Saturday, February 18, 2012

Verlander is Fourth Among Tigers All-Time Pitching Runs Leaders

In an earlier post, it was noted that ERA+ is a reasonable metric for measuring the quality of a pitcher's innings, but it does not address quantity.  For example, former Detroit hurlers Mickey Lolich and Dan Petry each had a Tigers career ERA+ of 105.  However, Lolich pitched almost twice as innings (3,361 versus 1,843) and ERA+ does not give him credit for his heavier workload.

The Pitching Runs statistic, introduced by Pete Palmer in The Hidden Game of Baseball in 1984, was designed to account for both the quality and quantity of a pitcher's work.  It tells us the number of runs saved or lost by a pitcher compared to league average.  It is based on a pitcher's innings pitched (IP), earned runs (ER) and the league average ERA (Lg ERA):

Pitching Runs = IP x Lg ERA/9 - ER

For example, Tigers current ace Justin Verlander had a 2.40 ERA in 251 IP in 2011.  Based on the league average ERA of 4.08, we can estimate that an average pitcher would have allowed 4.08 x 251/9 = 114 ER in 251 IP.  Verlander allowed 67 ER, so he had 114 - 67= 47 Pitching Runs.  Therefore, he saved the Tigers an estimated 47 runs compared to the average pitcher in the same number of innings. 

The calculation above is the basis of the Adjusted Pitching Runs (PtchR) measure found on Baseball-Reference.  Baseball-Reference makes adjustments for a pitcher's home park and pitcher/team earned run to run ratio.  Thus, a pitcher pitching in an offense-oriented park would have his Pitching Runs adjusted slightly upwards, whereas a pitcher pitching in a pitcher-friendly park would have his Pitching Runs lowered a little.  A pitcher, who allows more/fewer earned runs than his team ratio of earned runs to runs would suggest, also gets his Pitching Runs tweaked up/down.

The career Pitching Runs leader board for Tigers starters is shown in Table 1 below.  The top of the list looks similar to the ERA+ chart, but there is more spread due to innings pitched.  Prince Hal Newhouser edges out Tommy Bridges 277 to 275 and Dizzy Trout is a distant third at 204.  Verlander is still fourth as he was on ERA+, but it will take him a few seasons to catch the leaders.

Table 1: Tigers All-Time Pitching Runs Leaders, 1901-2011

Player
From
To
IP
ERA
ERA+
PtchR
Hal Newhouser
1939
1953
2,944
3.07
130
277
Tommy Bridges
1930
1946
2,826
3.57
126
275
Dizzy Trout
1939
1952
2,591
3.20
125
204
Justin Verlander
2005
2011
1,315
3.54
124
127
Frank Lary
1954
1964
2,008
3.46
116
114
Jack Morris
1977
1990
3,042
3.73
108
113
Jim Bunning
1955
1963
1,867
3.45
116
113
Schoolboy Rowe
1933
1942
1,445
4.01
114
99
Virgil Trucks
1941
1956
1,800
3.50
114
98
Bobo Newsom
1939
1941
760
3.59
132
90
Fred Hutchinson
1939
1953
1,464
3.73
113
83
Mickey Lolich
1963
1975
3,361
3.45
105
80
Dave Rozema
1977
1984
1,007
3.38
120
69
Bill Donovan
1903
1918
2,137
2.49
109
67
Denny McLain
1963
1970
1,593
3.13
110
66
 Data source: Baseball-Reference.com

Jack Morris was only 13th on the ERA+ list, but his 3,042 innings propels him to 6th in Pitching Runs.  Similarly, Lolich rises from 15th to 12th.  Other pitchers such as Ed Killian and Dan Petry made the ERA+ top 15 but do not appear on this list due to lighter workloads.

There was one pitcher with only 760 innings who did make the Pitching Runs cut.  That was the eccentric Bobo Newsom who pitched for the Tigers from 1939-1941 and was one of the stars of the 1940 pennant winner.  His 132 ERA+ would have topped the ERA+ list if he had enough innings to qualify.  The well-traveled right hander pitched for nine major league teams, but had his best years for the Tigers.

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