My last post discussed using Win Probability Added (WPA) as a method to measure pitcher effectiveness, arguing it was a quasi-counting stat that in the aggregate could be used to evaluate a pitcher's career. The creator of the stat, Tom Tango, was kind enough to point out the shortcomings in this approach, and I strongly suggest reading the three links he referenced. I'm a firm believer in allowing creators to define their creations, so disregard my Monday post.
In particular, Tom's second post alluded to what had been my initial thought, which was to use Game Score and see how that worked as a counting stat. With this jumping-off point, I continue my odyssey in search of a better way to judge a pitcher's career other than wins.
Game Score was developed by Bill James, and the beauty is in its simplicity. This is the definition:
- Start with 50 points.
- Add one point for each out recorded, so three points for every complete inning pitched.
- Add two points for each inning completed 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.
There is no advanced math involved, no arcane statistics, and includes the bread and butter of what defines effective pitching -- outs, strikeouts, walks, and hits. This table shows the top 10 pitchers since 1914 in aggregate Game Score:
Using Nolan Ryan as an example, he made 773 starts (GS) and had an aggregate Game Score (GSc) of 46,262, or an average of 59.8 per start, facing a total of 22,310 batters (BF). Game Score, in this instance, is a counting stat, and pitchers like Ryan, Don Sutton and Gaylord Perry benefit from their respective long careers. In one sense, this recognizes pitchers like this with long careers and "inferior" records, acknowledging solid pitching on bad teams.
What happens when viewing the chart in terms of Game Score average to see who was the most effective during his career? These are the top 10 among pitchers with at least 400 starts since 1914:
These are arguably the best pitchers in recent memory with an interesting mix of long career vs. short-and-good. It clearly recognizes more recent pitchers due to the rise of strikeouts, but older pitchers begin to show up not much further down the list. The entire list of pitchers with at least 100 starts since 1914 can be viewed here -- feel free to play around with it and reach your own conclusions.
So far this reaches back to the dusty recesses of baseball history -- what about today? Can Game Score identify those pitchers whose careers are off to hot starts? This chart shows active pitchers with at least 30 career starts (data through Monday, May 19th):
|Pitcher||From||To||GS||W|| L ||ND ||GSc||GScAvg||BF|
This includes a pitcher's record in games started -- any decisions in relief are not included. There's a wide range of pitchers, from the young-and-injured like Jose Fernandez, recent imports like Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma, and those who are safely in mid-career and poised to be among the best of their generation in Adam Wainwright and Felix Hernandez. I strongly suggest going to the referenced worksheet and seeing who just missed the top 10.
Slowly but surely, the win is losing its effectiveness as a manner of determining pitcher value for the simple reason that wins are decreasing. The current career leaders in wins are Tim Hudson (209) and CC Sabathia (208), and a review of past pitchers with similar totals generates a resounding "meh." This is a topic I'll return to when discussing Pedro Martinez and what should be his obvious Hall of Fame credentials despite "only" winning 219 games, but it's time to find other methods to evaluate a pitcher's career.
The Game Score is very high on the list, and any number of methods could be construed to make it easier to understand and integrate -- award wins and losses on whether a pitcher crossed a certain threshold, tweak the constants to better reflect current benchmarks, gradually interject it into the conversation as opposed to the quality start, etc. None of the pitchers' inclusion in any of the tables should elicit stunned disbelief, since they are widely considered to be among the best of their respective eras. Sometimes dominant performance is overshadowed by a pedestrian win-loss record.
These are the best and worst Game Score games since 2000:
|Matt Cain||6/13/2012||SFG||HOU||W 10-0||SHO9 ,W||9.0||0||0||0||0||14||0||125||101|
|A.J. Burnett||5/2/2012||PIT||STL||L 3-12||GS-3 ,L||2.67||12||12||12||1||2||2||72||-13|
For the record, the best Game Score of all time was 105 in Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game on May 6th, 1998 (in his fifth career start). There is some danger in using a stat designed as a game descriptor and broadening it to measure a career, but there's also value in comparing this number with his contemporaries. Using aggregate Game Score can help introduce another method with which to evaluate a pitcher's career.
As mentioned earlier, Tom Tango introduced four different Game Score methods, and my next post will focus not on evaluating them but seeing how pitcher careers fare depending on the method used. The referenced spreadsheets give a hint of how pitchers performed, so feel free to get a head start and see what the different methods show.
All data from Baseball-Reference.com. Any errors in amalgamating or augmenting the data are the author's.
Scott Lindholm lives in Davenport, IA. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.