Pitching by the Numbers: Distant early warning

It’s too early for doubt, but doubt is healthy. We should always question our choices. But we also must be reasonable in understanding sample sizes. Remember, we are now one quarter into April, which is in its entirety a whopping one-sixth of our season.


Let’s look at the ERA leaderboards from April 2013 to see if we can even bet on the first month of the season. I personally think May 15 is the date to circle on your calendars for a fresh take, as that at least gets nearly 50 innings into the seasons of our starting pitchers. I’m sorting by ERA, because runs are what we fear most in this early juncture. It’s the category that almost begs us to overreact.



Let’s start at the top. Matt Moore owners were spraining their elbows patting themselves on the back last April. Moore finished the year with averages of 3.29 and 1.30, way below expectations on April 30. He was a sell high given how he was greatly overachieving his 20th ranking in Ks minus BBs divided by IP.


Buchholz could not stay healthy. Verlander’s WHIP in retrospect was the sign of disappointment to come. (I rarely even look at ERA and especially do not bet on it.) Detwiler got hurt. Slowey reverted to career norms. Travis Wood’s rate of Ks minus BBs per inning was the better indicator for the rest of his season. I would have and did bet on Villanueva in a deep league. Looking at those numbers, that was smart. But maybe at his age, you pretty much are what you are.



Now let’s look from the bottom up. Notice even some of this bottom 25 proved very useful the rest of the season, meaning that they reverted to bullish expectations. That included Gonzalez, Price, Hamels, Sale and, most incredibly, Scherzer.


But Cain did not rebound as expected and neither did Dickey (the defending Cy Young Award winner) or Gallardo.


Predicting what I would have said (and maybe what I did say, you can check my Yahoo archives), I would have recommended betting on Price, Cain, Vogelsong, Estrada and Scherzer (look at that Ks minus BBs divided by innings pitched; anything over 1.00 is amazing). I would have been dead-on right about Scherzer (but who would have doubted that K/BB; so I can’t really give myself any credit there) and right enough about Estrada and Price (unattainable). But Cain and Vogelsong would have destroyed me, had I kept believing (which I do not think I would have, especially Vogelsong, a mere waiver-wire add on May 1).


The takeaway here is that April is too early. And April 8th is way too early. It’s a long wait for the season to start and getting off to a good start is always preferred. But churning someone you really believed in due to a bad early start is the kind of gross overreaction that we hate to see from our players’ real-life managers.


Exceptions are when velocity is down considerably and/or someone is hurt. We often don’t get good information on injuries and the tricky thing with early velocity is that April is the slowest month. So anything under 1.5 mph down from the prior year’s average should not even register.

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