The Tigers’ Starting Pitchers Have Been Majorly Unlucky This Postseason

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After four games, Detroit’s starting pitchers have put up a tough-to-stomach 5.61 earned run average. The Yankees’ starters have been much more respectable at 4.01 (I’m counting both the “real” starters and the “relief” starters for game one of the series). In light of those ERA numbers, let’s play a fun game that’s creatively called the “Team A/Team B game”.

IP

SO

BB

HR

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

Team A

25.2

26

8

0

9.1

2.8

0.0

Team B

24.2

21

14

3

7.7

5.1

1.1

Which starting pitchers would you rather have? Which starting pitchers have received the better results?

Obviously the stat line for “Team A” looks better. More strikeouts, fewer walks, fewer home runs allowed, and one more inning pitched. Their stats are better across the board. It may surprise you (or not surprise you, if you read the post headline) to find out that Team A is the Detroit Tigers.

Here are some more numbers:

WHIP*

FIP

ERA

Tigers

1.21

2.46

5.61

Yankees

1.38

4.54

4.01

*These WHIP numbers include hit-by-pitch and subtract intentional walks. Both those adjustments favor New York (they’ve had more IBB’s and fewer HBP’s).

Unfortunately, the one single stat in all this mess is the one that actually shows up on the scoreboard: runs allowed (on second thought, hits show up on the scoreboard, and the Tigers’ starting pitchers have been better in that respect, but that doesn’t really count now, does it?).

Even if you were to adjust the FIP to account for the absence of home runs (make it a sort of xFIP), we’d still be looking at an expected ERA in the 3.50-3.90 range. The only thing I can point to in order to account for the two-run discrepancy between their actual ERA and expected ERA is poor luck* with sequencing. The Yankees have “been able to” string their hits/walks together in a fashion that has lead to more runs versus the Tigers’ starters than the pure stats anticipate.

*When I say “luck”, I am really saying “random variation around a mean”, but that’s too cumbersome to type out.

This is good news and bad news. The good news is that this type of bad luck can’t hold up forever. If Doug Fister goes out and tosses a game consistent with what we’ve seen from him in a Tigers uniform, chances are very good that he’ll also see his customary (good) result.

The bad news is that the bad luck doesn’t need to hold up forever to hurt the Tigers; it only needs to hold up for one game. Bad luck in past events doesn’t predict good luck in future events. When it comes to one single baseball game, most of everything that happens is luck (that is to say, random variation around each player’s true skill level).

I’ll leave you with a look at the line drive rate of each starting pitcher in this series:

PitcherLD%
Verlander15.8%
Porcello17.6%
Fister20.0%
Sabathia23.5%
Garcia29.4%
Nova31.3%
Burnett31.3%
Scherzer33.3%

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