Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Pitching to the score

You often hear pitchers talk about how they pitch to the score. That is, they do their best pitching when the game is close and let up somewhat when their team gives them a big lead. Jack Morris, for example, has said on a number of occasions that the reason for his relatively high career ERA (3.90) was that he pitched to the score. He says he was more interested in getting wins and pitching deep into games than he was about his ERA and that he would give up a lot of his runs in games where his team had built up a big lead. I don't doubt that pitchers pitch differently according to the situation but how much does it affect their actual performance?

A few years ago, Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus examined Morris' claim in "The Jack Morris Project". He tracked every inning of Morris' career and looked at his performance in different game situations - ties, one run leads, six run leads, etc. Joe did not find that Morris pitched much better in close games than he did with big leads. He did however, admit that he was not really sure what a pitcher's performance would look like if he actually did pitch to the score.

My goal here is to expand upon Sheehan's project by looking at a large group of pitchers rather than just one. From that, I should be able to get a better idea of what pitching to the score looks like and which pitchers have such a tendency.
An example of how the analysis works is this: If a starting pitcher begins an inning with a two run lead, his runs allowed during that inning go into the "up by two runs" category. Using the retrosheet databases, I looked at every inning pitched by every starting pitcher between 1990 and 2007 (excluding 1999 because the data were not available that year). The results are shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1: MLB ERA by Score - 1990-2007 (excluding 1999)


Total

Up 7+

Up 6

Up 5

Up 4

Up 3

Up 2

Up 1

IP

460,868

12,270

7,770

12,361

19,151

29,278

43,883

65,792

ERA

4.45

4.57

4.60

4.73

4.49

4.51

4.31

4.33



Tied

Down 1

Down 2

Down 3

Down 4

Down 5+

IP

165,728

49,910

29,090

15,201

6,822

3,612

ERA

4.39

4.37

4.63

4.89

4.77

5.69



You can see that the overall ERA for starting pitchers was 4.45 and you should also notice that the lowest ERAs do indeed come in innings where the margin is small: 4.39 in tie games, 4.33 when up by one run, 4.37 when down by one run, etc. The worst ERAs occur in innings where the pitchers are behind by a significant margin: 4.89 when down by three, 4.77 when down by four, etc. That should be expected though because a pitcher who is behind by a lot of runs must not have been pitching well prior to the inning and would tend to continue to struggle going forward. More interestingly, the ERAs in innings where pitchers had big leads were also relatively high: 4.73 with five run leads, 4.60 with six run leads, etc.

Table Two presents annual data comparing the performance of pitchers in close games (tied, down by one, up by one) and blow outs (leading by five or more runs). I computed a ratio as follows:

(ERA in close games/ERA in blow outs) X 100

A ratio of 100 would mean that pitchers performed the same in innings where the margin was small as in innings where they had big leads. A ratio under 100 would indicate that they did better with when the score was close, whereas a ratio of over 100 would indicate a better ERA in innings beginning with a large lead.



Table 2: MLB ERA - Up by five runs versus within one run

year

total ip

total ERA

IP up 5+ runs

ERA up 5+ runs

IP within 1 run

ERA within run

ratio

Total

460,868

4.45

32,401

4.64

281,430

4.37

94

1990

25,521

3.97

1,718

3.99

15,783

3.99

100

1991

25,587

4.02

1,775

4.20

16,013

3.97

94

1992

26,098

3.85

1,528

4.18

16,643

3.75

90

1993

27,730

4.26

1,840

4.56

17,075

4.20

92

1994

19,472

4.55

1,506

4.53

11,699

4.49

99

1995

23,907

4.53

1,783

4.87

14,365

4.48

92

1996

27,006

4.73

2,017

5.18

16,248

4.57

88

1997

27,168

4.45

1,897

4.67

16,590

4.38

94

1998

29,466

4.55

2,093

5.00

18,094

4.40

88

2000

28,756

4.86

2,253

5.07

17,117

4.79

95

2001

28,774

4.57

2,045

4.73

17,536

4.41

93

2002

28,761

4.40

2,091

4.29

17,637

4.37

102

2003

28,616

4.52

2,094

4.61

17,165

4.48

97

2004

28,437

4.62

1,946

4.67

17,239

4.58

98

2005

29,138

4.36

1,897

4.45

17,983

4.33

97

2006

28,295

4.69

2,046

4.77

17,082

4.59

96

2007

28,135

4.62

1,872

4.77

17,162

4.54

95



Using 2007 as an example, we get (4.54/4.77) x 100 = 95. That means that pitchers pitched 5% better in close games than in blow outs. Averaging across all 17 years in the study, pitchers did 6% better in close games.

Next, I looked at individual pitchers and that's why I included so many years in the study. Just looking at one year or a couple years of data wasn't going to work because the sample size for innings pitching with a lead of five or more runs would be too small. So, for this part of the analysis, I selected 23 pitchers with 2,000 or more innings pitched during the period. These data are in Table 3 below.

Table 3: Individual pitcher ERA - Up by five runs versus within one run

First

Last

total ip

total ERA

IP up 5+ runs

ERA up 5+ runs

IP within 1 run

ERA within run

ratio

John

Smoltz

2,648

3.33

161

4.18

1,515

3.25

78

Andy

Benes

2,222

3.84

186

4.45

1,343

3.55

80

Steve

Trachsel

2,254

4.21

145

4.95

1,467

4.04

81

Tom

Glavine

3,684

3.37

321

4.01

2,186

3.39

85

Kevin

Brown

2,837

3.31

163

3.87

1,717

3.35

87

Kevin

Appier

2,342

3.55

167

4.32

1,471

3.76

87

Tim

Wakefield

2,256

4.34

189

4.75

1,343

4.16

88

Roger

Clemens

3,443

3.06

242

3.39

2,046

3.04

90

David

Wells

2,935

4.13

309

4.17

1,714

3.77

91

Randy

Johnson

3,370

3.22

289

3.20

1,976

2.95

92

Jack

Morris*

3,746

3.90

327

4.46

2,169

4.15

93

Greg

Maddux

3,921

2.97

296

3.13

2,387

2.93

94

Livan

Hernandez

2,168

4.22

175

4.48

1,281

4.23

94

Andy

Pettitte

2,320

3.77

220

3.52

1,349

3.45

98

Jamie

Moyer

2,658

4.18

259

4.16

1,500

4.15

100

Mike

Mussina

3,155

3.71

302

3.70

1,864

3.72

101

Curt

Schilling

2,882

3.40

242

3.31

1,685

3.33

101

Kevin

Tapani

2,083

4.33

158

4.00

1,227

4.08

102

Chuck

Finley

2,453

3.85

203

3.72

1,450

3.81

102

John

Burkett

2,467

4.24

215

4.11

1,440

4.29

104

David

Cone

2,126

3.55

162

3.55

1,242

3.88

109

Kenny

Rogers

2,603

4.31

269

3.71

1,438

4.13

111

Brad

Radke

2,229

4.26

182

3.52

1,309

4.53

129

Scott

Erickson

2,093

4.55

222

3.05

1,192

4.62

152


*Jack Morris pitched between 1977-1994. All others pitched between 1990-2007.

In this table, you can see that not all pitchers pitched better in close games. In fact, 10 0f the 23 pitched as well or better in blowouts. The ratios range from 78 (22% better in close situations) for John Smoltz to 152 (52% better in blow outs) for Scott Erickson. This gives us some idea of what the performance of a pitcher who pitches to the score might look like - probably more like Smoltz than Erickson.

Where does Jack Morris fit into this? Morris pitched in an earlier but overlapping period: 1977-1994. The durable right-hander had a career ratio of 93 which puts him pretty close to the MLB average and right in the middle of the pack of qualifying pitchers. This tells me that his pattern of performance in close games versus blow outs looks pretty typical and there is no indication that his career ERA was unduly affected by pitching to the score.

This study has many possibilities and some other questions I'd like to look at as time allows are:
  • Do pitchers get more strikeouts in close games than they do in games where they lead by a wide margin?
  • Do pichers with lower ratios tend to have more actual wins than expected wins given their total runs allowed and runs support?
  • Do different types of pitchers (power pitchers, good pitchers, older pitchers, etc.) pitch to the score more than others ?

The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by
Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at "www.retrosheet.org".

2 comments:

  1. Interesting post.

    Shocked at the Radke stat as I always considered him a money pitcher.

    -Sam

    ReplyDelete
  2. It is an interesting post.

    I'm also inviting you to stop by my Red Sox blog and see the write up I did about last night's Tiger's win.

    I think Tigers fans might enjoy? Why not share fun stuff, right?

    ReplyDelete

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