Nobody wants to be average. But in the world of major league pitching, average is pretty darn good.
Or, at least, average performance combined with durability is. Woody Allen famously remarked that “Ninety percent of life is just showing up,” and in the pitching department, he’s probably right.
I went poking around in the 2012 stats for starting pitchers because earlier in the week I said in my blog that the Twins need to find two starting pitchers better than Scott Diamond.
This is not a particularly brilliant insight; every team would like to add two starting pitchers better than their current top gun. Detroit would love to have two pitchers better than Justin Verlander, not that there are such animals roaming the planet.
Diamond’s no Verlander; nobody’s going to throw a Cy Young vote his way. But he’s had a good season: 12-8, 3.54 in the majors, the lowest walk rate in the American League, 168 innings for the Twins and 34.6 more in Triple A. How available are pitchers who can better that performance?
Well ... the major league ERA for in games started this year was 4.21 entering Sunday. The 91 men who qualified for the ERA title as of Sunday had a combined ERA of 3.87.
Startling insight there, right? The men who stick in the rotation have better ERAs. No kidding.
But think about this: 30 teams using five-man rotations mean there are 150 rotation berths. Only 91 are filled sufficiently to average an inning per team game — hardly a rigorous standard. Almost 40 percent of rotation slots are instable and subject to change.
In that light, average but durable has a lot of value.
By the ERA standard, the average rotation regular is C.J. Wilson and his 3.86 ERA. Average pitching, and it only costs the Angels about $50,000 an inning — this year. The price will escalate in future seasons.
Or the most average starter could be rookie Lucas Harrell of the Houston Astros, with his 3.88 ERA and much lower price tag (about $2,500 an inning).
The median ERA starter — half of the qualifiers are higher, half are lower — is Josh Johnson of Miami, with his 3.81 ERA.
Looking at medians among the qualifiers in other key evaluation stats:
- Jon Niese of the Mets is the median in strikeouts per nine innings (7.33; average for all starters is 7.1)
- Gio Gonzalez of Washington is the median in strikeout/walk ratio (2.72 K/BB; starter average is 2.50)
- Phil Hughes of the Yankees is the median in innings pitched (186.2; qualifier average is 188).
A rotation of Diamond and the medians — Johnson, Niese, Gonzalez and Hughes — would be very good indeed. But it’s not easy, or cheap, to find a rotation of reliably average pitchers.