Some Pitching Numbers That Maybe Probably Mean Something
Let's look back at the pitching in 2021 and go into the splits.
Baseball is a game of statistics and those stats can tell pretty much whatever story you want them to tell. Okay, maybe not all the time, but there are ways to bend numbers to display certain things even when maybe those things aren’t exactly indicative of anything. We see splits for batter handedness. We can see how guys do on certain days of rest and by umpire and so much more. And I’m going to look at all of those, but there were a few things that I was curious about, and the beauty of this newsletter is that I have an opportunity to look at those things, even if they are mundane.
So let’s dive in to some stats we don’t talk about too often and see if we can glean anything from them.
If you’re not familiar with game score, it’s a metric introduced by Bill James that was supposed to be a pretty quick way to see how effective a starting pitcher was in any given game. It’s an easy formula that has a lot of components, so it can seem complicated, but every starting pitcher starts his outing with a game score of 50. Then:
Add one point for each out recorded
Add two points for each inning recorded after the fourth
Add one point for each strikeout
Subtract two points for each hit allowed
Subtract four points for each earned run allowed
Subtract two points for each unearned run allowed
Subtract one point for each walk
So take Daniel Lynch’s return to the big leagues against the Tigers after the break. He went eight innings, gave up five hits, no runs, no walks and struck out four. So his formula was 50+24+8+4-10-0-0-0=76. That was his best game of the year. Now look at his second start of the season. He went 0.2 innings and gave up eight runs on seven hits. All runs were earned. And he walked a batter without a strikeout. So that formula was 50+2-14-32-1=5.
Anyway, there’s your quick and dirty. I don’t know that my idea of average is the same as everyone else’s, but I think if you’re between 40 and 55, you’re giving your team anywhere from an okay chance to win to a better than okay chance, so I like to put those in the middle. Above 55 and you should be in good shape and below 40 and you’re in trouble.
So how did the Royals do with that grouping? Pretty much what I figured. They were 35-23 with a game score of 55+. I was actually a little surprised to see they had that many games that high. That .603 winning percentage works out to a 98-win season. So that’s a 32 percent increase in their actual win total. Look at a team like the Astros, who were better and had a significantly better offense to better take advantage of those great starts, and they went 62-18 for a .775 winning percentage, which is a 126-win pace and is…33 percent over their total wins.
This is a terrible way to analyze stats, but the quick look tells me it’s a pretty good barometer. Of course, the Astros were better because of their offense, but they also had 80 starts with a game score of 55 or better compared to the 58 for the Royals, so there’s work to do on both sides.
When the game score was 40-55 for the Royals, they went 29-30 for a .492 winning percentage. The Astros went…29-30. Getting a decent start gives a team a chance to win. Story at 11.
And finally when the game score was below 40, it’s a big ol’ woof. Strangely enough for the Royals, they actually won 10 of the 45 games that were that bad for a .222 winning percentage. The Astros were just 4-19, but that’s also only 23 games. When you replace 22 terrible games with 22 very good ones, it’s no surprise that they won, wait for it, 21 more games than the Royals.
My conclusion here is that the Royals should pitch better more often.
Again, this is correlated with the offense picking up a staff when possible. The Royals staff allowed eight or more runs 28 times throughout the season. The Royals surprisingly won three of those games. First of all, I think I actually expected a few more games with eight or more runs allowed. It’s kind of crazy to think that they were 2-2 in the first four games where they allowed eight or more. Maybe we should have known that start wasn’t sustainable. Oh, if you were wondering, the Astros were 0-18 when they allowed eight or more.
When the Royals allowed five to eight runs, they were 14-41 for a .255 winning percentage. They did that in about one-third of their games, which is simply too many, but again, I’m not saying anything you don’t know. They were 4-5 in those games through April. Again, the signs were there. Hmm…
And when they allowed four or fewer, they weren’t exactly the 2014 Royals, but they did go 57-22 for a .722 winning percentage. That is a cool 117-win pace. So I’ll say it again, but pitching better more often is a great formula for the Royals to win some games. The Giants gave up four or fewer runs 109 times and went a ridiculous 87-22 in those games. I don’t think they’re getting enough credit for the great season they had because of their early exit, but that’s just silly. Of course, the Astros were actually better by percentage, winning 82 of 101 games they gave up four or fewer.
While very simple, the formula is there. Limit your opponent to four runs or fewer at least 90 times and win 80 percent-ish of those games and you’re probably at least in the race. Let’s say the Royals turned 10 of the 19 games they allowed five runs into four runs to give them 89 games with four runs allowed or fewer. And then let’s give them 71 wins in those for a winning percentage of around .800. That gives them about 10 more wins, which doesn’t get them to the playoffs, but 84 wins puts them in the conversation until the last week and a half at least.
The Royals didn’t often get to save their staff in 2021, with just six games using fewer than three pitchers. And their lone complete game would not have been a complete game if not for the seven-inning doubleheader rule. Since six games is essentially nothing (they did go 2-4 in those six), we can probably throw them out. But I thought it was interesting that they were 32-37 when using five or more pitchers and 40-47 when using three or four pitchers. Those both project out to a 75-win season.
I think what that says about the staff is that they had a lot of guys who were roughly equal out in the bullpen. Yes, pitchers slumped throughout the year, but there wasn’t a huge bump or dropoff when going from Scott Barlow to Josh Staumont to Jake Brentz to early-season Kyle Zimmer and then late-season Domingo Tapia. It was a balanced bullpen. And that’s all the more reason that I think they need to find a guy to really solidify the back of that bullpen. Go get that horse who can put fear in an opponent. Or hope it’s either Staumont or Dylan Coleman, who I maintain are the two best options for that.
More Traditional Splits
Just because I’m on the Baseball Reference page for the Royals, let’s take a look at some splits that actually mean something instead of hoping we find things that mean anything.
Royals starters averaged a touch more than 4.2 innings with a 5.38 ERA before the break. And that was with Danny Duffy having a great start to his season. It featured the rough start for Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar’s brutal first couple outings and the worst few months of Brad Keller’s career. But after the break, they were downright okayish. They averaged about an extra start per game, so that still wasn’t great, but they had a 4.51 ERA.
What changed is what has me a bit worried moving forward for the starters. They struck out 21.8 percent of batters in the first half, but that fell to 19.7 percent. On the good side, the walk rate followed, dropping from 9.4 percent to 8.6 percent. But if your glass is half empty, you could say they were fourth-worst in the league in starter walk rate in the first half and third-worst in the second half, so they got worse relative to the league. If you were wondering, they were 20th in first half strikeout rate and 22nd in second half, so maybe there wasn’t that much of a change.
The bullpen stepped up in a big way after the break with their ERA dropping from 4.87 (ranking as seventh-worst in baseball) to 3.44 (fifth-best). They ranked 19th in strikeout rate in both halves, but the rate dropped from 23.9 percent to 22.8 percent. Their reliever walk rate was 11.7 percent in the first half, which was fifth-worst in baseball compared to 8.8 percent in the second half, which was eighth best. So there’s the big change!
Times Through the Order
Early in the season, there was a lot of chatter about guys never seeing a lineup a third time. Okay, I lied. It lasted through the whole season. For every team. And with good reason. You can see the increase each of the first three times through the lineup.
That fourth time is kind of interesting because teams have swung so far to wanting to pull guys too early rather than too late that if they’re in there, they’re likely having a great game, so it makes sense that the numbers drop there. But the Royals, well, they’re different.
Maybe their starters were so bad that they had a similar bump just from seeing a lineup a third time, but they actually got a little better the third time through. A few more hits, yes, but less damage with the ISOs at .164 and .184 the first two times through and then .150 the third time through. It’s probably statistical noise, if we’re being honest, but I found it at least slightly interesting that they bucked the trend there in some ways.
This doesn't mean that I think Mike Matheny should completely go against wisdom and throw guys until their arms fall off or they give up a three-run homer, whichever comes first. I just find it interesting when stats aren’t what you’d expect.
Days of Rest
I may have saved the most interesting stat for moving forward for last. The Royals moved to a six-man rotation later in the season in an effort to both limit innings and get a look at more of their young arms in a starter setting. A good chunk of the second half was spent in this, which might be a pretty good reason for the splits by half as well. As it turned out, this really agreed with the team.
The results were quite good. The one, two and three-day numbers are pretty irrelevant because it’s mostly using guys as Openers, but four, five and six are the more traditional ones. Six, maybe not so much, but look at the difference in five days rest vs. the other two. They had a 22.9 percent strikeout rate compared with 19.8 percent on four days rest and 19.4 percent on six days rest.
This might be the way forward for this team, both to keep their young arms healthier (though I’m not sure throwing less actually does that much) and to maybe take a bit of strain off the bullpen. If a pitcher is throwing every sixth day instead of every fifth, they’re conceivably cutting off five or six starts, which might allow them to get a little deeper here and there, especially when an off-day is approaching and can get them an additional day off as well. When you look at all the candidates for the rotation, it does make some sense that this might be the way of the future.
And those are just a few pitching stats that might mean something or they might mean nothing, but numbers are fun and I wanted to look at all of them, so I appreciate you humoring me.
The game score piece was interesting to me. Basically, the difference between the top tier teams and the bottom is as simple as.......have less crappy starts. Which seems obvious.....but also comes down to depth. Maybe Minor in the rotation isn't all that bad compared to a 2021 Kowar. The million dollar question becomes even with all these pieces for the rotation. Do we really "know" which ones will consistently go out there and give you a decent start? Not really yet, which will probably lead to a higher number of bad starts as they sort through that process. Certainly makes the case for going out and getting another solid, veteran starter.
Any thoughts on the plethora of young Royals pitchers that we could do something revolutionary to move the game forward (as we did with HDH in our last championship core)? Such as, get more into openers and bulk inning guys? Have more 2-3 inning guys, and adopt the "no third time through the order unless walking on water" 3-5 inning guys? Have your Big 4 or Big 5 Closer Group that can take you to victory (HDH for for maybe 4 or 5 innings instead of just 3)? In any event, Tampa Bay, and postseason starter pitching use, has my imagination whirling. Could we take some kind of unorthodox approach, to take full advantage of an advantage that we have right now over so many (or all) other teams - having so many young pitchers - to combine with a new, advanced way to develop and use them?