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Maybe it's time for 'new stats' in the paper

By Kenneth Broder
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
August 7, 1988

This was going to be a column about the Angel pitching staff. I felt I owed it to them after writing about the Dodger pitchers last week.

The game plan was to analyze the team's performance using tools like Quality Starts, Hitting Support and ORA, then wrap it up with a list of the best and worst outings measured by Game Performance. Well, as you can see by the accompanying chart, I did crunch the Game Performance stats, but familiarity with the third-worst pitching staff in the American League only breeds contempt and boredom.

Their best pitcher, Kirk McCaskill, has as many non-Quality Starts as quality ones and has arguably pitched two of the Angels' three worst games this season, including that beaut on Wednesday, the only start to register a goose egg on the Game Performance meter. If the team weren't scoring an incredible 5.63 runs per game for him, his 4.28 ERA would rate him a .500 record instead of 8-5.

The beleaguered Mike Witt, who I coyly suggested a month and a half ago might revert to the previous five-year form that saw him go 41-16 in June through August, hasn't. The only excitement on the Anaheim mound lately has been generated by one Terry Clark, who by virtue of being supported by seven runs per game had managed to fashion a 4-0 record as of Thursday. Enjoy this phenom with a 3.67 ERA while you can.

Uh, oh -- here it comes. I can already feel myself being vacusucked into the Orange County vortex, swirling about in a 25-inch column, wondering how Doug Corbett's ORA compares to the Glory Years before his sore arm. Is Donnie Moore as good as his 5-2 record or as bad as his 5.24 ERA? How does Bryan Harvey stack up against the best rookie relievers of all-time?

Help me, help me. I'm babbling about things I care little or nothing about -- which is really only a change in personnel, not subject matter, from my usual babbling about ORA, Game Performance, Runs Created, Runs Created Per Game, Isolated Power, Secondary Average, Normalized Average, Linear Weights, etc.

Granted, friends and relatives (close relatives!!) are right when they point out that much of what the author writes about is trivia and trivial. Perhaps few baseball fans care if Billy Buckner has a career Hall of Shame Secondary Average or that Willie Wilson's .300 batting average and 50 stolen bases still don't make him a respectable leadoff hitter.

But there is a reason for writing about these baseball oddities. For dredging up the obscure stat. For desecrating the Conventional Wisdom. There is an answer to the question:

"What does Ken want?"

* For openers, he wants to see a real Top Ten Hitters list in the daily newspaper, not a list of hitters with the highest batting averages. Batting averages have a relatively low correlation to scoring runs (the object of an offense) compared to hitting formulas like Total Average, Estimated Runs and my favorite, Runs Created.

He wants a list of the productive hitters in baseball, so that players like Mike Schmidt, Dwight Evans, Tim Raines, Von Hayes, Andy Van Slyke, Willie Randolph and Brian Downing get their due and players like Willie McGee, Harold Baines, Bill Buckner, Terry Pendleton, Alfredo Griffin, Garry Templeton, Cory Snyder, Don Baylor, Steve Balboni, Willie Wilson and Benito Santiago don't end up on a Dodger roster.

* He wants to see weekly baseball stats on all major league teams that include On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage. That way, if the powers that be refuse to include an esoteric hitting stat like Runs Created, a player's value can be roughly calculated by simply adding those two numbers together.

* He wants to see Run Support included in stats for starting pitchers. What good is it knowing how many runs a pitcher gave up when you don't know how many he had to work with? It would go a long way toward explaining Nolan Ryan's confusing career.

* He wants on-line computer access to the database being hoarded by the folks at the Elias Sports Bureau. They've got information on every play in every game ever recorded. How else do you think they can print charts like "Career Batting Average with Two Outs and Runners in Scoring Position."

* He wants a reliever stat published with the weekly team charts that surveys a number of categories, not just saves, and produces a single, comparative figure to guarantee that the Dodgers never expend precious resources on a Jesse Orosco or a Don Stanhouse.

* He wants to see annual baseball magazines adjust individual and team statistics for ballpark influence so that the Houston Astros, who year after year are among the league leaders in homers on the road, are no longer thought of as a Punch and Judy team.

* He wants ballpark influences and league contexts used when evaluating minor leaguers so the Dodgers aren't in a perpetual state of amazement over "flops" Dave Anderson Greg Brock, Sid Bream, Franklin Stubbs, Mariano Duncan, et al.

* He wants to see Bill James change his mind and continue editing the best annual sports book around, the Baseball Abstract.

* He wants to see some sanity return to a selection process for the All-Star Game that makes a mockery of its name. If you can't jerk the vote away from the jerks, at least employ some rudimentary voting procedures (like precincts, ballot limits, etc.) and bring the process up to the standards set by Chicago aldermen.

* He wants an explanation of what a standard deviation and Markov Chain really are.

* He wants to whet the appetite of other baseball fans with a statistical bent who will write and submit essays on subjects like "The Value of Walks in a Sluggers Era" so he can take an occasional day off during the baseball season and actually go to a ballgame.

15 Best Starts

McCaskill6/16Tex9.030031081 W
Petry6/10KC9.030021079 W
Finley6/07Tex8.65000776 W
McCaskill7/14Det9.04003675 W
McCaskill7/25Oak9.03112775 W

Petry6/04Mil8.03111672 L
Witt6/14Tex9.04006470 W
Finley4/30Tor9.05111469 W
Clark7/17Det8.05001369 W
McCaskill5/08Tor7.05101768 W

Witt5/28Bal9.07003568 W
Petry4/06Chi6.04001567 --
Witt5/11Cle10.07321967 --
Witt6/19KC8.68002566 W
Fraser6/26Mil7.04211563 W

15 Worst Starts

McCaskill8/03Sea1.0677200 --
Finley7/18Tor2.68881111 L
McCaskill7/29Chi2.07874213 --
Witt6/03Mil5.613881314 L
Krawczyk5/21Bos4.69862419 L

Fraser5/22Bos5.09762123 L
Clark7/27Oak5.08773324 --
Fraser7/24Cle4.08661125 L
Witt5/18Bal6.66888425 L
Witt7/31Chi6.012553225 W

Witt7/01Det3.07733126 L
Witt5/01Tor3.38651226 L
Petry4/23Sea6.36885326 L
McCaskill7/19Tor6.611663327 --
McCaskill4/22Sea6.611771527 L

* Opp is Opponent
* Total is Game Performance, on a scale of 1-100. Game Performance is derived by starting with 53 points (100-27 outs - 20 SO). Add one point for each out recorded and one for each strikeout. Subtract four points for each earned run, two for each unearned run, two for each hit and one for each walk.