Behind the Numbers: Starting Pitchers' Edition

Craig Toth

As fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates you all have your opinions concerning almost every single decision that is made; from the ones that could alter the direction of the franchise for years to come, down to the smallest little detail about changes being made to the vendors and/or sponsors within PNC Park. The topics that gets the most attention, especially during the off-season, is the players we should trade, the ones we should trade for, the free agents we should sign, and the players we should send packing back to Indianapolis or off into the free agent market. 

Every Pirates fan I have ever met has a favorite player on the team that they would defend to the death or a player on another team that they think the Pirates should sign no matter the cost. On the flip side, each of these Pirates fans has a player on the roster that they would like to see shipped away for a bucket of balls. 

Now some of these strong opinions are based on numbers and statistics, others may be rooted in fact, and others still may be based solely on pure emotion. I can’t tell you how to act or what decisions to make as a fan of your favorite team, no matter how irrational because I am sure that there are times that my biases clouds my way of thinking as well. But, what if all of our decisions were based only on the stats in front of us? What if all of our decisions were not just rooted in fact, but actually were backed up performance that occurred on the baseball field? What if we took emotion out of it? What if we couldn’t see the names of the players, just their stats? Would this alter our decision making process? I have to think that it would. However, I am not completely sure about this assumption, so I would like all of you to come with me on a journey over the next 5 weeks. Each Wednesday from now, February 5 through March 4, I will be writing an article inviting you to come to the site (InsidethePirates.com) to vote on a select number of players at various positions and/or roles from lists that are made up of current and former Pirates, free agent targets that have been discussed on various platforms, and free agents that have signed this off-season. Voting will take place from the moment the article is published on Wednesday Morning, until I wake up Thursday Morning (usually around 5 AM). Once all of the votes have been tallied, I will write a follow up article revealing all of the names of the players from that week’s list and discuss what players have been chosen as the “most wanted” to be in a Pittsburgh Pirate’s uniform. 

Now with all that being said, I am relying on all of you guys and gals to be on the honor system. Please do not look up statistics to try to figure out who each player is! Please do not tell anyone who a player is, even if you know it for the same reason I might; which is that I am total “stats nerd”! Please no arguments, only fun discussions! Now that we have all the formalities out of the way, let’s get started! 

In this, the first week of my little “experiment” I will be asking yinz to focus on starting pitching. Every player will be judged and chosen using the same statistics. However, some of the statistics may be from years previous to 2019 due to injuries, etc. Each time this is done you will be made aware of this, as to not skew the results. The statistics that will be used to compare the list of starting pitchers today will be: 

  1. ERA (Earned Run Average)
  2. WHIP (Walks/Hits Per Innings Pitched)
  3. SwStr% (Swinging Strike Percentage)
  4. xFIP-(Expected Fielder Independent Pitching) where the lower the number you have the better. For example if your xFIP- is 85, you are considered 15% better than the league average. If you have an xFIP- of 115, you are considered 15% worse than the league average.
  5. K/9 (Strike Out Rate Per 9 Innings)
  6. WAR (Wins Above Replacement). 

For those of you that are familiar with these Statistics you probably already know that I use FanGraphs to do my research, which is not always a favorite of everyone, but it is the one that I use the most due to the fact that is easy to navigate. In the future I would be willing to use any site that is recommended to me, with great explanation as to why it is the superior site. However for the duration of this experiment I will be using the one that I am most comfortable with. So if you need to please use the FanGraphs glossary for further explanation of a specific statistic.

Here is the list of 12 starting pitchers. (Please choose three and indicate your choices in the comments below). 

Player
ERA
WHIP
SwStr%
xFIP-
K/9
WAR

A

3.98

1.34

9.3%

99

7.53

2.0

B

3.81

1.32

9.2%

119

8.35

1.6

C

4.57

1.32

10.8%

97

8.21

2.9

D

5.19

1.41

12.9%

98

10.75

0.7

E*

3.49

1.33

8.6%

100

8.35

2.5

F

5.52

1.39

8.0%

112

7.38

1.8

G**

3.57

1.29

10.1%

100

8.88

2.2

H

4.72

1.45

8.3%

107

5.49

2.0

I

4.44

1.22

12.0%

97

8.30

3.3

J

5.80

1.40

10.8%

141

7.57

-.02

K*

4.28

1.34

16.4%

73

12.67

2.1

L

8.59

1.98

7.5%

148

6.14

-.02

*Last full season 2017   **Last full season as a starter 2018

Conclusion

First of all thank you to everyone that participated. It is not easy to put yourself out there, with the possibility of being “wrong” in your assessment of a player. It is definitely a unique exercise and some of the answers given may surprise you. Without further ado, here are the mystery men behind the numbers that were listed in the article yesterday. 

Player
ERA
WHIP
SwStr%
xFIP-
K/9
WAR

Wade Miley

3.98

1.34

9.3%

99

7.53

2.0

Julio Teheran

3.81

1.32

9.2%

119

8.35

1.6

Homer Bailey

4.57

1.32

10.8%

97

8.21

2.9

Chris Archer

5.19

1.41

12.9%

98

10.75

0.7

Taijan Walker

3.49

1.33

8.6%

100

8.35

2.5

Rick Porcello

5.52

1.39

8.0%

112

7.38

1.8

Derek Holland

3.57

1.29

10.1%

100

8.88

2.2

Ivan Nova

4.72

1.45

8.3%

107

5.49

2.0

Joe Musgrove

4.44

1.22

12.0%

97

8.30

3.3

Alex Wood

5.80

1.40

10.8%

141

7.57

-.02

Danny Salazar

4.28

1.34

16.4%

73

12.67

2.1

Shelby Miller

8.59

1.98

7.5%

148

6.14

-.02

Overwhelmingly the most popular choice was K, Danny Salazar. Salazar has not pitched a meaningful inning in Major League Baseball since 2017 and is a free agent after being outrighted off the Indians 40-man roster early in November of this past year. He is also popular with the rumor mill of free agents that the Pirates and other teams should take a second look at as a potential starter for the upcoming season, but more than likely as an option out of the bullpen. 

Next in line was the Pirates own Joe Musgrove. Far and away the most consistent pitcher in the Pirates starting rotation throughout the season, Big Joe's numbers actually surprised me a little bit. Once you get past the 4.44 ERA, all of the peripherals are average to above average, which demonstrates the growth he has shown over the past couple of seasons. It looks like we’ve got a solid pitcher on our hands for as long as he remains in the starting rotation or on the team for that matter. 

Coming up next is a three-way tie for 3rd place between Homer Bailey, Chris Archer and Derek “Dutch Oven” Holland. This is where things get a little trickier. Bailey had second half resurgence after going from the lowly Royals to the contending A’s, Chris Archer is a pitcher that I think we can all agree has the potential to be better than he has been and the numbers show this, and Derek Holland had a terrible year, mostly in the bullpen, in 2019, so there is uncertainty if he can regain his form from the previous year. 

The only other player receiving a vote was Julio Teheran, which actually surprised me a little bit because of how gung-ho many, including myself, were on him at the start of the off-season. Sure the ERA looks great, but all the other numbers are middle of the pack and below. I was also surprised that Taijan Walker did not get any votes. He is another of the popular free agent pickup that many experts and amateurs alike have been wanting the Pirates to take a shot on. It’s not like I put his current 88-90 mph fastball on the list, which has scared a lot of people away. I wonder why he didn’t even get a sniff from anyone. Maybe those that participated can let me know, why you made the choices that you did. And hopefully you and many others join me next Wednesday as I ask you to pick from a pool of unknown relief pitchers. 

 Follow Craig on Twitter: @BucsBasement

Comments (13)
No. 1-8
Yark
Yark

Lol are we still waiting on the results? #ItPCaucus

Gary Morgan Jr.
Gary Morgan Jr.

This was an awesome exercise. Really opened my eyes.

JohnnyD211
JohnnyD211

G I K

joeygny29
joeygny29

D K I

Letsgobucs
Letsgobucs

K I C

Jared Martin
Jared Martin

Editor

I'm going to throw my 2 cents in as well since I don't know who these are.

K feels like an easy choice although he hasn't played much since 2017.
I looks unspectacular, but solid.
G is my third choice, although I'm assuming he was moved to the bullpen last year. So that's concerning.

Final choices, KIG.

Gary Morgan Jr.
Gary Morgan Jr.

K B C And I hope I'm allowed to vote and no I don't know who they are either.

Yark
Yark

D G K is this how this works lol or am I too late


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