Checking Historical Trends with Vance Worley

On July 18, I posted what I thought were reasonable expectations of Vance Worley going forward. I compared the start to his Major League career to that of J.A. Happ, noting the many similarities between the two. In the ensuing two weeks, Worley continued to have success, throwing eight innings of one-run baseball against the Chicago Cubs in the sweltering heat, and tossing a complete game against the San Francisco Giants at home.

As a result, Worley was crowned the next DIPS-defiant pitcher. Despite a sub-.240 BABIP and strikeout and walk rates that were good but not good enough to merit a 2.02 ERA, Worley just couldn’t be captured by ERA retrodictors.¬†Worley had a rare mediocre outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday, allowing four runs in six innings. While that is neither confirmation nor denial of anything, it was an example of what should be expected of the right-hander moving forward.

Due to the complexity of stats like SIERA, some people will be forever skeptical. For those people, I would like to instead illustrate the matter using historical data from pitchers who posted numbers similar to Worley in a single season. Using Baseball Reference’s Play Index, I searched 2000-10 for ERA-title-qualified pitchers that started 80 percent of their games with a K/9 below 7.0 and BABIP below .250. The results:

Rk Player ERA SO/9 BAbip Year Age Tm GS
1 Derek Lowe 2.58 5.20 .237 2002 29 BOS 32
2 Trevor Cahill 2.97 5.40 .237 2010 22 OAK 30
3 Joe Mays 3.16 4.74 .246 2001 25 MIN 34
4 Al Leiter 3.21 6.06 .244 2004 38 NYM 30
5 Mark Buehrle 3.29 5.12 .245 2001 22 CHW 32
6 Barry Zito 3.30 5.67 .242 2003 25 OAK 35
7 Jamie Moyer 3.32 5.74 .246 2002 39 SEA 34
8 Damian Moss 3.42 5.58 .238 2002 25 ATL 29
9 Joe Blanton 3.53 5.19 .249 2005 24 OAK 33
10 Ryan Franklin 3.57 4.20 .248 2003 30 SEA 32
11 Armando Galarraga 3.73 6.35 .237 2008 26 DET 28
12 Ramon Ortiz 3.77 6.71 .239 2002 29 ANA 32
13 Barry Zito 3.86 6.74 .246 2005 27 OAK 35
14 Bronson Arroyo 3.88 5.05 .241 2010 33 CIN 33
15 Tim Wakefield 4.13 5.82 .240 2008 41 BOS 30
16 David Bush 4.18 5.30 .238 2008 28 MIL 29
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/1/2011.

Certainly some recognizable players there, including many pitchers who went on to have long, productive Major League careers. But most of them fall on the wrong side of “average”.

How did those pitchers fare in the following year?

(nyERA stands for Next Year ERA and nyE-ERA is the difference between nyERA and ERA)

Player

ERA

Year

nyERA

nyE-ERA

Leiter

3.21

2004

6.13

2.92

Mays

3.16

2001

5.38

2.22

Bush

4.18

2008

6.38

2.20

Galarraga

3.73

2008

5.64

1.91

Lowe

2.58

2002

4.47

1.89

Moss

3.42

2002

5.16

1.74

Arroyo

3.88

2010

5.58

1.70

Ortiz

3.77

2002

5.20

1.43

Franklin

3.57

2003

4.90

1.33

Blanton

3.53

2005

4.82

1.29

Zito

3.3

2003

4.48

1.18

Cahill

2.97

2010

3.58

0.61

Wakefield

4.13

2008

4.58

0.45

Buehrle

3.29

2001

3.58

0.29

Zito

3.86

2005

3.83

-0.03

Moyer

3.32

2002

3.27

-0.05

For those of you who process information better visually (click to enlarge):

All but two pitchers regressed, and those two barely didn’t regress. 11 of the 16 pitchers regressed by more than one run in ERA. The big reason was that their BABIP normalized. Pitchers don’t have much control over BABIP, so it will regress back to .300 the overwhelming majority of the time. Worley’s BABIP is currently 45 points below the league average.

There are pitchers out there, like Matt Cain, that DIPS doesn’t analyze properly. Those pitchers, however, are few and far between. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to identify them without multiple seasons of data. Despite all of my negative prognostications of Worley, it still remains possible that he is the next DIPS-defiant pitcher. It is extremely unlikely, though, given all of the information presently available that say otherwise.

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32 comments

  1. Tyler

    August 02, 2011 07:32 AM

    We shouldn’t expect Worley to continue putting up those great basic numbers and that last outing against Pittsburgh was disappointing, however, I was encouraged by a much better strikeout to walk ratio, atleast in that one game.

  2. Richard

    August 02, 2011 07:57 AM

    yeah, it’s funny you called Worley’s outing against Pittsburgh “mediocre”, when his peripherals were much better in that game: 7 strikeouts to 0 walks! But he was due to give up a HR or two, and there it was.

    Worley’s peripherals overall aren’t awful, but they’re not this good.

  3. Jesse

    August 02, 2011 08:48 AM

    Seems like if you look at his starts since the All-Star Break, his K/BB is looking better. Small sample size to be sure, but an encouraging sign for those of us who hope he can fill a Blanton-like role for this team in the future.

  4. bernie

    August 02, 2011 09:11 AM

    Likely a bottom of the rotation starter, maybe future middle innings reliever. ERA going forward will probably inch up to @ 3.8 or so. On this staff, that’s ok. Plus, he’s cheap, under team control, looks cool, and is a little off kilter even by pitcher standards. Overall happy to have him, even if he regresses.

  5. Grant

    August 02, 2011 09:11 AM

    Potentially the hate has gone too far. I think it needs to be mentioned that although we’re all enjoying Worley’s success nobody really thinks he’s going to be the next great pitcher of his era. We expect some sort of regression to the mean. He’s been great, and whether that’s luck, hitters unfamiliarity with him, or some other intangible explanation is yet to be seen.

    Most importantly however is what the Phillies need from Vance going forward. We don’t need him to keep up this pace. The Phils don’t need another ace, 4 is enough, at this point we need a .500 pitcher with an ERA around 3.5-4.0 to sit in the fifth rotational spot. Funny that Blanton is on the list because really that’s all the Phillies ever really hoped to get out of Worley, a replacement for Joe Blanton. Thankfully they got it… I’m just not sure they expected the initial career surge to mimic so closely.

    My large point is that yes: this article needs to be written to calm down the lunatic fan who thinks we have the next Pedro Martinez as our fifth starter. That being said, I’m happy as a fan to enjoy the ride he’s taken us on and I hope it can continue.

    Lastly can you put Worley’s numbers in the article for quicker comparison to your chart? Thanks for the great work.

  6. olo567

    August 02, 2011 09:35 AM

    I agree with Grant here. Worley is a cheap alternative to Blanton moving forward who also isn’t named Kyle Kendrick. He doesn’t need to continue this unsustainable level of success moving forward, but just be an average pitcher for the rest of the year and hopefully be a capable 4th behind Halladay, Lee, and Hamels (please) next year too.

  7. wxdavid

    August 02, 2011 09:53 AM

    another amazing STUPID post from crashburn alley. Its like this places SPECIALIZES in it. Thanks for pointing out that Worely is NOT really as 2.02 era Pitcher. Everyone was really confused about that.

    NOT!!!!

    Worely is a number #5 starter on this team. next week you guys can point out that the sky is Blue water is wet and women have secrets

  8. COAL HAMLETS

    August 02, 2011 10:12 AM

    My expectations for Worley have been as a solid 3-4 starter along the lines of a Joe Blanton, but I think he’s being undersold by certain people who make it sound like he’s as untalented as a Kyle Kendrick which I don’t think is true or fair to Worley, who I feel is significantly better than guy’s like Kendrick that can’t even buy a strikeout.

    Anybody who thinks he’s an Ace is fooling themselves, but likewise I think it’s unfair to conclude so quickly that he’s nothing more than a #5 or Swingman like Kendrick.

  9. KH

    August 02, 2011 11:04 AM

    That list is actually a pretty good one imo. There are quite a few guys on that list if Worley turns out to have as good a career as I’ll be perfectly happy. Even a guy like Bronson Arroyo as along as we don’t pay Worley like Bronson Arroyo he has had some good years. Hopefully Worley can be an effective cheap end of the rotation guy for the forseeable future.

  10. LTG

    August 02, 2011 11:26 AM

    BB,

    wxdavid is a braying donkey but he is reacting to something. This post gives some historical evidence for the common and obviously true opinion that Worley is not as good as his results this year seem to indicate. It would, however, have been more illuminating to present Worley’s batted ball peripherals and compare those to guys on that list while also taking into account pitcher-type (sinkerballer, fastball-curve, etc). This would help us all have some projection for Worley’s success in the future. For instance, Worley is not Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield, or Jamie Moyer. We can’t anticipate what he will be like by comparing him to those guys. So, to whom does Worley best compare?

  11. politicalrancor

    August 02, 2011 12:09 PM

    WXDAvid is my best friend and you guys are being really mean to him. Vance Worely is also our friend and we dont want you guys to write posts to hurt his feelings. yall should say your sorry.

  12. Marshall

    August 02, 2011 12:24 PM

    Bill,

    Can stats like FIP,xFIP or DICE be used to measure the presumable under or over performance of relief pitchers? Are there another set of algorithms since these pitchers have smaller sample sizes?

    Great article, as always, by the way.

  13. LINEUP PROTECTION

    August 02, 2011 01:00 PM

    No one expects him to continue to be a 2.02 ERA guy, but hey, it could be worse. He could be Jair Jurrjens, who’s getting Cy Young accolades (at least, probably before last night and everything post-All star break) and yet has worse peripherals than Worley almost across the board.

  14. Jonny

    August 02, 2011 02:16 PM

    This is good Bill. I like the fact that you do leave open the possibility of him being DIPS defiant (even if it is far reaching). I would like to add that he’s such a youngun’ that his delivery could vastly change in the next few seasons and we can see him get better. Most pitchers don’t show their best stuff in their rookie year imo. Just like to note, that 2011 Worley may not be anything like 2013 Worley, for better or for worse.

  15. Jim Z.

    August 02, 2011 02:27 PM

    It sure would have been nice to keep Jarred Cosart and his curveball of doom.

  16. TMC

    August 02, 2011 03:05 PM

    @ Lineup Protection and others:

    While it’s true that most reasonable fans don’t expect Worley to be a 2.02 ERA guy, I don’t think it’s true that *no one* expects him to be an ace. There is a noticeable and vocal portion of the fanbase that seems VERY confident that he’s a future all-star. I’d tell you to listen to WIP for proof, but I wouldn’t want to subject you to that.

    But you can hear it at games too. I was there the night they traded for Pence, and the people around me were palpably relieved that Worley managed to stick on the Phils roster through the deadline; when Heyman floated a rumor that Worley was part of the deal, some people were ANGRY that it was him instead of D. Brown.

  17. Jonny

    August 02, 2011 03:17 PM

    TMC, even if he is a #5 STARTER. He’s not worth trading this season for Pence imo. I’m glad they didn’t. The Phillies probably need him not only for the rest of this season, but next season as well. Oswalt isn’t coming back I don’t think, and Worley isn’t costing them anything. What was Blanton making btw? I thought from the beginning it would only 3 prospects and neither Worley or Brown would need to be involved. I was wrong, it took 4. But my point is, it’s dumb to trade either if you don’t need to. That’s what i think anyway.

  18. Travis

    August 02, 2011 03:18 PM

    Not sure why you aren’t counting his two starts last year(5G, 13IP). May as well try to get his sample size as large as possible. His career K/9 is 7.17. Even just this year it is 6.98 so it seems unfair to say it’s ‘under 7′ and then compare him to pitchers in the 4-5 K/9 range. His FIP is 3.23(3.24 for 2011) which if qualified would put him 23rd(Halladay 1, Cole 5, Cliff Lee 10). Notably his FIP is right at team average for a team with very good pitching. His Siera of 3.89 puts him 72nd out of those with at least 70 IP which would still imply a solid 3rd starter. Don’t sell him short.

  19. Travis

    August 02, 2011 03:27 PM

    Compared to J.A. Happ last year, Worley’s SIERA is 0.84 lower, his FIP is 1.08 lower, his xFIP is 0.8 lower. Not insignificant differences.

  20. Nick

    August 02, 2011 05:24 PM

    Worley is (on a usual team) a number 4 or 5 pitcher. He isn’t an ace. That’s clear.

    That being said, despite his lack of an “ace” status, I want to see how Oswalt does when he comes back. I wouldn’t be scare to have Worley march out there and luck his way to some playoff wins if Oswalt continues to pitch as he did before he went on the DL.

  21. Keith

    August 02, 2011 07:49 PM

    OK, sure Worley is NOT going to be an “ace”. He probably wont be the next Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, CC Sabathia, Pedro Martinez, or even Curt Schilling.

    But lets also keep this in mind. Cliff Lee was a 4th round draft pick, Tim Lincecum was drafted twice in the 40+ rounds before being good enough to go 10th overall, Schilling was a 2nd round pick. They all became GREAT pitchers

    Though probably not an ace, let’s NOT rule out the potential that Worley COULD be a really good pitcher, a 3 or even a 2. Did we all forget that at one point Roy Halladay pitched 19 games in a season and had a 10.00 ERA before becoming winning 2 Cy Youngs and pitching a perfect game?

    Worley’s K/9 and K/BB ratios aren’t great, and his stuff isn’t the stuff of legends. But he pounds the strikezone so he’s going to give up hits and even home runs… Don’t we have 2 aces who do the same? and don’t they also give up hits? However, his BAA for his career is right at or lower than .200, whatever he does it works. Batters are putting them in the air but his stuff right now is good enough to prevent them from leaving the yard.

    Point is Worley has been a Godsend to us. He’s helped to prevent our relievers (who have been CRUSHED by injuries) from chewing up innings. I get that he’s not as good as a 2.00 ERA right now and may become a 3.00 ERA pitcher. But he’s a 3rd round pick for a reason and good pitchers have been drafted in worse spots. Like Roy Oswalt, 23rd round by the Astros, 2.73 ERA as a rookie, career 3.23 ERA and he was THE MAN in Houston…

    Oh yea and Oswalt’s career stats are a tad better than Worley’s right now. 0.4 better K/9, 1.2 better K/BB.

    How about we stop DOUBTING Worley’s future, before it happens and enjoy that we he’s helped give us the best record in the majors… just a thought…

  22. Mratfink

    August 02, 2011 08:24 PM

    wait Keith so you suggest we just sit back and enjoy the ride?!!! Blasphemy! Insanity!
    I for one am never happier than when i take something beautiful and find all the flaws i possibly can find.
    Therefore I shall nitpick this Phillies team to death and not enjoy a moment of this season unless they win the World Series!
    /Sarcasm end

    But seriously you can analyze a guy without forsaking the ability to enjoy his performance and hope he continues to perform this well.

  23. Nick

    August 02, 2011 09:08 PM

    Mratfink, you can enjoy his performance (trust me, I’ve seen him do some work on teams this year) but you can also realize that he may have been decent trade bait at the deadline (lots of teams would have only looked at ERA and his W/L ratio and taken him).

    I’m enjoying the ride but I’m also noting that many teams would have liked to try to trade for him and we could have used the chance to (1) upgrade the bullpen (2) upgrade the outfield with someone not named Hunter Pence (depending on the ransom for BJ Upton) or (3) used him as trade bait to refill a relatively depleted minor league system from what I hear (I’m no pro on the minors)

    The Red Sox probably would have been interested, as would the Yankees.

  24. Phillie697

    August 02, 2011 11:45 PM

    The problem, guys, with Vance isn’t his K/9 or BB/9… His K and BB numbers are actually eerily similar to another rookie last year who has made fantastic strides in improving his peripherals this year: Jaime Garcia. The problem with Vance is that while Jamie Garcia has fantastic GB numbers (55.9% last year, 54.4% this year), Vance gives up FBs as if they are free (40.5% GB rate). That partially explains the lower BABIP (FBs tend to suppress BABIP), but unfortunately, it is his 4.8% HR/FB ratio that is going to fall back down to earth, and combined with that 40.5% GB rate, he is going to come back down to earth HARD.

    Even if Vance can improve next year and make strides with his command and control like Jaime Garcia has and approach Garcia’s K and BB numbers this year, he is still not that good of a starter because of that terrible GB %. Someone said we should have sold him high, and I agree wholeheartedly. It wasn’t his K and BB numbers that scared me; it was his batted ball profile.

  25. Chris

    August 03, 2011 03:25 AM

    Worley has a lower FB% than GB%, so just how does that explain the low BABIP? The real explanation is his low BABIP’s on GB’s and LD’s, 0.152 and 0.643, respectively. And given the fact that his LD% is 21%, I’d say the regression is going to come more in the form of more doubles than HR’s. Yes, the HR/FB will go up, as 4.3% is quite low for a non-FB pitcher, but I don’t think it’s going to be as Earth-shattering as you expect it to be, maybe 8-10% going forward? Just a guess, but thinking it’ll completely blow up his ERA is rather foolish. I’d also wager that his HR/9 only goes up to something like 0.9-1.0 going forward, because as I said he still has a higher GB% than FB%, and he also never really gave up HR’s that frequently in the minors either.

    His GB% isn’t what’s scary about his batted ball profile. You can’t just look at one aspect of a pitcher’s batted ball profile and make conclusions about their talent based on that. The LD% is what’s scary, at least so far in his MLB career. You also seem to think that only GB pitchers can be elite or even good starters? High GB rates are useful for pitchers with low-ish K rates because lower K% usually equals more baserunners, and HR’s become much more dangerous at that point. Additionally GB’s generally equal either outs or singles (aside from the doubles down the line), so a high GB% can make up for deficiencies in limiting baserunners. But high K%, high FB% pitchers can be very successful because of the reason that the HR’s that come with more FB’s hurt them less with less baserunners and they get the benefit of the lower BABIP of FB’s (vs GB’s). Now, I’m not saying that Vance is that kind of pitcher because he absolutely is not, but just trying to point out that there are multiple ways to be a successful or elite starting pitcher.

  26. Phillie697

    August 03, 2011 10:05 AM

    Obviously K and BB rates and GB rate all factor in, I’m saying I don’t see anything alarming about Worley’s K and BB rate if he had a high GB rate to go with it, like Garcia, but he doesn’t, and improving his control of the strike zone won’t help much with that, hence why he will never be Garcia.

    And what’s the significance of Worley’s FB rate being lower than his GB rate? Just about every pitcher has a lower FB rate than GB rate. And Worley has allowed 83 FBs this year. If his HR/FB % regress to league average, which is about 10.6%, that’s 5.8% more FBs becoming HRs, or about 5 more HRs. Assuming 2 ERs per, that’s 10 more ERs. He’s only allowed a grand total of 20 ERs so far… You tell me if 10 more will make a huge difference. I think you underestimate what HRs do to a pitcher’s ERA.

    Considering that you can only have GB, LD, or FB, yeah, his GB % is scary. A low GB % means a higher FB and LD percentage. You mention his LD%, but I don’t think there has been ANY study (I could be wrong) that shows that a pitcher has control over what his LD% would be; they have control whether the ball stays on the ground, or not. Whether it results in FBs or LDs is out of his control. Besides, you make it sound like a lower FB rate and a higher LD rate is somehow better? LDs are the bane of pitchers; they are worse than FBs. So yes, what is alarming is his low GB rate.

    You make WAY too many assumptions about what I was saying. I didn’t say K and BB don’t matter… I’m saying Worley’s K and BB rates aren’t awful, and he can be elite even with those rates (i.e. why I mentioned Garcia). Unfortunately he won’t be because of his batted ball profile. K, BB, GB, they are ALL important. You cherry picked my analysis of ONE pitcher to make assumptions about what I think is important to pitching in general.

  27. RHalladay

    August 03, 2011 08:24 PM

    But i thought you said Matt Cain = Joe Blanton?

  28. Phillie697

    August 04, 2011 03:16 PM

    No one really knows how Cain sustained a career 6.7% HR/FB rate (and it’s 4.2% this year!!!). If Blanton had that HR/FB rate, he WOULD be Cain. Altho I suspect it may partially have something to do with this:

    AT&T Park HR factor, 2011: 0.597
    Citizen Bank Park HR factor, 2011: 0.988

    In fact, AT&T Park ranks as THE best pitcher’s park this year. That said, Cain’s splits don’t look all that different. Like I said, I don’t think anyone has figured out how Cain does it.

    But the repeated use of one particular pitcher, that everyone acknowledges we don’t know enough to explain yet, to debunk statistical analysis that works well for the vast majority of the other pitchers, strike me as the same thing as using my analysis of one pitcher to draw assumptions about what I think of all pitchers.

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