The Weekly Walk: A New Series

McCarthy, Jackson, and Kluber each have peculiar luck-related stories. - McCarthy: Bob Levey; Jackson: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports; Kluber: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Every day, week, month, and year in baseball, we can see something happen that doesn't happen often (or, in some cases, ever). I'm here to chronicle as many of these oddities as I can.

I've written at Beyond the Box Score for more than six months now, and it's been a phenomenal experience overall. The only problem that I've encountered has been repetition — I've found myself writing the same types of pieces over and over again. Whether it's with Stephen Strasburg's bad luckDallas Keuchel's grounder/strikeout/walk mixJohnny Cueto's good luckBaltimore's left-side defenseMax Scherzer's Opening Day snubDylan Bundy's optimistic prospect rankingJose Fernandez's comparatively exceptional cutter, Jim Fregosi's unlucky career arc, or Marlon Byrd's awful plate discipline, my strength seems to lie in asking: "[Player/Team X] [is doing/has done/is on pace to do] [weird thing Y]. How common is that?"

Recognizing this, I decided to aggregate all my stray observations about the kooky goings-on of Major League Baseball into one weekly post. Henceforth, the task of "historical tidbit-finder" shall fall upon my willing shoulders. If you've noticed anything that I might want to look into in a future edition, let me know in the comments.

Part I: Really Bad Luck

Our first strange occurrence takes place in Arizona, where a starting pitcher has dramatically under-performed. Brandon McCarthy will hit the free agent market when the 2014 season comes to a close. If he sustains his current performance, it'll be interesting to see the contract he'll receive.

See, McCarthy hasn't exactly posted impressive standard statistics; in fact, with a 5.18 ERA in 92.0 innings, he seems to have pitched quite poorly. As readers of this blog should know, however, only dullards and fascists utilize ERA to evaluate a pitcher. McCarthy's 2.92 xFIP tells a completely different story of his play this year; while that earned run-based statistic comes in at fifth-worst out of 98 qualified starters, its advanced counterpart places eighth-best.

So now comes the question: How common is this level of poor fortune? How many pitchers have put up peripherals this excellent while providing such repugnant results? Since fly balls have played the largest role in McCarthy's ill fate thus far (his HR/FB% currently sits at an astounding 22.7%), we'll look at recent years; and because we like to keep things fair around here, we'll use ERA- and xFIP-.

In the xFIP era (i.e. from 2002 until now), 1,140 pitchers have qualified for the ERA title in a season. Of them, 42 posted ERA-s of 130 or greater, meaning McCarthy's 135 ERA- fits right in. Of these men, the lowest xFIP- by far is McCarthy's, at 77. For that matter, only six had an above-average xFIP:

Season Name ERA- xFIP-
2014 Brandon McCarthy 135 77
2010 James Shields 131 85
2002 Brandon Duckworth 134 95
2011 Derek Lowe 134 95
2014 Tim Lincecum 139 96
2012 Tim Lincecum 139 98

By that measure, McCarthy's misfortune makes history. On the other side of the coin, the story's the same — among pitchers with a sub-80 xFIP- (of whom there are 205), McCarthy stands out as one of five with an ERA- greater than 100:

Season Player ERA- xFIP-
2014 David Price* 105 68
2006 Felix Hernandez 103 75
2009 Ricky Nolasco 119 76
2014 Brandon McCarthy 135 77
2003 Odalis Perez 112 79

*I plan on covering Price's unusual 2014 in next week's edition.

And even among them, his ERA- blows the others out of the water. No matter how you slice it, McCarthy is on pace to do something incredible this year.

ZiPS doesn't do batted ball data, and therefore xFIP, but if it did, I'd think it would project a bit of regression to the mean here. If McCarthy doesn't improve, though, his price could take a hit when he looks for suitors in the offseason (although, according to Dave Cameron, it might not).

Part II: Unrelenting Bad Luck

Next, we travel to the Windy City, where another starter has performed worse than expected for the second straight year. When the Cubs inked Edwin Jackson to a four-year, $52 million contract following the 2012 season, they thought they would receive the pitcher who posted a respectable 4.03 ERA in 189.2 innings with the Nationals. His 4.98 ERA in the first year of that deal undoubtedly left them with a bit of buyer's remorse.

As with McCarthy, ERA belies Jackson's true talent. In both 2012 and 2013, his FIP (3.85 and 3.79, respectively) represented a significant upgrade from that deceptive statistic. Focusing on the latter year, we see that his FIP was 3% better than the major-league average, while his ERA was 29% worse than the major-league average. How many pitcher seasons, going back to 1920, have featured an average or better FIP along with a 20%-worse-than-average or worse ERA?

Quite a few, relatively speaking — 73. However, Jackson's case stands out for a special reason; look at this table of the pitchers who met the criteria:

Season Name ERA- FIP-
2014 Edwin Jackson 134 100
2014 Zack Wheeler 124 92
2013 Edwin Jackson 129 97
2011 Derek Lowe 134 97
2011 Ryan Dempster 121 98
2011 Ricky Nolasco 121 90
2003 Cory Lidle 123 97
1999 Jose Jimenez 129 98
1997 Jaime Navarro 131 96
1995 Doug Drabek 121 96
1994 Denny Neagle 120 96
1994 Bob Tewksbury 129 99
1993 Melido Perez 121 7
1992 Erik Hanson 122 91
1990 Mike Bielecki 123 98
1990 Kevin Gross 121 91
1989 Bobby Witt 130 98
1988 Calvin Schiraldi 120 88
1988 Bert Blyleven 131 89
1985 Rick Rhoden 123 98
1984 Mike Moore 121 86
1984 Bruce Berenyi 124 95
1983 Steve Trout 120 96
1983 Len Barker 120 90
1981 Moose Haas 128 99
1981 Rick Waits 131 94
1977 Jim Barr 123 95
1975 Bill Bonham 121 90
1974 Burt Hooton 124 93
1972 Dick Bosman 120 90
1972 Jerry Reuss 124 91
1972 Jerry Koosman 122 87
1972 Mike Caldwell 122 93
1970 Joe Horlen 125 96
1969 Gary Peters 123 96
1969 Tom Murphy 121 96
1969 Woodie Fryman 123 98
1968 Gary Peters 125 90
1967 Don Sutton 127 96
1965 Al Jackson 123 100
1960 Tom Brewer 120 98
1956 Robin Roberts 120 97
1954 Bob Friend 123 92
1949 Mickey Harris 122 95
1949 Johnny Sain 125 95
1947 Bob Muncrief 126 91
1945 Ed Lopat 124 94
1944 Al Gerheauser 129 100
1943 Orie Arntzen 127 98
1943 Al Hollingsworth 124 94
1942 Bobo Newsom 133 87
1942 Sid Hudson 122 94
1942 Early Wynn 143 100
1941 Si Johnson 127 91
1941 Al Javery 122 100
1940 Cliff Melton 126 92
1939 Boom-Boom Beck 121 97
1937 Wayne LaMaster 120 97
1934 Alvin Crowder 131 100
1932 Syl Johnson 122 96
1932 Jumbo Elliott 125 96
1932 Ownie Carroll 120 93
1931 Jack Russell 120 96
1930 Jack Russell 120 99
1929 Herb Pennock 122 96
1929 Bill Sherdel 124 93
1929 Bump Hadley 134 97
1927 Hub Pruett 142 92
1927 Hal Wiltse 124 97
1926 Jesse Barnes 139 98
1921 Roy Wilkinson 121 98
1920 Allen Sothoron 120 99

Look who's leading the way for 2014! Yes, Jackson has continued to underwhelm for the second consecutive year; as the table shows, only Jack Russell in 1930 and 1931 and Gary Peters in 1968 and 1969 have suffered this much back-to-back.

Of course, ZiPS doesn't think Jackson will keep this up, at least to this extent — its RoS projections see him as a 4.09-ERA , 3.78-FIP pitcher from here on out. At the same time, though, it probably said the same thing about him last year, and look how that turned out.

Part III: Dual Bad Luck

Our last tale comes out of Cleveland, where a hapless hurler has accompanied another, marginally less hapless deity. Ever since he resolved to eschew the four-seam fastball, Corey Kluber has dominated the competition, to the point that Carson Cistulli created a Society in his honor. Or rather, he's dominated by sabermetric standards (career 3.33 FIP); traditional statistics (career 4.02 ERA) don't feel the same way about him.

For this exercise, we'll move from minuses to WAR. FanGraphs has a fancy statistic called FDP-Wins, which is the difference between a pitcher's fWAR (based off FIP) and RA9-WAR (based off runs allowed). It does a pretty good job of indicating how lucky or unlucky a pitcher has been. Kluber has accrued 2.4 RA9-WAR in his four-year career, which underscores a career fWAR of 5.8; subtracting the latter from the former reveals a career FDP-Wins mark of -3.4. That certainly seems like a low number, and it is — since he debuted in 2011, that ranks 13th in the majors.

I decided to take this one step further, by putting that number on a per-180-inning scale, to compare Kluber with other, more durable pitchers. When I completed the strenuous math, I saw that Kluber's career FDP/180 stood at 1.97. That's unique, insofar as only 30 pitchers (listed below) with 300 career innings going back to 1920 can top it; however, instead of focusing solely on Kluber, let's look at another name on this leaderboard:

Name RA9-WAR WAR FDP-Wins IP FDP/180
Hal Elliott -5.0 1.4 -6.4 322.1 -3.58
Arnold Earley -3.7 2.7 -6.3 381.1 -2.98
Jim Crawford -3.2 3.6 -6.8 431.1 -2.84
Ray Harrell -6.3 -1.2 -5.1 330.0 -2.78
Dan McGinn -4.7 1.4 -6.1 408.2 -2.69
Dave Eiland -2.8 2.6 -5.4 373.0 -2.61
Chris Zachary -2.3 2.2 -4.4 321.1 -2.47
Bill Trotter -3.6 3.0 -6.6 483.1 -2.46
Mike Stanton -0.6 4.5 -5.1 384.1 -2.39
Bo McLaughlin -2.9 1.2 -4.1 313.0 -2.36
Don Schulze -2.0 2.4 -4.4 338.2 -2.34
Paul Calvert -3.4 0.5 -3.9 301.2 -2.33
Rich Robertson -2.9 1.0 -3.9 302.1 -2.32
Slick Coffman -1.9 2.1 -4.0 313.2 -2.30
George Grant -3.6 0.8 -4.4 347.1 -2.28
Jose Silva -0.5 4.9 -5.4 427.1 -2.28
Vic Frazier -4.6 2.6 -7.2 579.0 -2.24
Rich Wortham -0.8 3.7 -4.4 355.0 -2.23
Russ Van Atta -1.1 7.7 -8.8 712.1 -2.22
Al Gerheauser 1.2 8.9 -7.7 643.0 -2.16
Seth Morehead -1.6 2.2 -3.8 318.1 -2.15
Lefty Hoerst -5.2 -1.1 -4.1 348.0 -2.12
Andrew Miller -1.0 4.4 -5.4 459.1 -2.12
Mike Paxton 1.1 6.5 -5.4 466.1 -2.09
Zach McAllister -0.2 3.6 -3.7 324.2 -2.05
Hank Fischer -2.1 4.1 -6.2 546.2 -2.04
Lou Koupal -1.5 2.2 -3.8 335.1 -2.04
Ray Francis -1.4 2.4 -3.8 337.0 -2.03
Felipe Paulino -0.4 4.0 -4.5 403.2 -2.01
Danny Coombs -0.6 3.7 -4.3 393.0 -1.97
Corey Kluber 2.4 5.8 -3.4 311.1 -1.97

Notice anything about that player six spots up from Kluber? He's Zach McAllister, a starting pitcher for...the Indians. That's right, Cleveland has two of the unluckiest starters in history on its current roster; as far as I can tell, none of the other hurlers on this list ever pitched for the same club simultaneously.

This trend is probably less likely to be maintained than the preceding two; nevertheless, Oliver's five-year projections predict bad luck for the foreseeable future for both Kluber and McAllister. The Indians certainly would like to avoid this ignominious distinction; perhaps, if they upgraded that awful defense, they'd see a bit more overperformance.

That's all I have for this week. On the one hand, I could run out of ideas for this piece pretty quickly; on the other hand...

. . .

All data courtesy of FanGraphs, as of Thursday, June 19th, 2014.

Ryan Romano is a featured contributor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles on Birds Watcher and on Camden Chat that one time. Follow him on Twitter at @triple_r_ if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.

Trending Discussions

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Beyond the Box Score

You must be a member of Beyond the Box Score to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Beyond the Box Score. You should read them.

Join Beyond the Box Score

You must be a member of Beyond the Box Score to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Beyond the Box Score. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9351_tracker