Fun with Pitcher Wins and Losses

One of the more interesting storylines to this depressing season is Cliff Lee, still without a win through 11 starts.

twitter.com/ESPNStatsInfo/status/214311686906191872

If you comb through areas where fans express uneducated opinions (e.g. message boards, talk radio, mainstream website comments), you’ll find a lot of frustration with Cliff Lee because he has zero wins, even though he has been quite good throughout the season. I have already cited some of the usual Sabermetric stats to illustrate that, but I’d like to take a different approach by going through each of Cliff Lee’s start and comparing it to the league last year to see how most pitchers fared.

Please note this is just for fun.

  • April 7 @ PIT: 6 IP, 1 ER, 66 game score (no decision)
    • Matching IP/ER: 63 wins (48%), 16 losses (12%), 51 no decisions (39%)
    • Matching GS: 25 wins (51%), 12 losses (24%), 12 no decisions (24%)
  • April 13 vs. NYM: 7 IP, 4 ER, 58 game score (loss)
    • IP/ER: 4 wins (13%), 17 losses (55%), 10 no decisions (32%)
    • GS: 24 wins (39%), 17 losses (27%), 21 no decisions (34%)
  • April 18 @ SFG: 10 IP, 0 ER, 85 game score (no decision)
    • IP/ER: no data
    • GS: 3 wins (50%), 0 losses, 3 no decisions (50%)
  • May 9 vs. NYM: 6 IP, 2 ER, 59 game score (no decision)
    • IP/ER: 64 wins (37%), 42 losses (25%), 65 no decisions (38%)
    • GS: 20 wins (39%), 9 losses (18%), 22 no decisions (43%)
  • May 15 vs. HOU: 8 IP, 1 ER, 77 game score (no decision)
    • IP/ER: 39 wins (72%), 7 losses (13%), 8 no decisions (15%)
    • GS: 11 wins (73%), 0 losses (0%), 4 no decisions (27%)
  • May 20 vs. BOS: 7 IP, 5 ER, 44 game score (loss)
    • IP/ER: 0 wins (0%), 5 losses (100%), 0 no decisions (0%)
    • GS: 14 wins (26%), 23 losses (43%), 16 no decisions (30%)
  • May 25 @ STL: 7 IP, 3 ER, 53 game score (no decision)
    • IP/ER: 26 wins (34%), 30 losses (39%), 20 no decisions (26%)
    • GS: 26 wins (46%), 14 losses (25%), 16 no decisions (29%)
  • May 30 @ NYM: 6 IP, 3 ER, 51 game score (no decision)
    • IP/ER: 28 wins (24%), 50 losses (42%), 40 no decisions (34%)
    • GS: 20 wins (29%), 27 losses (39%), 22 no decisions (32%)
  • June 5 vs. LAD: 7.2 IP, 2 ER, 70 game score (loss)
    • IP/ER: 6 wins (60%), 2 losses (20%), 2 no decisions (20%)
    • GS: 22 wins (61%), 1 loss (3%), 13 no decisions (36%)
  • June 10 @ BAL: 6 IP, 4 ER, 48 game score (no decision)
    • IP/ER: 18 wins (17%), 52 losses (49%), 37 no decisions (35%)
    • GS: 11 wins (23%), 20 losses (42%), 17 no decisions (35%)
  • June 16 @ TOR: 7 IP, 5 ER, 35 game score (no decision)
    • IP/ER: 0 wins (0%), 5 losses (100%), 0 no decisions (0%)
    • GS: 2 wins (6%), 20 losses (65%), 9 no decisions (29%)

If you add up the percentages, Lee would have on average 3 wins, 5 losses, and 2 no decisions based on IP/ER data from 2011.

Date W L ND
Apr 7 .48 .12 .39
Apr 13 .13 .55 .32
Apr 18  1.00  .00  .00
May 9 .37 .25 .38
May 15 .72 .13 .15
May 20 .00 1.00 .00
May 25 .34 .39 .26
May 30 .24 .42 .34
Jun 5 .60 .20 .20
Jun 10 .17 .49 .35
Jun 16 .00 1.00 .00
SUM 4.05 4.55 2.39

Doing the same for Game Score:

Date W L ND
Apr 7 .51 .24 .24
Apr 13 .39 .27 .34
Apr 18 .50 .00 .50
May 9 .39 .18 .43
May 15 .73 .00 .27
May 20 .26 .43 .30
May 25 .46 .25 .29
May 30 .29 .39 .32
Jun 5 .61 .03 .36
Jun 10 .23 .42 .35
Jun 16 .06 .65 .29
SUM 4.43 2.86 3.69

Support-neutral wins and losses from Baseball Prospectus matches up with the observational data, putting Lee at 5 wins and 4 losses (2 no decisions). If Lee had those 4 or 5 wins, even with 3 to 5 losses, there wouldn’t be nearly as much frustration directed at him. Unfortunately, Philadelphia fans have a tendency to blame the scant quality players for their respective teams’ failures.

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17 comments

  1. BradInDC

    June 18, 2012 07:22 AM

    I love that guys who did 6 IP and 3 ER last year were 28-50. That’s some real “quality starts” there. And yes, I assuming the guy who assigned the term “quality start” also cares about pitcher wins and losses. Just not about logic or reason or reality.

  2. BradInDC

    June 18, 2012 07:23 AM

    Wow, I almost completed that thought. Too early. Y’all know what I mean, right?

  3. LTG

    June 18, 2012 08:02 AM

    Coffee!

  4. Cutter

    June 18, 2012 08:35 AM

    It feels like Cliff Lee has become this site’s new pet cause, mostly because the non-sabermetric community is criticizing him, and this is a perfect opportunity to show how much “smarter” saber-minded fans are than the uneducated masses.

    I agree that Cliff Lee has pitched well enough this year to have several wins, and that he has performed better than his record and the results would indicate.

    BUT -

    The frustration that many – including myself – have with Lee is that he isn’t meeting the expectations that people have for him.

    I will concede that the expectations for Lee are probably impossibly high. On the other hand, when you’ve had great success in the past, and are getting paid like one of the best pitchers in the game, there are going to be high expectations.

    With all the things that have gone wrong for the 2012 Phillies, they don’t need him to pitch like a good starter who is suffering from bad luck. They certainly don’t need him to be giving up three-run leads in games that the Phillies are desperate to win.

    They need him to pitch like an ace. They need him to come close to the June 2011 Cliff Lee. They need him to say, “I can’t control what happens the other four days, but when I’m out there, get behind me, boys. We’re taking home a W today.”

  5. Bill Baer

    June 18, 2012 08:42 AM

    The frustration that many – including myself – have with Lee is that he isn’t meeting the expectations that people have for him.

    He had a 3.18 ERA entering his most recent start against the Blue Jays (remember: the criticism started prior to this start). He now has a 3.48 ERA which is still quite good. Not sure what else he could possibly do to keep the laypeople happy.

    They need him to pitch like an ace.

    This is a load of crap. He has been.

    EDIT: BTW, similar things were said of Cole Hamels in 2009. The stat guys were right then, too.

  6. Jon

    June 18, 2012 11:25 AM

    “they don’t need him to pitch like a good starter who is suffering from bad luck.”

    Umm…How do you propose he starts pitching like a good pitcher who benefits from good luck?

  7. Cutter

    June 18, 2012 11:59 AM

    I didn’t realize that a 3.48 ERA (Currently 28th best in the NL) was all that amazing.

    Look at his last six starts? This was what we expect from an ace? Where are the dominating performances?

    Aside from expectations, one thing that hasn’t been mentioned is how Lee isn’t pitching as deep into games as he was last season. The fewer innings you leave for the bullpen, the fewer chances they have to blow your win.

    As for Hamels in 2009, there was some merit to what was said about him. Hamels admitted that he wasn’t mentally or physically prepared for that season. And the improvement since then was also partially due to him developing his cutter.

    It isn’t always just about “bad luck.”

  8. Bill Baer

    June 18, 2012 12:08 PM

    Are we really going to have this conversation?

    Hamels 2008

    7.8 K/9
    2.1 BB/9
    1.1 HR/9
    .259 BABIP

    Hamels 2009

    7.8 K/9
    2.0 BB/9
    1.1 HR/9
    .317 BABIP

  9. Richard

    June 18, 2012 12:44 PM

    I agree with your basic position, Bill, but I think we should be wary at leaning too heavily on certain interpretations of these numbers.

    For example, the Hamels numbers you quote would give the impression that the problem that season was simply and only a matter of worse luck on balls in play. But I think that’s too facile a reading. Obviously luck was a factor, but it doesn’t do us much good to simply point to it and leave it at that.

    For me, the underlying peripherals should have told us there was nothing fundamentally wrong with Hamels, but that doesn’t mean he was as consistent making good pitches.

    Listen to his comments recently about his difficulty maintaining his arm slot. Same with Joe Blanton: his K & BB figures over the last several starts have been excellent, but he’s been getting hammered. Just luck? I don’t think so. He’s been inconsistent in the zone. So no walks, but lots of hits and homers. Even in his fine start against the Twins on Thursday, he gave up a HR on a brutally horrible 0-2 fastball, right down the middle. Mistakes like that can be more common in a downswing, even as the pitcher is making other good pitches, thus maintaining the K & BB rates we like to see (and which suggest good things going forward). On the other hand, of course, as Blanton himself noted in his post-game interview, he hung a pitch late in the game (to either Mauer or Morneau, I forget which), which could easily have been a homerun. So we can say that that stuff evens out, which is the pure luck or random variation argument, or we can say that some of it almost evens out, but the pitcher might in the short term be having difficulty with command within the zone, thus leading to poor(er) results.

    The staff as a whole has excellent peripherals which speak well for the group going forward (which may mean next season, not necessarily this), but I can’t say there haven’t been a lot of bad pitches (including questionable pitch decisions) that have been hammered in the midst of the high K/low BB setting.

  10. Bill Baer

    June 18, 2012 12:59 PM

    Interesting about the release point but I don’t know if there’s any legitimate evidence about that. From Brooks Baseball:

    Horizontal Release Point

    Vertical Release Point

    The only noticeable difference is his curve release point, but it’s similar to that of other years and not all that different from his earlier starts.

    I also don’t see a noticeable difference in pitch location.

    I’m always skeptical of everything players, coaches, and analysts (and “analysts”) say without bringing whiffs, walks, and batted ball profile into the equation.

  11. Richard

    June 18, 2012 01:13 PM

    Oh, I’m skeptical of what they say, too. I certainly wouldn’t use it to trump statistical analysis. But it’s another piece of information, and it’s helpful in remembering that these players are not robots. They change from year-to-year, even game to game. I just wouldn’t want to too rigidly point to peripherals to explain away undesirable outcomes as due to luck. On the other hand, it is very true that random variation is very hard to wrap our heads around. It’s very easy to remember the grooved 0-2 fastball hit for a homer, just as easy to forget, or never notice, the 0-2 hanger that’s popped to the infield.

  12. LTG

    June 18, 2012 03:18 PM

    Yeah, imagine if Lincecum were on the Phillies, the uproar and consternation.

  13. pedro3131

    June 18, 2012 03:45 PM

    The question I would have is how much of Lee’s late inning struggles (In his TOR, LAD, and one of his NYM starts he let up a few runs at the end of his outing that doomed an otherwise stellar stat line) have been a result of luck versus making bad pitches. Understanding most pitchers make more bad pitches towards the end of their outings, but it seems like at least in those games I mentioned Lee kind of fell apart towards the end. Can we stake this off to being left in too late, or is there something else working?

  14. pedro3131

    June 18, 2012 04:00 PM

    Some stats to explore in reference to my questions (I don’t know where you find that fancy pitching location data): He has a 1.32 whip, 5.06 era, .375 babip in innings 7-9, and is getting hit .400 against after throwing his 100th pitch. This is compared to a 1.12 overall whip. Also last year he had a 1.57 era in innings 7-9 while batters only hit a stingy .183 after his 100th pitch. I think this is where the “ace” factor comes into play. Now not having pitch location or a photographic memory of whether or not most of his hits against this year were his fault or luck, it’s hard for me to truly understand the data. That said, there is a clear difference between his late inning performances this year (sss non-withstanding) and his career averages

  15. Richard

    June 18, 2012 07:12 PM

    It is generally the case, pedro, that pitchers are worse the 4th time through the order.

    As for Lee, I don’t think he’s had many games beyond the 6th this year, in part because when he came back from the DL he was on a pitch count for the first couple of games.. so the sample is exceedingly small. The game against Baltimore was blown earlier, I think, too.

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