Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Innings Pitched per Win


In the previous post, I showed that a simple statistic that calculates innings pitched per loss (IP/L) saw the two lowest numbers in baseball history this past season for those pitchers having lost at least 11 games. This is because relievers are increasingly taken out after 1 or 2 outs, while homers are being hit at a record pace, meaning more late lead changes and losses for those relievers. Adam Conley of Miami was the new leader, losing 11 games while pitching just 60.2 innings for an all-time low of 5.52 IP/L, with Raisel Iglesias just behind at 5.58 after taking 12 losses in 67 innings.

So would you expect that innings pitched per win (IP/W) would also see new records set? One key difference here is that a relief pitcher must have been the last one to pitch when his team took a lead that they held to the end of the game in order to get the win (the exception is when the starter is removed with the lead before completing 5 innings, in which case the win goes to the relief pitcher who, in the official scorer's judgment, was the most effective). So there is no strong correlation to the relief pitcher's quality and his win total, while there obviously is more correlation to talent (or lack thereof) and losses.

I checked to see if any relievers had won at least 15 games while starting none. Turns out that there were 13 in history that had done so. The most fortunate of these was Roy Face, who went 18-1 for the Pirates in 1959. He appeared in 57 games, tossing 90.2 innings  for an all-time low IP/W of 5.19. He was obviously the beneficiary of many late comebacks by his Pirates teammates, as his other numbers were not particularly spectacular. During those days, relievers often averaged over 2 IP per appearance, and there were far fewer of them, so you would expect higher win totals.

I put together a table of the lowest number of innings pitched for a reliever with each number of wins between 6 and 18 (below). It is clear that more recent years appear when win totals are fewer. For example, John Gant won 11 this season while pitching just 66.1 innings; last year Corbin Burnes managed 7 victories in just 38 IP. This is to be expected given the trend towards fewer innings. With so many starters getting pulled without even completing the 5 innings needed to secure a win, more relievers are getting awarded easy wins. Over a season, you can expect one or two to get lucky and see their win totals boosted significantly this way. Risley and Brazoban should be off this list in the next few seasons.

W   IP   IP/W Pitcher         Team Year
18  93.1 5.19 Roy Face        PIT  1959
17 150   8.82 John Hiller     DET  1974
16 129   8.06 Ron Perranoski  LAD  1963
15 111.1 7.42 Dale Murray     MTL  1975
14  85.1 6.10 Ron Davis       NYY  1979
13  87.1 6.72 Rich Gossage    NYY  1983
12  68   5.67 Johnny Murphy   NYY  1943
11  66.1 6.03 John Gant       STL  2019
10  57   5.70 Mike Dunn       MIA  2014
 9  52.1 5.81 Bill Risley     SEA  1994
 8  48.1 6.04 Jason Motte     CHC  2015
 7  38   5.43 Corbin Burnes   MIL  2018
 6  32.2 5.44 Yhency Brazoban LAD  2004

So it appears as if IP/W is also seeing new records, at least for lower win totals among relievers. How about starters? I did the same analysis, finding the lowest number of innings pitched for starters (defined as having at least 85% of their games as a starter) for each number of wins between 27 and 12.

W   IP      IP/W Pitcher           Team Year
27  238     8.81 Bob Welch         OAK  1990
26  309.1  11.90 Fred Klobedanz    BSN  1897
25  250.2  10.03 Steve Stone       BAL  1980
24  251    10.46 Justin Verlander  DET  2011
23  213.1   9.28 Pedro Martinez    BOS  1999
22  216.1   9.83 Matt Morris       STL  2001
21  180.2   8.60 Blake Snell       TB   2018
20  188.2   9.43 Jered Weaver      LAA  2012
19  169.3   8.91 Storm Davis       BAL  1989
18  143     7.94 Domingo German    NYY  2019
17  150.1   8.84 Matt Moore        TB   2013
16  154.2   9.67 Ken Hill          MTL  1994
15  147.2   9.84 Stephen Strasburg WAS  2016
14  145.2  10.40 Dallas Keuchel    HOU  2017
13  126     9.69 Mike Clevinger    CLE  2019
12  108.1   9.03 Clay Buchholz     BOS  2013

I chose to start from 27 because that was Bob Welch's incredible total in 1990, when he pitched "only" 238 innings, leading to an IP/W of 8.81, which was historically low. Since then, only two starters have had lower IP/W: Blake Snell last season, and Domingo German, setting an all-time record this season. To be fair, two of German's wins were in relief, but he still would have set the record for 16 wins too. Mike Clevinger also set a record for 13-game winners this season, pitching just 126 innings. I expect Ken Hill of the 1994 World Series Champion Montreal Expos to soon disappear from this list. One who won't disappear is Fred Klobedanz, the 26-game winner who pitched 309.1 innings for the Boston Beaneaters in 1897. We will never see numbers like that again.

I enjoy seeing the wide variety of names on these two lists, but the conclusion to all of this isn't particularly stunning. Pitchers are obviously throwing fewer innings every year, so win and loss totals are down too. But when comparing the two, innings pitched are declining relatively more quickly, leading to lower IP/W and IP/L numbers for lower win totals. This trend will continue as long as managers use that quick hook.

Best,

Sean

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