CC Sabathia and Pitching to the Score

Since Clubhouse Confidential is an off-season only show, the MLB Network has created a new show called MLB Now, where Brian Kenny and Harold Reynolds frequently disagree on differing topics. On yesterday’s show, the two briefly discussed the value of pitcher wins, as you can see in this clip below.

In that segment, Harold Reynolds cites CC Sabathia as an example of a pitcher who pitches to the score, noting that he performs differently when the game is on the line than when he’s just trying to get outs and has some runs to give up. While one will never be able to definitively prove or disprove the intent of a pitcher, given that we are left to only measure what they do rather than what they are thinking, Reynolds’ claim is testable. If Sabathia pitched dramatically better in close games than with a big lead, it would show up in the data.

It does not.

Here on FanGraphs, we track every play by it’s leverage index, which takes into account the score at the moment, how many men are on base, and how many outs there are. We have splits for every player in high leverage, medium leverage, and low leverage states. If Sabathia cruises when he has a big lead and there’s no one on and then really buckles down when the game is tight and every at-bat is critical, it should show up in his leverage splits. So, here they are.

CC Sabathia IP BB% K% HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP xFIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Low 1024 7% 22% 0.93 0.287 1.90 3.58 3.60 0.238 0.298 0.373 0.296
Medium 1209.1 7% 20% 0.69 0.296 3.75 3.33 3.68 0.247 0.303 0.372 0.297
High 178.2 8% 20% 0.50 0.295 9.97 3.31 3.73 0.242 0.319 0.387 0.305

ERA is included because I figure people would ask about it if it wasn’t, but since runners on is a driving force of leverage, by definition ERA is going to be much higher in that situation. The numbers you really care about are the results of each batter faced, and there we see minimal differences. Sabathia actually gets slightly more strikeouts in low leverage situations, which kind of cuts against the idea that he’s just pitching to contact in order to conserve pitches, and opposing batters do just slightly better against him in high leverage situations than the rest of the time. This appears to be mostly a situational trade-off, though, as his walk rate goes up and strikeout rate go down in exchange for a big drop in HR rate.

So, Reynolds is correct that Sabathia pitches differently depending on the game situation, but this isn’t just a CC Sabathia thing – every pitcher makes this trade to some degree. Here are the league average BB/K/HR rates for 2012 by leverage state.

League BB% K% HR/9
Low 8% 20% 1.05
Medium 8% 19% 1.03
High 10% 20% 0.91

Sabathia has historically made a larger-than-usual trade-off in terms of swapping out strikeouts for more walks and fewer home runs, but it’s a trade, not an upgrade. Sabathia doesn’t get more hitters out in critical situations, he just gets them out a little differently. Overall, Sabathia is equally effective in each kind of situation, regardless of leverage.

But, you know, maybe you don’t like leverage, since baserunners are part of the calculation, and you think that what we’re really talking about is just pitching to the score. Well, Baseball Reference has splits by scoring margin, so we can evaluate that too.

Split PA BB% K% HR/9 BABIP BA OBP SLG OPS
Tie Game 3,223 8% 22% 0.77 0.292 0.239 0.304 0.363 0.668
Within 1 R 5,959 7% 21% 0.78 0.297 0.245 0.306 0.377 0.682
Within 2 R 7,843 7% 21% 0.81 0.293 0.244 0.305 0.376 0.681
Within 3 R 9,118 7% 21% 0.78 0.293 0.244 0.304 0.373 0.677
Within 4 R 9,810 7% 21% 0.78 0.293 0.244 0.304 0.372 0.676
Margin > 4 R 927 6% 20% 0.92 0.304 0.257 0.308 0.382 0.690
Ahead 4,891 6% 21% 0.79 0.293 0.245 0.298 0.367 0.664
Behind 2,623 8% 20% 0.81 0.298 0.253 0.317 0.398 0.715

Sabathia isn’t any tougher against batters in tie games than he is when his team is either up or down by four runs. In fact, his numbers across each margin are extremely stable, showing that Sabathia basically pitches like Sabathia regardless of what the score in the game is. At least, from a results perspective. He might shift his approach, but it doesn’t change the overall picture in any real way.

At the bottom, though, there is one spot where we do see a bit of a split. Sabathia’s numbers with a lead are a bit better than when he’s pitching from behind, but this is probably just a selection bias issue. The league as a whole pitches better when ahead than when behind, and that’s likely due to the fact that the “behind” sample is more likely to include days when they’re facing tougher opponents. You’re more likely to be losing to a good hitting team than one that has trouble scoring, so this is probably just an artifact of opponent quality. The league average OPS allowed was 37 points lower with a lead last year than it was while trailing, so Sabathia isn’t particularly special in this regard either.

And, it’s probably worth noting that this split is somewhat counter to the idea of pitching to the score. The general notion that Reynolds puts forth is that we need to look at pitcher wins because metrics like ERA penalize pitchers who give up more runs when they have a cushion, so we need an adjustment for the fact that their numbers are worse when they have the lead. In reality, pitchers pitch better when they have the lead, so that adjustment isn’t even necessary.

There is no evidence here that CC Sabathia’s ERA has been artificially inflated because of the fact that he allows meaningless runs to score when the situation makes those runs less harmful. There is evidence that Sabathia, like most pitchers, allows fewer home runs in close situations by pitching to the corners of the strike zone, but it doesn’t change the batters overall results much. From what we can tell, CC Sabathia pitches like CC Sabathia, whether the game is 10-0 or 1-0.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Carl
Guest
Carl
3 years 1 month ago

Actually, I disagree with yoru conclusion and the same chart you produced is why. Concentrae on the third form bottom line in the last table. That line shows that when the difference is 4 runs, CC walks 25% fewer people (laying it in there) and strikes out the fewest amount of people. He gives up 20% more HR’s per nine, and the batter’s BA goes up 13 points compared to games within 1, 2 or 3 runs.

Seems to me that harold Reynolds wins this arguement.

Ben Hall
Member
Member
Ben Hall
3 years 1 month ago

He has 927 plate appearances against when the margin is greater than four runs versus 9,810 when the margin is less than four. His OPS is 0.014 higher when the margin is greater than four. I don’t know how much that is going to affect his career ERA, but it seems to me that it’s going to be quite minimal.

marlinswin12
Guest
marlinswin12
3 years 1 month ago

Everything Harold Reynolds says is factually incorrect.

Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
3 years 1 month ago

Harold Reynolds is the human manifestation of “Opposite Day.” Can we make that his nick name?

Jon L.
Member
3 years 1 month ago

Yeah, but the man has verve! Not to mention that he never confused the issue, a la Joe Morgan, by being a high-percentage ballplayer in his earlier life.

Iudtiutfiygfhgcyggc
Guest
Iudtiutfiygfhgcyggc
3 years 1 month ago

It’s just that Harold isn’t getting all the hugs he needs at MLB Network.

jnapolit31
Member
Member
jnapolit31
3 years 1 month ago

Nice article. I wish MLB Network didn’t have so many archaic personalities like Reynolds, Billy Ripken, Larry Bowa and Mitch Williams. It has mostly great programming, but the blanket, baseless and anecdeotal “analyses” by such personalities is depressing to listen to. Kenny (the most analytical, obviously), Verducci and even Eric Byrnes are much more in-tuned on the evolution of the game. Earlier this week Verducci tried explaining defensive efficiency as a better measure of defense than errors (re: Detroit) and it went completely over Ripken’s head.

Scott
Guest
Scott
3 years 1 month ago

I really like both Ripkens. They offer a different perspective than you get on this site. Not everybody has to be a translator for advanced stats.

There is a false dichotomy between “stathead announcers” (like David Cone) and “old school guys” (like 95% of them…say John Kruk). In reality, one is not preferable to the other.

In an ideal world, the old school guys provide ideas and theories to guys like Dave Cameron to analyze. Without Harold Reynolds (and countless others) making this claim, there is no theory to debunk.

As Bill James said, stats are supposed to answer questions. We’ve reached a point where we have more stats than we have questions. Jeff Sullivan says the most difficult part of writing is thinking of something to write about. Let’s applaud the guys that go on TV and give us something to think about, whether it is correct or not. At least it gives us something to discuss.

Brendan
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Brendan
3 years 1 month ago

The problem is that Harold Reynolds and others dismiss these stats as responses to their statements. There is evidence that Sabathia does not “pitch to the score,” so why doesn’t Harold Reynolds pursue that? Reynolds is not asking a question, but stating a non-fact that Sabathia does, in fact, pitch to the score.

Scott
Guest
Scott
3 years 1 month ago

Agreed. The frustrations arise when the “old school guys” dismiss the analysis of their claims. I think the animosity between the two camps is due to an incorrect perception that they are at odds, when they should be working together.

If Harold Reynolds would engage thoughtfully with statistical research into his ideas, announcing would be better off (…and then the world would end). I think the reciprocal is already true – statheads seem to enjoy analyzing claims of ex-players (perhaps to debunk, but not always).

Jon L.
Member
3 years 1 month ago

Except that the article makes quite clear that C.C. Sabathia *does* pitch to the score; he just doesn’t succeed in being more successful when he needs to be.

In fact, the article doesn’t even prove the latter, because it doesn’t take into account things like quality of batters faced in high-leverage situations, or if high-leverage situations might be more likely to occur when C.C. is tiring.

bstar
Guest
bstar
3 years 1 month ago

Scott, that’s a fresh perspective on things. Well done. I like the Ripkens also.

Trev
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Trev
3 years 1 month ago

Does CC’s pitch selection or velocity change based on leverage?

Synovia
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Synovia
3 years 1 month ago

This article is an awesome fight against a feeble strawman.

“If Sabathia pitched dramatically better in close games than with a big lead, it would show up in the data.”

Pitching different is not the same thing as pitching better. Every pitcher in baseball pitches to the score.

Scott
Guest
Scott
3 years 1 month ago

Despite your unverified claim at the end, you make a good point. Pitching differently does not equal pitching better.

Chad Moriyama
Member
3 years 1 month ago

If I was Harold Reynolds, not sure “Strawman” is the nickname I’d want, but cool.

Phrozen
Guest
Phrozen
3 years 1 month ago

Feeble Strawman, on the other hand, would be a good name for a band. Or a Twitter.

mike wants wins
Guest
mike wants wins
3 years 1 month ago

Can we find any pitcher that pitches to the score?

ALEastbound
Guest
3 years 1 month ago

Duh, Jack Morris.

David
Guest
David
3 years 1 month ago

Jack Morris pitched to the score so well that he frequently foresaw his team scoring for him in later innings, and would give it up early in order to give the other team a false sense of security…

jsolid
Guest
jsolid
3 years 1 month ago

Jack Morris doesnt throw a splitter. That’s just the ball looking for a place to hide.

dan w
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dan w
3 years 1 month ago

I especially enjoyed the poll during the middle of those guys yelling at one another.

nate
Guest
3 years 1 month ago

what about RPs… anecdotally my closers in non-save situations always seem to pitch worse than they do in save situations.

Jon L.
Member
3 years 1 month ago

Yes, I totally agree with this. Except anecdotally it doesn’t seem to me like they pitch better when they need to, only that they pitch normally (i.e., quite well) when they have a small lead, and poorly when the game is tied.

Scott
Guest
Scott
3 years 1 month ago

EDGE%!!!!!

This is tailor-made for an edge% analysis. As other commenters have noted, a different approach doesn’t necessarily lead to more or less success. Looking at rate stats unnecessarily distances us from the true data.

This is crying out for an analysis of:

1-What types of pitches he throws
2-How hard he throws them
3-Where the pitches go

These are simple questions with simple theories (1-more fastballs; 2-softer, 3-to the heart of the plate). Let’s see it!

David
Guest
David
3 years 1 month ago

F@%(*in’ love me some Egde%. Mmm mmmmmmm.

Daven
Guest
3 years 1 month ago

I’d be interested to see if there are any pitchers who pitch markedly differently based on the score, both based on what they throw and results.

There’s the perception that they all do and announcers and ex-players always talk about it, but except for situations where the score is something like 10-0 in the 8th inning or something, at least by the eyeball test, there doesn’t generally appear to be a difference in results at the least.

Another one I’d like to see Fangraphs tackle is whether or not hit and run’s actually result in higher chances of getting a hit or the like, and also whether the “contact play” with the runner taking off from 3rd with less than 2 outs as soon as contact is made is better than simply having him stay put and waiting to see what happens, in terms of maximizing scoring.

NeilS
Guest
NeilS
3 years 1 month ago

Verlander’s known to be able to noticeably ramp up the speed of his fastball late in games, when it’s a high-leverage situation. Not sure about anyone else, though.

TangoAlphaLima
Guest
TangoAlphaLima
3 years 1 month ago

I don’t think it’s just in high leverage situations. Verlander always starts a game holding back a little bit on his fastball, then builds up speed through the innings. Maybe someone has stats that prove otherwise, but I think he does this regardless of the score.

Bryz
Guest
3 years 1 month ago

I’ve heard that Verlander coasts when there’s no one on base, and then ramps up his fastball once he allows a baserunner.

Stuck in a slump
Guest
Stuck in a slump
3 years 1 month ago

Bartolo Colon used to do the same when he was with the Indians. The guy would throw his fastballs harder and harder as the game wore on, often times leading to him becoming erratic for a few extra MPH.

I would never call that pitching to the score though, back then, Colon was a thrower rather than a pitcher. Verlander is a pitcher, but throwing harder is not always the answer unless you can control it and endure the additional stress that it places on your arm and shoulder.

GG
Guest
GG
3 years 1 month ago

Baseball Prospectus had a great article on hit and runs last year.

TangoAlphaLima
Guest
TangoAlphaLima
3 years 1 month ago

I don’t believe Harold Reynold’s argument on this topic, but even if I did, I’d still realize that a pitcher has absolutely no effect on his own run support. How many wins would Sabathia and King Felix each have if they switched teams? Wins are a stupid statistic.

Wobatus
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Wobatus
3 years 1 month ago

Sabathia has probably been as good (if not better) than King Felix the last 5 or 6 years. I don’t think Felix’s excellence has gone unappreciated despite the lack of wins, and CC’s excellence may be obscured to a degree for some because he’s on the Yankees and has a lot of wins. If that makes sense.

TangoAlphaLima
Guest
TangoAlphaLima
3 years 1 month ago

I think Felix’s excellence has absolutely been unappreciated by the old school baseball guys. Heck, just the other day on PTI, Kornheiser and Wilbon both remarked that Felix won the Cy Young in a season in which he only had 13 wins. And that’s my point, over the last 4 years, Sabathia and Felix have been essentially the same pitcher (22.4 WAR for Felix, 22.1 WAR for Sabathia), but Sabathia has gotten much more notice by old school baseball guys because he gets more wins, whereas Felix gets knocked for not winning enough games.

wobatus
Guest
wobatus
3 years 1 month ago

But Felix won a Cy Young, so not like he doesn’t get recognition. And CC has had 3 seasons in the last 6 years with a higher WAR than Felix had in his best year, 2009. They are both fantastic pitchers, but I really think the old guard praise for CC, for the wrong reasons (winz), blinds some of the more stat savvy fans to just how good CC is. I think even Yankee fans don’t realize it.

MrKnowNothing
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MrKnowNothing
3 years 1 month ago

Felix just got paid a bajillion million dollars; he’s being appreciated just fine.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
3 years 1 month ago

It’s a shame that run support never even came up in that ridiculous segment.

Pr
Guest
Pr
3 years 1 month ago

this video is just amazing–Kenny looks like he is about to shake the stupid out of Reynolds

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
3 years 1 month ago

Brian Kenny’s just not that strong.

I’m not sure that the Bash Brothers combined, in their primes, were that strong.

RationalSportsFan
Guest
RationalSportsFan
3 years 1 month ago

It is worth noting that the stats for pitching in a tie-game are probably influenced a bit by the fact that a significant percentage of at bats in a tie game will come early in the game (when it is still 0-0). Since pitchers tend to perform better the first time through the order, we might be able to explain much of the (slight) difference between tied game performance and large lead/deficit performance that way.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb
3 years 1 month ago

Super point. Really well done.

nate
Guest
3 years 1 month ago

do hitters hit differently in a blowout… maybe harold is right and the stats don’t show it for a different reason. granted, as someone pointed out, harold’s statement about pitching “differently” (not necessarily better).

Dr.Rockzo
Member
Dr.Rockzo
3 years 1 month ago

With regards to the score-split graph, would it be possible to separate the the scoring splits as opposed to having the overlap in the within 1-4runs department? Such has having tied/1-runs/2-runs/3-runs/4-runs/>4runs instead of the constantly overlapping within 1/2/3/4.

Also am I correct in assuming the >4 runs margin includes not only when Sabathia has the lead but also behind by 4+ runs? Assuming the rest of the data shows that effectively he doesn’t change much in performance, would it stand to reason that since it covers potential games he gets shelled, of course he has worse numbers? This would seem to explain why the >4 run disparity exists from the other sets.

AC of DC
Guest
AC of DC
3 years 1 month ago

For those that did not watch the clip and instead only read the article and are quibbling about “different” vs. “better,” be advised that during the exchange Reynolds states that when Sabathia’s team is ahead “he gets hit around a little bit more.” This is the implicit argument of Reynolds’ (and others’) “pitching to the score” assertion. The facts do not appear to support this claim.

Anon
Guest
Anon
3 years 1 month ago

It would be even better if the data was split for ahead by 4+ and behind by 4+, but the data in the article supports the claim that he gets hit around more. Opponent average is higher in situations with a 4+ run difference.

Ruki Motomiya
Member
Ruki Motomiya
3 years 1 month ago

Isn’t he getting hit around more? With >4 runs, the area people argue about, he is trading less walks for more hits and HRs. So he is getting hit around more, he just also gets better in other ways.

Seth
Guest
Seth
3 years 1 month ago

Am I wrong in saying that Reynold’s argument boiled down to that pitchers can make their offenses score more runs? He makes it sound like the pitcher has some control over winning the game.

Me
Guest
Me
3 years 1 month ago

Obviously the other players see that the pitcher has the eye of the tiger and that then inspires them to go up there and grit out at bats and hustle around the bases.

Anon
Guest
Anon
3 years 1 month ago

In reality, pitchers pitch better when they have the lead

This statement seems like saying that it rains because the ground is wet (i.e. assigning causation to the wrong variable).

My assumption is the reverse of this. Opponent quality will bias the data, but quality of pitching will as well. I don’t assume pitchers have the same stuff every time out (this can be viewed in pitch f/x data). On the aggregate, having the lead is a result of pitching better.

Anon
Guest
Anon
3 years 1 month ago

I’m a different Anon but was going to say the same thing – yes, there might be some of pitching against better teams but also could be d/t better vs/ worse pitching

blindbuddysirraf
Member
blindbuddysirraf
3 years 1 month ago

The problem with this show and many other non baseball shows on television is that it assumes both sides of an argument are valid. Kenny’s analytics can not be compared to Reynolds anecdotal evidence, and accepted knowledge. Reynolds, like a lot of analysts on the mlb network is very good at explaining the game on that backfield, but virtually overmatched when analysizing player value. Reynolds and the others are essentially lying to the viewers by stating their accepted baseball axioms as fact while completely dismissing any sort of data that would support the contrary.

Mat
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Mat
3 years 1 month ago

This was the longest STFU ever.

Anon
Guest
Anon
3 years 1 month ago

Read again. “So, Reynolds is correct that Sabathia pitches differently depending on the game situation

Much of the article seems like a distraction from the original debate, on which Dave conceded that Reynolds is correct.

Anon
Guest
Anon
3 years 1 month ago

In regard to the league stats by leverage, how much is that biased by relief pitcher usage? (The closer or fireman gets used in high leverage situations, and the mop up guy gets used in blowouts. Also, pinch hitter usage might have an effect in the NL.)

David
Guest
David
3 years 1 month ago

I think maybe it’d be more fair to HR’s argument to look at WPA versus leverage, not the usual run-prevention stats.

In any case, I don’t think one should look at the WOBA or FIP or OPS and say “hey, they’re the same in high and low leverage situations, so pitchers aren’t performing any better!” These stats are essentially a proxy for the expected number of runs. In the long run, minimizing runs is roughly aligned with winning games (which is why these stats are great).

But, for example, if you’ve got two on and two out in the 9th, the last thing you want to do is give up a 3-run homer. So it’s natural to increase the chance of a hit (by lowering your K%) in order to decrease the chance of a home run. That is to say, in a particular (high-leverage) situation, the strategy that maximizes your probability of winning the game is not necessarily the strategy that minimizes the expected number of runs you’re going to give up. Or, as I would hypothesize based on the data in this article, pitchers can choose among strategies having roughly the same overall run-prevention statistics (but differing performance w.r.t WPA).

Disclaimer: I still don’t believe in pitcher wins as a very meaningful stat.

Blofkin
Guest
Blofkin
3 years 1 month ago

“an artifact of opponent quality”

That is such a cool phrase right there. I’m going to work this into everyday conversation.

Wobatus
Guest
Wobatus
3 years 1 month ago

I was a little surprised to see that Sabathia leads in pitcher WAR since the beginning of the 2007 season. Not sure he quite gets his due, even being on the yankees, maybe because they have had so many other stars. King Felix is adored in Seattle because he’s who they have (well, they had Ichiro).

The WAR ranking 2007-2013:

1. Sabathia
2. Verlander
3. Halladay
4. Lee
5. Hernandez
6. Greinke
7. Haren
8. Lincecum
9. Weaver
10. Lester

Iudtiutfiygfhgcyggc
Guest
Iudtiutfiygfhgcyggc
3 years 1 month ago

How well does that correlate to wins?

Brian
Guest
Brian
3 years 1 month ago

It’s times like this that make me glad I don’t subscribe to cable. Had no idea Harold Reynolds was on a TV show. Yikes. Feel like I wandered into the middle of a Creation vs Evolution “debate” in Georgia. We must present both sides as if they’re equal!!! Let the people decide the truth!!!

eddiegaedel
Member
eddiegaedel
3 years 1 month ago

I have often wandered if pitching to the score was underrated in sabremetric circles, so I really appreciate this real-world example. Every Dave Cameron article is a must read; he makes it really easy and clear to understand a complex subject matter.

monty
Guest
monty
3 years 1 month ago

it is painful to hear harold argue… omg

Disagreements!
Guest
Disagreements!
3 years 1 month ago

Maybe pitcher will not try to be as fine on a 3-1 pitch when the lead is 8-1 and there are 2 outs in the 8th. But that has to do with the batter more likely to hit it at a defender, than over the fence, and walking the batter just looks like a poor decision over letting him make contact with a 3-1 pitch.

Other than that, to believe that a pitcher stops working and relaxes is the same as saying that a hitter gives up at bats when the game is out of hand. I am sure Harold didn’t give up at bats just because it didn’t matter for the game’s end result. I would think a player’s competitive nature and routine makes it hard to perform differently on purpose. It would seem unnatural.

However, in saying that, I suppose there is a chance a pitcher can lose focus. Such as in basketball when players relax on defense in a blow out with 2 minutes left. But that doesn’t mean the pitcher is pitching to the score. It just means the player is not executing in the same manner to how he once was executing. It is not by design.

In short. It is very unlikely a player is consciously changing anything than they normally do because a game is out of hand. However, lack of focus can cause a player to make mistakes. Just as pressure can cause a player to make a mistake. But those seem to be different ideas from what Howard is saying.

adohaj
Guest
adohaj
3 years 1 month ago

oh gosh that “debate” turned into a train wreck fast

Harold Reynolds IQ
Guest
Harold Reynolds IQ
3 years 1 month ago

Well that was an easy argument to win.

Maverick Squad
Guest
Maverick Squad
3 years 1 month ago

-I think one of the problems is that people look at W-L totals and try to explain if anyone has a better or worse record than ERA or other stats might suggest. Eg. if someone has an ERA of 4 yet has a 18-4 record we(or they) try to come up with a reason how the pitcher did it, ignoring the obvious answers of run support or luck.
-If you had someone you always pitched for the win(pitching to the score) as opposed to someone who always pitched for ERA how big a difference in W-L record would that create- my guess it would be less than 1 win a year.
-Does pitcher consistency play a role in W-L record? If a guy goes 6IP, 3R, every time will he get the same results as a guy who goes 9IP,0R in half his starts and 3IP,3R in his other starts- same ERA. Also is that affected by the team offense- if you have a great offense is consistency good- you team will always score enough- might get 20 wins. But if you pitched for Miami and went 6IP, 3R every game you might end up with 20 losses.

Maverick Squad
Guest
Maverick Squad
3 years 1 month ago

Sorry on that last paragraph I meant 9IP, 0R and 3IP, 6R(not 3R)- which would make an era of 4.5.

Hank
Guest
Hank
3 years 1 month ago

So since the results are similar (well except for the more than 4 runs line), that is evidence that the approach is the same? Does that not seem like incredibly flawed logic and a classic example of confusing the results with the process?

If I find two pitchers with similar stats that are quoted here, is it evidence that their approach to pitching is the same?

Don’t you have to look at the “process” side of pitching:
– First pitch strikes
– % of pitches in the zone
– pitch mix
– pitch mix when behind in the count
– pitch location
– pitch sequencing

“From what we can tell, CC Sabathia pitches like CC Sabathia, whether the game is 10-0 or 1-0.”

The only thing you did was suggest that the results are similar (and even that is a bit debatable), not that he pitches the same. You did absolutely ZERO analysis of his pitching and inexplicably focused solely on the results.

Bob
Guest
Bob
3 years 1 month ago

While the “splits by score differential” chart is nice, it doesn’t really speak to the topic of whether CC pitches differently when he has a large lead than when he does not. Unless you think he would pitch the same with a 4 run deficit as a 4 run lead, which isn’t really logical if he pitches based on the score.

Ian R.
Guest
Ian R.
3 years 1 month ago

“You’re more likely to be losing to a good hitting team than one that has trouble scoring, so this is probably just an artifact of opponent quality.”

In addition to the selection bias for opponent quality, there’s a selection bias for pitcher quality. If Sabathia’s team is behind, that means that Sabathia himself gave up at least one run. That could well be because he’s not pitching well, for whatever reason: perhaps he doesn’t have a good feel for one of his pitches, or his location is sloppy, or what have you.

CC Sabathia: Pitching Better On Good Days And Worse On Bad Days Since 2001.

Ian R.
Guest
Ian R.
3 years 1 month ago

More evidence that Sabathia does not, in fact, pitch to the score:

Team scores 0-2 runs, career: 3.56 ERA.
Team scores 3-5 runs, career: 3.51 ERA.
Team scores 6+ runs, career: 3.44 ERA.

The differences are slight, of course, but it doesn’t look like CC is giving up a bunch of meaningless runs in blowout situations. If anything, he’s more effective when his team gives him a big lead.

So if he’s changing his approach in different game situations (which it looks like he is, based on the evidence discussed in the article), it’s not working.

Anon
Guest
Anon
3 years 1 month ago

How does this look if you adjust for opponent quality?

And why split the data at those intervals? Seems arbitrary. Where can I find the data grouped for each run difference?

Ian R.
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Ian R.
3 years 1 month ago

To answer your second question first, it’s split at those intervals because that’s where B-R splits it. Admittedly arbitrary, but it’s enough for a quick and dirty analysis.

As for the first question, I wouldn’t expect an adjustment for quality of opposition to make much difference. These stats are based purely on how many runs Sabathia’s team scored, which is to say they depend on the quality of the opposition’s pitching and defense, and I don’t think that has much to do with the quality of the opposing offense.

It’s also worth noting that these numbers run counter to what you’d expect when taking park factors into account. A disproportionate number of those 6+ run games probably happened in hitters’ parks, yet Sabathia’s ERA is still lower there.

Matt Fears
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Matt Fears
3 years 1 month ago

Rather than try and quantify the outcome based upon score let us go to the source. After reading the comments I think many people are hinting around this. We can look at pitch to pitch variability, normalize it and chart it. I hate this argument more than most because I think pitching to the score is ridiculous. While this post could get intensely long to try and decipher this (mostly because Harold Reynolds just nerves me), here are a few things I think would need to be analyzed.

1. SP from stretch and wind-up all available data
2. SP over the start all available data
3. SP in game pitch selection
3. on and on and on

Basically there is so much data that needs to be looked at that we need vector and integral calculus to develop constants, integrals, scalars, yada yada. We have the ultimate “Old School” pitcher to look at in Jack Morris and there is more than enough data from that salty SOB to prove it.

I think the sabermetric analysis falls short because it looks at outcomes and totality rather than the in game variability, pitch variability, yada yada. Although it does does some just not enough and needs supplement.

I am a life long baseball fan who happens to work as a Physicist and after watching MLB Now for a however long it has been on makes me wonder if Harold Reynolds was able to feed himself let alone how did he lead the league in SBs one year.

Dave Cameron
How can I get pitch by pitch raw data? To be fair coordinates are not needed. I am also aware that kind of data does not exist for Morris, but using sabermetrics we can make a reasonable comparison to someone whom we have data on.

Matt Fears
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Matt Fears
3 years 1 month ago

just to follow up if we use the leverage index already provided by FanGraphs and turn that into a function we would have f(L) = the function of the leverage index over the innings pitched

set our integral up with limits of integration from s to f, s = starting out, and f = finishing out

so integrate from s to f: f(L) dL <—we can find modifiers or constants or whatever but this is going to capture the overall leverage of the start for that pitcher. Perhaps this number could be used to determine yearly stress on a pitcher especially young ones, but for our purposes I won't to see just how much stress CC goes through and if we need to redefine leverage based upon score.

DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy
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DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy
3 years 1 month ago

Even before looking at stats it doesn’t make sense, a pitcher would be trying to get everyone out, throwing a perfect game you might say, every time out!

incompetent peeps
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incompetent peeps
3 years 1 month ago

Does anybody just not watch these shows with stupid people? I just hope that informed fans will “boycott” their shows and that will lead to lower ratings and their replacement with competent analysts.

Carson
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Carson
3 years 1 month ago

The informed fans could boycott their shows, but it wouldn’t make that much of a difference I think. The large majority of baseball fans couldn’t give a damn about how to appropriately evaluate players. which is why I think MLB network is cautiously trying to introduce statistical analysis with these Brian Kenny-hosted shows. It’s cool to see that guys like Eric Byrnes are open to it, but ultimately if all the former players are dismissive, so are the casual fans

Brian
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Brian
3 years 1 month ago

The problem with the all #’s approach is that you can’t use your eyes. CC often let’s runners get on base when he doesn’t feel like covering first base in games where he’s dominating. Nobody talks about it but he does it….

wobatus
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wobatus
3 years 1 month ago

We all get pissed off if a pitcher leading by 3 runs or so gives up a leadoff walk to a weak-ass hitter. Well, we get pissed off no matter the score. :)

who was the last pitcher to win 20 with a 4+ era? I keep thinking Jim Merritt, 1970 Reds.

bstar
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bstar
3 years 1 month ago

Andy Pettitte – 21 wins in 2003, 4.02 ERA

There have been others since Merritt in 1970. Both Tim Hudson and David Wells won 20 in 2000 with an ERA over 4, Rick Helling did it in 1998, and that guy Morris won 21 for the Jays in 1992.

The highest ERA ever while winning 20 (since 1901) is Bobo Newsom’s 5.08 mark in 1938.

Preston
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Preston
3 years 1 month ago

To be fair to Pettitte his FIP that year was a solid 3.35. Those 2003 Yanks gave him plenty of run support to help him get wins, but they took away a lot of runs by being absolute butchers in the field.

Ian R.
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Ian R.
3 years 1 month ago

Unsurprisingly, a lot of those high-ERA 20-win seasons also came in offense-heavy seasons. Wells’ ERA+ in 2000 was a sharp 123, while Helling, Hudson and Pettitte were all in the 109-113 range.

Heck, even Bobo Newsom in 1938 wasn’t too far below average – the league ERA that year was a whopping 4.79.

wobatus
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wobatus
3 years 1 month ago

Looks like I slept threw a few decades there.

Dave Silverwood
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3 years 1 month ago

Love your comments and just wanted you to know —–the game and it’s fans are proud you are you thanks Dave

Robert
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Robert
3 years 1 month ago

I did notice that BABIP went up a bit when margin was > 4 runs. This might indicate the defense relaxes a little when they’ve got a big lead, and are less willing to go all out to make a defensive play.

Peanut
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Peanut
3 years 1 month ago

When it comes to baseball analysis, Harold Reynolds was a good second baseman.

Nate F
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Nate F
3 years 1 month ago

Just because Sabathia’s “different” pitching doesn’t result in different overall numbers does not necessarily mean that the change in pitching style based on game situation is irrelevant or ineffective.

You can reach the same overall numbers for OPS in very different mannerisms.

When Sabathia has a large lead and is mainly focused on not giving up a big innings he should, if successful, give up single-run innings more frequently than when the game is close. But when the game is tight, and Sabathia is more concerned about putting zeros on the board, we should expect more zero-run innings but also more multiple-run innings.

If Sabathia is giving up a one-run inning every four innings when he has a large lead, he is doing his job by making sure the lead is maintained. If Sabathia is getting scoreless innings 15 out of 16 times when the game is close, but that one out of every 16th inning he gets knocked around for a four-run inning, he is still doing his job by having a high-rate of scoreless innings to not give up the lead.

The change in walks and strikeouts suggests that, when the game is close, Sabathia certainly is more willing to give up a big inning in exchange for more scoreless innings. If a few infrequent big innings are the cause of the overall stats when the game is close, while more frequent one-run innings are the cause of the overall stats when the game is not close, then Harold Reynolds’ point stands. Of course, I’ll leave it to someone else to dig through the game-by-game, inning-by-inning stats to see if that is the case.

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