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Wednesday, January 01, 2014


Don (The Don) Malcolm looks into it.

There have been several attempts to address this thorny issue, not the least of which is related to the annoying claim of some MSM writers when pressed to justify their support for Jack Morris over the long, agonizing years of his HOF candidacy.

Most of those were a bit over-ingenious (one of the things that “non-MSM” writers increasingly fail to apologize for when they are going on the attack in order to make the world safe for over-ingeniousness).

So we thought there might be a simpler way to look at the matter, particularly in light of the fact that Forman et fils has been kind enough to fork over ready access to the “splits data” from their massive files.

Part of that “split data” looks at the performances of pitchers with respect to the run support they receive. This has been broken into three “buckets”: performance when the pitcher receives 0-2 runs; when he receives 3-5 runs; and when he receives 6 or more runs.

We can capture that data and make a side-by-side list of it (as we’ve done for the 50 pitchers with the lowest ERA in low run support games…er, that’s 50 pitchers meeting that criterion, plus two “jokers” to round out the deck).

...The most spectacular manifestation of “pitching to the score” on this list belongs to Chris Carpenter. We wonder if Tony LaRussa knew just how much Carpenter tended to rise to the occasion depending on his run support. If so, that would provide another explanation as to why he left CC in that 1-0 game with the Phillies during the 2011 NLCS that got Mickey Lichtman’s knickers twisted around his windpipe to such an extent that he’s forever become a piece of talking sandpaper.

And this is as good a time as any, then, to introduce our two “jokers” in the deck—Jack Morris and Dave Stieb—two 1980s starting pitchers who’ve been given no small amount of heavily freighted comparison over the past decade (one that, as we finally fade the age of terrorism into the rearview mirror, will eventually be described as the time of the “Morris Wars”). Those attempting to stuff the toothpasty Morris back into the tube will be heartened to know that he most definitely does not pitch to the score, at least not by a classic “linear” definition. But those who want to claim that Jack’s ERA was fluffed up by some “coasting” in high run support games have some ammo to work with, too.

Repoz Posted: January 01, 2014 at 07:42 AM | 15 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. Howie Menckel Posted: January 01, 2014 at 09:38 AM (#4627563)
Hall of Famer Clark Griffith, who supposedly "let one in" with a nice lead as a superstition, did go 99-59 in his first 7 seasons without a single shutout, then had just one in a 21-18 season in 1897. At that point, he had 172 CG, so that wasn't it.

That said, the run-scoring environment was generally quite high (114 ERA+ with a 4.92 ERA in 1894 in fact). But an amazing 1898 - 1.88 ERA and 192 ERA+ only produced 4 shutouts even though he completed all but 3 out of 38 starts. The next season, 22-14 with a 2.79 ERA - and no shutouts.

Then Clark turned 30 - and grew up? Led the league with 4 and 5 shutouts his next two seasons, and had 8 shutouts in his next 45 wins as his career neared an end....
   2. Mike Emeigh Posted: January 01, 2014 at 09:45 AM (#4627565)
The issue with this approach should be obvious - ballpark run environment plays a large role in both run support and runs allowed.

-- MWE
   3. PASTE, Now with Extra Pitch and Extra Stamina Posted: January 01, 2014 at 10:34 AM (#4627572)
   4. kcgard2 Posted: January 01, 2014 at 10:38 AM (#4627574)
@MWE: So how does that alter the analysis? If Morris' team scored a lot of runs and then he allowed a lot, it still isn't pitching to the score, it is the ballpark run environment playing itself out. And vice versa. Maybe I am misunderstanding you. What is the proper approach if you want to isolate whether Morris actually pitched to the score?
   5. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: January 01, 2014 at 12:24 PM (#4627629)
@MWE: So how does that alter the analysis?

It may not alter the analysis of Morris in particular. I bet it would alter the analysis of Sandy Koufax, who's second on the list, pretty substantially.
   6. LargeBill Posted: January 01, 2014 at 12:29 PM (#4627632)
The other problem with this "analysis" is it does not consider when the run support was received. A pitcher does not enter into a game knowing his teammates will score 4 runs in the 7th or whenever. Pitching to the score (if there were any such thing) would be about runs given up AFTER your team has a sizable lead. Believe that notion regarding Morris has been examined extensively and found to be a false claim.
   7. Mike Emeigh Posted: January 01, 2014 at 03:13 PM (#4627743)
So how does that alter the analysis?

Having a higher ERA in games where your team scores more runs for you is likely to be at least as much a function of the run environment as it is of pitching to the score. A pitcher who pitches in Colorado is likely to have more games in which his team scores at least six runs - and allow more runs in those games - than one who pitches in LA.

What is the proper approach if you want to isolate whether Morris actually pitched to the score?

As #6 suggests, you need to look at when the run support was received, and when the runs were allowed in the context of that support. Jack Morris, in his career, started 530 innings in which he held a lead of more than 3 runs. His ERA in those innings was 3.90, identical to his overall ERA, and he allowed at least one run in 141 of those innings, which is actually a slightly smaller percentage of innings in which he allowed runs than for his overall career (26.6% vs 27.1%). Bert Blyleven, FWIW, had a better ERA when he had a lead of more than three runs (3.20) than he did overall, and allowed runs in 24% of innings with a lead of more than 3 runs vs 24.3% overall.

You also need to look at run scoring while the pitcher was actually in the game; if a team scored 6 runs but scored 4 of them after the pitcher was out of the game, his effective run support is actually 2 runs, not 6.

-- MWE
   8. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: January 01, 2014 at 03:23 PM (#4627759)
I'd think you'd want to look at pitch patterns (possible now with PitchFX). i.e. with a lead, does the pitcher dramatically increase his strike%, throw more fastballs, throw more 1st pitch strikes, etc.
   9. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: January 01, 2014 at 03:33 PM (#4627780)
I'd think you'd want to look at pitch patterns (possible now with PitchFX). i.e. with a lead, does the pitcher dramatically increase his strike%, throw more fastballs, throw more 1st pitch strikes, etc.

That's what pitching to the score historically meant, before it was bastardized by the Jack for HoF committee to explain away his shitty ERA. Pitching to the score meant if you got a big lead, you didn't nibble at the corners, but threw ####### strikes.

It might result in a few extra solo runs here or there, but it kept you away from some big inning propped up by a couple of walks and a hit by pitch.

The only effect we should see from such a strategy is a redistribution of the runs allowed, not a significantly greater amount altogether. Since wins are procured through recording outs, not wasting clock, any strategy that simply adds runs to your opponent's total but doesn't add outs gets you no closer to winning, and has no function in the game.
   10. bobm Posted: January 01, 2014 at 05:42 PM (#4627861)
It is really about relative run support. Quoting myself from

Is there any evidence that Morris gave up fewer BBs but more HRs in games that he had a big lead? If so, that could be evidence that he was pounding the strike zone with fastballs and wasn't as worried about giving up runs.

It's possible, but is the difference statistically significant and did he do so at a rate that differs from other pitchers generally?
  RelScore HR/PA BB/PA SO/PA   PA 
up 4+ runs  2.8%  7.2% 16.3% 2030 
     ahead  2.5%  7.6% 15.8% 6852 
      tied  2.1%  9.2% 15.2% 4719 
    behind  2.6%  9.7% 14.9% 4549

Source: BR PI Event Finder

RelScore is relative score prior to the event
   11. charityslave is thinking about baseball Posted: January 01, 2014 at 05:58 PM (#4627866)
If I didn't know better, I'd think a large proportion of voters voting for Morris are doing so just to stick it to the sabermatricians.
   12. ptodd Posted: January 01, 2014 at 07:50 PM (#4627900)
Jack Moris in the HOF is an absolute joke made even more horrendous by the omission of Clemens. How do I spell irrelevant again?
   13. peewee Posted: January 02, 2014 at 02:39 AM (#4628021)
If you look at OPS, Jack Morris was remarkably consistent regardless of the score.

tie game .692
within 1 .684
within 2 .691
within 3 .691
within 4 .693
> 4 runs .694

Maybe all the opposing hitters were hitting to the score and they cancelled each other out.
   14. Mike Emeigh Posted: January 02, 2014 at 11:00 AM (#4628159)
During Morris's career, the typical AL starter had an ERA of 4.20, with 41.8 PA per home run allowed, 12.7 PA per unintentional walk, and 7.7 PA per strikeout. When that starter had a lead of 4 or more runs, the ERA was 4.17, with 37.6 PA per HR, 14.8 PA per unintentional walk, and 8 PA per K - so more HR, fewer BB, and fewer K, almost exactly what we might expect from a pitcher who "pitched to the score" in those situations.

As a starter, Morris had a 3.90 ERA, 41.2 PA per HR, 12.5 PA per unintentional walk, and 6.5 PA per strikeout. With a lead of four or more runs, as a starter, Morris had a 3.92 ERA, 34.6 PA per HR, 14.1 PA per unintentional walk, and 6.1 PA per K. I think it's fair to say that Morris's pitching patterns with a big lead were typical of most starters of his era, except that unlike most starters his strikeout rate went up with a big lead.

-- MWE
   15. bjhanke Posted: January 03, 2014 at 08:53 AM (#4628994)
I will admit that it was odd to see MIke Emeigh and Don Malcolm in serious disagreement on any issue (Disclosure - I think a LOT of both people's analyses, and have known Don since 1971, and know that he has a lot of respect for Mike, too).

But as the discussion progressed, it became clear that there was no real disagreement on the results; just the complexity of the analysis. Don states that he was trying to find something simple that would work. Mike added a lot of detail, but came to more or less the same conclusion as Don. When those two agree, I am strongly inclined to go with that.

Howie's comment #1 was very interesting. Pulling a Don Malcolm myself (if "pulling a Don Malcolm" ever becomes popular, I will threaten several people with pain), I'd sum up what Howie said as "Clark Griffith's shutout rate was directly proportional to the league ERA. There was a big jump in Clark's shutout rate when he turned 30 (not important in my mind) at the same time baseball adopted the foul strike rule, where foul balls actually became strikes, unless they would be strike 3, and even then if strike 3 was a foul bunt, a rule that led directly to the Dead Ball Era." The only thing Howie did not mention was the foul strike rule. Other than that, it's a very good piece of evidence that "pitching to the score" can be generally translated as "how many runs are scored in your league?" - Brock Hanke

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