The proof is in the Game Score

by on June 5, 2009 · 2 comments

Chris Carpenter’s fine outing against the Cincinnati Reds last night had me wondering:

The Cardinals’ starting pitching staff has been phenominal (with a few hiccups) in the last month or so, but are they clearly distancing themselves from the rest of the league in that regard?

Well, classic metrics tell us it is so.

The Cardinal pitching staff (bullpen included) leads the National League with a 3.59 ERA compared to the second place 3.66 of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Cardinal starters have posted a 3.62 ERA compared to 3.68 for that of the second place Dodgers.

Cardinal starters are tied with the Cincy rotation for the NL lead in wins with 24.  The difference between the teams there is 17 losses for the Cards versus 20 for the Reds’ hurlers.

But let’s dig into another metric – one that I know has been brought up on Twitter and at the Bird Land blog by Derrick Goold – and that’s the measure of Game Score.

We’ve talked about Pitching Game Scores here before, but to refresh:

Game Score – This is a value created by Bill James that evaluates how good a pitcher’s start was.

Start with 50 points. Add 1 point for each out recorded, (or 3 points per inning). Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th. Add 1 point for each strikeout. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed. Subtract 1 point for each walk.

Further, to give you the true scope of this (from Wikipedia – I know, I know…give me a break, it’s easy):

The highest possible game score in a nine-inning game while allowing no baserunners is 114, possible only if a pitcher goes 9 innings while striking out every batter he faces and facing three batters per inning.

The highest game score for a nine inning game in the history of baseball was Kerry Wood‘s one-hit, no walk, 20-strikeout shutout performance for the Chicago Cubs against the Houston Astros on May 6, 1998. His game score was 105 (50 + 27 + 10 + 20 – 2).

Ok, feel like you have a grasp on this Game Score thing?  Good, I knew you could do it.

Cardinal starting pitchers have six of the top twenty-five Game Scores in the National League so far this season.

Carp has two (impressively, in only six starts), Kyle Lohse has two, Adam Wainwright has one, and “Good” Joel Pineiro has one (we no longer discuss Bad Joel around here).

Impressive on the surface?  It is moreso as you dig deeper.

The Reds are next with three (makes sense, since they compare to the Cards in wins by starters).  One each by Aaron Harang, Edinson Volquez, and Johnny Cueto.  (That Reds pitching staff is nasty good and young, but that’s for another post.)

After that?  Five other teams have posted two game scores in the the top twenty-five, and six have posted one.

Only two other pitchers appear twice in the list like Carpenter and Lohse – Yovani Gallardo of Milwaukee and Jake Peavy from San Diego (for now).

So the Cardinal starting staff has been pretty good right?

Think historically good.  Think about starting in on best in the Tony LaRussa years good.

Three of the 2009 Game Scores qualify in the top twenty-five best starts since LaRussa took the reins in St Louis.

The 2005 season ranks best on that list with five starts – but rememebr we’re not even halfway through this season, and Carpenter has several starts yet to make this year (his name is littered all over that list to begin with).

So while Cardinal fans clamor for offensive upgrades – and don’t get me wrong, one is likely necessary for this team to continue to be a player in the NL Central race – I think it’s also important to realize that Cardinal pitching is experiencing a renaissance of sorts this season.

I, for one, love two-hour-and-fifteen-minutes games.

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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Mark June 7, 2009

Dave Duncan is a nice thing to have. Thanks for the refresher on the definition of a game score because it’s tough to grasp!

PHE June 7, 2009

Duncan is indeed an asset. Deserves to be a HOFer in my opinion.

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