Thursday, 24 April 2014

A sense of justice?

Recently I wrote a giant post about Pedro Martinez. If you made it to the end of that one, you are a special breed. It was about how he was amazing in 99-2000, and, how did he lose 6 games in 2000?

As a part of that,  I went back and watched game 5 of the 1999 ALDS where an injured Pedro came in to pitch 6 innings of no hit relief to save the game for the Red Sox.

As I always tend to do, here is the thought process:
1. Pedro was amazing for the Red Sox for almost all of seven seasons.
2. The Indians were damn good in 1999 and that lineup especially was ridiculous.  This was Manny's 165 RBI season. And this was after Albert Belle had left the team.
3. One thing that sticks out about those 90's Indians teams is their complete lack of a great starting pitcher. They had some good ones, but basically they were a supreme lineup and pitching was an afterthought. The only season over a 5 fWAR was Charles Nagy in 1996 with 5.7 (he went 17-5).
4. What did the sox actually give up for Pedro? And why did the Indians NOT give that up for him?
5. In his prime Pedro 1999 plus 1000-run Indians lineup equals... 27-2 season? How good could it get?
6. I feel like I can list off a lot of the greatest ever pitching seasons. And I feel also like I sort of know who a lot of the dominant offensive teams were. But never that I can recall has there been a dominant pitcher at his peak, pitching for a dominant offense.
7. Has there ever been such a combination?
8. What did/would happen if there was?

The easiest thought to answer is the trade: The Red Sox traded Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. to the Expos for one year of Martinez, then signed him to a 6 year $75M extension that made him (briefly) the highest paid player in baseball. In return, he delivered 53.8 bWAR / 55.3 fWAR - a total bargain.

This post is not about Pedro though. It's about what happens when a dominant starting pitcher has an amazing season for a dominant offensive team.

And the answer is... well, we don't really know. Because it has never really happened.

We are 113+ years into "modern" baseball, and this particular situation has never presented itself in full. And basically, what I am thinking of would be a W-L record that is off the charts for a top-line pitcher, like Mashohira Tanaka's 24-0 record in Japan last year. We look down on W-L because it doesn't tell the whole story for a pitcher. Except when it does (relax; another post, Simon.)

There are a few different ways I could do this, but the two important questions seem to be:
1. How do I decide how good an offensive team is?
2. How do I decide how good a pitcher is, independent of his team?

For both, I am going to use Fangraphs WAR. I choose fWAR because it ignores more of the "luck" of pitching that bWAR includes. I will use it for offensive team rankings because it includes defence, which should help boost the team's run differential (a metric which fluctuates wildly with era) and improve the pitcher's chances of a win.

By fWAR, there are 65 teams that have had a team batting WAR greater than 35.0. There are 85 pitchers that have had a fWAR greater than 8.0. Zero of those pitchers were on one of those 65 greatest offensive teams.

There are 234 teams that have had an offensive WAR greater than 30.0. Five of those teams have had a pitcher with an offensive WAR greater than 8.0:
Christy Mathewson (9.9) went 37-11 with the 1908 New York Giants (34.3)
Vida Blue (8.7) went 24-8 with the 1971 Oakland Athletics (32.8)
Greg Maddux (8.0) went 19-4 with the 1997 Atlanta Braves (31.8)
Stan Coveleski (8.1) went 24-14 with the 1920 Cleveland Indians (31.8)
Roger Clemens (9.7) went 18-12 with the 1988 Boston Red Sox (31.7)

I'm getting to the point where this isn't really showing what I thought it might. Great pitchers having great seasons for great offensive teams... well, maybe they don't necessarily have great W-L records. Maybe within those good offensive teams there is enough random pitcher-to-pitcher variability in run support that looking at run support and consistency of run support might be a better way to find pitchers with much better W-L records than they maybe deserve.

In any case, never has an outstanding pitching season been paired with an outstanding offensive team. I hope I live long enough to one day see it happen.

This post did get me thinking about other things, which I may or may not write about:
1. Pitching WAR vs Batting WAR, and how it relates to, you know, actually winning
2. What's more important, pitching or batting?
3. WAR/200 IP tells a different story of "most dominant pitcher ever" *cough*pedro*cough*
4. Steve Carlton won a ridiculous percentage of his team's games in 1972
5. There's something weird about Bert Blyleven's career. His 1973 season is fangraphs #3 WAR season ever, for a decent offensive team. And he had a mediocre 20-17 record. How do you do that?

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