A new way to allocate runs allowed

If we change the way we allocate runs allowed, Scott Feldman is going to look pretty darn good. - Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

For years, we've assigned runs to the pitcher that allowed the baserunner to reach base. Isn't there a better way?

My favorite thing in the world is an idea that changes the way you see things to the point at which you can never go back to seeing things the way you use to. I remember feeling that way when a scientist wondered aloud if the current climate was actually sub-optimal and that climate change could actually be a good thing. It jumped off the page in Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding:

Putting Henry at shortsop - it was like taking a painting that had been shoved in a closet and hanging it an ideal spot. You instantly forgot what the room had looked like before.

I had a similar feeling when Paul Wezner of TigsTown.com posited an interesting question last summer. I'll paraphrase, because it's really hard to search for a tweet that doesn't have any memorable words. Wezner asked, "why don't they just allocate runs based on how far you allowed the runner to reach before you come out of the game?" In other words, when a starter leaves the game with a runner on first base, he is credited with a run allowed if that runner ends up scoring, even though the reliever would have allowed the runner to advance three times as far as the starter did.

The idea instantly grabbed me. It made perfect sense. If you give up a single in the eighth inning and get pulled with two outs, do you really deserve a full run on your stat sheet if the reliever comes in and serves up a gopher-ball? Not really. It's perfectly reasonable to see why this rule was instituted way back in the early days of baseball. It's hard to communicate the nuance of quarter, half, and three-quarter runs in a newspaper box score. It would require more work to track them as well and it doesn't really matter that much.

That said, we have the data and ability to divide up runs in a more appropriate way. It's also a pretty easy thing to explain to a casual fan. Maybe even easier than the current rule. So as Wezner suggested, let's consider 2013 as if pitchers were only penalized for how far they allowed the runner to advance. For example, if you leave a runner on first and he scored, you're charged with .25 runs. If you leave a runner on second and he scores, it's .5 runs. If you leave a runner on third and he scores, it's .75 runs.

With the help of invaluable staff researcher John Choiniere and data from Retrosheet, we can apply this framework to qualifying starters from 2013. Below are all of the qualifiers listed with their RA9, their RA9 based on our new criteria (nRA9), and then the difference between the two (dRA9). The average RA9 for the sample is 3.87, with the nRA9 average being 3.69. So the average qualifying starter cuts 0.18 runs from their RA9 with the new method. That isn't Earth-shattering, but for some pitchers it's more meaningful than others. In fact, some pitchers have differences of half a run per nine. Theoretically, this is a better measure of performance because anything that happens after a pitcher leaves the game is outside of their control.

Name Team IP RA9 nRA9 dRA9
Scott Feldman - - - 181.2 4.31 3.79 0.52
Jarrod Parker Athletics 197 4.20 3.73 0.47
Wily Peralta Brewers 183.1 5.25 4.84 0.42
Madison Bumgarner Giants 201.1 3.04 2.65 0.39
Edinson Volquez - - - 170.1 6.02 5.65 0.37
Hyun-Jin Ryu Dodgers 192 3.14 2.78 0.36
Rick Porcello Tigers 177 4.42 4.08 0.34
David Price Rays 186.2 3.76 3.42 0.34
John Lackey Red Sox 189.1 3.80 3.47 0.33
Tim Lincecum Giants 197.2 4.64 4.31 0.33
Matt Cain Giants 184.1 4.15 3.82 0.33
Ryan Dempster Red Sox 171.1 5.10 4.78 0.32
Yovani Gallardo Brewers 180.2 4.58 4.27 0.31
Jeff Locke Pirates 166.1 3.73 3.44 0.30
Jeff Samardzija Cubs 213.2 4.59 4.30 0.29
Travis Wood Cubs 200 3.29 2.99 0.29
Kevin Correia Twins 185.1 4.32 4.07 0.25
Ubaldo Jimenez Indians 182.2 3.70 3.45 0.25
Mark Buehrle Blue Jays 203.2 4.42 4.18 0.24
Jerome Williams Angels 169.1 4.94 4.70 0.24
Dan Haren Nationals 169.2 4.88 4.64 0.24
Cole Hamels Phillies 220 3.85 3.61 0.24
Hiroki Kuroda Yankees 201.1 3.53 3.30 0.23
Joe Saunders Mariners 183 5.75 5.52 0.23
Justin Masterson Indians 193 3.50 3.26 0.23
Derek Holland Rangers 213 3.80 3.57 0.23
Andy Pettitte Yankees 185.1 4.13 3.90 0.23
Jeremy Guthrie Royals 211.2 4.21 3.99 0.22
Jon Lester Red Sox 213.1 3.97 3.74 0.22
Jeremy Hellickson Rays 174 5.33 5.11 0.22
Matt Harvey Mets 178.1 2.32 2.11 0.21
Mike Leake Reds 192.1 3.65 3.44 0.21
Gio Gonzalez Nationals 195.2 3.63 3.43 0.21
A.J. Burnett Pirates 191 3.72 3.52 0.20
Miguel Gonzalez Orioles 171.1 4.25 4.06 0.20
Kris Medlen Braves 197 3.52 3.32 0.19
CC Sabathia Yankees 211 5.20 5.01 0.19
C.J. Wilson Angels 212.1 3.94 3.75 0.19
Eric Stults Padres 203.2 4.29 4.10 0.19
Shelby Miller Cardinals 173.1 3.38 3.19 0.18
Mat Latos Reds 210.2 3.50 3.32 0.18
Ian Kennedy - - - 181.1 5.36 5.19 0.17
Kyle Kendrick Phillies 182 5.14 4.97 0.17
Patrick Corbin Diamondbacks 208.1 3.50 3.33 0.17
Hisashi Iwakuma Mariners 219.2 2.83 2.66 0.16
Kyle Lohse Brewers 198.2 3.53 3.37 0.16
A.J. Griffin Athletics 200 4.10 3.94 0.16
Edwin Jackson Cubs 175.1 5.65 5.49 0.15
Felix Doubront Red Sox 162.1 4.66 4.50 0.15
Max Scherzer Tigers 214.1 3.07 2.92 0.15
Jordan Zimmermann Nationals 213.1 3.42 3.28 0.14
Andrew Cashner Padres 175 3.50 3.37 0.13
Bud Norris - - - 176.2 4.53 4.41 0.13
Jhoulys Chacin Rockies 197.1 3.74 3.61 0.13
Cliff Lee Phillies 222.2 3.11 2.99 0.12
Yu Darvish Rangers 209.2 2.92 2.80 0.12
Jose Fernandez Marlins 172.2 2.45 2.35 0.10
Adam Wainwright Cardinals 241.2 3.09 2.99 0.10
Bronson Arroyo Reds 202 3.92 3.82 0.10
Wade Miley Diamondbacks 202.2 3.91 3.81 0.10
Doug Fister Tigers 208.2 3.92 3.83 0.10
Julio Teheran Braves 185.2 3.34 3.25 0.10
Homer Bailey Reds 209 3.66 3.56 0.10
Jorge de la Rosa Rockies 167.2 3.76 3.66 0.09
Lance Lynn Cardinals 201.2 4.11 4.02 0.09
Zack Greinke Dodgers 177.2 2.74 2.65 0.09
James Shields Royals 228.2 3.23 3.14 0.09
Dillon Gee Mets 199 3.80 3.72 0.08
Felix Hernandez Mariners 204.1 3.26 3.18 0.08
Chris Tillman Orioles 206.1 3.79 3.73 0.07
Ervin Santana Royals 211 3.63 3.56 0.06
Chris Sale White Sox 214.1 3.40 3.34 0.06
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 236 2.10 2.04 0.06
Ricky Nolasco - - - 199.1 4.06 4.01 0.06
Mike Minor Braves 204.2 3.47 3.42 0.05
Jose Quintana White Sox 200 3.74 3.69 0.04
Justin Verlander Tigers 218.1 3.87 3.83 0.04
R.A. Dickey Blue Jays 224.2 4.53 4.50 0.03
Stephen Strasburg Nationals 183 3.49 3.48 0.01
Anibal Sanchez Tigers 182 2.77 2.77 0.00
Bartolo Colon Athletics 190.1 2.84 2.84 0.00

Certainly, a pitcher who leaves more runners on base will see more of those runners score, but having a lights out reliever coming in to bail you out gives you an unfair advantage over a pitcher without any help from his bullpen. We're always striving to isolate individual performance and this is another small step on that path.

If two pitchers perform exactly the same over an entire season, the pitcher whose bullpen performs worse in relief will have more runs allowed. You should be penalized for allowing runners to reach, but a poor outing from the first reliever compared to a great one shouldn't change the way we analyze your start.

For example, about 32% of the runners left on base in our sample eventually came around to score, but not every starter was close to that average. A pitcher who leaves 50 runners on base deserves to pay the price, but he shouldn't also be penalized for the rate at which his bullpen allows those runners to score. Below is a look at the distribution of left-on runners who scored. You should pay for leaving runners on, but you shouldn't pay for a bullpen that lets way too many of them score.

Pic1

We can take this even further and break it down by individual base and out combinations, but I'll just offer a few descriptive numbers in the interest of keeping this concise. We expected more runners to score as they get closer to home, but the standard deviation is very noteworthy. Some bullpens let everybody in and some keep almost everyone out.

Base Runners Left Runners Scored Percent Scored SD %Scored
1B 701 151 22 19
2B 858 266 31 20
3B 640 304 48 25

It's unlikely this is going to catch on as an official way to divide up runs because to the average person it's not a dramatic difference. But this could be a refinement to runs allowed-based pitcher WARs so as to further isolate performance. There are stats like RE24 that pick up on some of this nuance, but they are less intuitive for many and also include other confounding factors.

This isn't a DIPS level revelation but any stretch of the imagination, but in a quest to measure the sport as well as possible, it's a step worth taking and an idea worth pursuing.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Retrosheet.

Neil Weinberg is the Associate Managing Editor at Beyond The Box Score, contributor to Gammons Daily, and can also be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter at @NeilWeinberg44.

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