Pitchers Dominance Factor…..
A new stat? Ya baseball needs another one I know. However, as a former pitcher, and a professed lifelong stat head I have always been enamored with stats that have meaning. Stats where the smallest difference in numbers equate to major differences in talent. Give me a pitcher with a career ERA of 2, 3, 4 and 5 and I’ll show you a Hall of Famer, a great pitcher, an average pitcher pitcher and a journeyman. Put into dollars speak ones an 18 million dollar a year guy, while another is a career minor league guy praying for a shot in someone’s long relief role. A scant 2 numbers separate a world of talent.
I think I found another number, another stat, that can be used to determine the most truly dominant pitching seasons the game has ever seen, with the potential to go even farther and tab the most dominant pitchers ever.
First the why, or how, or both. A pitchers job is to win games (well a starting pitcher anyway). To win games you have to give up 1 fewer run than the other guy. That’s IF you go all 9, if not your staff has to help. But for arguments sake we’re talking starting pitchers. The key to giving up fewer runs is to give up fewer base runners. This statistic is 100% devoid of Wins as an impacting factor. While that doesn’t completely sit right with me it works. It works because we are trying to determine what one guy, who has almost total control of these stats, does over the course of a season compared to the ‘other guys’ at his position, in the same league.
A couple of stats to get used to:
WHIP = The number of walks and hits per inning a pitcher allows.
BR9 = the number of base runners per 9 innings a pitcher allows. Created by multiplying a pitchers WHIP by 9
ERA = Earned Run Average (total number of runs that pitcher averages giving up for every 9 innings they pitch)
TOA = Total Offense Against (Adding a pitchers ERA to their BR9)
PDF = Pitchers Dominance Factor is calculated as follows:
Take the leagues Starters ERA (Only the starting pitchers ERA! Very important!) and add the leagues Starters BR9.
Then take your pitchers ERA added to HIS BR9. You will end up with two numbers, the first we call the Leagues Total offense against, or LTOA, and the second number is that pitchers PTOA. Now subtract the PTOA from the LTOA. As a formula it looks like this: League ERA+BR9 – Starters ERA+BR9.
The resulting number is that pitchers Pitcher Dominance Factor, or PDF.
Here’s why I think it works. Think about some of the most dominating seasons by starting pitchers, ever.
Sandy Koufax had what many consider the greatest 5 year run by a starting pitcher. In 5 years he put up the following numbers:
1962 14-7 2.54 ERA 9.27 BR9 11.81 PTOA
1963 25-5 1.88 ERA 7.88 BR9 9.755 PTOA
1964 19-5 1.76 ERA 8.43 BR9 10.19 PTOA
1965 26-8 2.04 ERA 7.71 BR9 9.76 PTOA
1966 27-9 1.73 ERA 8.86 BR9 10.595 PTOA
Nothing can change the fact that these were, and always will be, incredible seasons, the win loss record in 64, 65 and 66 alone is amazing. Here’s where it gets interesting. Sandy’s PDF for those 5 years? 4.30, 4.48, 4.62, 5.07 and 4.32.
To put some context around those, relative to that era, consider another season, Bob Gibson’s 1968. Considered by many the most dominating season by a starting pitcher ever. 22-9 with an other-worldly 1.12 ERA, and a BR9 of 7.68. His PDF that year? 4.80.
The reason I think this is relevant is this. Their numbers are a calculated against what their respective league averages were in those seasons. Yes Gibsons ’68 was incredible, but it was also a season in which the LEAGUE WIDE starters ERA that year was, get this, 2.97! To put that in context the National League this year has a starters ERA of 3.94! If that holds up it will be the lowest ERA by NL starters since 1992 when it was 3.54.
The ERA for the National League starters during Koufax’s run was 3.99, 3.28, 3.56, 3.62 and 3.63.
Let’s skip ahead to some guys we may have actually been alive to watch. Remember Ron Guidry’s 1978 season? 25-3, 1.74 and a BR9 of 8.52 for a PTOA of 10.25. His PDF that year was 5.57.
For what it’s worth that appears to be near the margin of greatest ever or once in a decade type seasons. Any season a starter manages a PDF over 6 is very rare.
Since 1960 there have been a total of 14 seasons by 7 starting pitchers with a PDF of 6+. Pedro 5 times (4 AL 1 NL) Maddux 2, Santana 1, RJ 2 (1 AL 1 NL), Clemens 1, Sabathia 1 (NL, though in my opinion the cutoff for starters should be either the ERA qualifying number of innings, 162, or something like 180 (30 starts with a 6IP avg)), Kevin Brown 2.
The top seasons and some cool other stuff to think about?
Those 7 guys are the only starters in the game, over the last 51 years, to manage a PDF of 6+, with Pedro’s moonshot of 10.14 far and away the best PDF ever recorded in the AL. Again, fwiw, the ONLY 8+ ever is also his, and it was the 8.05 PDF he recorded in the season prior to his 2000, 1999.
The best NL PDF, and only other season in the past 51 to surpass 7, is Madduxs’ 1995 score of 7.49.
2000 Pedro Martinez 18-6 1.74 ERA 6.64 BR9 (Ok a few things here. This line is so beyond comprehension it’s almost laughable. Pedro gave up a TOTAL of 6.64 base runners PER NINE INNINGS! In a year when the league AVERAGE for starters was 13.42 base runners per 9….. Think about that a second. It’s also, by a wide margin, the most dominating season ever by a starting pitcher as his PDF checks in at 10.14. No pitcher since 1960 has ever approached a 10+ PDF, and for what it’s worth Pedro’s 1999 season is the second best as well, coming in at 8.09!
The LTOA in 2000 was 18.51 (starters ERA of 5.10 plus BR 9 of 13.42 = 18.52) and Pedro’s PTOA was 8.38! Giving him a 10.14 PDF. Unreal and unmatched.
1995 Greg Maddux 19-2 1.53 ERA 7.299 BR9 = 8.829 PTOA. NLTOA was 16.42 (4.20 ERA, 12.22 BR9) resulting in a PDF of 7.59.
1997 Pedro Martinez (Yep, him again, and now maybe you can understand why what he did during his run is considered the most dominating performance in history) 17-8 1.90 ERA 8.388 BR9 for a PTOA of 10.288 versus a LTOA of 16.36 leading to a PDF of 6.07.
Not only did he have 3 of the best pitching seasons in the game during his run, but they are 3 of the most dominating seasons by a pitcher ever in my opinion.
1978 Ron Guidry 25-3 1.74 ERA 8.514 BR9 for a PTOA of 10.25. ALTOA was 15.83 for a 5.58 PDF.
1985 Doc Gooden (not sure you can forget this season if you got a chance to see it). 24-4 1.53 ERA 8.68 BR9 for a PTOA of 10.215. The NLTOA was 15.21 for a PDF of 4.99, 5 if you want to round up…
The beauty of this for me is the simplicity of the scale. 10 is “Perfect” in a sense, it’s only ever been done once and few have even approached this level, ever.
As an FYI I’ve started to work on relievers as well, and at first glance it appears the same scale, with 10 being other worldly, works. Dennis Eckersley, in 1990, had an ERA of 0.62 and a baserunners per 9 of 5.526 for a PTOA of 6.16. AL Relievers that year had a 3.59 ERA and a base runners per 9 of 12.18 for a LTOA of 15.77. Eck’s PDF? 9.63.
Eric Gagne’s 2003 season, 1.20 ERA and BR9 of 6.228 gave him a PTOA of 7.43 against an NL relievers LTOA of 16.80 for a PDF of 9.37.
As with any data or statistics there will be outliers. In looking at the top 25 PDF seasons from each league since 1960 it becomes very clear that to make this list you have to do a few things.
1) Be a power pitcher with very good to great control
2) NOT walk people
3) Strike people out
Two names on this list will absolutely jump out at you as being ‘not like the others’.
2002 Derek Lowe? Nothing against Dlowe, the kid has always been a VERY good pitcher, but a 5+ season from a guy that’s a ground ball pitcher and doesn’t K a ton of guys is odd, very rare actually. He didn’t strike a ton of guys out, 127 in 210 innings and his K/BB ratio was just 2.65 to 1. This list is chock full of power and command pitchers, Derek is neither but his ability to keep the ball on the ground and the 2nd best BB/9 ratio of his long career are big factors in his one 5+ season. I would also bet his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) that year was totally out of the realm of normalcy for his stats, and against the league. For what it’s worth his PDF in 2002 was 5.59.
Another outlier, which I had thought was a 5+ but seems it was not, is someone I would bet NO ONE outside the windy city has ever heard of. Joe Horlen? He checks in with a 1964 season of 5.40, which in itself is an awesome year. A very pedestrian 13-9 won/loss record with just 138 K’s in 210 2/3 innings. A nice, but relatively unspectacular 2.5 to 1 K/BB ratio. The magic in that season was his 1.83 ERA and the fact that he only gave up 142 hits in those 210+ IP.
But outside of those seasons, and a few other by guys you may have forgotten, Juan Guzmans 1996, Cal Eldred?, ya his 1992 season, and a few other guys, the top 10 seasons reads like a who’s who of dominating starting pitching. Pedro is all over the lists, RJ, Clemens, Maddux, Kevin Brown, Jason Schmidts 2003 season and Kevin Millwoods 1994 season make an appearance.
The top 14 seasons in the NL are all 1994 or later with the 15th being J.R. Richards 1980 season at 5.41 sneaking in. The top 15 in the AL are 1989 or later, with Saberhagens ’89 season being the only pre’92 season in the bunch.
Some other cool seasons to look at.
In 1998 Randy Johnson pitching for the Seattle Mariners was 9-10 with a 4.11 and a PTOA of 15.93. His PDF was 1.78. After being traded to Houston he went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA for a PTOA of 10.1 and a PDF of 6.72! That gives you some idea of the difference in 5 points of PTOA, the Randy in Seattle was a league average guy with a PDF of 1.78 and the Houston RJ was a Cy Young candidate with a PDF of 6.72. Granted that was only a half season of data but the point remains that a 1-2 point spread in PDF results in vastly different pitcher controlled stats like WHIP an ERA.
It appears that when you start hitting the 4 number for PDF you are in serious Cy Young territory. In fact that’s a great test to run through, creating the PDF of the Cy Young finishers for the past 15-20 years and I would bet you’ll see some injustices:)
In 2010 Felix Hernandez goes 13-12 with an ERA of 2.27 and a BR9 of 9.51 for a PTOA of 11.78. His PDF? 4.32.
How does a guy with 13 wins get the Cy? Look at the runners up in 2010. Their PDFs show a difference, favoring Felix by a pretty decent margin.
David Price goes 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA and a BR9 of 10.71 for a PTOA of 13.42 and a PDF of 2.90.
CC Sabathia goes 21-7 with a 3.18 and a BR9 of 10.71 for a PTOA of 13.99 and a PDF of 2.33.
Interestingly down in 6th place Clay Bucholz goes 17-7 with a 2.33 and a BR9 of 10.8 for a PTOA of 13.13 and a PDF of 3.19.
Trevor Cahill in 9th place goes 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA and a BR9 of 9.972 for a PTOA of 12.94 and a PDF of 3.38.
In 2009 Zack Greinke goes 16-8, a good record but in prior years the win total likely takes him out of contention. His 2.16 ERA and BR9 of 9.657 create a PTOA of 11.82 and that creates a PDF of 4.80. Cy runner up? Felix Hernandez, 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA and a BR9 of 10.21 for a PTOA of 12.71 and a PDF of 3.91. Discounting wins (which cannot, in my opinion ever be totally discounted) and you’ve got a almost a full point of PDF difference between the 1st and 2nd place finishers.
Want to see an injustice?
Pedro Martinez goes 20-4 with a 2.26 ERA, BR9 of 8.307 and a PTOA of 10.57 for a PDF of 6.37. Insane year (matched btw by Clemens 97 season in Toronto), not for the season but of all time.
He finishes 2nd to Barry Zito, who don’t get me wrong, had an awesome season at 23-5 with a 2.75 with a 10.22 BR9 for a PTOA of 12.97, but his PDF ends up at 3.96.
Those two years aren’t even close from a pure dominance perspective. Zito had a great season, but a season matched or surpassed in dominance by a significant amount of pitchers in the past decade. Pedro had a season only maybe 5 guys were ever more dominant, and he was 2 of them! In fact I’ve looked at 20+ seasons of dominance from starters, most recommended when I asked people to give me their ‘top seasons ever’ and the only 2 seasons I’ve checked a pitcher out that saw them with a PDF below Zito’s was Tom Seavers 1969 season where he registered a PDF of 3.55 and David Cones 20-3 1988 season where he registered a 2.44 PDF.
As a starting pitcher wins were the ONLY thing that ever mattered. It took a few years as a young pitcher to get it, but the fact was that on the day I got the ball, if we won, it was all good, no matter how I pitched. And you play the game to win, but starting pitchers are sometimes removed from the equation. Be it through an inept offense, bad defense, an opponent that shuts down your offense. There are a ton of factors that are outside the control of the pitcher, but giving up base runners and allowing runs are about the only things you can ‘totally’ control (recognizing the umpire, score keeper and your defense will always have some sort of impact on those two factors).
There are many things to work out, sort out and talk through and I am sure the Sabermetric folks are going to chime in. Let me say that there was a frenzy to get this updated and Randal Robles of Elias, as well as the slew of incredible stat guys at ESPN’s Baseball Tonight chipped in mightily. To that end there are some decimals off here and there that I noticed in trying to tie this up. I am sure there will be no shortage of folks ‘fixing’ and correcting.
My other thoughts are, and in no particular order. I want to do this for the great relievers, to see where they shake out after quickly checking the two seasons that came to mind for Gagne and Eck. I would be big dollars Riveras’ going to show up more than once.
It appears that it’s ‘easier’, if that’s the right word, to have a potentially high PDF over the past 30 or so years than it was in the 60′s and 70′s and I am not sure how to weigh that. Given these occurred mostly during the Steroid Era it makes sense, since looking at league ERA’s and WHIP’s will clearly spell out the massive offensive surge that accompanied the plethora of cheaters we now know played during those years. I don’t think that diminishes anything (except for the pitchers that were juicing that showed up on these lists as well, I’d likely just remove their numbers if doing this as a barometer of greatness).
I am working out how to ‘explain’ what this number ultimately says. I do believe it marks the greatest pitching seasons in the modern history of the game. To make this list you had to be a power pitcher that didn’t allow many baserunners (Hence the exclusion anywhere on either list of the greatest strikeout pitcher that ever lived in Nolan Ryan). Not sure anyone ever considered Greg Maddux a “power pitcher” but I do know, from first hand experience, he was better than anyone I ever saw except Pedro at not allowing baserunners.
I also think it’s a pretty cool way to put guys now, in season, in perspective. I was told the top two guys in MLB right now in PDF are Cole Hamels at 1, and Doc Halladay at 2, which I will try to firm up. That the Phils have the top 2 is telling, and likely scary, for the rest of the league.