The Remains of Walk-offs

On the surface, Brett Myers seemed to handle his 2012 transition from the rotation to the bullpen pretty well. He notched 19 saves and eight holds between stints with the Astros and White Sox against just two blown saves. He posted a sharp 3.31 ERA, good for an 81 ERA-.

But it wasn’t all happiness for Myers, as he was on the unfortunate end of four walk-offs. Hunter Pence hit a solo home run off Myers with one out on May 15th. The other three times, Myers’s game ended with runners still on base in threatening situations: a runner on third and one out after a Dexter Fowler walk-off triple on May 28th, runners on first and second and nobody out after a Hector Sanchez walk-off single on July 14th, and a runner on second and two outs after a Jamey Caroll sacrifice fly on July 28th.

Those four situations — the runners he stranded (all allowed on by him, although one reached on an error) and the outs at the time — resulted in a combined run expectancy of 3.25. Myers pitched just 65.1 innings in 2012. Even accounting for the nine outs Myers would have needed to record to finish those four innings (and therefore realize the full run expectancy), these 3.25 runs would increase his ERA to 3.59 — a significant difference.

The 3.25 runs Myers left in the remains of a walk-off were the most by any reliever in 2012. There were 48 others to leave at least one run behind. Eighteen of those 48 left at least two runs behind, listed below (click the graph for the full list from 2012):

runexpgreater2-2012

Two runs probably sounds insignificant, but a pitcher who threw 60 innings — a typical relief season — would see his ERA balloon by 0.30 points with two extra runs charged to his name. For many pitchers, 0.30 runs is the difference between above-average and mediocre, the difference between elite and good, or the difference between serviceable and below replacement level. Myers’s ERA painted a deceiving picture for many reasons — he had a 4.26 FIP, thanks to a fairly low strikeout rate and some home run issues — but getting to strand three runners in scoring position merely by the game ending before he could allow any more runs in was a part of it.

David Carpenter‘s 2011 season showcases this concept best. The then-Astro easily topped that season’s list (again, click to see the full list):

runexpgreater2-2011

Carpenter left a tremendous 4.49 runs on after three walk-off singles in 2011. All three left at least two runners on and less than two outs; two left the bases loaded.

Carpenter pitched just 27.2 innings in 2011. He recorded a 2.93 ERA and a 78 ERA-, especially good numbers for a 25-year-old reliever making his major league debut. But, like Myers, his profile showed more blemishes upon a deeper look — a 4.2 BB/9 and 1.0 HR/9 led to a 4.18 FIP despite a sharp 9.4 K/9. He stranded 88.2 percent of baserunners for the season. He stranded eight baserunners thanks to allowing walk-offs alone (in all three cases, Carpenter entered the game at the beginning of the inning). Adding the 4.49 runs and seven outs he left in the wake of walk-offs would increase his ERA to 4.05 — far more similar to his 4.18 FIP (and 110 FIP-) than his shiny recorded ERA.

Carpenter posted an 8.07 ERA in 2012 between the Astros and Blue Jays. He stranded just 61.3 percent of his baserunners.

The predictive value of this concept of course isn’t as high as this well-chosen example makes it seem; we’re already dealing with small sample ERAs and relief pitchers. There’s other noise involved as well, including intentional walks and inherited runners. But I think it does show yet another limit of ERA in evaluating relievers. There were 435 walk-offs between 2011 and 2012 alone. There were 101 pitcher seasons with at least one run in run expectancy left behind after walk-offs, and 32 of them had at least two runs left behind. In short seasons, these vagaries can make a difference worth considering when evaluating late-inning relievers.



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TKDC
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TKDC
3 years 6 months ago

This is really interesting. One caveat that should be mentioned is that the defense in walk-off situations with a runner on third and fewer than 2 outs is usually not ideal at preventing hits per se, but rather aimed at prevent the run from scoring as whether by hit or out, if the run scores the game is over. I’d imagine the BABIP in these situations is very high.

Jeff
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Jeff
3 years 6 months ago

The defense point is undoubtedly an important one (for the non home run walks off obviously). Additionally, while I am not a believer that pitchers “pitch to the score” in almost any situation, this might be the exception. In the most extreme scenario, if you are on the road, have loaded the bases in a tie game in the 9th or extras, and have gotten behind in the count, you basically are going to throw it down the middle and see what happens. You might not have done that if it was the 3rd inning. That is the extreme case, but one can imagine an argument saying it is not fair to blame a pitcher for not preventing something he wasn’t trying to prevent.

Ryan
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Ryan
3 years 6 months ago

Really cool idea for an article (although after reading the title, part of me was hoping for a preview of what remains of Kendrys Morales’s career).

ElJosharino
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ElJosharino
3 years 6 months ago

This makes me curious about starters who get pulled mid-inning with runners on base. If one were to look at starters who seem to outperform their FIP, are they getting pulled in high run-expectancy situations and getting bailed out by the bullpen? Perhaps there’s potential for some sort of “Runs Abandoned” statistic that could explain some of the difference between ERA and FIP in some circumstances.

John
Member
John
3 years 6 months ago

Right. Distinguishing between an outing that ends due to walk-off and one that ends due to a pitching change seems somewhat arbitrary, except that in some cases the game ending prevents runs that a pitching change can’t.

Is there an advanced pitching metric that produces an ERA-like (or xFIP-like) number assigning some penalty to runners left on?

sambf
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sambf
3 years 6 months ago

In a similar vain to this, starters are going to have slightly worse ERAs than they “should” because they’re often pulled with 1-2 outs–missing parts of innings that generate artificially good ERAs (because runners you allow are less likely to score); similarly that’s going to artificially make relievers’ ERAs slightly better on the whole.

TKDC
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TKDC
3 years 6 months ago

Using ERA for relievers is generally a bad idea, largely for this reason (along with the small sample size). I think K% and BB% are good, but you can also look at FIP or xFIP.

John
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John
3 years 6 months ago

Really interesting article; thanks for the great work.

Zac
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Zac
3 years 6 months ago

This is a reminder that all the old stats that old writers love are subject to their own biases that can pervert their value in evaluating true talent. Average and OBP in small sample sizes are subject to the luck of BABIP. ERA in small sample sizes is subject to this, where a player isn’t penalized enough for the runners he allows on base because he gave up the game winning hit. Wins aren’t even worth discussing, and everyone should be aware of how pointless a 3-run save is. Runs and RBI (excluding those coming from home runs) require the assistance of a player’s teammates, and Home Runs are affected by the ballpark in which a player plays.

This may sound like nitpicking, but this is the same thing writers do when they tell you that WAR is useless (probably with a headling that references an Edwin Starr song).

Tim
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Tim
3 years 6 months ago

This is rather silly given the drastic tactical differences present in potential walk-off situations.

Chad
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Chad
3 years 6 months ago

I believe the Brewers blew somewhere around 20 games last year. As the article points out, Jim Henderson had a 3.23 era but a lot of walk off losses most of which were were with lots of baserunners on because of Axford and Veras.

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