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Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Penny’s Start Not so Improbable

Steve looks back at other less-than-stellar Game 1 starters.

The Florida Marlins? Brad Penny isn?t the first pitcher to start Game 1 of a World Series game while sporting a seasonal ERA of 4.00 or above.  As a matter of fact, I was surprised to learn that 10 other pitchers have done it.  Of course, 10 isn?t a huge percentage (5 %) when there have been 196 pitchers starting Game 1 in World Series history, but still, it?s nearly 10 more than I thought there were (actually it?s nine better than I thought there were; I thought Penny was the only one). 

 

My reasoning is, quite simply, why would you want a pitcher with a 4.00 ERA or above starting the first game of a World Series, especially when that first game is at Yankee Stadium?  I assumed, of course, that most of the teams that did have their 4.00 or up pitchers start in Game 1 came after a second round (the Championship Series) was invented.  I was right, only two of these particular pitchers did what they did before 1969 (when the Championship Series? began). 

 

I assumed that because the way most teams set their pitching staff?s for the ALCS or the NLCS is to have their number one starter go in Game 6 or in Game 7, which wouldn?t give that pitcher too much rest (that?s mainly due to the commercialization of baseball and the delay of gratification of America.  In other words, fans don?t want to wait for the Series to start, so don?t bother resting the pitchers.).  Because of that teams are forced into using one of their worst pitchers (in terms of ERA) in Game 1.  It makes sense to me, and luckily for teams after Championship Series play began, not all Series? go to Game 6 or 7. 

 

Brad Penny was one such pitcher to have an ERA of 4.00 or above (4.13).  He?s not the worst pitcher to start Game 1 and he doesn?t have the best ERA either.  So just who are these men who have the "honor" of being one of the only ten pitchers to start Game 1 with an ERA of 4.00 or above?  Let?s take a look, in order of year:

 

 

As you can see the ERA ranges anywhere from the lowest possible (4.00) to the incredibly high, what-were-you-thinking-when-you-started-this-guy ERA (4.47). 

 

Now, with the exception of Orel Hershiser (4.47) and Andy Pettitte (4.35) all of the ERA?s are relatively close together.  Besides the two mentioned they are all within 16 percentage points of each other, which is pretty close. 

 

So how can we decide who was the most effective 4.00 or up Game 1 starter?  I think, probably, the best way to do this is to take a look at Bill James? game score.  The game score, in my opinion, is, so far, the best way to judge a pitchers? single-game performance.  What else is there?  I can?t think of anything that better judges a pitchers single-game performance, you can?t very well use hits allowed or something arbitrary like that.  The game score encompasses every aspect of that pitchers? game, which is why I think it?s the best and so we?ll look at that. 

 

Here is the same chart as before, but with each pitchers? game score put in:

 

 

Some pitchers weren?t effective, others were.  Remember earlier when I wrote about the what-were-you-thinking-pitcher?  According to the game score Hershiser was the worst, sporting a Game Score of only 21. 

 

Let?s take a look at, yet again, another chart.  This time the pitchers will be ranked by their game score for easy reference. 

 

 

Allie Reynolds is tops on the list with a game score of 88, 35.4 points above the average game score for Game 1 starters with a 4.00 ERA or up (52.6).  Whereas Hershiser is 31.6 below average. 

 

So where does Brad Penny, Florida?s Game 1 starter, rank in all of this.  Sixth.  Sixth place on a list of pitchers of ERA?s of 4.00 or above.  Not an incredibly great list to be on, but, hey, he started in the World Series, right? 

 

Penny?s game score was 46, 6.6 points below average, but he was ahead of such pitchers as Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, and Orel Hershiser, which is impressive when you consider the context. 

 

I?m not sure how many people actually discussed the fact that Penny?s ERA was high for a Game 1 starter, I didn?t hear anything on the Fox network, but I got into a discussion about it with a friend of mine and he told me that Jack McKeon was a fool for starting a pitcher with an ERA of 4.13.  He then threw the fact that he would be pitching at Yankee Stadium, which is as intimidating a post-season venue as there can be in any sport. 

 

That?s why I researched every pitcher in Game 1 history, all 196 of them.  My conclusion?  Brad Penny?s not the worst pitcher to start Game 1, and I?d have to say that he didn?t do so bad considering the high intimidation-factor. 

 

Give credit where credit is due, and trust where it is deserved. 

 

To Jack McKeon.  He knows what he?s doing.

 

Steve Brooks Posted: October 21, 2003 at 06:00 AM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Walt Davis Posted: October 21, 2003 at 02:52 AM (#613648)
Of course it's not just about the drawn-out series but about the increased scoring of the last few years (and most of these are from the AL with the DH). Cleveland's team ERA in 1997 was 4.73 and the league average was 4.57, so Hershiser wasn't that bad a choice (perhaps especially when park effects are taken into account). That was the 2nd best ERA among Indians starters (not counting Wright's 90 IP) and even I think I might go for super-clutch Hershiser over Charles Nagy and his 4.28 ERA.

Similarly, El Duque's 4.12 was 2nd among Yankees starters (Cone at 3.44); as was Pettitte's 4.35 (Clemens 3.70); and you seem to have accidentally pulled Mussina's 2002 #'s, because in 2001 he had an ERA of 3.15 (best on the team).

Although Schilling had far from the best ERA on his team (he was 4th by a good margin), I'm not sure he wasn't the best pitcher on that team -- Danny Jackson, Tommy Greene, Terry Mulholland. He was their #1 during the season (most starts, most IP). I suspect he was their choice to start game 1 -- he had also started game 1 (and 5) of the LCS -- not something forced on them by a long LCS (6 games).

This was also true of Morris (3rd in ERA on the team) who started games 1 & 4 (of 6) in the LCS for Toronto. Presumably this was because of his past great post-season pitching.

Even back in 1975, the Red Sox choices were between Tiant (4.02), Wise (3.95), and Lee (3.95). Tiant also started game 1 of the LCS, which the Sox swept in 3 games.

So it seems that these contemporary examples were either their team's #1, perceived as their team's #1, or at worst the team's #2. So it's perhaps not so much a surprise that a manager would choose a starter with an ERA over 4 to start game 1 of the WS as it is a surprise that teams whose best choice is a starter with an ERA over 4 make the series to begin with (1997-2000 AL excepted).
   2. Howie Menckel Posted: October 21, 2003 at 02:52 AM (#613650)
This is sort of charming - a story that doesn't even slightly take into account the relative amount of scoring in different years. A horse and buggy in an 'SUV stats age', as it were.
Let me gently suggest comparing Penny's ERA to the 2003 NL league ERA. If it was 10 pts worse, to make up an example, it would be a minus 10.
Then look for other pitchers with worse than a league ERA, perhaps.

The way it is now, you'd miss a 1968 pitcher with a 3.92 ERA, which if that had actually happened might make him the worst SP ever to start ANY World Series game (relatively speaking, of course).

   3. Dr. Vaux Posted: October 21, 2003 at 02:52 AM (#613655)
Well said, Howie... most of these pitchers were better than average in the years in question, and one of the best two pitchers on their clubs; they were hardly compromising choices to start game one.
   4. Dan Szymborski Posted: October 21, 2003 at 02:52 AM (#613657)
> Well said, Howie... most of these pitchers were better than average > in the years in question, and one of the best two pitchers on their > clubs; they were hardly compromising choices to start game one.

Pitcher         ERA+    Team ERA Rank
Crowder          76     6th of 6 qualifiers
Reynolds        101     4th of 4
Tiant           102     3rd of 5
Morris          102     3rd of 4
Schilling       100     4th of 5
Hershiser       105     2nd of 2
Hernandez       109     2nd of 5
Pettitte        116     2nd of 3
Mussina         108     2nd of 3


While a lot of the pitchers are about league average, that's a straw man argument - Steve didn't say that it was a list of bad pitchers that started Game Ones, he said that it was a list of guys you wouldn't necessarily want starting Game One.

I'd rather have a better than average pitcher in the position to get the most World Series innings whenever possible and while none of these pitchers is bad, it is pretty clear that, with the possible exception of the recent Yankee pitchers, better options weren't on the mound.
   5. Walt Davis Posted: October 21, 2003 at 02:52 AM (#613658)
While a lot of the pitchers are about league average, that's a straw man argument - Steve didn't say that it was a list of bad pitchers that started Game Ones, he said that it was a list of guys you wouldn't necessarily want starting Game One.

I'd rather have a better than average pitcher in the position to get the most World Series innings whenever possible and while none of these pitchers is bad, it is pretty clear that, with the possible exception of the recent Yankee pitchers, better options weren't on the mound.


Be sure to check out my post Dan, which may not have been up when you wrote yours.

The difference between Tiant and the other two "better" Red Sox pitchers was .07 -- he was certainly as good a choice as any. And he'd been the Sox' choice to start game 1 against Oakland. They swept Oakland in 3 games. So maybe he was the wrong choice to start game 1, but it wasn't a choice forced on the Red Sox by an extended LCS. And Tiant went 3-0 with 1 ND and 3 CG in the playoffs that year.

Hershiser was similar to Tiant. The "best" choice was Charles Nagy with a 4.28 ERA. The difference is trivial and would anyone really want Nagy starting game 1 of the World Series? The Indians had no choice but to start someone with an ERA over 4 (or Jaret Wright).

Morris is probably the most interesting choice here. His 4.04 paled in comparison to Jimmy Key's 3.53 and Guzman's 2.64. Nevertheless, he led the team in starts and IP, so I'm assuming was viewed as the team's #1 throughout the season. He too started game 1 (and 4) of the LCS (and pitched rather poorly). While this might be a fine example of post-season managerial incompetence, he was their preferred choice.

Schilling was a less dramatic version of Morris. He was 4th in ERA, but only .77 worse than the best (Mulholland), and led the team in starts and IP. He started games 1 and 5 in the LCS and pitched pretty well though he got 2 NDs. In addition to Mulholland, the choices were Danny Jackson and Tommy Greene. Can we really say that Schilling wasn't the best choice?

Although I can't really understand why, El Duque was the Game 1 starter in both the LDS and the LCS in 99. So either this was by choice or it was because the Yanks (for some reason) couldn't get their post-season rotation set up the way they wanted. (they won the division by 4 games but maybe it was closer going into the last weekend?)

2000 is also a little odd. Clemens started games 1 and 4 of the LDS and Pettitte started games 2 and 5. But in the LCS, Pettite started game 3 and Clemens game 4. That put Pettitte on track for game 7 of the LCS. I don't know why they switched the order. But Pettitte pitched on Oct 13, Clemens on Oct 14. The Series started on Oct. 21, so both pitchers were fully rested. Again, Pettitte seems to have been the conscious choice of the team, not one forced on them by a long LCS.

And again Mussina's reported 2001 numbers are a mistake. He had a 3.15 ERA which led the team. Oddly enough, this may be the one that fits. They started Clemens then Pettitte in the LDS, leaving Mussina for game 3. Clemens had to start game 5 of that, so the LCS started with Pettitte then Mussina. That went just 5 games, but that meant Pettitte pitched game 5. Still that was Oct 22 and the Series started Oct 27, so all three pitchers were rested but the Yanks went with Mussina.

So in all the post-69 examples, I can't find one that matches the argument that teams were forced into starting these guys by a long LCS. Each of these guys appears to have been the team's choice to start game 1, with El Duque in 99 looking like the only possible exception. And Jack Morris is the only one I feel comfortable pointing to as a definite mistake.
   6. Steve Brooks Posted: October 22, 2003 at 02:52 AM (#613672)
I have no idea how I missed Bob Walk. The only thing I can guess is that in the encycolpedia I use the names are very close together so I must have thought that Dick Ruthven's ERA of 3.55 was actually Bob Walk's... sorry about that.

Thanks for catching that.

His game score, then, would be 37 and he would rank 8th on the list ahead of Mussina, Schilling, and Hershiser.

On another note, I think most people missed the point of my article, which was, really, that there was no set point other than to show you that other pitchers have started Game 1 of a World Series with an ERA of 4.00 or above. I wasn't trying to say that these are ALL bad pitchers, just that they aren't ones that you would particularly want to have starting Game 1 for you.

I suppose I could have taken a look at league ERA's and things like that, but I just didn't see the purpose in doing that. Why should I do that when I'm just evaluating their Game 1 performances? I don't think I should. That's fine if Hershiser pitched in a high ERA league, but I don't think that should matter. Just because the league or the team ERA is high doesn't mean you necessarily want a pitcher with an ERA above 4.00 by almost fifty points.

The article was merely trying to evaluate these particular pitchers' performances in Game 1 of the World Series. It wasn't meant to say they are bad and SHOULDN'T have been starting, rather that you would rather have somebody else on the mound. Plus, because Penny did it so recently, I thought it was worth my time to look back and see who else did it. That was the real point.
   7. Doug Posted: October 25, 2003 at 02:53 AM (#613716)
More interesting, perhaps, would be to know the WS-starting pitchers with the highest ERA as a percentage of their league's ERA that year.

I suspect you would get more of a mix of eras in your list, rather than the current, heavy post-1990 weighting you have now.

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