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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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August 24, 2008 3:47 PM

Hernandez finally wins

Posted by Geoff Baker

seat0824 042.jpg

The first win since July 18 for Felix Hernandez is recorded when closer J.J. Putz gets pinch-hitter Kurt Suzuki to fly out, above, with two on in the ninth. So, an 8-4 win by the M's. Hernandez is breathing a sigh of relief.

"It's been a long time,'' said Hernandez, who was battling the effects of a strep throat and was dizzy and tired by his 106th and final pitch. "I don't know how many days it's been, but it feels like four months.''

It shouldn't have been that way.

I mentioned "quality starts" earlier today and how poorly M's starters have fared in notching victories when throwing at least six innings and allowing three earned runs or fewer. A study released earlier this year found that, since the start of the 2004 season, pitchers have tended to win about 68 percent of their quality starts.

But not in Seattle.

Over here, the Mariners starters have won just 24 such outings -- 43 percent. Remember, we're talking wins by the pitcher here. Not the team. The latter is a conversation for another day.

Bottom line? The team has let these starters down. Both on offense and defense. It's one reason Carlos Silva was upset a few weeks back. It's why Hernandez has been so frustrated of late. Not to mention Jarrod Washburn.

There is an enormous difference between winning 68 percent of the time and only 43 percent of the time. Remember, the 68 percent figure is only an average figure, not even the high-water mark.

I know the guy who invented the "quality start" stat. His name is John Lowe, he writes in Detroit and is an avid reader of this blog. His stat has recevied a fair bit of criticism over the years, the biggie being that if a pitcher threw 6 innings and allowed three earned runs every time out, that's a pretty ordinary 4.50 ERA. Fair enough.

But Bill James, the founder of sabermetrics, has repudiated some of that criticism with studies that show the combined quality starts by pitchers will alwats exceed the 6 inning, 3 run minimum. In fact, it's usually very unlikely for a pitcher's ERA in combined quality starts to be above 4.00.

So, that blunts the criticism quite nicely. Of course, we'd all rather have the guy who throws eight or nine innings and allows two runs. But what are M's pitchers really doing in their quality starts?

What if I told you that, in the 56 quality starts by Mariners pitchers, they are going an average of 6 2/3 innings and posting an ERA of 2.14. Think about that. Those are some pretty good numbers. And yet, they aren't good enough to win more than 43 percent of the time. That's terrible.

Let's break it down individually;

Felix Hernandez:

15 QS
8 wins
ERA: 1.76
Innings per QS: 6.49


Jarrod Washburn

13 QS
5 wins
ERA: 2.69
Innings per QS: 6.44


Carlos Silva

10 QS
4 wins
ERA: 2.60
Innings per QS: 6.90


Erik Bedard

7 QS
4 wins
ERA: 1.89
Innings per QS: 6.81

R.A. Dickey

6 QS
2 wins
ERA: 1.98
Innings per QS: 6.83


Miguel Batista

4 QS
1 win
ERA: 1.63
Innings per QS: 6.91


Ryan Rowland-Smith

1 QS
0 wins
ERA: 1.29
Innings per QS: 7

Yes, there are a bunch of pitchers getting seriously hosed out of their stats here. And believe me, this stuff matters to them. Wins may not matter to sabermetrics fans, but they matter to pitchers. It helps their reputations in the cities they pitch in, gets them respect around the game, helps with future earnings potential and is a part of their legacy.

No pitcher wants to be in a city where they will be the perennial victim of bad luck. It makes great pitchers look merely above average. Makes mediocre pitchers look awful and knocks below average pitchers out of baseball. Not saying a quality start means everything. It has its shortcomings as a stat. But it's a pretty good indicator, in this case, of why frustration amongst starters has been mounting. And why, if the situation isn't turned around in the next year or two, nobody will want to pitch for Seattle -- Safeco Field or not.

You don't have to like it. And Gregie, in the comments thread, I'm talking to you. But this is what the numbers show. You can either ignore them, because of personal biases, or consider it when you attempt to offer your own analysis of the season. But if you want a complete analysis, you have to consider all the evidence. Not just the stuff for the pitchers you like.


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