You get what you pay for

Dave · September 12, 2006 at 1:00 am · Filed Under Mariners 

When the Mariners signed Jarrod Washburn last winter, they thought they were getting a better pitcher than the one they’ve seen in 2006. Their problem, though, was one of misconception. Take a look at ’05 vs ’06 Washburn:

2005: 177 1/3 IP, 184 H, 51 BB, 94 K, 19 HR, 8 HBP
2006: 180 1/3 IP, 184 H, 52 BB, 101 K, 22 HR, 7 HBP

In essentially the same number of innings, he’s given up exactly the same number of hits, one more walk, three more home runs, and struck out 7 more batters while hitting one less. You couldn’t find a more consistent pitcher from last year to this year if you tried.

The rise in ERA, from 3.20 to 4.39, is completely due to amount of baserunners he’s allowed to score. Last year, he had the highest LOB% of any pitcher in the AL at 81.8%. This year, it’s down to a league average 70.2%.

The moral, as always: ERA is useless.


94 Responses to “You get what you pay for”

  1. AQ on September 12th, 2006 12:37 pm

    #50 – Please tell me that you’re being sarcastic.

  2. Graham on September 12th, 2006 12:38 pm

    #50 – I wouldn’t actually mind them evaluating pitchers based wholly on their stuff.

  3. AQ on September 12th, 2006 12:40 pm

    “Stuff” is too subjective, IMHO. “Stuff” combined with command might be a viable way to evaluate pitching talent. But, I’d argue that the only way to really evaluate a pitcher’s command is through the use of appropriate statistics (such as LD%, LOB%, BB%, etc).

  4. scraps on September 12th, 2006 12:42 pm

    JMB, thank you. What was wrong with the link, if I may ask? It looked fine in Firefox.

  5. Graham on September 12th, 2006 12:44 pm

    AQ, I’m not convinced that the numbers we have on pitchers are as predicitive or as accurate as what scouts can tell by watching them.

  6. Mat on September 12th, 2006 12:51 pm

    AQ, I’m not convinced that the numbers we have on pitchers are as predicitive or as accurate as what scouts can tell by watching them.

    Maybe so, but I prefer beer AND tacos.

  7. AQ on September 12th, 2006 12:51 pm

    #55 – Oh, I agree. I think that there’s definitely a place and a need for scouting and seeing the stuff of a pitcher. The pitcher also needs command (combined with that stuff) to be truly effective. And a pitcher’s command is best demonstrated in the statistics…

  8. AQ on September 12th, 2006 12:53 pm

    #56 – I think you’re making the same point as me, but in a different way.. lol

  9. Graham on September 12th, 2006 12:58 pm

    Oh, I completely agree with using both. But if they were just using one, I’d lean towards scouting with pitchers.

  10. AQ on September 12th, 2006 1:04 pm

    #59 – With our current front office, I’d probably have to settle for them using scouting alone. I just wish that they could understand the importance of scouting and stats combined.

  11. eponymous coward on September 12th, 2006 1:26 pm

    Oh, I completely agree with using both. But if they were just using one, I’d lean towards scouting with pitchers.

    But why would you want to do that- especially since scouts will happily spout baseball nostrums and ignore things that statistics might point out are contrary to assumed belief?

    Case in point- the knuckleball. It was a common pitch through a lot of baseball history, with some rather high-profile, successful users of it (Dutch Leonard, Wilhelm, the Niekros Wilbur Wood, Charlie Hough).

    Who’s left throwing it now- Tim Wakefield? Why? Scouts hate it. Baseball hates it. Even though there’s a really good statistical record that you can be an effective knuckleball pitcher (and, to boot, pick up a lot of innings without trashing your arm, since you’re not throwing 100+ pitches with full effort and commensurate mechanical strain), do you see teams teaching the knuckler to some of their rubber armed RHPs with 87 MPH mediocre batting practice fastballs and NO shot of being more than a replacement-level arm without another pitch?

    (Honestly, if I was a GM who wanted to pull a Beane-style exploitation of hidden value, I’d hire Charlie Hough as a roving minor league instructor and try adding a knuckler to the repetoire of some of my AAAA arms.)

  12. waldo rojas on September 12th, 2006 1:43 pm

    Don’t forget Steve Sparks.

  13. NextYear on September 12th, 2006 1:48 pm

    I have always had an irrational liking for the knuckleball.

    Knuckleball Quotes

  14. chrisisasavage on September 12th, 2006 1:53 pm

    #61, I’ve been saying that for years. The knuckler and the gyroball (OK, since no-one throws it at MLB level, that might not work, but …). – and make the said AAAA arms read that book. A knuckler is easier to throw (but not necessarily master) than most people think, it’d stick with someone.

    The gyroball would be trickier, but it’s real, and someone will take advantage of it someday.

  15. chrisisasavage on September 12th, 2006 1:53 pm

    #62, I almost had, why did you remind me?

  16. Graham on September 12th, 2006 1:56 pm

    EC: I didn’t say that the current scouts were the right ones to use. There’s a difference between scouting bias and the actual act of scouting.

  17. scraps on September 12th, 2006 2:05 pm

    Knuckleballers generally take many years to master their craft. You can teach the knuckleball to mediocre young pitchers, but even if you teach one of the ones who eventually pans out, isn’t it likely the investment will pay off for some other team?

  18. bedir on September 12th, 2006 2:07 pm

    I did not write that book…I just want to be clear. I also never set the NL single season record for PH RBI.

  19. Evan on September 12th, 2006 2:34 pm

    The knuckler is effective partly because so few guys throw it.

    The minor league numbers suggest that minor league hitters are about as adept at hitting a good knuckler as major leaguers are. The only difference between minor and major league is that one group has been promoted based on its ability to hit pitches that aren’t the knuckler. Since proficiency hitting knuckleballs isn’t used as a criterion for advancement, every professional hitter is basically an unskilled amateur when facing one.

  20. Dave on September 12th, 2006 2:35 pm

    Scouts don’t hate the knuckleball. Where’d you get that idea, EC?

    The knuckleballer is rare because it’s so freaking hard to throw.

  21. Evan on September 12th, 2006 2:45 pm

    My favourite story about a knuckleball came in an interview with Doug Mirabelli.

    Q: Can you tell if a knuckleball is good coming out of Tim’s hand?

    A: Sometimes. There is a perfect knuckleball he throws where it seems to rotate slowly around an axis that points directly at me. It moves in sort of a corkscrew.

    Q: How often does he manage that?

    A: 8-10 times a game.

    Q: And no one can hit it?

    A: Haven’t yet.

    Q: Can you catch it?

    A: Haven’t yet.

  22. eponymous coward on September 12th, 2006 2:52 pm

    Once comfortably ensconced in the flourishing community of oddball pitches—spitball, palm ball, shine ball, eephus—the knuckleball has fallen victim, in recent decades, to a prejudice against deception and a fear of the unknown. If a kid throwing ninety-five m.p.h. has a bad outing, scouts chalk it up to growing pains; at least he can bring it. If a knuckleballer flounders, it is proof, somehow, that the craft itself—just look at it—is unreliable.
    “Catchers hate it,” Jim Bouton, the author of “Ball Four: My Life and Hard Times Throwing the Knuckleball in the Big Leagues,” said recently. “Nobody likes to warm up with you. Coaches don’t respect it. You can pitch seven good innings with a knuckleball, and as soon as you walk a guy they go, ‘See, there’s that damn knuckleball.’ ”
    The pitch is minimally taxing from a physical standpoint, and thus affords its practitioners the ability to pitch in virtually any situation, on any day. Knuckleball pitchers seldom need to ice their arms after working. They lift weights only sparingly, and almost never get injured. The knuckleball favors old age—or at least doesn’t discourage it—and forgives weakness. These are considerable advantages, yet the pitch is, for the same reasons, taken as an affront to the entrenched jock ethic of blood, sweat, and tears.

    Now, maybe that’s just wrong- but I find it hard to believe that somehow, it’s more difficult to throw knucklers now than it was 50 years ago, or 20 years ago. There are more baseball teams and more players than then…and less knuckleball pitchers.

    Now, maybe scouts don’t hate it- but given the record of the guys I mentioned, why wouldn’t you try it, ESPECIALLY since you can easily throw into your 40’s with the pitch?

  23. Dave on September 12th, 2006 3:02 pm

    Ben McGrath’s evidence is apparently Ben McGrath’s opinion.

    There are, off the top of my head, 6-7 knuckleballers in the minor leagues right now. The best of them, Charley Haeger, is likely going to get a prominant spot on the White Sox next year.

    I’m not convinced this “downturn” in knuckleballers is evidence of a cause-and-effect opinion of the men in charge any more so than a period of a cycle that will eventually come around.

  24. eponymous coward on September 12th, 2006 3:21 pm

    Well, I’ve read similar stuff over the years- but it could easily be wrong. Happy to change my mind.

  25. pinball1973 on September 12th, 2006 3:46 pm

    Yeah, Washburn is EXACTLY the pitcher he was last season. and this was entirely predictable, and Bavasi really should have (or did, but spent the money anyway) known that this was a bad deal. I agree with all of THOSE statements.

    Now, about that final, sweeping (and therefore patently, transparently stupid) conclusion… [clears throat]… shouldn’t that be that “single-season” ERA is “useless without reference to other factors (BIP, Runners Stranded, HR%, Park Factor, etc.)?
    The conclusion “ERA is useless” seems pretty fecking overblown to me; near as dumb as the assumption it is some be-all and end-all.

    Given “league average” numbers in, say just BIP and RunStrand, isn’t ERA as reliable as any other catagory in measuring the basic value of a pitcher in the following season?

    Given someone’s career numbers (very briefly checking for unusual Park/Era Factors), isn’t ERA a decent measure of a pitcher’s career, easily better than Wins, etc.? I look up “Career ERA Leaders” and I find a list that, noting historical changes, is not at all disappointing, and that I think is clearly better than “Wins,” “KOs,” or anything else.

    Let’s have some @%’$#&+@* moderation in our pronouncements, eh? Isn’t being correct ABOUT WHAT’S IMPORTANT enough?

  26. 88fingerslukee on September 12th, 2006 3:47 pm

    I’d love to see another good knuckleballer…what I would REALLY love to see is a pitcher that has Zumaya’s velocity but can also throw a slow-ass knuckler. Can you imagine people’s knees buckling all over the place as the dude throws 103 backed up by 63 and unpredictable?

    that’s my dream.

  27. AK4Sea on September 12th, 2006 4:03 pm

    If someone can throw 103, odds are they don’t need to worry about adding a knuckleball.

  28. waldo rojas on September 12th, 2006 4:07 pm

    Isn’t it fairly easy to steal on knuckleballers? It seems to me that could be a major reason for the dearth of pure knucklers. Probabaly mitigated if you can mix in a 88 mph fastball here and there. Just a thought.

  29. arbeck on September 12th, 2006 4:18 pm

    I don’t know that a guy who throws hard would have that much success adding a knuckler. A big reason off speed pitches and breaking pitches work is that until the ball is released you have no idea what’s coming. The arm action and windup are the same. When throwing a proper knuckler this isn’t the case. As soon as the windup begins, the hitter is going to know what’s coming, making it no more effective than any other knuckler.

  30. lylepdx on September 12th, 2006 4:26 pm

    The arm action and windup are the same. When throwing a proper knuckler this isn’t the case. As soon as the windup begins, the hitter is going to know what’s coming, making it no more effective than any other knuckler.

    yeah, i would have to imagine that it would be really dangerous to throw a ball with a fastball arm motiong and a knuckle grip

    now, if you were to just concede it and work off a 100 mph fastball delivery, and then change arm angle and go down to whatever the ceiling for a fastball coming from the knuckle position, that might be worth something. if just that the batter is gonna have a harder time hitting something in the low 60’s or high 50’s even when they just saw something in the high 90’s or 100’s even seconds before.

    it’s probably a really stupid idea. pitching mechanic gods, shoot me down.

  31. Evan on September 12th, 2006 4:38 pm

    That 40 mph speed difference is too big. Players would have too much time to react to the slower pitch.

  32. lylepdx on September 12th, 2006 4:41 pm

    That 40 mph speed difference is too big. Players would have too much time to react to the slower pitch.

    but just the sheer fact that you’re fearing for your life one second, and then the next are basically playing little league baseball, would have to have at least some quantifiable effect. i don’t know.

  33. Bender on September 12th, 2006 4:46 pm

    I would kill for us to get a (good) knuckleballer.

  34. joser on September 12th, 2006 4:56 pm

    One thing about knuckleballers — they don’t lend themselves to being relievers. At least, not spot relievers: bringing one in to start an inning is fine, but bringing one in with men on base is asking for passed balls and men advancing (and for this reason I doubt stealing on knucklers is a big deal: why test the catcher’s arm when you can just wait for him to go scrambling for a ball off the backstop?) So that would be a knock against them, I would think — fewer options as they’re coming up.

  35. dgarnett on September 12th, 2006 4:56 pm

    I know this is a bit off topic, but not mentioned elsewhere, but yet another Mariner farm hand has been suspended for 50 games for violating the drug policy. At what point should we start holding the team physicians and trainers responsible, it really seems like the M’s have an overabundance of this type of thing happening compared to other teams.


  36. Dave on September 12th, 2006 5:08 pm

    The M’s paid a lot of money to sign Wellington Dotel, too. Despite not performing up to expectations, he was a legitimate prospect in their eyes, not some organizational player like most of the guys who have been caught so far.

    And Dotel’s the only Mariner to get caught this year. I think they’ve done a good job reacting to the positive tests of the past few years.

  37. JI on September 12th, 2006 5:41 pm


    Interesting since So Hough and Wood started their careers as relievers, and remained in the bullpen for many years before the were given the opportunity to start.

  38. JI on September 12th, 2006 5:42 pm

    oops. So

  39. joser on September 12th, 2006 5:53 pm

    Didn’t say it wouldn’t happen; just that it would give most managers pause. Hargrove would consistently bring Mateo in with men on, too, and we know how that generally turns out.

  40. Josh on September 12th, 2006 6:54 pm

    If anything, the complete ‘consistency’ of his performance from last year to this one might be an omen of deteriorating skills. Consider that approximately half his starts will be at The Safe, and certain things like ‘hits’ and ‘home runs’ should be expected to take a slight dip. They didn’t.

    Then again, it could just be a slight variation causing the so-called stability. In any case, though, he’s not getting better.

  41. IdahoInvader on September 12th, 2006 9:06 pm

    Did I read the in game box correctly?

    We got NINE hits in less than three innings off of Marcum (including two dingers) and STILL only got three runs? I’m almost afraid to ask how that must have occured…sigh

  42. IdahoInvader on September 12th, 2006 9:10 pm

    Woops…wrong thread, lol

  43. F-Rod on September 12th, 2006 11:47 pm

    I still don’t understand how you can call Washburn a fourth starter?….What other 4th starters are you refering to? He is a weak 2 or a strong 3. Where is your justification for calling him a 4? Looking over the rosters I can only find a few examaples where he would not be an obvious choice for the top 4 in a rotation and there are a lot of places where he is at least the second best pitcher on the team. I like having him in the rotation, if he has a good offense around him his team will win a lot of games. His durability is almost unmatched and this should be considered when calling him a “4th starter.”

  44. Brian Rust on September 13th, 2006 8:50 am

    Jarrod Washburn is a #4 starter in the Lake Wobegon League, where all the pitchers are above average.

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