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MLB All-Star Game 2012: Most Egregious Starting Pitcher Snubs

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MLB All-Star Game 2012: Most Egregious Starting Pitcher Snubs
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Defense wins championships; so goes an age-old adage in sports. Most often in baseball, that defense—like momentum—centers on the starting pitcher for today’s game.

Consider the recent play of the San Francisco Giants. Over a four-day span last week, manager Bruce Bochy’s starters gave him 30 innings of scoreless work, capped off on Thursday by Madison Bumgarner’s brilliant one-hit complete game shutout of the Cincinnati Reds.

Even struggling Tim Lincecum contributed seven of those innings Wednesday afternoon against their chief division rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, as the No-Cal crew surged to the top of the National League’s West Division (appropriately enough, it took a strong complete game effort from the Reds’ Mike Leake to slow the San Franciscans’ roll).

But just how does one go about measuring the effectiveness of an MLB starting pitcher? Winning decisions? Earned run average? Complete games? Quality starts? Follows by twits?

These days, a slot in a standard five-man rotation accounts for 32 or 33 outings in a team’s 162-game schedule. Sprains, strains and other minor foibles will rob a pitcher of an occasional start.

A cumbersome stretch of schedule may induce a manager to expand his rotation, as Brad Mills is currently doing with his Houston Astros. An inventive skipper, like Tony LaRussa a couple of years ago, might even experiment on occasion with using a pair or trio of bullpen pitchers in a rotation slot. 

Nevertheless, through games of Thursday June 28, 135 major league hurlers, the ageless Jamie Moyer among them, had accumulated 10 or more starting appearances this season. In all, 227 pitchers have started at least one MLB game in 2012, including 13 different San Diego Padres.

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
Cy Young winners get a free pass?

In the spirit of the NFL’s late and legendary Al Davis, the starter’s job is to “just win, baby.” It’s nice if he can notch a winning decision in the process, but at times the flow of play will not allow for this. Bats might be sluggish, the bullpen flat, maybe an umpire botches a call or two. However, a starting pitcher is expected—indeed, required—to give his team the best opportunity to win that ballgame.

Let’s construct a standard of measure that compares a starting pitcher’s season-to-date with his team’s overall performance (all data used in this analysis is complete and current through Thursday, June 28).

We'll identify the pitcher's won-loss record in his starts (decisions from relief appearances not allowed), as well as the team's record in all his starts (including his no-decisions). Simply take the average of these two percentages, then just subtract the team's winning percentage.

Example A: 13 starts—player (9-2, .818), team (11-2, .846); team overall (40-35, .533). So, the equation becomes: [(818 + 846) / 2] - 533 = 832 - 533 = +299. {A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh}

Example B: 16 starts—player (3-8, .273), team (4-12, .250); team overall (44-33, .571). The calculation this time: {(273 + 250) / 2} - 571 = 262 - 571 = -309. {Tim Lincecum, San Francisco}

While this rubric may seem a bit simplistic at first glance, here are the highest rated MLB starting pitchers for the 2010 and 2011 seasons (minimum 20 starts).

  American   2010 National  
1. T. Cahill (Oak.) 196   U. Jimenez (Col.) 174
2. T. Hunter (Tex.) 190   C. Zambrano (Chi.) 156
3. A. Pettitte (NY) 188   B. Myers (Hou.) 152
4. D. Price (TB) 158   C. Silva (Chi.) 135
5. J. Verlander (Det.) 152   Y. Gallardo (Mil.) 133
6. E. Santana (LA) 146   M. Pelfrey (NY) 113
7. C. Buchholz (Bos.) 145   C. Carpenter (St.L.) 104
8. B. Cecil (Tor.) 138   J. Lannan (Wash.) 104
9. C. J. Wilson (Tex.) 134   R. Nolasco (Fla.) 99
10. F. Hernandez (Sea.) 133   J. Johnson (Fla.) 98
  American   2011 National  
1. J. Verlander (Det.) 195   C. Kershaw (LA) 244
2. I. Nova (NY) 174   I. Kennedy (Ariz.) 219
3. B. Chen (KC) 162   D. Harang (SD) 199
4. J. Weaver (LA) 149   D. Gee (NY) 182
5. M. Buehrle (Chi.) 114   J. Cueto (Cin.) 167
6. S. Baker (Minn.) 111   Z. Greinke (Mil.) 146
7. J. Beckett (Bos.) 103   V. Worley (Phil.) 144
8. J. Arrieta (Balt.) 102   J. Jurrjens (Atl.) 141
9. Z. Britton (Balt.) 102   W. Rodriguez (Hou.) 138
10. G. Gonzalez (Oak.) 94   R. Halladay (Phil.) 125
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Perhaps there’s an eyebrow-raiser or two among these names, but the majority are consistently steady performers expected to be found among MLB’s elite.

So how do the 2012 rankings look? Well, voila!  ("*" = All Star.)

  American   2012 National  
1. S. Diamond (Minn.) 279   *R.A. Dickey (NY) 327
2. *J. Weaver (LA) 263   A.J. Burnett (Pitt.) 299
3. R. Romero (Tor.) 244   *C. Hamels (Phil.) 289
4. C. Buchholz (Bos.) 196   *W. Miley (Ariz.) 232
5. I. Nova (NY) 196   *S. Strasburg (Wash.) 228
6. *C. Sale (Chi.) 192   *L. Lynn (St.L.) 225
7. B. McCarthy (Oak.) 186   *M. Cain (SF) 205
8. J. Hammel (Balt.) 183   *G. Gonzalez (Wash.) 204
9. *D. Price (TB) 165   Z. Greinke (Mil.) 200
10. *J. Verlander (Det.) 159   K. Lohse (St.L.) 176
11. *C.J. Wilson (LA) 155      
14 *CC Sabathia (NY) 129      
15. *M. Harrison (Tex.) 128      
19. *F. Hernandez (Sea.) 100      
32.       *C. Kershaw (LA) 33

The National League All-Star selections, with the exception of Kershaw, correspond well with this measuring stick.  The choices for the American League staff, however, omit half of the top 10.

Reds manager Dusty Baker has been kicking up quite a fuss over the omission of his ace Johnny Cueto (No. 16, +143), but the Cincy contingent needs to get in line.

And, as noted in The Three Penny Opera, “The line forms on the right, babe, now that Mackie (Tony LaRussa?) is back in town!”

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