better off. For the second year of its existence, Pitcher Rating could have been this savior from all the headaches and gripes.

Formatted the same as last year, the table below shows statistics of the top 45 pitchers (based on Pitcher Rating) in baseball, as of the Selection Sunday. Players highlighted in dark blue are 2011 All-Stars. Those shown with an asterisk are the token representative from their club.

Moving our way down the list, the first nine selections are no-brainers. Quickly, things begin to get questionable. Tommy Hanson should undoubtedly be in Phoenix next week, and odds are he will find his way there. There are several aces that will pitch on the Sunday before the Midsummer Classic. The close proximity means they are unavailable on Tuesday, and (by rule) will be replaced. Thus, Hanson is a lock to get a call. The same is true of CC Sabathia; highly possible for Dan Haren.

If this hold true, the top 15 pitchers will be in Arizona.

As we hit number 16, the debate begins. Bochy and Washington each passed on an unexpected ace of 2011. The early-season performances of the upstart Michael Pineda and the hometown representative Ian Kennedy should have been rewarded. They were snubbed simply because their greatness has not been sustained over the course of several years. Remember this fact when we get to Ryan Vogelsong.

Picking up Pineda and Kennedy--matched with the actual selections of Felix Hernandez, Jonny Venters, David Price, and Matt Cain--would have put the top 21 pitchers in the All-Star Game.

If only Bochy followed along with a selection system based on Pither Rating. Of his 13 possible selections, he would have the top 11 National League arms; needing to stray from the list only to pick up a player from the Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres to meet the representation criteria.

Heath Bell would have fit the bill, and he was the logical decision for Bochy. He only dropped down to 28th to get the San Diego closer. To fill the Washington spot, however, Bochy dropped the ball. Drew Storen should have been a lock to represent the Nats. Instead, Bochy dipped down too far to Tyler Clippard--ranked 47th in Pitcher Rating.

By not following along with the Pitcher Rating, Bochy has opened himself up to some severe criticism. He selected two of his own; Tim Lincecum (6-6) and Ryan Vogelsang (with a Pitcher Rating comparable to Johnny Cueto, and very little to show for his journeyman career). It should be interesting to see how this plays out in a ballpark where a divisional foe called all the shots.

Ron Washington did not fair much better. If he followed along with Pitcher Rating, he would have the top 12 pitchers before needing to jump the tracks for Kansas City. You could certainly argue that he should have looked to Alex Gordon or Melky Cabrera for that. This is partly due to the fact that Joakim Soria is having a down year, and mainly because the rest of the Kansas City pitching pool is quite shallow.

With that token spot going to a position player, Washington would have been able to use that 13th, and last, bullpen selection on a closer. If he truly believed Jose Valverde warranted an All-Star selection, it should have been the only closer he picked.

Bullpen selection is not a fan-based portion of the event. Mariano Rivera (ranked 54th in Pitcher Rating) did not warrant a spot. The same is true of Chris Perez (ranked 59th), who should have waited another year for his arrival.

If this game is to mean something, the days of taking three or four closers makes no sense. There is only one ninth inning. Starters would be more accustomed to throwing in the eighth inning than most of the All-Star closers selected. The starters typically have a larger array of pitches to combat a potent All-Star lineup.
The save is a watered-down statistic as it is. Each manager should take the one guy they feel would best shut the door and leave the rest at home.

Case and point, Brandon League. He was not a must; Seattle had plenty of representatives given their sub .500 record. And if you are going to take a second pitcher from the Mariners, make it Pineda.

Aaron Crow? Seriously? Aaron Crow ranks in the 100s of Pitcher Rating. There is no reason for any All-Star manager to dip that low. Selection should be an honorable moment, not a stretch. Combining wins, holds, and saves, Crow has only ten total. That is not an All-Star.

Using Pitcher Rating would help ease all these tensions that other managers currently have with Bruce Bochy and Ron Washington. They should not only implement the system, but put a cap on the number that managers cannot go below. If you cannot do away with the mandatory team representative, then we must be able to find better pinch hitter/runner options than cut-rate relievers. Steal bench guys from the basement-dwellers and leave the 13 bullpens spots for the best available.

Pitcher Rating July 3 2011

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