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Javier Vazquez(notes) is second in K/BB ratio, second in K/9, fourth in baserunners allowed per inning and sports an ERA under 3.00 but probably won't get even a handful of Cy Young votes due to his 8-7 record. I figured his record was due to poor run support.
But the Braves are scoring 5.0 runs per game when Vazquez is pitching – 30th most among all major league starters with 100 or more innings. Thanks to the great BaseballReference.com, I'm able to isolate only pro-rated runs per nine innings while starters like Vazquez are in the game.
Compare Vazquez to a Cy Young Award winner from just last year who some assume is struggling in light of an uninspiring 7-9 record. But Cleveland's Cliff Lee(notes) receives just 3.3 runs per game from an Indians team fourth in the AL in runs scored (5.13 per game)
How representative are these averages? Steve Moyer, president of Baseball Info Solutions (stat provider to many major league teams) tells me he doesn't like run support stats because getting a lot of runs in a handful of starts can really pump up the averages. And he notes that's precisely the case with Vazquez.
Vazquez received 44 runs of support (while in the game) in five starts, winning four of them (he lost on opening day when the bullpen blew a big lead after he departed). Remove these starts and Vazquez's run support drops to 3.73 runs per game. But similar outcomes might be true for most pitchers and thus cancel each other out.
We also lack split stats that put these numbers in context. Right now, we have "clutch stats" based on narrow margins of say a run or two regardless of whether his team is up or down. Isolating how a pitcher fares while narrowly trailing versus how he does when narrowly leading would be more useful in cases like Vazquez's.
But we have to dance with the stats we have. So let's look at qualifying starters with the worst run support (in parentheses): Barry Zito(notes) (2.0), Doug Davis(notes) (2.8), Josh Geer(notes) (2.8), Dallas Braden(notes) (3.1), Edwin Jackson(notes) (3.1), John Lannan(notes) (3.1), Yovani Gallardo(notes) (3.2), Kevin Correia(notes) (3.3), John Garland (3.3), Matt Garza(notes) (3.3), Kenshin Kawakami(notes) (3.3), Cliff Lee (3.3) and Johan Santana(notes) (3.3).
Jackson, Gallardo and Santana each have winning records despite this poor support, though their combined slate of 27-20 does not convey how well they've pitched.
Matt Palmer(notes) (82.2 innings) and Kevin Slowey(notes) (90.2 innings, out for the year with a wrist injury) do not qualify but are a combined 18-4 with 7.7 and 7.3 runs per game, respectively. Looking only at records really distorts their true ability.
The 100-plus innings qualifiers are Brandon Looper (6.7), Trevor Cahill(notes) (6.5), Cole Hamels(notes) (6.4), Jered Weaver(notes) (6.3), Jeff Niemann(notes) (6.2), Aaron Cook(notes) (6.2), Nick Blackburn(notes) (6.2), Tim Wakefield(notes) (6.1), Roy Halladay(notes) (6.1) and Jorge de la Rosa(notes) (6.1).
Halladay and Weaver don't need great run support. But the record of the other pitchers on this list is 67-42 – a 100-win pace if we pro-rate it to 162 games. The average ERA of these pitchers is 4.34 and the range is 3.75 to 4.79, hardly championship caliber.
Let's look at run support and W-L records while making recommendations.
Edwin Jackson, P, Tigers: The guy isn't started in 42 percent of Yahoo! leagues. What gives? Jackson (2.59 ERA, 1.11 WHIP) has nothing to do with how many runs the Tigers score while he pitches. His run support and win total are likely to dramatically increase.
John Lannan, P, Nationals: He has a better WHIP and ERA than the guys below but is started in just 36 percent of Yahoo! leagues. I know the Nationals aren't good, but they are middle of the NL pack in runs scored.
Matt Garza, P, Rays: He's stared in 97 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Why the love for him compared to Jackson? I'm not saying Jackson is better, but he's not worse. The Rays also play in a far tougher division than does Detroit.
Tim Wakefield, P, Red Sox: He's started in 66 percent of Yahoo! leagues even now when he's on the DL (back). That's more than those who start a healthy (and far better) Jackson. This can only be because of record, which is a result of run support. The Red Sox are struggling to score overall, so Wakefield's great support is a fluke.
Aaron Cook, P, Rockies: I'm shocked by the correlation between wins and start percentage on Yahoo! Cook is started in 71 percent of leagues. I don't even look at wins, that's how little I believe in pitching to the score. Wins are more likely to flow from good pitching than from support well above team averages (5.0 for the Rockies).
Michael Salfino's work has appeared in USA Today's Sports Weekly, RotoWire, dozens of newspapers nationwide and most recently throughout Comcast SportsNet, including SNY.tv, for which he also analyzes the Mets and Yankees. He's been writing "Baseball by the Numbers" weekly since 2005.