Friday, July 9, 2010
By Frankie O
I was tempted to use this space this week to talk about you-know-who and his decision to go you-know-where but since I figure Ill spend my entire day talking about it at the bar, that I would use that topic for my weekly rant video. So for your reading pleasure today, I let you venture further into the mess that is my brain. For as long as I can remember, Ive been a numbers guy. The stories they tell about the sports that I love never fail to fascinateinfuriate me. Thats because I think, operative word being think, that I can understand them and what their meaning is. Right now, of course, besides the obvious crunching of NBA and NHL salary cap numbers, the numbers of the sport that indisputably has the best ones, baseball, have taken over.
I guess I could have worse vices, in fact as bartender, I learn about new ones everyday, but I digress. I thankcurse the gods of rotisserie baseball everyday for giving me my summer diversionobsession. The beauty is, that my abnormal relationship with the numbers of baseball, help me with my day job. When folks come into a baseball bar (Which is also part of an award winning Italian steakhouse, I might add!!) they expect their friendly barkeep to know a thing or two about our national past time. Be careful what you wish for! My focus these days is on the controversial, for some, stat known as the Quality Start. I love the stat. I think it tells a lot about a pitcher and his team. In a perfect world, it would be a little different than it is now. I would make the requirement seven innings of three or less runs, not the current six. But I can only work with what the overseers of baseball give me. Like life itself, nothing is perfect, so we have to work with what we have.
The notion of proving the worth of starting pitching is at the core of what makes a team good or bad. Any team starts with the ability to get a serviceable performance from whoever is on the bump that day and thats what I think the stat as it is currently constituted represents in its base form, a serviceable start. Of course there are those who want to focus on the fact that the stat is cheapened by the fact that giving up three runs in six innings (A 4.50 ERA) should not be recognized in any way, but when that is the average of MLB this year is a 4.56 ERA it means that the pitcher kept you in the game and at the very least that is his job, so why not acknowledge it? Now, what they do with that start, well thats something else altogether. In fact in Chicago, its a tale of two very different uses of quality starts that is defining the two baseball seasons. Who do you think has more quality starts? Can you believe its the Cubs? 54-51. So why the disparity in their records, and their outlook for the season? On the Southside, the starting pitching was expected to carry this team to whatever height it is going to achieve, and for the last month it has. In their last 28 games they have 25 quality starts! I guess its no coincidence that they have gone 22-6 in that span and have put themselves a half game out of first place. The thing that I think enabled them to do this is one of the key differences that they have with the Cubs. Its called the bullpen.
While I dont have a problem with Marmol as a closer, at least not as much as the grumblings I hear at the bar, hes a one man gang. The eight inning fiascos at the beginning of the season have been well documented and have led to the Zambrano drama when they moved him to the pen to help solve mess. The Sox on the other hand have three guys who can close out a game. Putz, Thornton and Jenks are as good a threesome as there is in baseball. The point here is that when the Sox are kept in the game by their starting pitcher, and take a lead, they do not give it up. Thats a recipe for a lot of wins. (Their DH by committee is something that drives me crazy and is something Ill vent about here in the near future, especially if they dont get a left-handed bat for the middle of the order before the trade deadline.) On the Northside, something else is happening. At the beginning of the year, I, like everyone else felt that the bullpen would be the demise of this team. We were half right, well maybe a third. The most frustrating part about the Cubs is that because of their starting pitching, they are in almost every game that they play. Listening to Len and Bob during last Saturdays game, they were discussing the stat and the fact that the Major League average is that you should win 70 of the time that you throw one. The Reds are winning at a 75 clip.
Gee, I wonder why theyre in first place? The Cubs? They win just over 50 of the time. Thats a lot of wasted starts. Why do they waste so many? In a close game they invent ways to lose. The bullpen and defense are two good reasons. But mostly its by stranding baser runners. Last week they left 17 men on in a game against the Reds. Amazingly they won the game, because of stellar starting pitching, but that has not been the case for most of the year. They are averaging an anemic 4.04 runs a game. Thats a far cry from the 5 a game that Lou says that you need to be a consistent winner and something that they did during that fun 97 win summer of two years ago. They key to the game is still to score more than the other team.
So when people come in and ask me to explain to them why the Sox are hot, or why the Cubs are buried double digits behind, I pour them a cold one and ask, Have you heard of the Quality Start? Because the Quality Start, and what you do with it has been the story of the baseball season here.