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What does Game Score tell us about the Cardinals starting pitchers?

The starting pitcher's job is to give his team a chance to win the game. So like, did they?

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

We are all enlightened fans who understand that pitcher Wins is a terrible stat. But here's the thing: When Henry Chadwick or whoever first came up with the idea, I get what they were going for.

No single player has a greater impact on the outcome of a game than the starting pitcher. If he goes eight or nine shutout innings, you're almost certainly going to win. If he gives up six runs in the first, it's probably time to warm up the bus and tell Jerome Williams to get loose.

So while the Win stat might accurately reflect those extreme outcomes, it's an enormous mess in the middle - to say nothing of reliever Wins. Quality Starts at least takes the pitcher's own team offensive performance out of the equation, but it still draws an arbitrary inning and score line, doesn't consider how those runs got there, etc.

I like looking at Game Score as a measure of that fundamental question: Did the starting pitcher give their team the opportunity to win the game?

Game Score was invented by Bill James, with the Fangraphs version I'll be using revised by Tom Tango. The basic idea is to start a pitcher at a score of 50, then add and subtract points for every good and bad thing the pitcher does. Innings are part of the equation, so pitchers are rewarded for staying in the game and getting outs. The Fangraphs/Tango version weights things like strikeouts and walks which the pitcher has more control of more heavily.

In its original incarnation, Game Score was also designed so it corresponded fairly closely to the percentage chance a team had of winning a game. It's still reasonable to equate Game Score with more-or-less the percentage chance a starter gave their team to win.

I like that Game Score considers each start as a discrete event. It hearkens back to the reasoning behind the Win as a stat in the first place, and it gets at that fundamental question for a starting pitcher: Did they put the team in position to win?

In May, I looked at Adam Wainwright's rocky start though the lens of Game Score, dividing the ten categories Fangraphs uses into five: Awful (19 & under), Poor (20-39), Average (40-59), Good (60-79), Great (80+).

I thought it would be interesting to look at the entire starting staff in the same way:

Name (GS AVG) Awful Poor Average Good Great
Martinez (58) 0 2 15 12 2
Wainwright (50) 1 10 12 9 1
Leake (49) 0 10 13 7 0
Wacha (48) 1 4 13 6 0
Garcia (47) 5 6 12 4 3
Reyes (60) 0 0 2 3 0
Weaver (45) 1 1 4 2 0

I don't know that there's a lot of new information here, but it's an interesting visualization of some of the things we may have already suspected.

Carlos Martinez is clearly the staff ace (as he is by any other measure). What's especially impressive is his cluster of above average starts, with only two falling below. That said, for those of us who have hoped to see him take the step up to "Cy Young" level, he didn't throw many absolutely elite games either. Just two of Carlos 29 starts ranked in the Great range. The Late Jose Fernandez had five in 29 starts. Clayton Kershaw had six in 21.

Jaime Garcia was absolutely all over the place this season. I doubt anyone is surprised to see he had five Awful starts, but he also had more Great starts than any other starter, including the two best starts of the year by any Cardinals starter.

Elite Jaime still made a few appearances last season, and that upside still makes me wonder if it might be worth picking up his option... if they could identify some reason that we saw so much of Bad Jaime.

Waino definitely improved after his rocky start, but he was still kind of Jaime-Light, with a pretty wide range of outcomes and more below average starts than above average.

With the exception of the brilliance Alex Reyes flashed in just a handful of starts, there wasn't much else to see in the back-half of the Cardinals rotation.

Mike Leake was exactly the middle-of-the-road glass of tap water that was advertised, though in the first year of a five-year-deal, you'd like to see more starts above the median than below it. Wacha's numbers look a lot like Leake, although the point I drew the cutoff actually pulls quite a few of his low-middling performances into the Average range. Only 11 of his 24 starts rated higher than 50.

For all the variation in the narratives of their seasons, Wainwright, Leake, Wacha and Garcia produced nearly identical average Game Scores. Now it's worth noting, Game Score is meant to reflect the starts that happened rather than be predictive, but I'd still say that looks like a reasonable picture of what to expect from these pitchers going forward.

Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes certainly have the potential to consistently give the Cardinals a decided edge in their starts, and a Lance Lynn that returns to form would be a tick above this pack as well. But for your final two rotation spots, take your pick from a crop that may keep you in games but won't "Win" you many either.