Roy & 250

During the off-season, Sports Illustrated ran this piece by Albert Chen which compared, contrasted, and prodded the past, present, and future of baseball’s market inefficiencies. The notable quotable – for this piece at least – comes courtesy Tony Blengino, bright mind who works with the Mariners. (I’ll beat you to the snark: No, Blengino cannot hit the baseball well, either.) Here’s what he said:

“Defense might be the new OBP,” says Blengino, “but at some point it’s going to be something else that will be underappreciated. It may be something that has nothing to do with the statistical perspective. A team that figures out how to get 250 innings out of a starter, for example, is going to have a huge advantage. Who knows what the next inefficiency in the marketplace is going to be.”

The 250 innings idea is worth examining.

Since 2000, five pitchers have topped 250 innings: The since forgotten Jon Lieber (2000); Curt Schilling, twice (2001 and 2002); Randy Johnson (2002); Livan Hernandez (2004); and yes, Roy Halladay (2003). Halladay actually tossed 266 innings in 2003, the most of the group. That puts him third on a list since the last strike, with those two guys, Johnson and Schilling, both topping him with their respective 1999 and 1998 seasons.

Halladay started 36 games that season. He would start a combined 40 the next two years. His high since was 246 in 2008, but he’s thrown at least 220 in every season since returning full-time in 2006. SO far, he’s made three starts in the National League, and he’s averaging eight innings per. If he makes 30 more starts, he needs to average roughly 7.5 innings in order to reach 250 innings again.

The Phillies seem committed to start Halladay every fifth day, too, regardless of the number five starter being bumped, which gives him a legitimate chance at racking up more than 33 starts. He’s almost certainly not going to average eight innings per start from here on out. If he makes 35 starts on the season, though, he’ll only need seven innings per outing. That’s a more realistic goal given Halladay’s history.

The National League is a double-edged sword in Halladay’s pursuit. Yeah, the competition level doesn’t approach that of the American League East, but Halladay now has to come to the plate a couple of times as a hitter, making it more likely that he would be pulled in a tight game for a pinch hitter rather than being allowed to continue to work through a deficit. Of course, the quality of the innings matter too, but forget Roy flirting with 25 wins; his race towards 250 should be the one counting stat worth watching.

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27 Responses to “Roy & 250”

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  1. OremLK says:

    I would be interested in seeing some experimentation in the way a pitching staff is handled. I think it’s very inefficient, currently, the way relievers are used and how the starting rotation almost always winds up including at least one pitcher who doesn’t belong in a starting rotation.

    Perhaps run a four man rotation, but only allow the starting pitcher to go through the batting order twice (approximately 60-70 pitches on average). That will put less strain on the starter so that he can pitch every four days without increasing injury risk.

    Then use 2-3 guys in long relief each game, one time through the batting order for each pitcher.

    You wind up with a four-man rotation, two high leverage relievers who switch off every other day and typically pitch the last 2-3 innings of a ballgame, and six middle relievers who pitch every other day to every three days (as needed).

    Just a thought.

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  2. MX says:

    I don’t care if he can throw 250 innings or not. The only thing that matters is keep this guy healthy for the post season. That said, I hope his number of innings pitched is just normal (not too high to increase his work load).

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  3. Mark says:

    Halladay typically puts up high innings totals but what’s really interesting is the efficiency in those innings. You’d think Halladay would lead the league in pitches thrown, but he’s rarely in the top 15.

    Take 2009 – Verlander & Doc threw 240/239 innings respectively, yet Verlander led the league in pitches (3937) and Halladay was 17th with (3394). That’s a huge difference for two guys throwing virtually identical number of innings. You’d think the difference between two guys pitching the same innings would be 15-20 tops. So come playoff time Halladay wouldn’t even be in a danger zone, whereas Verlander might be.

    2008’s the one time Doc was in the top 10 for pitches thrown. In 2007 he was around 20th and in 2006 he wasn’t even in the top 35 despite throwing 220 innings.

    I guess what I’m saying is that because of his efficiency he’s able to go so deep into games. You’d think a guy throwing 220-240 innings each year would be in danger of an injury or being pushed too hard. When you look at the stats though he’s so damn efficient that 230-240 innings for him is the equivalent of most guys going 200 innings (just based on the # of pitches thrown). It’s really remarkable.

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    • The A Team says:

      And keep in mind that there’s some evidence out there suggesting that pitches/IP is as strong or better an indicator of injury risk than IP. It makes sense intuitively too.

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  4. I wonder if having a 250 innings pitcher – or simply having a group of high inning starters – has tangible, quantifiable benefits for the quality of the performance from relief pitchers. (ie, more rested relievers pitch better)

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  5. Dan in Philly says:

    A good article, and I agree 100% that similar to outs, innings pitched is a stat which is not appreciated enough by most fans. If Halladay gets to 250 innings, he’ll win the Cy Young. His teammate J Happ has a lower ERA, but not nearly the value through 3 games due to far fewer innings pitched.

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  6. azruavatar says:

    Jon Lieber — That was a name I had to look up . . . I vaguely recall his 2004 exploits with the Yankees (Dave Duncan is proud of that season) but I can’t recall his stints against the Cubs at all. That surprises me as a Cardinals fan given that he’s certainly faced the team I watch 100+ times a year.

    Memory is a fickle thing.

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  7. ct_chris says:

    For what it is worth…..In 2008, CC Sabathia threw 253 combined innings for both the Indians and Brewers.

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    • Ken_P says:

      Actually, when you include post season totals, he’s done it each of the last three years.

      2007: 241 (regular season) + 15.1 (post season) = 256.1
      2008: 253 (regular season) + 3.2 (post season) = 256.2
      2009: 230 (regular season) + 36.1 (post season) = 266.1

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  8. Bret says:

    It’s worth pointing out that Doc’s 40 starts in the two years after didn’t have much (if anything at all) to do with arm troubles, it was fluke injuries like a broken leg and appendicitis that kept him from some starts.

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  9. The A Team says:

    “Halladay now has to come to the plate a couple of times as a hitter, making it more likely that he would be pulled in a tight game for a pinch hitter rather than being allowed to continue to work through a deficit.”

    RJ, you over-estimate Charlie Manual. If the Phillies are losing 1-0 in the top of the 8th with the bases load, 2 outs, and Halladay coming to the plate, he’s going to bat whether that’s the right decision or not.

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  10. Thomas J. says:

    The fact that 95% of healthy pitchers do not pitch 200 innings per year shows what a bunch of pussies they are as a group.

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  11. jscape2000 says:

    You forgot CC Sabathia’s insane 2008. Easy to understand, since he split time between leagues.

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  12. Bob H says:

    How about having starters come in for more one-inning relief appearances in between starts? I seem to remember Torre doing this frequently circa 2005 or 6, but i could be wrong. If they’ve got a throw day anyway, put em in the game. They’d be better than Anonymous Reliever X, and you could probably get another 30-50 IP on the year.

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    • Mark says:

      That’s something I’d like to see happen. They do bullpen sessions in between starts, and if you’re going to throw 20-30 pitches you might as well throw them in game.

      The only downside here is that it takes a SP longer to warm up than a RP. I remember Halladay doing this a few years ago against Philly and he basically saved the game for the Jays by throwing 2 innings of relief.

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      • Kampfer says:

        The major risk is the intensity of those pitches. Throwing 30 pitches and Pitching 30 pitches are two totally different things, plus Pitching in a REAL game against MLB hitters… Just don’t know if it is a good thing to do.

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      • Torgen says:

        That was the game with 2 rain delays, which burned the original starter and a long reliever, right? And IIRC it was the day game after an extra inning game the night before which meant the bullpen was short.

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  13. macseries says:

    buehrle’s pitched 200+ since 2001. 245 in 2004, 236 in 2005. he has never won 20 games.

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  14. Kel says:

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. In each of the last three regular seasons, only one pitcher has gotten 35 starts (Verlander in ’09, Sabathia in ’08, Willis in ’07). Given that he is pitching every fifth day as opposed to every fifth game, Halladay is in line to be the first starter with more than 35 starts in a single regular season since he and Maddux both had 36 in 2003.

    2. Slightly tangential question: is there any statistic evidence that defenses play better behind pitchers who work quickly? ESPN mentioned it several times last night. I’ve seen a lot of Halladay starts and there have certainly been a good number of nice defensive plays, but it’d be cool to see some analysis if possible.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      It’s certainly possible, but Utley, Valdez and Victorino are all quality fielders in their own right.

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      • Kel says:

        Agreed. Halladay also benefited from some above-average defense in Toronto. A lot of commentators like to mention how starters like Halladay and Buehrle who work quickly help their defenders stay more alert and perform better, so I’m just wondering if there’s a way to investigate that. I do not know of any metric that measures a pitcher’s pace or time in between pitches.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        It’s an easy enough thing to record. I’d be surprised if someone, somewhere hasn’t at least tried to look into it.

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  15. Lologram says:

    Is there data on how many pitches older pitchers threw in a season? (say, 80’s, 70’s, going back etc.) Its pretty well-known that CGs, Shutouts, IP have gone down over the years, but have the number of pitches actually thrown gone down or are starters today just throwing more pitches/inning?

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    • Brandon says:

      I was listening to, I belief, Jonah Keri on this the other day – apparently pitches per inning have remained more or less stable over time. As pitchers have been strongly encouraged to pound the zone, hitters have had the value of a walk beaten into them, with the result being a wash. (N.B. the stability is a fact, with the “mind experiment” trying to rationalize; it is not guessing at the fact based on what we know of pitcher and hitter tendencies)

      On that analysis, pitchers must throw fewer pitches than they once did, as they throw fewer innings. This doesn’t necessarily mean pitchers are pussies though, as Thomas J. posits above. The standard deviation of hitter quality back in the day was WAY higher than it is now, allowing quality pitchers to cruise through large chunks of even a major league line-up. In little more than a generation we have gone from Walt Weiss starting for a World Series champion, to shortstops and even catchers who hit as well or better than corner outfielders; obviously this requires a pitcher to bear down much more frequently.

      Of course, Thomas J. might also be right.

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