Jun
23

Starters continuing to get the job done

By

What good is an innings eater if he provides poor results? We hear the term so often when it refers to a pitcher who, sure, throws a lot of innings, but most of the time that pitcher just isn’t that good. At the top-end, they’re average pitchers. Tim Wakefield is routinely referred to as an innings eater. This 2006 USA Today article uses the term to describe Esteban Loaiza, who ended up, to no one’s surprise, being below average that year. He was average during his career, a 98 ERA+.

While the mainstream definition might not be that flattering, the concept of an innings eater is an important one during a 162-game season. A team will pitch at least 1377 innings every year, and that’s if there are no extra innings games and they lose every game on the road. Clearly, teams want the best pitchers filling the most innings, since that gives them a better shot of holding opponents to fewer runs. That, in turn, translates to more wins — or at least theoretical wins since there is the independent variable called offense to still consider.

It comes as no surprise that Sabathia ranks among the league's best innings eaters| Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

The point behind an innings eater, I suppose, is that teams don’t want to constantly fish from the bullpen pond in an attempt to find someone who can keep the game under control. That makes sense in a way. Relievers are typically pitchers who aren’t good enough, for one reason or another, to fit into the starting rotation. A team would, then, want to keep in the starter longer, since he’s presumably a better pitcher by virtue of being in the rotation in the first place. It’s not always true, of course, and oftentimes relievers can perform better than starers. For instance, in the AL this year starters have a collective 4.31 ERA while relievers, in half the innings pitched, are at 4.07. Relievers also posted a lower ERA than starters last season by nearly a half run per nine innings.

The 2010 Yankees have a different breed of innings eaters. All five rank in the top 50 in innings pitched per game started. That includes Javy Vazquez, who got pulled early in a number of starts earlier this season. A.J. Burnett, who has also been pulled early on a few occasions, ranks 36th. Pettitte and Sabathia both average 6.7 innings per start and are tied for sixth in the AL. Phil Hughes averages six and a third per start. The Yankees as a team lead the AL in innings pitched per game start with 6.3. This is, of course, fantastic. Not only are they eating plenty of innings, but they’re pitching well. This not only takes pressure off the bullpen, but it also gives the team a better chance to win every night.

Pettitte, on the other hand, has been a pleasant surprise in that category | Photo credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP

The Yankees, again, have used these starter innings effectively. They rank eighth in the majors, third in the AL, in starter ERA, 3.78. They again rank eighth, and again third in the AL, in opponent OPS, a mere point behind Toronto. They rank fourth in the majors, second in the AL, in opponent OBP. They’re doing it reasonably efficiently, too, averaging 100 pitches per game started as a team, which means 15.87 pitches per inning per game started. That’s good for fourth in the AL, third among teams that actually average more than 6 IP per game started.

To put it a different way, Yankees pitchers have thrown 625.1 innings. The five starters have thrown 438.1 of those, or 70 percent of the team’s innings. Again, that is a league-leading mark. It also seems like the ideal place for a pitching staff to be, considering the unit’s effectiveness. The staff is eating innings at a better rate than its peers, and it is pitching better than most of them. It is the main reason that the team sits in first place today. The offense has struggled at times, but the pitching has been simply lights out.

If it seems like I harp on this topic a lot, it’s because I do. The mid-00s taught me a number of lessons, chief among them that there is no substitute for strong starting pitching. Sure, you can bludgeon a team to death, as many of those teams did. But as we saw in years like 2005, 2007, and even 2008, it can also backfire. In those years the Yanks got off to slow starts and only made the playoffs, in the former two, and got to 89 wins in the latter because the offense eventually came around. Can that happen every year? I’m not sure. But what killed the Yankees those years was a complete lack of pitching. Last year we saw that change, and this year it has gotten even better. The Yanks staff is getting the job done, and the Yanks, at least for today, sit on top of the world.

Categories : Pitching

70 Comments»

  1. Mike HC says:

    This starting rotation has been a pleasure to watch. Sure AJ and Javy and even CC has had their rough patches, and I’m sure Hughes and Pettitte will hit their own, but that is expected. It does not get much better than this as a Yankee fan.

    It was not that long ago that the Yanks would throw a series of scrubs and busts out there to pitch far too often. Not fun to watch.

  2. Pete says:

    “It comes as no surprise that Sabathia ranks among the league’s best innings eaters”

    It comes as no surprise that Sabathis ranks among the league’s best anything eaters.

    /had to’d

  3. Bret says:

    Like I said yesterday, the pitching has been great without debate. Pettitte deserves to start the All Star game without debate. But if you look at his peripherals, he is strking out fewer guys than in 08, walking more and giving up the same number of home runs – his ERA that year was 4.54 though he did have a high BABIP.

    The question with him and with most of the offensive overachievment is will it continue or will there be regression. Signs point towards the latter.

    • And like we said to you yesterday, there are also offensive underachievement, and signs point toward a positive regression to the mean in those instances.

      Two sides of every coin.

      • “There *is* also offensive underacheivement…”

        Stupid grammar fail.

      • Bret says:

        I’m not sure where you see major underachievment other than Tex. Arod is no longer an MVP caliber player and he isn’t having that bad a year for mere mortals off steriods at age 35 with hip issues. Granderson has not been an elite player for a few years. Jeter is on pace to have the same year as 2008 which at age 36 is probably to be expected. The other five (when Cervelli plays and Posada DHs) are all well over where anyone predicted them to be preseason (Cervelli not because of his overall production but because of his situational hitting). There are more guys playing better than thought than guys playing worse than thought. It simply isn’t as good an offense as last year, especially once Nick Johnson was lost.

        Better hope the pitching holds.

        • Arod is no longer an MVP caliber player and he isn’t having that bad a year for mere mortals off steriods at age 35 with hip issues.

          And he’s still under his expected production and showing recent signs of improving.

          Granderson has not been an elite player for a few years.

          And whether that judgement statement is true or not (there’s plenty of reasons to think it’s not), he’s still under his expected production and showing recent signs of improving.

          Jeter is on pace to have the same year as 2008 which at age 36 is probably to be expected.

          He was hurt in 2008, and it was his worst year by far. He won’t duplicate 2009, but he’s still under his expected production and showing recent signs of improving.

          Oh, yeah, and: Tex. Even if ARod, Granderson, and Jeter don’t improve, Tex will, and his improvement BY HIMSELF will likely be big enough to compensate for any regression by the players who are hitting well.

          Furthermore, yes, I expect Gardner to regress. I expect Cervelli to regress (he already has). I don’t expect Swisher or Cano to regress. They’re not playing over their heads, they’re entering their baseball primes. They’re making the leap. I absolutely think they can both remain red hot all year long. They’re great hitters who are finally putting it all together as they enter their veteran phase of their careers.

        • A-Rod is a definite underachiever so far. He may not be ’05-’07 good ever again, but he’s not just .827 OPS/.358 wOBA good either. I’d be shocked if he finished with numbers that aren’t much better than what he has now.

          I also doubt we’ll see Jeter at a .337 wOBA all year. Maybe his walk rate isn’t going to go up like we want it to, but I doubt he stays at a .307 BABIP all year (however, it’s likely if he keeps pounding the ball into the ground).

        • Rose says:

          We’re still winning games…what’s your point?

          Even if we look through your shattered lenses we see that they’re winning games and competing with the best in the business.

          Tex is “underachieving”, Arod and Jeter are “old” and washed up, Granderson hasn’t been an elite player in years, and the others are all “overachieving”

          We’re still in 1st place doing better than every single other team in major league baseball right now in the hardest division no less.

          Will Arod hit 50 HR again? Who knows but we don’t necessarily need him to. We used to thrive on the offense because that’s literally all we had for a while…we’d patchwork some form of Mike Mussina and Jon Leiber together as a starting 2 and attempt to march into the playoffs as if it were no different than the regular season. We have very good pitching right now so the 50 HRs aren’t all that necessary anymore. Fact of the matter is that everybody is contributing and that’s better than everybody else regressing to their mean but having Alex Rodriguez hitting 50+ home runs…

          Sometimes there are outliers on a box and whisker plot. And sometimes they’re not bad…

        • Guest says:

          Yes, certain players are playing better than predicted, but I think you are wrong to expect a major regression.

          First, I think there is a fair chance that the players who are playing over their heads will sustain their production:

          1. Nick Swisher’s BA is way up, for sure. But he has completely re-vamped his swing and his other production numbers are not out of line with his performance from last season. Furthermore, he is in the prime of his career. I don’t expect a regression.

          2. Robinson Cano. The man has hit .342 and .320 already in his young career. He is in his prime. He has worked on and improved his plate discipline. People have been claiming that the power would come for years, and he increased his power greatly last year. So the fact that he is hitting for increased power this year is not shocking. I expect a regression because he is currently having one of the best seasons for a 2B ever, which is likely not sustainable. But I don’t expect it to be large because, again, he is a great hitter, entering his prime, who has worked on and improved his plate discipline.

          3. Brett Gardner. I expect the largest regression here. But, again, I don’t think it will be that large. He consistently started slowly at every level as he has progressed through the minors. The man has a short swing can make contact, and will beat out a ton of groundballs. He’ll regress but I expect him to remain solid.

          4. Mark Texeira is the Yankee most likely to have a HUGE change in his production. We have thousands of at bats telling us that his first couple hundred ABs this season are an abberation. This of course, is great news for the Yankees.

          5. Posada is not producing well over expectations. I’m sorry, he’s not. He’s a great hitter. We’ve seen nothing, (bat-speed changes, loss of power, etc.) that should lead us to believe that the fact that he has hit well when in the lineup is some sort of shock or bonus.

          That leaves Jeter, Granderson, A-rod, and DH/Cervelli. Yes Cervelli has overperformed (especially with RISP), but Granderson and A-Rod are performing beneath where their recent numbers would have predicted (if, as you point out, not by much). Not to mention the fact that a lot of Granderson’s at bats went to Winn/Thames/Russo in the first third of the season.I would expect, as a group, these four players to perform at least as well if not better in the second half of the season (especially if Johnson comesback or the Yanks pick up another DH).

          I really don’t see this offense going backwards in production from how it has performed to this point.

        • nsalem says:

          If you extrapolated Arod’s season last year to the 162 he would have had 39 Home Runs and 130 RBI and he did have a for the ages post season run in leading his team to a WC.
          This was all after hip surgery. Speculate all you wish in terms of a slow demise, but perhaps he may surprise such “pundits” with a spectacular second half. Please at least wait till the book is closed on 2010 before writing the story.
          Because I am a fan I also would like to think that your ASSumption that his success is due to PED’s is a bad on.

          • Mike HC says:

            And I would also think the assumption that he isnot/will no longer take PED’s is flawed.

            I still expect huge years from ARod in the future. Not worried about him.

    • bexarama says:

      Pettitte deserves to start the All Star game without debate.

      Is it wrong that out of everything in this comment, that was what jumped out at me as the “whoah.” statement?

    • Mike HC says:

      You think our offense is overachieving based only on your own distorted expectations that no Yankee hitter is allowed to legitimately improve from last year and any slumping Yankee will never hit well again. It is flawed thinking.

      You also say our pitching is due for a regression, but don’t take into account that CC is a notorious second half pitcher. And not just a good one, but a f’ing dominant one. 2.74 era after the break last year. So even if Andy pitches to his 4.00 era in the second half, CC will pick up the slack. Plus, Javy’s overall first half number are down as well. Those numbers will be better in the second half.

  4. Rose says:

    What good is an innings eater if he provides poor results? We hear the term so often when it refers to a pitcher who, sure, throws a lot of innings, but most of the time that pitcher just isn’t that good.

    Livannn…Livan likes his mon-ayyyy…he makees a lot they sayyyeeee

    (Although, Livan’s results have been quite good this year so far…so this mainly pertains to the small sample size called the rest of his career)

  5. YankeesJunkie says:

    Should not be a surprise that the five opening starters for the Yankees have made 69 of 71 starts for the Yankees. That is a recipe for a lot of wins.

    • Scout says:

      I was about to add this point when I read your comment. I think it is the key difference this year: a solid and healthy rotation.

  6. dan genovese says:

    that is why we go and get lee next year

  7. AndrewYF says:

    I am simply in awe of what Pettitte has been able to do this year. Considering the man’s career numbers, age, and the competition, what he’s doing is simply incredible.

    Couple of questions regarding Sir Andrew the Lionhearted:

    1.) His next couple of starts pending, can we consider this to be the best first-half-season of Pettitte’s career?

    2.) Would it be reasonable, considering his age and also performance to date, to expect Pettitte to pitch to his career second-half numbers (~3.65 ERA) for the rest of the year? If we estimate him to have 120 IP left in the year, that would put him at a 3.15 ERA for the year. I’ll take that.

    3.) If last season didn’t cement Pettitte as one of the most important pitchers in all of Yankee history, is there any more doubt that Pettitte will have his number retired? Frankly, I see him as the most important Yankee pitcher behind only Whitey Ford, and around the same level as Mariano.

    4.) How many more seasons does he have to pitch around the level of his career numbers to have a Mussina’s chance at the Hall of Fame? 2? 3?

    • I’ll play:

      1.) Yes.
      2.) Yes. I’d take that as well.
      3.) Yes, there’s still doubt that he’ll have his number retired. Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, and Jack Chesbro don’t have their numbers retired, and they’re in Cooperstown. Gomez and Ruffing in particular are more deserving than Andy is of being in Monument Park and having their #11 and #15 never issued again. Andy’s getting closer to having his #46 retired, but he should be down on the list.
      4.) I’ll say 3.

      • steve s says:

        I’ll play too as to 3 and 4.

        3) No doubt because of my answer to 4.

        4) If Andy retires with 100+ wins over losses (which he has if he retired today; everyone eligible for the HOF who has acheived that stat is in) when added to his post-season aggregate achievments puts him in HOF contention already. If he contiues to put up career year type numbers this year and picks up another win or 2 in the 2010 post-season (and then retires after 2010) I’d say he’s in. Any further productive years after 2010 only cements his HOF chances.

        • But can you really say that Andy gets his #46 retired “no doubt” he makes it into the Hall?

          Because Lefty Gomez may not have 100 more wins than losses, but he’s still going to have a better career winning percentage than Pettitte, better peripherals across the board, just as many rings and the same HoF plaque, but they still give out his #11.

          Even if Andy does all the things you said, he’s still only the second best lefty starting pitcher in this team’s history.

          • steve s says:

            All your points are well-taken and saying Andy’s a lock for a retired number if he makes the HOF doesn’t mean Gomez should not be honored in the same way (although it would be tough to retire Jack Chesbro’s number as I don’t think he ever had one). I’m not even sure Andy qualifes as the second best lefty in team history (besides Ford and perhaps Gomez, I’d take Gator in his prime over Andy). I think, however, when it comes to Yanks in the HOF and retired numbers the post-60′s standard really was set with Reggie (I don’t count Winfield because he wore a SD cap). That doesn’t mean you need to be a HOFer to get your number retired (dying tragically, for example, still gets you in) but if you get in the HOF, and go in as a Yank, I think there is no doubt that your number will be retired as well.

    • bexarama says:

      I’ll play too. I always like playing with Andy. ;)

      1. Yes.
      2. Provided he stays healthy, yes. This’d be pretty exciting.
      3. I don’t think he gets (or deserves to get) his number retired, though he’s been a very valuable and important pitcher. A plaque in Monument Park though, definitely.
      4. Sadly, I think he already has more of a chance than Mussina in the eyes of most of the voters, knowing what they value/how they view Pettitte and Mussina. To be deserving? I dunno if he could do anything short of pitching at the level he’s pitching at right now for at least two more years. I think he just didn’t have the peak to deserve a HOF vote.

      • Sadly, I think he already has more of a chance than Mussina in the eyes of most of the voters, knowing what they value/how they view Pettitte and Mussina

        Andy Pettite is a starting pitchah. Mike Mussina is just some stupid nerd-dork who likes reading and crosswords and learning and other gay shit like that.

        IT’S THE HALL OF FAME, NOT THE HALL OF DWEEBS!!!!

  8. I’m not sure that I’d use ERA as a statistic to make any statement of whether starters or relievers are playing better.

    As we know, often times relievers allow runs to score that are unearned, which while not technically responsible for, I think skews the data.

    • This article is 5 years old now, but it makes the case for Win Probability Added (WPA) being the premier stat for evaluating relievers.

      http://www.hardballtimes.com/m.....relievers/

      I see the logic in that. It ignores whether the runs that scored were charged to you or to someone else and only asks “Did you improve or worsen your team’s chances of winning the game during your appearance?”

      Bonus: WPA is automatically scaled to include leverage. Working a perfect inning in a tie game counts as a larger WPA bonus than working a perfect inning in a 6-3 lead. Getting an out with runners on 2nd and 3rd is worth more than getting an out with the bases empty.

      Thoughts?

      • Riddering says:

        I love it. Success and projections with relievers is so situational that other stats (ERA, saves, holds, inherited runners, IP) fail at providing a real picture of what a bullpen pitcher is providing a team in general and appearance-by-appearance.

        • The thing I find funny is, looking through the past few years, Mo is almost never at the top of the WPA reliever rankings. He’s amongst the best, but never THE best.

          Then it clicked: his appearances don’t generate as much WPA as others because our offense gives him so many easy save situations (at least compared to others). He has fewer true “fireman” appearances than other, lesser closers do because our offense is so good at giving him a 2/3/4 run lead, and our Bridges to Mowhere recently have actually been quite sturdy at getting the ball to him in the top of the 9th and not in the middle of the 8th with disaster impending.

          Mo’s biggest WPA seasons have come earlier in his career when Ol’ Man Torre put him in there as soon as things started turning horrible.

  9. Riddering says:

    This post is great. I was looking at which teams had their starting pitchers leading at innings pitched (curious from Nolan Ryan’s quotes about the same old ‘let ‘em pitch’ belief and the Rangers are middle of the pack when it comes to their starters’ length) and was pleased to see that the Yanks are right up there with the best. As you say, CC goes the distance even he’s roughed up but Andy’s ability to go deep into games this year so far has been just ginchy. Especially in a game like last night when his pitch count skyrocketed due to a couple long innings, it’s great for the team and watching as a fan to see him finish up the 7th inning.

    • *You’re* excited?!?! FEEL THESE NIPPLES!!!!!!

      /Bexy’d

      • bexarama says:

        Hey hey hey how’d I get dragged into this?

        Though…

        Andy’s ability to go deep
        That is clear bexybait, missy.

        • Riddering says:

          Heh, you think that was bexybait? I edited the hell out of that comment! By the time it was post-friendly, I had to pop open a bottle of water and pour it over my head.

          And therefore, the Yankees rotation being able to go to the six inning and beyond is mega awesome and on topic and etc.

          • Pete says:

            “By the time it was post-friendly, I had to pop open a bottle of water and pour it over my head.”

            /prettymucheveryoneherebesidesbexyrebeccaanayouandafewothersbait’d

            • bexarama says:

              Haha. I’m guessing it’s a reference to the fact that last night, YES showed Pettitte in the dugout pouring water over himself for like… a full inning. My reaction was rather enthusiastic.

              Anyway, um, yeah, our starting rotation rules and look at me being all on-topic and stuff.

  10. Mike says:

    I’m glad Petite is doing great ever since those false accusations of HGH use.

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