Wednesday, October 5, 2011

History Lesson: September Pitching (Part 2)

The Red Sox pitching in September was Loiazan. This is no surprise, and it is not my hypothesis. Even the staunchest supporters of the "bad chemistry" theory can admit that the pitching was just plain terrible in September (although all those chemists point to this drinking story as a reason why, not a combination of bad talent and bad timing; because the Red Sox are definitively the only team in baseball with pitchers that drink between starts; riiiiight).

In September, Red Sox pitchers allowed 6.37 runs per game (earned and unearned). From April-May they had allowed 4.19 runs per game. They went from an above average pitching staff to an historically bad one. While this was happening, the offense more or less remained the same (5.4 runs per game in September, 5.4 runs per game through the whole season), elite compared to the rest of the league, but not historically elite. Because the 2011 Red Sox offense was unable to morph into a combination of the late 90s Cleveland Indians and late 20s New York Yankees, that September pitching became a problem.

It is impossible to win consistently when giving up over 6 runs per game. Now I know this won't exactly get me a book deal or a job as Theo Epstein's Assistant General Manager with the Chicago Cubs (gulp!). But I think this is a necessary hypothesis to pursue. I still hear people explaining the collapse with intangible reasons, but even if we don't want to admit injuries played a major (in my opinion the biggest) role in the collapse, the bad pitching is so glaringly obvious I do not see how people don't just use this as the reason and move on. Below is a whole bunch of examples showing just how difficult it is to win while allowing over 6 runs per game.

The 2011 Red Sox
The 2011 Red Sox allowed 6 runs or more in 52 games this season (32% of all games), 5th worst in the American League. In these games they had a record of 14-38, amounting to a .269 Win Percentage. The 14 wins and .269 Win Percentage were the best in the American League in games where teams allowed 6 runs or more, a testament to the mighty Red Sox offense (Baltimore was just 1-65 in these games). I'll repeat that: the Red Sox had the best record in the American League when allowing 6 runs or more, but that amounted to just a .269 Win Percentage.

In September, things got really insane for the Red Sox. In 27 September games, the Red Sox pitchers allowed 6 runs or more in 19 games (70% of games). Until September, the Red Sox had only allowed 6 runs or more in 33 games (24% of all games). If they had kept this pace, they would have only 6 or 7 games in September in which they gave up 6 runs or more. Instead there were 19 games. In those 19 games, the Red Sox won 4 for a .210 Win Percentage, which was still above average for the league.

One last set of numbers: In September, the Red Sox's Win Percentage was .259, almost exactly what it was over the course of the season when allowing 6 runs in a game.

Historical Record in 6+ Run Games
Even though offense was down some this year, teams never do well in games when they allow at least 6 runs. The Major League Win Percentage for teams allowing 6 or more runs per game this year was .149. Most years, the Win Percentage is a little higher than this, but not much. The highest league wide Win Percentage was .247 in 1930*.

*1930 was one of the most ridiculous offensive seasons of all time. The league average for runs scored was 5.6 runs per game; 8 hitters hit at least .370; Hack Wilson set the Major League RBI record with 191.

Only 15 teams have ever had at least a .400 Win Percentage in these games:

  • 1946 Red Sox, .400 - Ted Williams' first season back from WWII and first MVP
  • 1999 Indians, .403 - First team to score 1,000 runs, averaged 6.22 runs per game, often hit Jim Thome 7th, Manny Ramirez drove in 165 runs
  • 1942 Red Sox, .405 - Ted does it again
  • 1939 Yankees, .406 - Team scored 967 runs, averaged 6.27 runs per game, Joe Dimaggio hit .381 and won his first MVP
  • 1928 Yankees, .408 - Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, nuff ced
  • 1999 Diamondbacks, .412 - 1999 was a truly crazy offensive year
  • 1995 Indians, .415 - 50 HR from Albert Belle, Manny batting 7th
  • 2008 Cubs, .415
  • 1902 Pirates, .417 - Only 25 such games
  • 1927 Yankees, .419 - Probably the greatest team of all time, Ruth's 60 HR season
  • 1961 Yankees, .429 - 54 HR for Mantle, 61 HR for Maris
  • 1934 Tigers, .440
  • 1929 Cubs, .450 - Rogers Hornsby and Wilson combine for 308 RBI
  • 1912 Giants, .452 - Only 32 such games
  • 1975 Reds, .500 - Big Red Machine, only 28 games
The reason I wrote this list out is to show you that even the best of the best struggle to win when allowing 6 runs a game. The best record ever is only .500. On this list we have probably the two best teams ever ('75 Reds and '27 Yankees), 2 of the previous single season home run record seasons, teams led by Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Rogers Hornsby and the first team to ever score 1,000 runs in a season. We also have a few instances of teams rarely allowing 6 runs, which can lead to a fluky record. There are really only 2 seasons that seem inexplicable ('08 Cubs and '34 Tigers), but, as we all know now, you kind of have to expect the unexpected with baseball every now and then.

Bad Pitching Staffs
Over the last 20 years, in some of the craziest offensive seasons in baseball history, only 1 team has allowed more runs per game over a full season than the Red Sox did in September this year. I will get to that team in a bit.

Over this time, 12 pitching staffs have given up at least 5.95 runs per game over a full season.
  • 1996 Rockies, 5.95 runs, 83-79 - The league average runs allowed was 5.05 this season and the team scored only 3 less runs than it allowed on the whole season
  • 1993 Rockies, 5.97 runs, 67-95 - First season in the franchise's existence, Armando Reynoso is the only starter with an ERA under 5
  • 2008 Rangers, 5.97 runs, 79-83 - Vicente Padilla led the team with a 4.74 ERA
  • 2001 Rangers, 5.97 runs, 73-89 - 4 starters started at least 15 games and posted ERAs over 6; A-Rod had 52 HR and Palmeiro had 47 to keep the record respectable
  • 2003 Rangers, 5.98 runs, 71-91 - John Thomson led the team with a 4.85 ERA
  • 2006 Royals, 5.99 runs, 62-100 - Luke Hudson led the team with a 5.12 ERA, 17 different pitchers started a game, only pitcher with an ERA under 5 to start a game was Adam Bernero who started twice, Mark Redman makes All-Star game and finishes season with 5.71 ERA
  • 2000 Rangers, 6.01 runs, 71-91 - The inspiration for the A-Rod mega deal, Esteban Loiaza appears
  • 1994 Twins, 6.09 runs, 53-60 - Strike season
  • 1994 Rangers, 6.11 runs, 52-52 - Strike season, ended up FIRST in the AL West
  • 1995 Twins, 6.17 runs, 56-88 - Strike season, Kevin Tappani led the team with a 4.92 ERA
  • 1999 Rockies, 6.35 runs, 72-90 - The league average runs allowed was 5.08 this season, Jamey Wright led the team with 4.87 ERA, John Thomson started 13 games and had an 8.04 ERA
The only team with a worse runs per game average than the September, 2011 Red Sox is the 1996 Detroit Tigers. That team allowed 6.81 runs per game and finished the season with a 53-109 record, one of the worst in Major League history. Offense was way up in 1996 as the Braves led baseball with 4 runs per game, but this was a terrible pitching staff. 16 different pitchers started a game. Felipe Lira led the team in starts with 32 and finished with a 6-14 record and 5.22 ERA. Omar Oliveres led the team in wins with 7 and had a 4.89 ERA. Greg Olson led the team in saves with 8. Only 1 pitcher on the entire team had an ERA less than 4.18 (Joey Eischen with a 3.24 ERA in just 25 innings pitched).

The reason I bring up these teams is to show you the types of pitching staffs that usually produce this poorly. In every situation there was either a crazy offensive environment, a crazy hitters' park, terrible pitchers or a combination of all three. These staffs usually lead to a terrible team record; the high octane '96 Rockies being the exception. The Red Sox played this year in a decent offensive environment, decent hitters' park and mixed Jon Lester and Josh Beckett in with some terrible pitchers. In other words, they don't fit the usual model.

It is impossible to have a winning record when allowing 6 runs or more per game. No shit.

So maybe I did not discover the theory of relativity here, but I hope I was able to show just how bleak the Red Sox staff was in September. The team gave up 6 runs or more in 70% of its September games. This season they won about 27% of all these types of games, which was still above the league average of 15% and historically was in the top 10%. Even the best teams in history were never able to win more than half of these types of games, and that was only one special team. The staff performed worse than all but the worst of the pitching staffs of the last 20 years, but did so with much better pitchers including Beckett and Lester.

Some people may want to say that this bad pitching was the result of the pitchers not having enough testicular fortitude, but I think the reasons are far more tangible than that. The fact that the team only had one good, healthy pitcher pitching every turn in September is a big cause for this massive decline. Lester was the only above average pitcher to make every start in the final month and even he couldn't pitch up to his usual standards (we will explore why in another History Lesson). The other two good starters, Beckett and Erik Bedard both missed starts with injuries and both were unable to perform in the starts they made, maybe because of injuries. The rest of the starts were taken by 3 pitchers who just aren't good enough to start for a contender (Kyle Weiland, Andrew Miller, Tim Wakefield) and a formerly good pitcher having the worst season in Red Sox history (Lackey). Add in the struggles of an overworked bullpen and it was too much for the team to over come.

For the next History Lesson, I will look at the pitching again and try to determine if a lack of depth magnified the injury problems and how they could have solved this...

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