Last night, we took a look at the four games from 2000 or later in which a pitcher accrued a WPA of -1.0 or worse, thereby costing his team one or more wins in a single game. Prior to that, our discussion centered around the brilliant games of Cody Ross and Kurt Suzuki, who, in the span of three weeks managed to become the only two offensive players to post a WPA equal to, or greater than, +1.0 in a single game. Unfortunately, no pitcher in 2008 had a performance good enough to be worth one or more wins, but there were still some fantastic outings. Today, we will examine the ten best pitching performances of 2008, sorted by the WPA earned.
#10: Bronson Arroyo, 8/26 @ Houston
Arroyo might not be an all star but, over the last four years, has been average at worst (-0.12 WPA this year), while logging 200+ innings each season. His BABIP, LOB, BB/9, and WHIP have trended in the downward direction, but even pitchers in the decline phase can toss out a gem here and there. On August 26, in Houston’s bandbox stadium, Arroyo went the distance, earning a complete game, surrendering just five hits and one run, walking two and striking out three. While it may not seem all that amazing, he earned a WPA of 0.660 for his efforts, the tenth most individual game WPA for pitchers this season.
#9: Roy Oswalt, 9/6 @ Colorado
If you thought Arroyo may have had a tough time pitching a gem in Houston, how could Oswalt pull off an even better game in Coors Field? Roy had an interesting season, getting off to an extremely un-Oswalt-like start, before finishing extremely strong, racking up some pretty impressive numbers. His ERA and FIP may have been higher in years past, but his xFIP, which normalizes the home run rate, is actually right in line with these seasons. On September 6, Roy was in the midst of a brilliant streak of games; none, however, were as brilliant as his performance against the Rockies. On the day, he pitched a 9-inning complete game shutout, giving up just one hit, walking two, and striking out six. All told, his individual game WPA of 0.676 takes the ninth spot on our list.
#8: James Shields, 5/9 vs. Los Angeles Anaheim Angels of California
In 2008, James Shields continued to stake claim as the Rays #1 starter with a season very similar to his breakout 2007 campaign. He pitched 215 innings in both years, posted FIP marks between 3.82 and 3.86, ranged from 1.51-1.67 in BB/9, and produced identical .292 BABIPs. On May 9th, home against the Angels—ironically, this is the first home game on our list so far—Shields was so dominant that dominant doesn’t even describe his performance. He tossed a complete game shutout, allowing just one hit. Excellent with control, Shields walked nobody and struck out eight Halos hitters. His WPA? 0.685, good enough for the eighth best pitched game of the season. How could it get better than that you might be thinking, but hold on, we’re moving on up.
#7: Jeff Karstens, 8/6 @ Arizona
I remember a few years back, while working minor league baseball telecasts for CN8, getting to see Jeff Karstens pitch on a regular basis. He always seemed to have the poise and “stuff” that should translate into major league success. Suffice it to say, things have not panned out the way that I, or other Yankees fans, imagined, and Jeff found himself a member of the Pirates in 2008. He did post a 4.03 ERA in his nine starts, but he K/9 was ridiculously low and his 4.77 FIP does a better job of explaining his performance level. Still, in his first two starts, he looked fantastic. On August 1st, he held the Cubs scoreless over six innings, surrendering only five hits. In his next start, against the Diamondbacks, he pitched a two-hit, complete game shutout, with two walks and four strikeouts. Though this game does not feel better than Oswalt’s or Shields’, Karstens earned a WPA of 0.695. Couple that with his 0.360 in the Cubs game, and Jeff was worth over one whole win after his first two starts of the season. A shame it all went downhill from there…
#6: Matt Cain, 7/24 vs. Washington
For those who have followed my writings over the last year and a half or so, you will know that I have some crazy manlove for Matt Cain. I don’t know if it’s due to the criminally low run support he receives, or how dominant he looks most of the time, but I tend to watch all of his starts, which is something I only did (watch starts for non-Phillies players) for Greg Maddux, and Sabathia’s crazy stretch this season. Overall, Cain once more logged 200+ innings of performance under 4.00 in the ERA and FIP department, with a K/BB above 2.0. Unfortunately, he rarely is credited with a win because his team refuses to support him. On July 24, he actually did record a win, pitching a complete game shutout against the Nationals. Cain surrendered just four hits, walked nary a hitter, and fanned four, earning a 0.707 WPA.
Tonight we will continue by examining the five best pitching performances of 2008.