Pitcher Evaluation Tools-Part 4-How do the little things add up?

Monday, January 02 2006 @ 08:00 AM EST

Contributed by: Mike Green

There are so many little things that pitchers do: fielding the position, holding on runners, throwing the ball where the catcher can catch it with runners on, getting the ground ball with a runner on first. How many runs can these things add up to in a career?

Quite a few. In the blue corner, we have Nolan Ryan. Ryan was a great pitcher, but fielded his position abominably and was wild until his 40s (aren't we all?). In the result, he posted a very poor dR (runs greater than expected from his hits, walks, strikeouts and home runs allowed) of 173. He allowed only 2178 runs over his career, so the little things added up to almost 10% of his runs allowed.

In the red corner, we have Whitey Ford. Ford fielded his position well, threw the ball where it could be caught and got the double play ball. It all added up to a very pretty dR of -134. As he surrendered only 1107 runs in his career, Ford's proficiency in the little things added up to savings of over 10%.

Usually, the little things add up to much less than 10%. Sometimes, we cannot figure out why pitchers succeeded in this respect. Jim Palmer was an average fielder, threw his share of wild pitches and famously ignored baserunners to focus on the hitter, but put up a sweet -93 dR on 1395 runs allowed. Perhaps his approach to baserunners allowed him to pitch more effectively with runners on and to put up better situational statistics. With play-by-play accounts now available on retrosheet.org going back to 1959, the answer to this question could be researched. Another day.

I did casually observe that the left-handed control pitchers, from Ford to Key to Glavine to Tommy John, usually posted significant negative dR. This would accord with my intuitive view.

So, what does all this mean for Hall Watch? It means that ERA+ is the basic quality measurement that I will present for the starting pitchers under review and their comparables. ERA+ has one major weakness: it masks the effect of a non-average defence and a non-average bullpen. To partially address these weaknesses, I will also provide the following information:
1) K/9IP and league K/9IP during the pitcher's career,
2) W/9IP and league W/9IP during the pitcher's career,
3) HR/9IP and league HR/9IP during the pitcher's career,
4) Team DER and league DER during the pitcher's career
5) The pitcher's won-loss record, W-L percentage and the W-L percentage of the other pitchers on his clubs.

Won-loss records are, of course, heavily influenced by the amount of offensive support that a pitcher received. Prior to the era of the modern bullpen beginning in about 1975, it was common for starters to complete over one-half of their starts. In this environment, won-loss record did provide some information about a starter that ERA+, or any run assessment system for that matter, could not. Did the starter hold a lead and complete the game? In one sense, the starter of old was, in modern terms, part starter and part closer. So, I will list won-loss records, with the caveat that they are of limited use in evaluating modern starters.

Next up: we test-drive our tools on three starters on this year's Hall of Fame ballot, Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris and Tommy John.