We all know that Wins are a very bad stat that we should never discuss in polite company. The Quality Start at least removes the pitchers own run support from the equation, but still sets an arbitrary line that you’re either over or under.
When it comes to assessing each pitching start as a discreet event, I’m a fan of Game Score.
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.
It’s fair to ask why we should consider Game Score at all, when something like FIP might be more reflective of a pitcher’s overall talent. But I feel like each “start” is a discreet event, with a very real impact on whether a team wins or loses a game. If your best hitter goes 0-fer with a Golden Sombrero, you’re by no means out of the game. If your starter gives up six runs in one inning, it’s probably time to warm up the bus.
I’m also interested in what Game Score can show us about the consistency of a starting pitcher. Two players could put up comparable overall numbers, with one throwing the same kind of game night-after-night, while the other has some up and some down.
So here’s what the Cardinals starting pitchers look like by Game Score:
Each line is chronological, with the beginning of the season on the far left. (I’m queuing this up ahead of the holiday weekend, so by the time you read it a few recent starts may be missing.)
The Fangraphs primer divides Game Score into ten categories, but I simplified to five: Awful (19 & under), Poor (20-39), Average (40-59), Good (60-79), Great (80+). Here’s how each Cardinal pitcher ranked:
A few things jump out right away:
Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha have been the two worst starters this season by just about any measure. The way they get there is quite different, though.
Wacha’s starts are very tightly grouped around average, though oddly with just three falling in the actual “average” range. That said, all but one of his above average starts were grouped into the first half of his season so far.
Wainwright on the other hand has been extremely erratic, with eight above-average starts but also two of the team’s three awful starts, including a June 17 disaster at Baltimore when he gave up 9 runs in 1.2 innings. That was the worst start of his career.
So while both have struggled and sport nearly identical xFIPs at this moment, Waino and Wacha have arrived there in very different ways.
I suppose there’s something to be said for Wacha’s consistency, though it’s consistency at a level below what you ideally want from a guy in your starting rotation. For Waino, there’s at least a little validation of the narrative rollercoaster we get from beat reporters about him losing and then finding “it” every other start. He has been good and even great, but he has also been awful.
Lance Lynn is the other pitcher who’s been notably erratic, but whereas Wainwright at least has more above average starts than below average, Lynn is almost evenly split. Though his ERA is still just under 4.00, Lynn’s FIP is a whopping 5.40 and his xFIP is 4.55. The Cardinals might want to trade that car in before the rumbling in the engine gets any worse and it starts burning oil.
It’s no surprise Carlos Martinez line sits atop the chart, and if you removed the Hair Extensions starts it would look even better. Mike Leake has been consistent in a very Mike Leake way, with that strong first month or so pushing his average up a little higher this year.
How do you think the Cardinals Game Scores will look over the 2nd half? Who will still be here (in the rotation or even on the team) at the end of the season?