A sometimes frustrating aspect of blogging about baseball is how quickly things lose relevance after being written. For instance, the words I produced and stats I parsed about the Padres for a series preview last year were only worth the photons illuminating your screens for a few days, and then they were mostly obsolete. But then, that's one of the charms of thinking about sports. Every day there's something new, and yesterday's standings, statistics and schedules fade quickly into the background.
While deep in the labyrinths of fangraphs researching a different article, I stumbled upon a fascinating truth that we can observe, but only briefly. It will start to warp in a few weeks, and in all likelihood it will be dust a year from now. But, right now it's beautifully weird.
Jaime Garcia and Lance Lynn have each made 97 career starts, and in them they have posted extraordinarily similar lines.
|Jaime Garcia||97||583 2/3||2467||3.45||3.35||.260||.315||.382||.307||1.31||45||108||.310||64.5||9.4|
|Lance Lynn||97||584 2/3||2474||3.48||3.37||.242||.319||.374||.308||1.29||43||114||.306||62.3||9.4|
Their similarity is astonishing. It makes some sense intuitively that the two pitchers have been roughly as good as one another, but the deep mirroring happening above just shocks the hell out of me. A pair of identically skilled pitchers throwing that many starts would be unlikely to have such similar numbers to show for it.
Maybe it shouldn't be too surprising that they've made the same number of starts. Garcia is only ten months older than Lynn (I find this kind of unexpected, too), but he was drafted out of high school and moved quicker through the minors, so even after missing 2009 with Tommy John surgery, Jaime had 61 starts under his belt when Lynn joined the rotation in 2012. Lynn has been a workhorse in his three years, while Jaime's workload has tailed off to 20, 9, and 7 starts the last three seasons, bringing the pitchers even.
Of all the columns there, perhaps the most stunning to me are the IP and batters faced. Unpacking them further, Lance Lynn has lasted 6.027 innings per start, while Jaime has lasted 6.017. That's 25.51 batters per game for Lynn and 25.43 for Jaime, and 4.23 batters/inning for each. The two pitchers have been identically efficient.
They have been nearly identically successful as measured by ERA, and FIP suggests this is no coincidence. Similarly, the walk-rate difference between the pitchers which you can infer from the crossed AVG and OBP numbers are paired with very similar SLG% against to bring the pitchers to within a a single point in the catch-all wOBA statistic.
The rest of these numbers, HRA, strike %, and BABIP are even more interesting when viewed in light of some of the places these pitchers diverge.
Unlike that first group of numbers, nothing here is surprising. Lance Lynn both strikes out and walks more batters, and Jaime gets many more ground balls.
Considering the two charts together reveals some more intricacies at work. BABIP is a touchy statistic and doesn't stabilize for pitchers for eight seasons, so we shouldn't look too deeply into their very similar batting average on balls in play against. However, that close range is particularly interesting given their very different batted ball profiles. Groundballs become hits far more often than fly balls, and line drives are more frequently yet turned into hits. And yet not only are their BABIP's similar, but so is their SLG% allowed. Their xBABIP's are slightly farther apart, with Jaime's at .335 and Lynn's at .326.
Given that Lynn allows a lot more fly balls, his lower HR/FB rate is one of the key weights that balances the rest of their numbers. The difference between the pitchers' xFIP's is likely largely based on the fact that xFIP regresses HR/FB numbers to league average, which is roughly 10%.
The unearned runs, largely responsible for Jaime's reputation as mentally fragile and prone to blowing up when things didn't go according to plan, stick out like a sore thumb. Our old friend tom s. looked at this story back in early 2012, when it was still fresh, and he determined it was nothing but bad luck. He was right. Since then, Jaime's unearned runs have plummeted (just nine in his last 220 IP), and his high leverage slash lines against have leveled with his overall numbers. That sore thumb appears to be nothing more than a caprice of fortune.
The much more interesting split between the pitchers is that last column. It's amazing that the two hurlers have such extraordinarily even efficiency in batters and innings, lasting the same number of innings, allowing the same number of earned runs, even throwing nearly the same percentage of strikes, while Lynn has thrown over 10% more pitches. This is yet another indicator of the firmly different methods the pitchers used to achieve the same results.
While Jaime is certainly able to strike batters out and Lynn's command is now strong, it would be hard to imagine successful pitchers more different. Jaime is a southpaw with a darting sinker and a pinpoint four seam, each topping out at 91 mph, accompanied by a whole host of other plus offerings. The right-handed Lynn throws three fastballs: a speedy four seamer, a cannonball sinker, and a little cutter, with just an occasional curve. One has been the picture of health and other has been burdened with a multitude of injuries. Yet 97 starts into their careers, they've been nearly identically effective by any meaningful measure of what they have produced.
Their futures appear to be as different as their paths to the present accomplishments they somehow share. Lynn has the look and background of a player who will be around for a long time, and as his command has improved each year, his best appears to be in front of him. Jaime had a sterling beginning to his career as a young pitcher, but his numerous injuries have diminished his last three seasons, and he has reached the point where it would be surprising if he were able to continue on as a full-time starter for a significant length of time. However, as this strange little discovery evinces, baseball can be a surprising game. Jaime was good yesterday, and I'm willing to buy into a little bit of spring optimism, but it would take a lot of optimism indeed to count on a possible follow up to this comparison making much sense one or two years hence.
What we have is not a pair of pitchers with identical production. The two have assembled a host of varied numbers and trails in their careers, and the balance achieved is not by a pair of identical weights on either side of scale, but rather one of those complex multi-tiered mobiles whose balance appears miraculous.
That chart is fascinating to consider in its own right, but as a totem of both the momentary nature of mid-career statistics and the complexity of a game which allows such wildly different paths to the same place, it's a charming and compelling thing to contemplate.
angraphs does not have WAR totals separated for relief vs starter splits, so I removed each players' rookie season which contained nearly all of their relief appearances. This removed all of Jaime's relief innings and one start, and all but seven relief innings from Lynn, as well as two starts. Therefore, the WAR totals are approximate. No other numbers are adjusted. Edit from Craig Edwards with Aaron Finkel's permission: Fangraphs does have it using Custom Player Leaderboards and then the Starters tab. The original post showed Garcia and Lynn with slightly different fWAR as starters. The post has now been updated to show that they are in fact the same.