Statistical Alchemy

(I originally started writing this post on Sunday, but it took a lot of time and energy to finish, so I hope you appreciate my effort.)
After spending most of my [Sunday] down in the lab, I emerge triumphant with a shiny new baseball statistic that I have just invented, which will be premiering right here, right now on The Bleacher Seats.
This particular stat doesn’t have a name yet, but I like the ones that use powerful, definitive words — like Ultimate — so let’s call it the Ultimate Pitching Stat (or UPS).
I had a simple idea [Sunday] morning, which sprung from [Saturday] night’s musings about starters and closers. I wanted to try to come up with a way to illustrate my point that a reliable starter is always more valuable to his team than a top-shelf closer. Once the gears started turning, it sort of became my project for the day.
What I originally wanted to do was use a pitcher’s total number of outs –that is to say, the number of batters that he either strikes out or forces to hit into an out — to build the foundation, but I couldn’t find anywhere on Baseball Reference that recorded anything like that.
What I did find was a record of the total number of batters faced (BF), which is close enough to what I was originally looking for. As with all statistics, they were broken up by seasons.
Once I had that number, I chose 16 pitchers. The first 8 were HOF [or future HOF] starters and the other 8 were closers that are [or could be] in the HOF.
I came up with the following:
Starters – Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Don Sutton, Tom Seaver, Tom Glavine, & Randy Johnson
Closers – Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera, Lee Smith, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, John Wetteland, Goose Gossage, & Bruce Sutter
Other conditions –
Since the saves stat was not used until 1969, I excluded any starting pitchers that pitched most or all of their careers before 1969.
For the couple of pitchers that pitched part of their careers before 1969, I completely disregarded anything before the ’69 season. This may have hurt Tom Seaver, but may have helped Nolan Ryan.
I tried to exclude seasons before the 1st season in which a closer had more than 10 saves, which basically means that Eckersley did not start pitching until 1987. This was to try to control relievers that were not closing full-time, but still received saves.
I trimmed off seasons early in starters’ careers when it was apparent that they were only briefly called upon to pitch.
All of the closers I selected have at least 300 career saves, meaning that Trevor Hoffman thinks that they should be in Cooperstown.
All of the starters are 300+ winners and they are all pitchers that I am at least vaguely familiar with.
Like all good statistics, the UPS completely disregards most variables.
So, what is the UPS?
Put simply — UPS = BF/ElS, where ElS is the total number of eligible seasons.
Let’s use Colby Lewis’ numbers from 2010 as an example:
– Lewis faced 844 batters in 2010. So, 844/1 = 844, which is his 2010 UPS.
By contrast, Neftali Feliz’s numbers looked like this:
– 269 BF/1 ElS = 269.
Pretty simple, right? But that’s only 1 season. Comparing those examples to my others, Colby looks a lot like Tom Glavine and Feliz is closest to Dennis Eckersley.
Let’s look into the bigger picture, starting with starting:
  • Greg Maddux  – 20421 BF, 887.87 UPS
  • Roger Clemens  – 20240 BF, 843.33 UPS
  • Steve Carlton – 19600 BF, 980 UPS
  • Nolan Ryan – 22016 BF, 846.77 UPS
  • Don Sutton – 18906 BF, 945.30 UPS
  • Tom Seaver – 17252 BF, 958.44 UPS
  • Tom Glavine – 18604 BF, 845.63 UPS
  • Randy Johnson – 17067 BF, 775.77 UPS
And the closers:
  • Trevor Hoffman – 4388 BF, 243.77 UPS
  • Mariano Rivera – 4281 BF, 285.40 UPS
  • Lee Smith – 5010 BF, 313.13 UPS
  • Dennis Eckersley – 3136 BF, 261.33 UPS
  • Rollie Fingers – 6933 BF, 433.31 UPS
  • John Wetteland* – 2508 BF, 278.66 UPS
  • Goose Gossage – 6526 BF, 343.47 UPS
  • Bruce Sutter – 4252 BF, 354.33 UPS
After all of that effort expended, we have a bunch of numbers that point out the obvious. Starters do more heavy lifting than closers and I don’t think anybody would argue that point.
Why, then, did the Yankees spend so much money on Rafael Soriano? [You can put your hand down, Scott Boras.]
You don’t pay your FG kicker more than your starting QB, but that’s what happens when a closer makes more than a starter. Soriano won’t even be the closer, which means he’s more like the punter or maybe the guy that holds the snap.
Either way, the Soriano case is a good example of spending money just for the sake of spending it. Since bullpens have been specialized, there has been too much emphasis put on the contributions of one guy.
But consider that until the Yankees had exhausted all other options to improve their club, nobody wanted to pay Soriano what he and his agent thought he was worth.
That’s a shame. The Yankees got so close to getting out of the off-season without overpaying someone, but I guess they are who we thought they were.
(Here is a rational and well-thought-out article about what the Soriano signing actually means.)
* I probably should have included Billy Wagner instead of John Wetteland, but I wanted to have at least one Ranger in there.
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About Mike Luna

My name is Mike. I am an avid fan of the Texas Rangers. I like reading and jogging, but I don't do either nearly as often as I should. I like writing about more than just baseball. Your opinion is your own, but please be respectful. Everyone is welcome in The Bleacher Seats.
This entry was posted in dollars and sense, not Texas Rangers baseball, pitchers. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Statistical Alchemy

  1. The only thing I would respond to that is a look at Rangers v. Yankees ALCS game 1.

    C.J. Wilson dominates for 7 innings and then they can’t get a closer in there to hold the yankees for 2 innings. The Yankees ended up winning a game that should have been an easy Ranger victory.

    You are right about closers not being more important than the starting pitcher, but I am not sure you are giving them enough credit.

    I like the UPS stat.

    • Mike Luna says:

      It’s true that in games like that it is important to have someone to hand the game off to and that’s more the case in the playoffs, but I think the save stat has severely warped the way we look at bullpen construction.

      As far as that particular game that you mentioned, you might remember that it wasn’t lost due to the lack of having a competent closer. The closer is an important part of the bullpen as a whole and in that game it took the entire bullpen to lose it, not just Neftali Feliz.

      Bullpens are a lot more important in the playoffs when everything is on the line and a good bullpen doesn’t do anything to guarantee you’ll even make it to October. That seems to be the basket that a lot of teams put their eggs in, though.

      One other thing to consider:
      Rafael Soriano will make $12MM a year not even to be the closer.
      CJ Wilson will be making only $7MM.

      Given the choice, I’m pretty sure that the Yankees would much rather have another starter to keep CC Sabathia company, but they couldn’t get one, so they just grabbed the last item on the shelf and offered him a lot more money than he probably deserved.

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