Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Zack Stat Pack: Start #10. And Some Odds and Ends.

Well, it’s official now: Zack Greinke is off to the best start to the season by any pitcher since the Royals came into existence.

He came into this game needing to allow no more than one earned run (in seven innings or less), or no more than two earned runs (if he went more than seven innings), in order to keep his ERA under 1. That possibility looked to be in danger when he gave up a soft run in the first, on a bloop double that caressed the left-field foul line, and a bloop single that shattered Magglio Ordonez’s bat. Fortunately, Greinke spent the next eight innings proving that run to be the aberration it appeared to be, and even more fortunately, the Royals finally found some offense in the sixth inning when the Tigers proved that even after the 2006 World Series, they still need to work on PFP.

(The bunt is a poor-percentage play overall, but in addition to the odds of beating out a bunt for a single, even a slight chance that the pitcher throws the ball past the first baseman makes the play look a lot better – particularly when the bunter is Luis Hernandez, whose career batting average in Triple-A is .214.)

Ten starts into the season, Greinke is 8-1 with a 0.84 ERA. He broke the team record he shared with Kevin Appier by making his 12th consecutive start without allowing more than two earned runs. Even more impressive, Greinke has now made 12 consecutive starts without allowing more than two runs, earned or not; Appier and Paul Splittorff held the previous record with nine in a row. (The longest streak of starts with two or fewer runs allowed in the Retrosheet era is 14, by Greg Maddux in 1993 and Mike Scott in 1986.)

Going back to last year, Greinke has not allowed a home run in 14 consecutive starts, which is not even the longest streak set this year – the Astros’ Wandy Rodriguez had a stretch of 15 starts that ended last week. The Retrosheet record is 21 in a row, set by wormkiller Zane Smith between 1985 and 1986. (Smith walked 75 batters in 139 innings in that span, which may explain why he went just 7-9.)

The Royals’ record is 16 in a row, set by Al Fitzmorris in 1976. Mark Gubicza and Dick Drago both had 15 starts in a row without a homer as well.

And finally, and most importantly, is this, which (as best as I could research) is the list of the lowest ERAs after 10 starts since 1954:

1966 Juan Marichal 0.59

2009 Zack Greinke 0.84

2000 Pedro Martinez 1.05

Greinke has the best ERA by a starting pitcher after ten starts in over 40 years.

In his 11th start, Marichal gave up three runs, raising his ERA to 0.80, and he got pounded for six runs in his 12th start, whereupon his ERA jumped to 1.29. Aside from Marichal, I can find only three pitchers whose ERA dipped below 1.00 at any point after they had made 10 starts. One was Hoyt Wilhelm, who in 1959 made 10 starts (and two relief appearances) to start the year, and gave up 10 earned runs in 90.1 innings, for a 0.996 ERA. Bob Gibson’s ERA famously touched 0.99 after 29 starts. Finally, Pedro Martinez, as I mentioned before, threw eight shutout innings in his 11th start in 2000, lowering his ERA to 0.95.

So if I’m doing the math right, then if Greinke throws four or more shutout innings in his next start, he will have a lower ERA than Marichal did after 11 starts, meaning lower than anyone in the Retrosheet era (and possibly in the history of baseball) has had at any point with more than ten starts. If Greinke allows no more than two earned runs in his next two starts combined (assuming he throws at least ten innings combined), he will undercut Pedro’s ERA after 12 starts in 2000, giving him the best ERA of any pitcher with 12 or more starts.

Yeah. He’s good.

- I forgot to link to this in my last post, but last Thursday’s radio show can be downloaded, as always, here.

You will notice that last week’s show was surprisingly Will Leitch-free, as our scheduled guest declined to answer his phone despite numerous attempts to have him do so. Afterwards I learned why: Leitch was not in possession of a phone, thanks to a story that involved him, an iPhone, a New York City street…and an entrepreneurial thief on a bicycle. Don’t take my word for it: here’s Leitch’s long and rather entertaining explanation for what happened.

The moral, I think, is clear: New York City is an evil place, filled with thieves on bicycles, rapists, murderers, and even Yankees fans. Don’t make the mistake of moving there – Leitch, a salt-of-the-earth Midwestern kid from downstate Illinois, did and now he loves Woody Allen movies and once wrote a book called “Life as a Loser”. Sad, really. So heed my advice and avoid New York. It’s enough that the Royals get mugged every time they visit – going back to 1995, the Royals are 12-49 in New York.

- Note that this week’s show will start a little early, at 6:30 CDT, to avoid conflicting with the Cavaliers-Magic game being carried on 810 WHB. Mind you, we all know that the Magic are winning. Poz has taken care of that.

- One section of my last post became obsolete almost immediately after it was posted, when the Royals announced that they were only sending Luke Hochevar down to Omaha until the next time they needed a fifth starter, on June 6th.

Obviously, that changes the calculus of this move significantly. I have long been an advocate of the four-man rotation, or failing that, the five-day rotation, where a team’s top four starters pitch on four days’ rest whenever possible, and the fifth starter being used as a swingman when his start day gets passed over. There are 182 days from Opening Day to the final day of the season. In theory, a pitcher who starts on Opening Day and pitches every fifth day should be able to make 37 starts if the off-days and the All-Star Break fall just right, or 36 at the very least. Unfortunately, not one major league team has had the guts to keep even one of their pitchers on an every-fifth-day schedule in six years; Roy Halladay and Greg Maddux are the last two pitchers to make 36 starts in a season, back in 2003.

Greinke and Gil Meche have both vocally expressed their preference for sticking to an every-fifth-day schedule. Whatever advantage is gained by getting a day off to rest is lost by disrupting a pitcher’s off-day schedule. And if you read the studies I linked above, you’ll find that there is no evidence to suggest that pitchers do better on four days’ rest than on three days’ rest, so I can’t imagine why they’d do better on five days’ rest than four.

The Royals started the season with an obvious Big Three, and Brian Bannister, to his immense credit, has worked his way back from being the team’s seventh starter in spring training to being a very capable #4 starter – really, the team’s second-best starter this season. But the Royals have struggled to come up with a fifth starter all year. Hochevar, Sidney Ponson, and Horacio Ramirez have combined for ten starts, and in those ten starts have gone 1-7 with a 7.59 ERA. By comparison, the Big Four have gone 16-10 with a 3.04 ERA.

By going to a four-man rotation – even if it’s only for two turns through the rotation – Hillman is basically replacing a 7.59 ERA with a 3.04 ERA twice. That’s an absolutely enormous difference – even in just two starts, that works out to about seven fewer runs allowed, which is worth nearly a win. I’m not sure there’s anything a manager can do to improve his team’s record more efficiently than simply finding a way to get a few more starts to his best starters.

I still think that if this were a long-term decision, that Hochevar would be better served by going to the bullpen than continuing to start in Omaha. Some commenters have made the argument that you want a starting pitcher to practice being a starting pitcher, essentially. That sounds great in theory, but baseball history is strongly on the side of letting a promising potential starter learn how to get major league hitters out in the bullpen, where he can gain the confidence that comes from throwing a little harder and focusing on his best pitchers, before being asked to stretch things out over time. It worked for the many Oriole pitchers that came up under Earl Weaver, it worked for Johan Santana, and yes, it worked for Zack Greinke, who needed a bullpen stint in 2007 to realize that he could actually throw 95 without sacrificing control.

But over a two-week stretch, that’s a moot point. Hochevar should be back when the Royals need him. Let’s hope that this won’t be the last time that he gets skipped if it means moving The Zack Greinke Experience up a day. That guy’s good.


Olentangy said...

I have to admit Sonya Sotomayor's decision to prevent the horror of replacement players is enough to make me support her for the Supreme Court vacancy. To see someone finally step up against the direction the owners were going in the mid '90's gained my support. Remember, if Jerry Reinsdorf got his way, tonight you would have paid $7.95 to watch Zach Grinke's performance from your own living room. Even worse you would have paid $7.95 to watch Monday afternoon's abomination and felt horrible about how you wasted your money.

Olentangy said...

Dammit, between Sotomayor, Reinsdorf and Greinke, I was bound to misspell one of them!

Curtis said...

Yeah, but why Zack?!?

I think it is Sonia, not Sonya, but don't quote me on it. Of course, Huckabee thinks it's Maria, so you are well closer than him.

Innings like the first are a good reminder of how hard it is to put together a string like he did to start the season.

Dave Hogg said...

I suspect Dutch Leonard's ERA was pretty low on about July 1, 1914. He was in a couple high-scoring games after that, and only gave up 24 ER all season.

Anonymous said...

Lowest ERA for a starter with 75+ IP & 10+ GS, in a season since Gibson, is 1.53 (Gooden's '85). Think Greinke can beat that?

And I know it's early to be curious about this but, if Greinke gets 36 starts and keeps winning about 8 of every 10 games he starts, he could win 27-29 games. You just got me thinking. I'd like to think Hillman would give Greinke a 3-4 short rest starts if it meant he gets a chance to win 30...assuming the Royals are out of the playoff chase & Greinke doesn't look tired in August. What do you think?

Wouldn't it be crazy if we saw a 30 game winner & a .400 hitter (Mauer) in the same year? Long ways to go, but it sure would be cool if that happened.

Bill said...

I have always advocated the four man rotation. It worked for years and years. With the advances in conditioning, diet and physiology you would think that pitchers are more likely to hold up better than forty years ago.

But Billy Martin burned up a four man staff in the early 80's and some went to five man and it worked. And you know what happens in baseball when one team has success with a strategy -- it becomes canon law and every manager follows it like a lemming.

Bring back the four man rotation!

pjbronco said...

Story of my life...Greinke has really only had one start that he was less than impressive (for him) and that was last Thursday. I have only been able to get to Kansas City for one baseball game in the last couple of years (I live in Minneapolis). You guessed it. I was at last Thursday's debacle. Oy.

Anyone know why Coco Crisp left the game last night? I tuned in on my computer later in the game and he was already out.

Anonymous said...

Sore right shoulder.

Anonymous said...

The horror of replacement players? What would have been so horrible about it?

On top of that, using scabs is as legitimate a bargaining practice as striking is. Whether one favors the owners or the players in their labor disputes, I have no love for judges who let one side play all-out hardball and not the other.

I was very, very ready to watch scab baseball in spring of 1995. I had days off in April. I was quite disappointed to not be able to see the Royals vs the Yankees because the season was shortened and delayed. Instead, I had to satisfy my baseball jones by watching AA action in New Haven.

Unknown said...

>I'd like to think Hillman would >give Greinke a 3-4 short rest >starts if it meant he gets a chance >to win 30...

You simply don't take chances with your ace's health for reasons like this. If Hillman did something like this, I'd head up the posse myself. In Boston or NY, you'd get lynched for even suggesting it.

Chance said...

If I'm not mistaken, there have been some recent failed attempts at a four-man rotation in MLB. I don't exactly recall the team or manager, but I think it might have been LaRussa (go figure).

If Zack and Gil want to pitch every 5 days, I don't see any reason to deny them. That right there is the biggest argument in favor of the 4-man.

jericho said...

Yes, and we all know Boston and New York is where baseball genius lives...

Anonymous said...

Does anybody else get kind of sad when they think of a rotation involving Meche, Greinke, Bannister, Davies, and Lincecum, or is it just me?

Anonymous said...

draft is about 10 days away... any chance we could draft a right handed hitter or a college player? *sarcasm*

Creacher said...

What are we (particularly those of us stranded on one of the coasts, who rarely get to see live action) supposed to think about Davies? Was the start of the season a fluke? Is he going to come around? Has he just run into bad luck? May has been, um, less wonderful than April.

Frank said...

creacher, you should check out out MLBtv if you got an extra 15 a month. Completely worth it when you're stranded on a coast (as I am in CA).

And Davies should come around...right?

Unknown said...

I've had the wonderful opportunity to see Greinke live once this year. It was the start in Anaheim. I think I'll shoot myself now.

As far as the 4 man goes, I don't know if I agree with that but I do agree with skipping the #5 every time you have an off day. There's really no reason not too.

KHAZAD said...

Zach is the only AL pitcher in the DH era to allow no more than 2 runs in 12 consecutive starts (beginning last year) This year he has done it by bearing down with runners in scoring position: .135/.164/.135 striking out 21 and inducing 5 double play balls in 52 at bats!

Just like every other year said...

Stick a fork in 'em...they're done. And to all those who say "it's a long season, this team is better, just be patient, blah blah blah"..........NO, it's not a long season when you play like crap for a month at a time. The season is actually quite short...the meaningful part, that is. This team is showing the same characteristics of every other year - play horrible when there's a big crowd (except when Zack pitches), don't bother to show up for afternoon games (even when Zach pitches), question marks up and down the rotation, question marks up and down the pen, no speed, poor baserunning, can't hit lefties to save their lives, questionable (at best) managing, a joke for a 3rd base coach (Dave Owen = Luis Silverio), waiver-wire players with multi-year/million dollar deals showing their true colors.

I believe this team officially packed it in about a week ago, and we're due for about 2 more weeks of free-falling. Once we're securely in the cellar, we'll play slightly-under-.500 ball for the rest of the season. Will it be enough to cost Trey his job? No. Dayton knows this one is on him - he put together a very poorly constructed roster full of strikeout artists, base cloggers and did nothing to upgrade the starting pitching, while tearing down the bullpen (now obvious).

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