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MLB Winning Formula

   by Scott Spreitzer - 07/28/2007

In last week's article, I talked about the dangers of looking too much
at earned run average. It's a stat that can be greatly polluted and
misleading, particularly if you're looking at short term numbers.

A good pitcher can have poor numbers over a small stretch, but he's
still a good pitcher. A bad pitcher can have good numbers over a small
stretch, but he's still a bad pitcher. Do you want to handicap based on
their quality, or on their small stretches?

Too many bet baseball like it's roulette. They see a
streak, and they want to ride it. A pitcher's had a few good starts in a
row, so he's suddenly "found his form" and is ready to dominate. A
pitcher is coming off two bad starts, so he's suddenly lost it and can't
get anybody out. Try that with black and red on the roulette wheels in
Vegas and see how well it works. Vegas casinos started raking in the
dough when they posted those little electronic scoreboards that tell you
what numbers have come up recently on the wheel. You can't beat
roulette! It doesn't matter what numbers have come up lately!

I'm a strong believer in focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of
pitchers rather than raw earned run averages. I've come up with a
statistic that helps you express those strengths and weaknesses in a way
that's easily digestible. I think that you'll gain a greater
understanding about major league pitchers by putting it to use.

First, the key elements:

*GETTING PEOPLE OUT: my stat rewards pitchers who get people out, and
punishes those who don't. Sounds simple enough. You've got to start with
the fundamentals.

*STRIKING PEOPLE OUT: history has made it very clear that pitchers who
get a lot of strikeouts last longer with more effectiveness than
pitchers who don't. It's the single most dominant influence when
charting out the career paths of any pitcher at any age. High strikeout
guys are more effective and more consistent than low strikeout guys.
Making hitters miss is better than making hitters hit it to a fielder in
the big picture. Longtime professional wagerers have taken advantage of
this knowledge for years. My stat gives an extra boost to strikeout
pitchers.

*KEEPING PEOPLE OFF BASE: This sounds redundant, but actually isn't. If
you get outs while allowing some base runners, too many of those guys
will eventually come around to score. Obviously three outs with no
base runners is better than three outs with one base runner, or three outs
with two baserunners. Pitchers can't trade outs for hits with opposing
offense. They have to keep runners off base. Nobody in the league can
get everyone out. Nobody in the league is so bad that they can't get
anybody out. The way to evaluate the quality of pitchers must involve
finding the relationship between outs and base runners.

Here's a simple stat which does that:

*OUTS (which is INNINGS PITCHED times THREE) plus STRIKEOUTS (we want to
double count strikeouts because of their impact on success) minus
BASE RUNNERS (hits allowed plus walks allowed) PER GAME.

Or, in a mathematical form:

*3(IP) + Ks – Hits – Walks divided by Games Played.

The best pitchers will average in the 15-18 range (with a few going even
higher) over a large sampling of starts. Innings munchers will average
in the 13-14 range while getting the job done. Struggling starters will
average 12 or below. Frankly, any guy averaging 12 or below will be
fighting to maintain a spot in the rotation.

To briefly bring these numbers to life, let me provide some one-game
examples from the other night:

*This past Friday night, Gil Meche of Kansas City hurled a gem at
Detroit. He pitched seven innings (21 outs), allowing just five hits while
getting five strikeouts with no walks. That game grades out to a very
strong 21 (21+5-5-0).

*This past Friday night, Josh Beckett of Boston pitched a other great
game for the Red Sox. He threw six innings (18 outs), with 10 of the 18
outs coming on strikeouts. Talk about impact! He allowed just four hits
and two walks to the White Sox. That game grades out to an even stronger
22 (18+10-4-2).

*This past Friday night, Mike Mussina of the NY Yankees got rocked by
Tampa Bay. He pitched 4 2/3 innings (14 outs) while
putting 10 runners on base (seven hits and three walks). He did have five
strikeouts, but it wasn't enough to stem the tide. The game score here
is a lousy 9 (14+5-10).

You can do the math very quickly in your head when you look at the
boxscores. It literally takes only seconds. Instead of messing with game
ERA's, or trying to put everything into words, you can just put in your
notes (I use my handy schedule) that Beckett pitched a 22, Meche pitched
a 21, and Mussina had a 9. Those numbers sum things up beautifully.

Do that for the full day's schedule, and the pitching performances are
easy to absorb. Do it every day, and you get a sense of who the high
impact pitchers really are. Compile the full season averages for each
pitcher (the information is easy to find at any sports handicapping
website that offers pitching matchups), and the "take" or "go against"
guys literally jump off the page.

Again, the best pitchers will rank at 15 or higher for a season average,
with the best individual games scoring in the 20s. The worst pitchers
will be 12 or worse for a season average, with the worst individual
games reaching into the negatives. Derek Lowe of the Los Angeles Dodgers
popped a negative-three this past Thursday night when he allowed 13
base runners in just three innings in a game against the Mets.

This stat makes you focus on what truly matters when it comes to evaluating
pitchers. When you combine it with your knowledge of offenses, and
ballparks, the games literally start to pick themselves. That's true for
Over/Unders too, by the way.

Spend less time on the fickleness of earned run averages, and more time
on the impact stats. I think you'll be very pleased with the results!

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