“Six-Inning Pitchers” Provide Value

I generally like ESPN’s Buster Olney. It’s a peculiar affection, because his baseball analysis is often traditional, based on intangibles, and occasionally wildly inaccurate. In many ways, he is the anti-Kevin, for I am always accurate. But he always appears to be affable, accessible, open-minded, and genuinely excited about baseball. Also, he is a fellow Commodore.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I find myself posting about his recent analytical shortcoming. In today’s chat on ESPN.com, Olney took a question about the Yankees possibly trading for Padres’ pitcher Jake Peavy. His response:

“Jim: I don’t think the Yankees or Red sox necessarily look at Peavy as being a slam-dunk performer in the AL East. He tends to throw a lot of pitches, even while playing in a relatively weak division, and if you put him in the AL East with that style, he might turn into a six-inning pitcher.”

Olney’s general synopsis is well-founded. Most reasonable baseball minds would be wary of Peavy’s transition from the atrocious NL West to the loaded AL East. This is acceptable analysis. My only issue is with the cautionary “he might turn into a six-inning pitcher.”

In his career, Jake Peavy has thrown 1,261 innings in 199 starts. That comes out to 6.33 IP/GS. Olney’s diagnosis is already in trouble, because Peavy already averages about six innings per start. Olney seems to imply that this is a bad thing, but we cannot tell if it is without more context.

There were 4,856 games started last year in Major League Baseball. Starting pitchers threw 28,191.6 innings in these starts. This means that MLB starting pitchers averaged 5.8 IP/GS in the 2008 season. So, 6 IP/GS is above-average, which goes against Olney’s implication.

Finally, we should look at the IP/GS in the AL East. In 2008, there were 809 games started (Baltimore played only 161 games). In these games, starting pitchers threw 4,741 innings – good for 5.86 IP/GS. 6 IP/GS is above-average in the AL East too.

I understand and agree with Olney’s general assessment that Peavy would throw fewer innings in the AL East. But it is important to note that Peavy is already a “six-inning pitcher,” which is also already above-average. Even if he did come to the AL East and average six innings per start, that would be an improvement over what the average AL East starting pitcher provides. The days of pitchers regularly throwing complete games have passed. Six innings per start is now a luxury that most teams cannot afford (or have not afforded themselves).

We Commodores try to have each other’s back, that’s all.

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