Who’s Unluckier: Hamels or Santana?
Last night, the Phillies outsmarted the Mets and scored six runs in the top of the ninth inning against the New York Mets bullpen, which squandered an eight-inning, two-run performance from Johan Santana.
Phillies fans know what that looks like. Twice this season, the Phillies were shut out despite Cole Hamels pitching at least seven innings and giving up two earned runs or less: April 2 against the Washington Nationals, and July 8 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
That got me to thinking: Who is more unlucky, Cole Hamels or Johan Santana?
There are a few metrics which help to measure how lucky a pitcher is. I rooted through both players’ game logs and counted their losses and no decisions (QSL and QSND) in which they had a quality start (6+ IP, 3 or less ER). I looked at their run support (RS), their Fielding Independent Pitching minus Earned Run Average (FIP-ERA), their current Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP), and their Expected BABIP (XBABIP), which is LD% plus .120.
Then, I logged on to Baseball Prospectus for a look at their luck-oriented statistics. First, I logged their Current Wins and Losses (CW and CL), and then looked up BP’s Expected Wins and Losses (EW and EL). They actually have a blatant luck statistic (LUCK) and they also log Bullpen Support (BPS). I made a table in Excel and here’s what it looks like:
According to BP, both pitchers have been unlucky, but Santana more so, mostly because of a lack of bullpen support. Considering that the Phillies have the best bullpen in the National League, it’s no surprise that Hamels has been aided by them.
The expected wins and losses see Hamels with one more win and another loss if you round up. Santana stays at eight wins but has one less loss.
Santana trails Hamels in quality start no-decisions, but trumps him in quality start losses. Hamels gets more than a half-run more on average and both pitchers’ defenses hurt their ERA about equally. Hamels, though, has a huge disparity between his current BABIP and expected BABIP (.086), while Santana does but it’s not nearly as much (.041).
It seems like it’s all in agreement that Santana is the unluckier pitcher, but it’s a close one. My methodology is very rough since the quality start sets arbitrary criteria like the save rule, but it gives a good idea of where the pitchers stand when it comes to luck.