Stoppers

June 6, 2016
 Hey, guys.   I’ve been away for a couple of weeks.   First we went to Yellowstone on a family vacation, and then as soon as I got back I went to Provincetown for an event trying to help some people who are doing worthwhile stuff raise a little money. ..anyway, glad to be back, and I had a couple of little quick pieces of research to share with you.

 

I.  Opposition Adjusted Winning Percentage

               Let us suppose that, in calculating a team’s winning percentage, we gave each team one "win" point for each win by a team that they have beaten, and one "loss" for each loss by a team that has beaten them.   In other words, if you beat a team that wins 100 games on the season, that win is worth 100 points, because they don’t lose a lot.   But if you lose to them, that loss is only worth 62 points, because losses to that team (the 100 win team) are common. 

               Let’s take the Reds last year (2015) against the Cardinals.   The Reds were a 64-98 team, the Cardinals a 100-62.   Head to head, the Reds won 7, the Cardinals 12.   

               From the Reds’ standpoint, we count those 7 wins as 700 wins, because each win against the Cardinals is worth 100 points.     Also from the Reds’ standpoint, we count those 12 losses as 724 points, because each loss to the Cardinals only counts at 62 points.    So the Reds’ record against St. Louis, in this system, is not 7-12, but 700 – 724.  

               From the Cardinals’ standpoint, each win against Cincinnati is worth 64 points, while each loss to Cincinnati is worth 98 points (since Cincinnati was 64-98).  The Cardinals’ 12 wins against Cincinnati are worth 768 wins, and their 7 losses are worth 686 points, so the Cardinals’ record against the Reds in 2015, in this system, is not 12-7, but 768-686. 

               This method, in effect, turns every opponent into a .500 team.    But what effect would it have on the pennant race, if we determined the pennant winners in this way?

               a)  No effect; the same teams would win.

               b)  Every team would turn into a .500 team.

               c)  It would make the best teams into the worst teams and vice versa.

               d)  It would scramble the pennant race in some unpredictable way, emphasizing some factor in the schedule loading that we can’t quite anticipate.

               I honestly had no idea which of those answers would prove to be correct, so I ran the data to test it out.    The answer is (a), it makes no difference.

               I tested all teams from 1958 to 2013.   The system tends to move the winning percentages of all teams in the direction of .500, but only by a very small amount.    It tends to turn a .700 team into a .690 team, and a .300 team into a .310 team, a .600 team into a .595 team.   No meaningful effect. 

               I looked at—eyeballed—every pennant race, trying to see if I could find any pennant races in which the winner would have been different.   I was unable to find a single pennant race in which the winner would be changed by this weighting procedure.   It is theoretically possible.   I was able to find a few cases in which the order of finish in a league or a division would be altered by this method, but no cases in which the alteration would change the winner. 

               The three teams which would lose the most with this adjustment are the 2002 Minnesota Twins, the 2003 Minnesota Twins, and the 2004 Minnesota Twins.   The Twins were the best team in a very weak division.   The method takes points away from them because they are beating up on inferior competition—but it doesn’t matter, because it also takes points away from their in-division opponents.    The Twins’ winning percentages in those seasons are lowered by 26, 26 and 27 points.  

               It is possible—and likely--that this information would be useful in predicting post-season success.   Probably the Opposition Adjusted Winning Percentage is a truer measure of the strength of the team than the raw winning percentage.  Those Twins teams, in short, are not as good as their won-lost record makes them appear to be.   But any gains in predictive significance that were made would be small.

 

II. Stopper Points

(or, Damn You, Steve Carlton)

 

               In an article posted a month ago I wrote that "I can remember Mickey Vernon, manager of the expansion Washington Senators, referring to Bennie Daniels as his ‘stopper’, although how many times Daniels ACTUALLY stopped a losing streak could charitably be called an unknown."    Well, that is what I live for—to find questions about baseball

               (a) To which no one knows the answer, but

               (b) Which I can find the answers to with a little work.

               That’s what drives me, man. . .well, that and haunting dreams about finding box turtles, which I loved when I was a child.   Anyway, I set up a system to identify the "stopper" of the year for each team, and, more particularly, the Stopper of the Year, based on how many losing streaks the player actually stops.

               Sort of.   Stopping a one-game losing streak is not the same as stopping an actual losing streak, of course, so we have to have a point system.     This is the point system:

               1) A pitcher who stops a losing streak gets one point for each loss of the streak if he is the starting pitcher in the game but not the winner,

               2) And two points for each loss of the streak if he is the starter AND the winner,

               3) Plus "low offense" points if the team wins the game (after a loss in the previous game) without scoring many runs.

               The "low offense points" are 2 points if the team scores only 4 runs in the game, 4 points if they score 3 runs, 6 points if they score 2 runs, and 8 points if they score only one run in the game, but win the game 1-0.     If the team scores five or more runs in breaking the losing streak, no bonus points for the pitcher. 

               Now, to get to the obvious first, who do you think is the #1 Stopper in my data?   Of course.   Steve Carlton in 1972 stopped 22 losing streaks, earning 180 Stopper Points—easily the most of any pitcher in my data.   Vastly the most.   He wins the all-time stopper contest by a sort of ridiculous margin—180 points to 117.   The distance between #1 and #2 is larger than the distance between #2 and #500.  

               It’s a bad answer because it is a predictable answer.   When you do a study like this you don’t want a predictable answer.   You want the public to say, "Oh, that’s interesting", not "Of course."   This is the "of course" answer.   

               There is, however, something kind of interesting in there.   Carlton won 27 games for a bad, bad team in 1972.   But the third-best "stopper" year in my data was by Jim Palmer—also in 1972.   The Orioles weren’t Philly-like bad in 1972, but they had an off season, finishing just 80-74.   Palmer stopped 17 losing streaks and earned 116 Stopper Points.

               Were it not for Carlton and Palmer (116) and the guy who has 117, the record would be held by Gaylord Perry.

               Also in 1972.

               Many of you probably know that Gaylord Perry did have a historic season in 1972, pitching 343 innings with a 1.92 ERA and winning 24 games for a bad team, a team that didn’t finish last, but would have finished last without him.   His season is obscured in history by the shadow of Carlton’s remarkable campaign, but it turns out that three of the four greatest Stopper Seasons in the last 60+ years were all in 1972.   Phil Niekro in the same season would also be sixth on the list, so that’s four out of the top six. 

               I found the Stopper of the Year for each season from 1952 to 2015, sort of.   From 1952 to 1956 I have spotty data, and the answers that I found to "Who was the stopper of the year" are not necessarily right, even if you accept my methodology, and in 2014-2015 I don’t have data, so I just spot-checked teams and pitchers until I found what seemed likely to be the right answer.  

               The "Stoppers of the Year" have two characteristics:

               (1) that they are good pitchers, and

               (2) that they tend to be on bad teams, which gives them more opportunity to stop losing streaks.  

 

               Of course this is not necessarily "right" in a certain sense.    A person could say that "I don’t want a stopper who stops losing streaks after 6 games or 8 games.   I want somebody to stop the losing streak after two games or three games at most.   I want somebody who stops a losing streak before it starts."   I understand the logic, but. . .this was my method.   Stopping an 8-game losing streak is a bigger deal than stopping a 2-game losing streak.  

               Anyway, Steve Carlton in 1972—a great pitcher on a terrible team—is the ultimate and obvious example of a good pitcher on a bad team, so we would expect him to be at the top of the list.   But other than Carlton, the list is not all that predictable.   The two elements of the process work at cross-purposes to one another, which tends to make the winners generally not predictable.    Most good pitchers are not on bad teams, and most pitchers on bad teams are not good pitchers.   In many seasons, probably most seasons, there is no one who stands out as a good pitcher on a bad team—or, if there is, he won’t happen to have stopped as many streaks as a good pitcher on a not-so-bad team, or a not-so-good pitcher on a very bad team.    The results, Steve Carlton aside, tend to be NOT predictable. 

               Anyway, these are the Stoppers of the Year for the 1950s, warning you that, because of gaps in my data, some of the very early selections could be inconsistent with the formula:

First

Last

Team

Year

G

IP

W

L

 

SO

BB

ERA

 

Stops

Pts

Bobby

Shantz

A's

1952

33

280

24

7

 

152

63

2.48

 

16

108

Harry

Byrd

A's

1953

40

237

11

20

 

122

115

5.51

 

10

79

Bob

Turley

Bal

1954

35

247

14

15

 

185

181

3.46

 

9

94

Robin

Roberts

Philly

1955

41

305

23

14

 

160

53

3.28

 

10

80

Bob

Rush

Cubs

1956

32

240

13

10

 

104

59

3.19

 

9

80

Ron

Kline

Pitt

1957

40

205

9

16

 

88

61

4.04

 

8

67

Arnie

Portocarrero

Bal

1958

32

205

15

11

 

90

57

3.25

 

9

92

Frank

Lary

Det

1959

32

223

17

10

 

137

46

3.55

 

12

78

 

               Bobby Shantz was the American’s League’s MVP in 1952, going 24-7 for a team that was barely over .500; he was sort of the Steve Carlton of 1952, except that he was short and nice.    Harry Byrd also had a decent year for that team in ’52, going 15-15 and pitching a lot of innings.   When Shantz got hurt the next year Byrd was left to carry the load by himself; he wound up as one of I think four stoppers on our list who had pretty ugly seasons in terms of losses and ERA, but who did manage to stop more losing streaks than any other pitcher.   

               Bob Turley walked 181 men for the Orioles in 1954; traded to the Yankees that winter, he walked 177 more for New York in 1955, but won 17 games.   Robin Roberts. . .that was just his ordinary season.   The 1960s:

 

First

Last

Team

Year

G

IP

W

L

 

SO

BB

ERA

 

Stops

Pts

Glen

Hobbie

Cubs

1960

46

259

16

20

 

134

101

3.96

 

11

98

John

Buzhardt

Philly

1961

41

202

6

18

 

92

65

4.50

 

9

80

Art

Mahaffey

Philly

1962

41

274

19

14

 

177

81

3.94

 

15

100

Don

Nottebart

Hou

1963

31

193

11

8

 

118

39

3.17

 

13

86

Dean

Chance

Angels

1964

46

278

20

9

 

207

86

1.65

 

18

97

Larry

Jackson

Cubs

1964

40

298

24

11

 

148

58

3.14

 

15

95

Mel

Stottlemyre

Yanks

1965

37

291

20

9

 

155

88

2.63

 

17

78

Sandy

Koufax

Dodgers

1966

41

323

27

9

 

317

77

1.73

 

16

90

Steve

Hargan

Cle

1967

30

223

14

13

 

141

72

2.62

 

12

92

Jerry

Koosman

Mets

1968

35

264

19

12

 

178

69

2.08

 

15

90

Tom

Seaver

Mets

1968

36

278

16

12

 

205

48

2.20

 

11

90

Chris

Short

Philly

1968

42

270

19

13

 

202

81

2.94

 

13

90

Sam

McDowell

Cle

1969

39

285

18

14

 

279

102

2.94

 

13

99

 

               I have a near-obsessive fascination with the Glen Hobbie season in 1960.   Hobbie’s was one of the first baseball cards that I had when I discovered baseball cards in the spring of 1961, based on a truly distinctive seasons.    Hobbie not only started 36 times, going 14-17 as a starter, but also worked ten times in relief.   He never repeated the season, but I always think of that as the prototype of a group which includes Art Mahaffey in ’61 (11-19), Ed Rakow in 1962 (14-17), and dozens of others—hard-working, quality pitchers stuck with awful teams.   Many of them wound up on this list.

               But many of them never repeated their seasons.   A bad team has one pitcher, they’re going to tend to push him as hard as they can push him.   In the modern world not so much, because we have very strong expectations about workloads, and no one will stray too far beyond those norms even in desperation.   But in the 1960s. . .they mostly burned themselves out trying to save teams that were destined to drown. 

               Buzhardt in 1961 is pretty unique; he was credited with only 6 wins, but managed to stop 9 losing streaks, several of them long ones.    We’ll get to another guy like that in 2003.  

               Dean Chance in ’64 was the first Cy Young winner to double as the Stopper of the Year, but if it wasn’t for Chance Larry Jackson would have been both—the Cy Young Award winner, and the Stopper of the Year.   He won 24 games for a team that was 52-75 with other pitchers—certainly a Cy Young worthy campaign—and also piled up 95 stopper points, which is more than most Stoppers of the Year.

               Mel Stottlemyre was called up late in ’64 and led the Yankees down the stretch, saving a pennant that it looked like it would go somewhere else, but then the team collapsed memorably in ’65, leaving Stottlemyre as the first mate of a sinking ship.    Koufax in ’66 was the first pitcher to be Stopper of the Year for a team that had a winning record without him, although there have been many of those since. 

               In 1968 Jerry Koosman, 19-12 with the Mets, was major league Stopper of the Year with 90 points, but a teammate (Seaver) and a third pitcher also had 90 points.    I thought it was interesting that two teammates could both be leaders in breaking streaks.   Doesn’t speak too well of the rest of the pitching staff.   Koosman is Stopper of the Year because he had 15 stops to Seaver’s 11, although Seaver stopped some longer streaks. 

               Sudden Sam McDowell was the only pitcher to be Stopper of the Year twice in a row, 1969 and 1970 (below).    Sam, a giant left-hander with perhaps the best fastball of his era, was a great pitcher at that time, but never really got credit for that, because

               a) his teams were bad,

               b) his alcoholism cut him down in mid-career, and

               c)  at the time, people would obsess about his walks.

               He struck out and walked everybody, about 300 strikeouts and 130 walks a year.   At the time, given the prejudices of the era, this made it easy for people to blame the walks for the fact that he didn’t go 22-10 every year.     The 1970s:

 

First

Last

Team

Year

G

IP

W

L

 

SO

BB

ERA

 

Stops

Pts

Sam

McDowell

Cle

1970

39

305

20

12

 

304

131

2.92

 

14

83

Andy

Messersmith

Angels

1971

38

277

20

13

 

179

121

2.99

 

17

103

Steve

Carlton

Philly

1972

41

346

27

10

 

310

87

1.97

 

22

180

Jim

Palmer

Bal

1972

36

274

21

10

 

184

70

2.07

 

17

116

Gaylord

Perry

Cle

1972

41

343

24

16

 

234

82

1.92

 

13

112

Phil

Niekro

Atl

1972

38

282

16

12

 

164

53

3.06

 

15

106

Gaylord

Perry

Cle

1973

41

344

19

19

 

238

115

3.38

 

13

86

Ferguson

Jenkins

Tex

1974

41

328

25

12

 

225

45

2.82

 

15

96

Ed

Figueroa

Angels

1975

33

245

16

13

 

139

84

2.91

 

15

86

Bert

Blyleven

2 Tms

1976

36

298

13

16

 

219

81

2.87

 

12

117

Dave

Lemanczyk

Tor

1977

34

252

13

16

 

105

87

4.25

 

11

104

Ross Jr.

Grimsley

Expos

1978

36

263

20

11

 

84

67

3.05

 

17

101

Ron

Guidry

Yanks

1978

35

274

25

3

 

248

72

1.74

 

19

79

Phil

Niekro

Atl

1979

44

342

21

20

 

208

113

3.39

 

13

82

 

               As I mentioned, pitchers generally don’t stay on this list.   What usually happens is that a good pitcher with a bad team, his team pushes him too hard and he gets hurt.    But Cleveland has a pretty good run of dominance going from 1969 to 1974.     McDowell, Stopper of the Year in 1969 and 1970, was traded to San Francisco after a 13-17 season in 1971, traded in exchange for Gaylord Perry.   Perry wasn’t the Stopper of the year in 1972 because of Carlton and Palmer, but had a historically high total of 112 Stopper Points that year.   In 1973 Perry "won" the "Award", and in 1974 he finished second again, just two points behind Ferguson Jenkins. 

               The list from the 1970s has a lot of Hall of Famers and 20-game winners, more than the other decades do.    There are no Buzhardts or Ron Klines here, although Lemanczyk is sort of like that.  Bert Blyleven, traded in mid-season in 1976, had the second-highest Stopper Points total in the study, 117, and also became the first player traded in the middle of a Stopper of the Year campaign.  Other than Carlton no pitcher in my data stopped twenty losing streaks, but Ron Guidry in 1978 stopped 19 losing steaks, although they were mostly just one- and two-game streaks.   There will be another pitcher like that later. 

               Carlton in ’72 is the third Cy Young Award winner to also be Stopper of the Year and the only one of this decade, but Ferguson Jenkins in ’74 might have won the Cy Young.   Jenkins and Catfish Hunter were similar pitchers, both workhorse pitchers with very high ratios of home runs allowed to walks, because they both figured that a solo home run wasn’t going to beat them but walks might.   In 1974 both pitched 300+ innings and they were 1-2 in fewest walks per nine innings, and both finished 25-12.   Both won 20 games every year, almost, both were very good hitters, and both are Hall of Famers.   Catfish won the Cy Young Award, in part because he had not won one before whereas Ferguson had, but I think modern analysis believes that Ferguson was actually the better pitcher that season.  

               These are the Stoppers of the Year for the 1980s:

First

Last

Team

Year

G

IP

W

L

 

SO

BB

ERA

 

Stops

Pts

Jim

Bibby

Pit

1980

35

238

19

6

 

144

88

3.32

 

14

79

Mike

Krukow

Cubs

1981

25

144

9

9

 

101

55

3.68

 

7

72

Charlie

Hough

Tex

1982

34

228

16

13

 

128

72

3.95

 

14

83

Rick

Honeycutt

2 Tms

1983

34

214

16

11

 

74

50

3.03

 

13

74

Don

Sutton

Mil

1984

33

213

14

12

 

143

51

3.77

 

13

87

Teddy

Higuera

Mil

1985

32

212

15

8

 

127

63

3.90

 

11

89

Mike

Krukow

SF

1986

34

245

20

9

 

178

55

3.05

 

14

76

Charlie

Hough

Tex

1987

40

285

18

13

 

223

124

3.79

 

13

76

Danny

Jackson

Reds

1988

35

261

23

8

 

161

71

2.73

 

15

82

Bert

Blyleven

Angels

1989

33

241

17

5

 

131

44

2.73

 

10

85

 

               In the 1980s, as I have noted before, there really are no great pitchers; there are the leftovers of the 1970s (Carlton, Sutton, Palmer, Blyleven), and there are some brilliant young pitchers (Saberhagen, Gooden, Clemens) and there is Jack Morris, but there really are no great pitchers whose careers are centered in the 1980s.  

               Anyway, there are only five pitchers who had multiple seasons as Stopper of the Year, and three of those are centered in the late 1980s.   Mike Krukow, of all people, was Stopper of the Year in both 1981 and 1986, when he was 20-9 with a 3.05 ERA.   He was followed in quick order by Charlie Hough and Bert Blyleven.    Danny Jackson would have won the Cy Young Award in 1988 but for Orel Hershiser’s historic run late in the season.   Hershiser had a 0.00 ERA in September of 1988.   In 55 innings.

               The 1990s:

First

Last

Team

Year

G

IP

W

L

 

SO

BB

ERA

 

Stops

Pts

Doug

Drabek

Pit

1990

33

231

22

6

 

131

56

2.76

 

15

80

Scott

Sanderson

Yanks

1991

34

208

16

10

 

130

29

3.81

 

14

78

Roger

Clemens

R Sox

1992

32

247

18

11

 

208

62

2.41

 

`16

85

Mark

Langston

Angels

1993

35

256

16

11

 

196

85

3.20

 

13

80

Cal

Eldred

Mil

1994

25

179

11

11

 

98

84

4.68

 

11

67

Randy

Johnson

Sea

1995

30

214

18

2

 

294

65

2.48

 

16

72

Denny

Neagle

2 Tms

1996

33

221

16

9

 

149

48

3.50

 

13

77

Brad

Radke

Twins

1997

35

240

20

10

 

174

48

3.87

 

13

81

Andy

Benes

Ariz

1998

34

231

14

13

 

164

74

3.97

 

12

73

Dave

Mlicki

2 Teams

1999

33

199

14

13

 

120

72

4.62

 

11

65

 

               In the first 25 years of our project, the Stopper of the Year was often a pitcher stuck with a losing record.   Between 1978 and 2002, however, there is not a single pitcher with a losing record who shows up as the Stopper of the Year—and actually, there are only a handful of those in the entire 64 years.  

               Two Cy Young Award Winners were Stopper of the Year in the 1990s, Drabek and The Big Unit.   Dave Mlicki is the Mike Krukow of the 1990s.   The 2000s:

 

First

Last

Team

Year

G

IP

W

L

 

SO

BB

ERA

 

Stops

Pts

Pedro

Martinez

R Sox

2000

29

217

18

6

 

284

32

1.74

 

13

62

Curt

Schilling

Ariz

2001

35

257

22

6

 

293

39

2.98

 

15

88

Paul

Byrd

KC

2002

33

228

17

11

 

129

38

3.90

 

13

102

Randy

Johnson

Ariz

2002

35

260

24

5

 

334

71

2.32

 

19

74

Mike

Maroth

Det

2003

33

193

9

21

 

87

50

5.73

 

8

97

Randy

Johnson

Ariz

2004

35

246

16

14

 

290

44

2.60

 

10

106

Jose

Contreras

W Sox

2005

32

205

15

7

 

154

75

3.61

 

11

71

John

Smoltz

Atl

2006

35

232

16

9

 

211

55

3.49

 

12

77

Johan

Santana

Twins

2007

33

219

15

13

 

235

52

3.33

 

9

61

Tim

Lincecum

Giants

2008

34

227

18

5

 

265

84

2.62

 

17

107

Zack

Greinke

KC

2009

33

229

16

8

 

242

51

2.16

 

12

86

 

               2002 was my last season as a sort of a Royals fan, and I remember that Paul Byrd season well.   Byrd went 17-11 on a team that lost 100 games.   He is listed at 6-1 and 185, but looked shorter and heavier.   I loved the guy.   He didn’t throw the ball as much as he heaved it.  He muscled the ball toward the plate, overhand but from a low starting point anyway, got ground balls and hung in really well during tough times.  

               Randy in 2002 wasn’t the Stopper of the Year, but stopped 19 losing streaks, like Guidry in ’78, stopping them mostly before they could get rolling.   Mike Maroth was the #1 starter on that awful Detroit team that lost 119 games.   The streaks got rolling on that team, and they kept rolling.    He was a kind of a #3 starter who held the fort for the Tigers while they were looking for Justin Verlander or somebody who could attract Kate Upton.   Announcers would say about Maroth that he would have better years when his team developed, which is kind but almost always untrue.    

               Contreras was one of our first Big Adventures after I joined the Red Sox.   Theo went to Honduras or Ecuador or some damned place to try to sign Contreras, came back very disappointed because the Yankees got him, which worked out great for us; he had a career ERA of 9.24 in Fenway Park.   He was a great pitcher when he wasn’t facing the Red Sox, but our guys used to beat him like a drum, so the Yankees had to unload him and he helped the White Sox win the World Series in 2005.

               Three Cy Young Award winners (Pedro, Freak, Greinke) plus three pitchers who won Cy Young Awards in other seasons (Johnson, Smoltz, Santana.)    Santana was the Stopper of the Year in 2007 with only 61 points, the lowest total ever.  Up to the present:   

 

First

Last

Team

Year

G

IP

W

L

 

SO

BB

ERA

 

Stops

Pts

Ubaldo

Jimenez

Rockies

2010

33

222

19

8

 

214

92

2.88

 

14

77

Felix

Hernandez

Mariners

2011

33

234

14

14

 

222

67

3.47

 

11

93

Justin

Masterson

Indians

2012

34

206

11

15

 

159

88

4.93

 

9

84

Eric

Stults

Padres

2013

33

204

11

13

 

131

40

3.93

 

11

81

Johnny

Cueto

Reds

2014

34

244

20

9

 

242

65

2.25

 

13

84

Jake

Arrieta

Cubs

2015

33

229

22

6

 

236

48

1.77

 

11

65

 

               So the Stopper of the Year is usually, but not always, a #1 pitcher.   Of the 64 Stoppers of the Year, 50 had winning records, 10 had losing records, and 4 were at .500.   18 of the 64 won 20 games, and 10 won the Cy Young Award.   12 of the 64 are now in the Hall of Fame.   All pitched at least 200 innings in the relevant season except Mlicki (199), Maroth (193) and the winners from the strike seasons of 1981 and 1994.   Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 
 

COMMENTS (26 Comments, most recent shown first)

dburba
Got it, thank you!
3:09 PM Jun 13th
 
Chihuahua332
I believe that the blue bars are notable seasons which did not 'win' as Top Stopper.
12:30 PM Jun 13th
 
dburba
I'm sure I'm missing something obvious, but what do the blue highlight bars indicate?
1:29 AM Jun 13th
 
bjames
Oh, I certainly agree that msandler has a point. If it was a serious analytical tool we’d have to cap it somehow so that the points don’t keep piling up. But you know. . it’s just a little fun thing, so I did it the other way.
Can’t believe I forgot to cross the T on Bennie Daniels. Daniels stopped 6 losing streaks in 1961, earning 34 Stopper Points, then only 1 in 1962, worth 4 points, then 8 and 25 in 1963 and 7 and 36 in 1964. These are respectable numbers. . .never among the league leaders.
Also, I made up a long list of the career leaders, which I did not include with the article. Number is Phil (Knuckles) Niekro, with 1065 career points, following Nolan Ryan, 1020, Blyeleven, 1013, Seaver, 997, and Clemens, 979.

8:42 PM Jun 9th
 
KaiserD2
Marc Schneider is right--the Braves through the 1990s lived off their pitching. So did the Yankees of the late 1990s -- early 00s. For some reason, pitchers in that era were able to sustain great performance for a much longer period of time than in any other. . .The As in the early 00s were also pitching-dominant (something Moneyball ignored), but the As in the early 1970s were not. Neither were the As in the late 1980s.

I don't think I have time to do a separate article but the presentation I'm doing at SABR in Miami will compare Hall of Fame and non-Hall of Fame pitchers from different eras whose status was determined by who they pitched for. In virtually every generation there's at least one guy who missed the Hall because he pitched for lousy teams.


8:24 PM Jun 8th
 
garywmaloney
I think this is a GREAT topic for discussion by itself, and KaiserD2 should do an article for submission or posting -- "The Big-Winning Pitchers Who Really Lived Off Their Big-Hitting Teammates." Hard to believe it hasn't been done before . . .
6:51 PM Jun 8th
 
Marc Schneider
"More generally a team with a "great pitching staff" is usually a team that has a strong offense and plays in a pitchers' park."

I can think of at least one team that's not true about-the 1995 WS Champion Atlanta Braves were 9th in the NL in runs and 1st in ERA+. I don't think Atlanta Stadium was ever considered a pitcher's park.


2:58 PM Jun 8th
 
OldBackstop
Spahn largely pre-dated Bill's 1958 study, when he was 37, or at least straddled it, as he played until 44. The Braves reeled off a dozen winning years in his prime, but looking at 1949, when they were 75-79 and Spahn was 21-14, his Ws followed losses 11 times. I realize this isn't exactly Bill's criteria, but, at a glance....
9:37 AM Jun 8th
 
KaiserD2
Spahn is a very interesting case. He was a great, dominant pitcher early in his career, earning 4 or more WAA four times. The last of those occasions, however, if I am not mistaken (I just don't have time to open up that spreadsheet right now), was in 1953. After that he was a superior pitcher, usually about 2 WAA a year better than average, but he won 20 games every year largely because he had the good fortune to play with Henry Aaron and Eddie Matthews. Burdette, on the other hand, was more like Newcombe. He had only one really good year and lived off his teammates after that.

More generally a team with a "great pitching staff" is usually a team that has a strong offense and plays in a pitchers' park. The Earl Weaver Orioles are a good example of that, as are the contemporary Oakland As.
7:52 AM Jun 8th
 
wdr1946
What about Warren Spahn as a stopper? He had so many seasons when he finished 22-8 or so- he must have stopped many losing slumps through amazing reliability.
3:40 AM Jun 8th
 
garywmaloney
The definition of a stopper is the TEAM's W-L, not the individual starter's -- that why we see (in rare cases) the top Stopper getting more "stops" than wins in a season. So within the parameters of this study -- W-L does matter.

Fascinating about Newcombe, though. Wonder which other "winners" rank similarly.
11:29 PM Jun 7th
 
jdw
Looks like Kershaw is at 36 points so far. Would have thought more. It's not as impressive of a number as it looks like when one considers he got 20 points on one win:

1-0 win over the Padres on May 1 to end a 6 game losing streak. 12 points for snapping the 6 game losing streak, and 8 points for the team winning while scoring just 1 run.
6:59 PM Jun 7th
 
KaiserD2
Decades ago, when I was a relatively young man starting out, an even younger man gave us all a tip: won-loss records are extremely unreliable measures of a pitcher's ability. It seems that guy (Bill James) has moved away from that insight a bit, but I have found that it holds up very well. And in July in Miami I'm giving a presentation to suggest that because won-loss record is still such a determinant of who gets into the Hall of Fame, the question of whether a pitcher makes it into Cooperstown is often a question of who his teammates are.

Let me put it this way: there are three things that will determine a starter's winning percentage:

1. His skill at getting people out.

2. The skill of the fielders behind him.

3. His teammates' skill at scoring runs

4. Luck--that is, whether the aggregate measures of 1-3 are distributed pretty randomly over the games the guy pitches.

Now when you think about it, it's obvious that (1)--the pitcher's skill--can't possibly account for as much as 50% of his won-loss record. That's because the number of runs his team will give up, which determines 50% of the chance of his winning the game, is a function of (2) and (4) as well as (1). A regression could in theory tell us exactly what the share of the pitcher's skill in determining his record is--but it wouldn't be 50%.

I will throw in one specific example of a pitcher who posted some highly misleading won-loss records: Don Newcombe. Newcombe was a very fine pitcher in his rookie year, 1949, when he earned 3.7 WAA for the Dodgers. But he apparently hurt his arm, like so many young pitchers from the beginning of time, because he earned only 1 WAA in 1950 (in other words, he was marginally above average), and 1.3 in 1951. Still, he went 19-11 and 20-9 in 1950-1. He spent two years in the army and missed most of 1954 with injury. In 1955 he went 20-8--but he earned just .2 WAA, dead average. And in 1956, he won the first Cy Young award with a 27-7 record--but he earned only 1.7 WAA in 268 innings. There was really nothing surprising about his very poor performance in the World Series that year, and only once more in his career, in 1959, was he a significantly above average pitcher. In fairness to Newcombe, he had one other great asset that probably helped his won-loss record a bit--he was one of the greatest hitting pitchers of all time. But that couldn't have had that great an impact. He owed his record and his reputation as a great pitcher to Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, and the rest.

Bottom line: I don't think anyone can prove anything significant about pitchers by focusing on their won-loss records, much less on when they win particular games.

David K
2:44 PM Jun 7th
 
MattD1
About 1990 or so I came up with a formula for ranking NFL teams similar to yours there. Let's say a team is 7-3 and the 7 wins come against teams that have won a total of 35. That'd be a +35. Then say the 3 L's are against teams that have lost a combined 13. You'd add a -13 to that and come up with 22. The other thing I did is I would then divide the point differential by 7, so say the team had also outscored it's opponents by 50, I would then add a 7.1 to their "score", so in this case the team's rating would be 29.1. Generally speaking the teams would end up about where their record would suggest it should, but every so often it might not.
10:36 AM Jun 7th
 
tangotiger
To the extent msandler has a point the alternative would be to only count number of consecutive losses between starts. That would cap it at 3 or 4 points.
6:36 AM Jun 7th
 
tangotiger
To the extent msandler has a point the alternative would be to only count number of consecutive losses between starts. That would cap it at 3 or 4 points.
6:36 AM Jun 7th
 
bobfiore
I always say a truly great stopper will keep you bottled up all the time.
11:07 PM Jun 6th
 
sayhey
Funny, I started doing something similar last year with Kershaw/Greinke/Arrieta; I was looking for some hidden edge for one of them in last year's Cy Young logjam. I didn't have a point system, I simply started logging their starts after losses to see who pitched the best. I got a little way into it, maybe half-a-dozen starts for each, and abandoned the idea when I seemed to be headed towards the shocking conclusion that they all tended to pitch really well after losses---similar to how they pitched really well after wins and after no-decisions.
8:37 PM Jun 6th
 
ventboys
Msandler has a point, I think. It might be interesting to assess some sort of penalty for failure to stop a losing streak, or at least account for building up your own bankroll of losses. If a stopper fails, should he be accountable for the losses after his start as well?
6:28 PM Jun 6th
 
bearbyz
The amazing thing about 1972 having 4 of the top 6 seasons, it was a strike year. Each team only lost about 8 games, but still there were less opportunities than most recent seasons.
3:12 PM Jun 6th
 
chuck
Bill, in figuring points for wins & losses based on opponent winning percentage, I'm thinking maybe it's better to leave out of the opponent's record the team's own games against them.
For instance, say a team goes 8-14 against a team with a 77-77 record. Against the rest of the league, that opponent was just 63-69.

By including their own record against them, it seems to give, in this example, an unwarranted boost to the point values.
12:36 PM Jun 6th
 
BobGill
So what about Bennie Daniels? What was his score in 1961?

11:10 AM Jun 6th
 
hotstatrat
Well, that was fun.

On a more solemn note "Glen Hobbie of the Cubs" jolted the memory of his 1961-1963 teammate: Ken Hubbs. Baseball fans my age or older remember the 20 year old 1962 Rookie of the Year who died in plane crash after the 1963 season.
10:15 AM Jun 6th
 
TJNawrocki
Coincidentally, Jon Gray of the Rockies beat the Padres last night to end a four-game losing streak; in his prior start, he had beat the Reds to end a three-game losing streak, and before that, he had beat the Red Sox in Fenway to end another three-game losing streak. That's 20 points in his last three starts, although those are his only points of the season thus far.
9:28 AM Jun 6th
 
msandler
not sure how to tweak it, but i don't like that the methodology allows for infinitely increasing points based on the length of the losing streak. once a losing streak is past 4 games(or back when there were four man rotations, 3 games) the "stopper" was necessarily part of the losing streak in his previous start, so you're, in effect, giving him points for his own past failures.
8:51 AM Jun 6th
 
3for3
Your points system might find some anomalies when the strengths of schedules are unequal; with the current structure of interleague play, when a team plays its rival 6 times and other teams in its division do not. Also would be interesting in football, since the schedules are uneven (especially for wild card races).
8:09 AM Jun 6th
 
 
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