The 3.20 ERA

Dave · December 17, 2005 at 8:02 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Any article you read on the signing of Jarrod Washburn, and any comment defending it, is going to reference his 3.20 ERA last year. In fact, we’ve already seen numerous comments to the effect of “the guy had the fourth best ERA in the American League last year, and that’s more important than his strikeout rate”. The assumption, of course, is that the 3.20 ERA is somehow indicative of a skill Washburn will bring to Seattle. His fielding independant numbers don’t support that assertion. But the fact remains that he did have a 3.20 ERA last year. How’d he do it?

Well, let’s take a look inside Washburn’s season.

Washburn faced 740 batters over the course of the year. 243 of those, 32.7 percent, reached base. The AL average was 32.5 percent. So, we can conclude that Washburn was not significantly better than average at keeping hitters from reaching base.

How about how many bases they got initially? Of the 184 hits he allowed, 129 of them were singles, 31 were doubles, 5 were triples, and 19 were home runs. 70 percent of his hits allowed were singles, compared to just 67 percent of as the league average. That’s not huge, but it’s significant. While he allowed a league average number of baserunners, the fact that he kept more of them to singles than we’d expect helped keep runs off the board. So, there’s part of the lower-than-expected ERA, but certainly not all of it.

So, we know he put an average amount of guys on base, but he allowed a well below average number to score. So let’s take a look at his strand rate. Of the batters he put on base, how many did he leave there when the inning ended? Well, Washburn had the highest LOB% of any pitcher in the AL. He stranded a remarkable 81.8 percent of his batters. The league average is 70 percent. That’s just an enormous difference, and the driving force behind Washburn’s low ERA.

With nobody on base, batters hit .279/.337/.428 against Jarrod Washburn. With runners on, when the league hits about 13 percent better than in non-runners on situations, they hit .267/.315/.408. That’s about a 20 percent swing from his actual performance with runners on to the league average. With runners in scoring position, it got even more extreme. He allowed hitters to bat just .238/.310/.385 in the 122 at-bats he had with RISP, and only 31 runs scored. If you replace his RISP performance with his nobody on performance, he would have given up 12 more runs than he actually did.

Overall, Washburn allowed about 24 runs less than we’d expect based on his baserunner totals and opposing batters lines. Half of that is due to his performance with runners in scoring position. The other half is a combination of the above-average singles allowance and the above average performance with runners on base in non-scoring position situations.

If you believe Washburn’s 3.20 ERA is indicative of any kind of repeatable skill, you are arguing that Jarrod Wasburn has three abilities:

1. The ability to give up singles instead of doubles and triples.

2. The ability to pitch better with runners on base.

3. The ability to be dominant with runners in scoring position.

That’s what you’re hanging your hat on, folks. And guess what? There is no evidence that any of those are repeatable skills.

Washburn’s career singles to hit ratio is 63 percent, below the 67 percent league average, and well below the 70 percent mark he posted in 2005. Even if you don’t believe in the DIPS theory, which has consistently shown over and over to be accurate, Jarrod Washburn has never shown the ability to be an exception and limit the hits he allows to singles. 2005 jumps off the page as an anomoly.

How about pitching better when men are on base?


None on: .279/.337/.428
Runners on: .267/.315/.408
Scoring Position: .238/.310/.385


None on: .250/.289/.411
Runners on: .300/.358/.496
Scoring Position: .303/.372/.492


None on: .250/.295/.333
Runners on: .266/.328/.464
Scoring Position: .250/.316/.427


None on: .226/.271/.379
Runners on: .250/.313/.368
Scoring Position: .232/.313/.299

Not a skill, folks. Washburn has never shown an ability to pitch better with runners on base. This isn’t a problem unique to him, either. Nobody pitches consistently better with runners on for long periods of time.

Jarrod Washburn did post a 3.20 ERA last year. No one denies that. The question we’ve been posing is how consistent are the skills that he showed that led to that 3.20 ERA? The answer: not at all. Washburn posted a low ERA thanks to putting men on first base and leaving them there. That’s not a recipe for success, and its not one he can repeat.


228 Responses to “The 3.20 ERA”

  1. Darrylzero on December 18th, 2005 10:23 am

    199, fair enough, but I wasn’t feeling it. Not a bad idea, but writing in a confusing way, even if it’s intentionally just for the sake of being confusing, even if it’s mirroring confusing logics in the real world like the Mariners front office, still has to be held to a standard of quality. And I’m not saying it was god-awful or anything, or that he never should have pursued the idea, just that I don’t think the piece really worked. And that I was sympathetic that the other guy’s confusion, that’s all.

  2. Southpaw on December 18th, 2005 10:44 am


    BTW, fringe sources (not media) are saying the Reed-Arroyo deal is done. Contigent upon Damon signing elsewhere.

  3. Melvin Bob on December 18th, 2005 11:07 am


  4. misterwest on December 18th, 2005 11:10 am

    yeah, I just finished reading the story. When I first saw the 3.8 million for four years I figured that McGrath was just extremely stupid and the article wasn’t worth reading. My bad.

  5. msb on December 18th, 2005 11:21 am

    that’s why he is a columnist, not a reporter….

  6. Melvin Bob on December 18th, 2005 11:21 am

    “The Sox did speak with the Mariners about outfielder Jeremy Reed, but the Mariners have little interest in Arroyo or Clement.”


  7. David H on December 18th, 2005 11:44 am

    Anyone know what Mat Olkin is paid to do? Or is he just paid for the right to use his name when talking to the media?

  8. ChrisK on December 18th, 2005 11:49 am

    I hope the 9-headed GM monster in Boston didn’t laugh out loud when/if Bavasi asked for Lester or Papelbon. That makes Bavasi look positively Chuck LaMarr-esque.

  9. bennyyoung on December 18th, 2005 12:03 pm

    Mark my word the worst pickup of the winter will be the catcher from japan.There are alot of concerns about a broken ankle a year ago a pulled hamstring 1/2 a year ago and yes you heard it hear first the s…… word..yes the juice is alive and well in japan also.

  10. Jeff Nye on December 18th, 2005 12:03 pm

    If the M’s give up Jeremy Reed for Bronson Arroyo, does this become a stronger contender for worst offseason ever by a team? Or at least maybe worst M’s offseason?

    I can’t believe they’re even considering it. I just hope it’s not true.

  11. Melvin Bob on December 18th, 2005 12:46 pm

    209: idiot
    210: Does Reed for Arroyo constitute as the worst offseason ever? Yes. I hope the rumors aren’t true since the deal severely hinders the Mariners; yet, one should never underestimate Bavasi’s . . . er . . . “creative thinking.”

  12. John D. on December 18th, 2005 1:02 pm

    Is it possible that there’s something fishy going on here–as there supposedly was when A-ROD signed with Texas. (“You sign Alex for ten years at $252 million, and I’ll get you PENA next year.”)
    You sign WASHBURN for four years at $36 million, and I’ll…

  13. Darrylzero on December 18th, 2005 1:14 pm

    Hopefully Damon will just sign with Boston before anything else crazy happens. He obviously loves the media attention he gets there, so I think he and the Sox will get around to a deal.

    I go back and forth on the Clement deal, and I like Arroyo ok, but I just can’t see wasting Reed on him, even if Reed doesn’t end up developing like we hope. I’d be willing to put up with a stopgap for a while until Jones is ready I guess, and if we were guaranteed good-Clement I might go for that, but it just seems too risky to me. So I guess I’m hoping that’s it for the offseason (barring some Millwood-related-miracle). Or a Guardado-related trade.

  14. Southpaw on December 18th, 2005 3:34 pm

    From Jonah Keri,

    “Reed posted a .252 EqA in a supposedly terrible year–you need to take Safeco into account rather than just glancing at his raw stats. Meanwhile he posted a season that was roughly league-average defensively according to BP’s metrics, and has been rated as above average by some othber sources. This was in his FIRST full season, as a 24-year-old? Do people really expect rookies to perform like Pujols? Reed plays a premium defensive position effectively, he’s got a good minor league track record, he’s dirt cheap and young.

    I actually like Matt Clement and think he’d be a fantastic addition for the Mariners. But if Reed merely follows a normal growth curve, he’ll peak around a .280-.290 EqA, which is excellent for a CF. If he takes any kind of significant step up beyond the normal growth curve, we could be talking about a .300 EqA guy with plus defense in center. That’s a slam dunk All-Star.”

    I wouldn’t trade Reed for Clement AND Arroyo, much less either of them.

  15. mln on December 18th, 2005 3:59 pm

    Bronson Arroyo to the Mariners?! Hopefully not, or else get ready for endless, nauseating renditions of Arroyo’s hit CD “Dirty Water” being played on Mariners broadcasts.

  16. GWO on December 18th, 2005 4:15 pm

    Year to year ERA correlation is quite low

    I’ve said this a million times. I’ll say it again, and still no-one will listen. If more than 3 of the so-called statistical analysts involved in baseball research actually had a grounding or training in statistics, I wouldn’t need to keep repeating it…

    Conclusions based on strengths of correlation of between individual points of time-series data are completely worthless. They have no merit whatsoever. Nobody who knows anything about the theory of statistics uses them for anything. If you submitted research based on them to a reputable peer-reviewed statistics journal, they’d laugh in your face.

  17. Southpaw on December 18th, 2005 4:57 pm

    Can you clarify that? The way I’m reading it is very counter intuitive.

  18. Toasty on December 18th, 2005 5:05 pm

    #216 – Really? Something doesn’t correlate to itself? It’s pretty obvious that whoever wrote that meant that yearly ERA has a high variance. But thanks for nit-picking and making yourself feel smart.

    And I can assure you that a lot more than “3 of the so-called statistical analysts” involved in baseball reasearch have training in statistics.

  19. Jim Thomsen on December 18th, 2005 8:49 pm

    Well, a key domino just tumbled toward a Jeremy Reed trade.

    Nomar Garciaparra agreed to terms with the Dodgers, meaning that Cleveland is now more likely to hang on to Coco Crisp instead of dealing him for Matt Clement or Bronson Arroyo. That means that if the Johnny Damon talks fall apart, the Red Sox may be scope-locked on Jeremy. And with fewer center field options available to Boston, the Mariners just may be able to extort a little more than Bronson Pinchot … er, “Balki” Arroyo.

  20. eponymous coward on December 18th, 2005 9:21 pm

    Well, let’s see. If we sign trade Reed for Arroyo and sign Preston Wilson and Washburn, here’s what some of our major offseason moves will be:

    – signing a 30 year old C to a 3 year deal
    – resigning a 42 year old SP and a 35 year old RP
    – adding a 35 year old DH with injury history
    – replacing a 24 year old CF with a 30 year old CF
    – signing a 31 year old P with injury history

    Am I the only person thinking this sounds like an offseason you’d expect the Baltimore Orioles to do? I mean, wow- pretty much almost every move managed to add age on the wrong side of 30 to a team that lost 90+ games (with the exception of the Torrealba deal + getting Arroyo back, hypothetically)… and part of the reason for those teams losing 90+ games? Too many old players.

    You have to wonder- did these guys learn NOTHING from the last few years?

  21. Southpaw on December 18th, 2005 11:01 pm

    As I said, being the main reason I was so upset at the Everett signing, no, it appears they have learned precious little if anything at all.

  22. Mat on December 19th, 2005 2:02 am

    #216 So, you’re not happy with year-to-year correlation as a measure of the predictive abilities of a statistic. What test would be more appropriate?

  23. joran on December 19th, 2005 1:35 pm

    So, let me get this straight. You guys think a good flyball pither at safeco is a bad idea. He fits perfectly. He has played in the saem league so he knows the hitters. He knows the ins and outs of teh Angels. He is good. Sure washburn is not better than Millwood, but what if Millwood does not want to come to the Mariners, who else ya gonna get.

  24. joran on December 19th, 2005 1:38 pm

    So, let me get this straight. You guys think a good flyball pither at safeco is a bad idea. He fits perfectly. He has played in the saem league so he knows the hitters. He knows the ins and outs of teh Angels. He is good. Sure washburn is not better than Millwood, but what if Millwood does not want to come to the Mariners, who else ya gonna get.

    Some of you guys are going to give up on a 24 year old prospect, and get a old player in the decline of his career. Not to be mean, but thats plain, down right STUPID.

  25. joran on December 19th, 2005 1:40 pm

    220- So you dont like the Moyer signing?!!!!!!!!!!

  26. eponymous coward on December 19th, 2005 1:51 pm

    The Moyer, Guardado and Johjima signings are potentially OK, but the problem is when you start putting them in the context of the entire 2005-2006 offseason, you start seeing a rather bad trend- pretty much every free agent/resigning is someone on the wrong side of 30, being signed to a team that desperately needs talent infusions of young players to establish a base to work with for a multiyear run at contention, as opposed to one-off deals that fix problems for a year on an established team (stuff you see 90+ win teams do more often).

    (Some of this goes away if the Arroyo/Reed deal goes away, of course, or if we get an alternative that doesn’t inivolve Preston Wilson).

    Baltimore is Prosecution Exhibit A as to why this strategy doesn’t work. They’ve been trying this strategy of going from a Gillick-led contender to a nonentity for 8 years, and what it nets them is a 70-80 win team that always has major problems getting over any kind of a hump, but pays premium money for the privilege of being bad to mediocre.

    Again, that’s not to say some of the individual decisions have some merit- but I look at the sum total of this offseason and it’s $85 million of disappointment.

  27. eponymous coward on December 19th, 2005 1:53 pm

    That should read: “Again, that’s not to say some of the individual decisions don’t have some merit…”

  28. Evan on December 19th, 2005 3:07 pm


    He is good.

    No, he’s not. There is no evidence that Washburn is good.