Wednesday, September 10, 2014

First year starters are a crap shoot

Tonight, Nick Tropeano will be the 45th pitcher this season to make his Major League debut as a pitcher (and start at least one game). Last year, 57 pitchers did the same and there were 48 who did so in 2012. The data from those pitchers in their very first year and starting at least once in that first year shows that Tropeano and the Houston Astros are hoping for the best in what has not been a very successful adventure.
I don't know about you, but I love players making their debuts. It's part of that baseball circle of life thing that keeps the blood fresh and interesting. And I always root for the guy to do well. With the exception of the guys drafted in the top rounds, many of these pitchers worked their way through the systems, rode buses galore, didn't make a whole pile of dough and earned a shot. You want someone to make it after knowing that kind of history.
More often than not, it does not work out. Of the 48 pitchers that made their debut in 2012, only sixteen of them had an ERA better than league average. For every Chris Archer, there were two like Brooks Raley. And yet, I bet to a man, each and every one of those pitchers would not trade the experience for the world. I'm not sure about their managers.
Let's look at some of the overall numbers. The league average ERA in 2012 was 4.01. The average ERA of pitchers who started in their debut seasons was 4.41. In 2013, the league average ERA was 3.87 and the debut season guys compiled to a 4.20. This year, the average ERA is 3.76 and the debut guys are averaging 4.27.
And don't forget that those debut season numbers are propped up by guys who really succeeded. For example, Hyun jin Ryu and Jose Fernandez really propped those numbers up quite a bit in 2012.
Let's look at some other data:
Hits per nine: The league average has remained pretty stable at 8.7 hits per nine in 2012 and 2013 and 8.6 this year. The debut pitchers have averaged, 8.9, 9.1 and 9.4 respectively.
WHIP: The average WHIP in baseball for the last three years has been 1.309 (2012), 1.300 (2013) and 1.281 this year.  The debut pitchers have averaged following that same year pattern, 1.369, 1.372, 1.373. Again, significantly higher despite some real success stories bolstering the numbers.
Strikeouts per nine from 2012 through 2014: 7.6, 7.6 and 7.7. Same timeline for the debutantes: 7.4, 7.4 and 6.9.
Walks per nine from 2012 through 2014: 3.1, 3.0 and 2.9. For the debut review: 3.2, 3.3 and 2.9.
Strikeout to walk ratio in MLB from 2012 to 2014: 2.48, 2.51, 2.64. Now for the first timers: 2.33, 2.24 and this year, 2.34.
Did you notice a trend with those numbers? While the MLB averages have shown better peripherals across the board for pitching each season, with the exception of walks per nine and K/BB, the numbers for the debut guys are worse each year. Why would that be?
I have some theories but do not have time to test them out. One is that teams are pushing these debuts to younger pitchers or those with less experience. This theory might not hold water because the average debut age this year is 25 and it was in the 23 range in 2013 and 2012. But that also may be skewed by older debut guys like Tsuyoshi Wada and Jason Lane (as a pitcher). The other is that many of these debuts come for teams down in the standings with low payrolls and they might not benefit from the same quality of fielding behind them.
One last statistic because most don't think it significant: The winning percentage of the debut pitchers are (from 2012 to 2014 respectively), .461, .482 and .442.
We have looked at ERA, WHIP, H/9, K/9, BB/9 and K/BB. Of those six categories leading to eighteen numbers to look at over the three year period, only one stat for one year matches that year's average. One out of eighteen. All in all, the peripherals for every category were worse than league average and worse for successive years from 2012 to this year.
I will be rooting for Nick Tropeano. For one thing, he is Italian (or at least his name is). Secondly, he is from New York and lastly, I am a sucker fro guys trying to make a mark in their world. But as much as I root for Nick Tropeano, the odds are against him.

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