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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
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.
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