Cubs in Philly and a new look at 'quality'

Cubs in Philly and a new look at 'quality'

Posted by Bruce on Thu, 06/09/2011 - 17:04
The Cubs have pulled back from the brink of their 100-loss pace. With their victory yesterday at Cincinnati, they're on pace to go 65-97. The bad news (if the previous sentence presented good news) is that the Cubs open a series in Philly tonight. They'll miss Cole Hamels in this series, but after they take on Kyle Kendrick with Randy Wells tonight, they get Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt the rest of the weekend. The Cubs have tweeted this lineup: Fukudome, RF Barney, 2B Castro, SS Pena, 1B Ramirez, 3B DeWitt, LF Soto, C Colvin, CF Wells, P Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker will start rehabs in Iowa, and Alfonso Soriano is expected in Iowa later this weekend. As you know, I like to chronicle the amount of quality starts the Cubs get along with their record in those games. For example, Ryan Dempster worked 6 innings yesterday, giving up 1 earned run. That qualifies as a quality start, which is defined as at least 6 innings and no more than 3 earned runs. People like to focus on the minimum requirement to deride the stat as meaningless. If you look at what the Cubs have done this year, they have 21 quality starts. The team is 14-7 in those games, and their starters have an ERA of 2.00. They've had only 1 minimum-requirement quality start, Big Z on April 2, when he went 6 innings and gave up 3 earned runs in a 5-3 victory over the Pirates. When the Cubs don't get a quality start, they're 10-29, and the starters' ERA is 8.10. There is some new research by John Dewan (of "Stat of the Week" fame on Murph's show here in Chicago) that sheds new light on the 3-run quality start, no matter how long the starter goes. It seems John got into a debate with ESPN radio's Bruce Levine, who has derided the stat. (Levine is about as old-school as it gets.) Here is what John writes at STATS: "In preparing to refute Mr. Levine's position on the stat, we decided to look at the situation that he and everyone else points out, exactly six innings and exactly three earned runs. It seemed to me that a starting pitcher who did this was keeping his team in the game and that this would generally lead to good results. Over the last 10 years, there have been 2,118 games where a starting pitcher has gone exactly six innings and allowed three earned runs. Pretty big sample size. It turns out that the winning percentage in those games for that pitcher's team is a little below .500. Maybe you can still say he's keeping his team in the game, but it's hardly quality. "What about if the pitcher goes seven innings and allows three earned runs? What about eight innings? To my great amazement, it turns out that if a starting pitcher pitches anywhere between six and eight innings and allows three earned runs, his team wins less than 50% of the time (5,039 games, 2,491 wins, .494 winning percentage). Even right at eight innings and three earned runs, it's below .500 (356 games, 171 wins, .480 winning percentage).” John presents this chart of winning percentages for all of the quality-start situations over the last 10 years in which the starter allowed 3 runs. Here are the innings and winning percentages: 6: .475 6.1: .510 6.2: .580 7: .480 7.1: .595 7.2: .588 8: .480 The record in all of those games is 2,491-2,588 for a winning percentage of .494 Let's finish: 8.1: .909 8.2: .600 9 or more: .846 John writes: "Another interesting part of this chart is this: when the pitcher records exactly 6, 7 or 8 innings, the winning percentage is below .500. But when he extends into the next inning for at least one out, the percentage goes above .500. I've been trying to figure out what this means. I thought it might have to do with the difference between the leagues and pinch-hitting for the pitcher in the National League, but we didn't see much when we looked at the data. I am going to chalk it up to sample size issues (a lot less data where pitchers extend into the next inning) until I hear something better. Suffice it to say, anytime a pitcher pitches eight innings or less and allows exactly three runs, the winning percentage is around .500. Maybe you can call it a 'Kept-my-team-in-the-game Start,' but not a Quality Start. "In summary, while the quality start is still a useful statistic, it is seriously flawed. A way to fix it would be to change it to six innings or more, two earned runs, or more than eight innings, and three earned runs. That would be quality, but that's also too complicated. The better stat is a new one that Bill James invented called "Gems". More on that next week." All fair enough, and we’ll be looking for those “Gems.” The quality start is not perfect, but you have some baseline. Would you rather have the 21-7 record and 2.00 ERA or 10-29 and 8.10? Last year, as you remember, the Cubs weren’t so hot, either. But they led the league in quality starts, with 96. Their record in those games was 59-37, and the starters had an ERA of 2.09. When the Cubs didn’t get a quality start, they were 17-49, and the starters had an ERA of 8.05. They had 7 minimum-requirement quality starts, and they were 3-4 in those games. The Cubs had 26 quality starts in which they gave up 3 runs, no matter how many innings the starters went. Their record in those games was 11-15. Interesting stuff. My question would be how “good” teams do in quality-start games in which their starting pitcher gives up exactly 3 runs. I still think the stat is instructive and tells a pretty good story despite its imperfection. MINOR-LEAGUE ROUNDUP Pretty unremarkable day in the minors yesterday. Iowa was off. Tennessee (AA) lost 1-0 to Jackson. Robert Coello worked 6 innings, giving up 3 hits and 1 run. Josh Vitters (.274) extended a hitting streak to seven games. Daytona (A) lost 4-0 to Lakeland. Aaron Kurcz took the loss, working 3 innings, giving up 5 hits and 4 runs. He’s 3-2 with a 3.83 ERA. The Cubs managed just 1 hit on offense, that by Jake Opitz. Peoria (A) fell 10-9 to West Michigan. Matt Szczur (.345) was 4-for-5 with 4 RBI. Kyung-Min Na was 4-for-4 with 2 doubles.
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