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Who is the Pittsburgh Pirates Anchor in the starting rotation?

Nate Werner

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After a hot start to the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation looked like the talented rotation that many expected them to be. In recent weeks, however, that perception has begun to wear off leaving some to wonder where the consistency will come from.

From the start of the season to the end of the Colorado series on April 18th, the Pittsburgh Pirates starters had a collective 3.50 ERA. From April 19th to the time of writing this, the Pirates starting ERA has jumped nearly 1.5 runs to 4.97. A lot of this increase is due to two bad starts from Jameson Taillon against Philadelphia and Detroit, and bad starts from Trevor Williams and Ivan Nova in the recent White Sox series.

What this leads an observer to question is who is going to anchor the pitching staff? Young players are, generally speaking, a lot more volatile in their on the field production. This is to be expected as they haven’t experienced and learned how to adjust to the increased pressures at the Major League level. This Pirates pitching staff is the 3rd youngest in the Major Leagues according to Baseball Reference, leaving an opening for a reliable pitcher in the rotation. This pitcher isn’t necessarily the staff ace, but does have steady production and knows how to make those adjustments to big league pressures to prevent big swings in rotation production over time.

We’ll call this pitcher the anchor. There are two key roles that the anchor plays; the first and most obvious is as a run preventer, if a young staff is slumping or varying wildly in their runs given up, the anchor should give some stability to the rotation by being relatively consistent. The second, and perhaps more subtle role, is to consistently eat innings. A young staff that is slumping means more work for the bull pen, if the slump lasts too long, the pen can burn out causing a knock-on effect where the entire pitching staff underperforms. If the anchor can consistently pitch a good amount of innings, the bullpen gets more rest, which in turn, means they can be more productive.

There are effectively two different consistency measures we care about, Earned Runs, how consistent a pitcher is at limiting runs, and Innings Pitched, how consistently does a pitcher eat innings.

To calculate these “consistency scores” we’ll be calculating what is known as the Gini Coefficient (GC). In technical terms the Gini is a measure of the statistical dispersion of a variable, in less technical terms it just measures how consistent a distribution is. You may have heard of the Gini Coefficient as a measure of income inequality for a country, which is most often what it is used as; however it can measure inequality of all types, in our case it will be the inequality of Earned Runs and Innings Pitched for a pitcher over the course of their games pitched.

A Gini Coefficient of 0 means there is perfect equality, while a GC of 1 means perfect inequality. Taking, for instance Earned Runs, a GC of 0, or perfect equality, means a player gave up the exact same number of runs every time out. Perfect inequality (GC=1) means the pitcher gave up all of their Earned Runs in exactly one outing and none in any of the others. This leaves an obvious flaw in the measurement as, in theory, a pitcher who gave up six runs every time they came out would have a better GC that a pitcher who gave up six runs in one outing and then zero in the rest, but we’ll address this flaw later on.

For now, here’s a graphical representation of what we’re doing when we calculate the Gini. Below is Ivan Nova’s cumulative Earned Runs and Innings Pitched as percentages for the 2017 season. The red line is called the “Lorenz Curve”, which is the measure of Earned Run dispersion, and the blue line is the line of perfect equality. The grey area denoted “A” is just the area between the red and blue lines and area “B” is the area under the Lorenz curve. The Gini Coefficient is calculated as A/(A+B). The smaller that “A” area is, the closer to equality the Lorenz curve is and thus the smaller the Gini Coefficient is.

 

In Nova’s case the area A was 0.125 and B was 0.375 so his Earned Run Gini Coefficient was 0.25.

This is fairly easy to calculate for the other 2017 starting pitchers, Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, and Trevor Williams, as well. In order to correct for the flaw I mentioned earlier, we’ll find the interaction between ERA, FIP and the Gini by just multiplying the Gini by the two other metrics to make gERA and gFIP. These can be thought of as the consistency weighted pitching metrics.

 

Pitcher ERA FIP ER Gini gERA gFIP
Ivan Nova 4.14 4.46 0.25 1.033 1.112
Trevor Williams 3.96 3.91 0.42 1.683 1.661
Chad Kuhl 4.35 4.42 0.41 1.776 1.805
Jameson Taillon 4.44 3.48 0.52 2.293 1.797

 

The gERA and gFIP work similar to their parent metrics, in that the lower they are the better the pitching performance was. While Trevor Williams had the lowest ERA as a starter last season, his pitching results were more volatile than Ivan Nova, as evidenced by Nova’s Gini being 0.17 points lower than Williams. Kuhl was slightly less volatile, by 0.01 points, than Williams, however Kuhl was giving up more runs than and so his gERA is higher.

Taillon is an interesting case as he had the highest ERA and the lowest FIP of the group, suggesting he had a lot of bad luck and perhaps some bad defense behind him. This likely contributed to his elevated ER Gini, as he wasn’t deserving of a lot of the runs he had scored against him. Full disclosure, this does also present a challenge to the validity of gFIP just using the Earned Run Gini to calculate it. A better way would be to find the pitcher’s “FIP Runs” per game then calculate the FIP specific Gini, but for now using the ER Gini as a rough estimator for the FIP Gini should work well enough.

All in all, Ivan Nova was the Earned Runs staff anchor last season, by both gERA and gFIP, as he was the most consistent pitcher the Pirates had in the Earned Runs department.

We can build a similar metric for Innings Pitched. One thing to note is that to make the accounting a bit easier, I used innings pitched into, instead of just innings pitched; so for instance if a starter pitched 5.1 or 5.2 innings, I counted it as 6 innings and so on. Additionally, the metric I used to weight the Gini by to get a consistency score was Innings Pitched per Game. Here are the Innings Pitched consistency scores for the 2017 staff.

 

Pitcher IP per G IP Gini IP per G/Gini
Jameson Taillon 5.35 0.100 53.23
Ivan Nova 6.03 0.125 48.31
Trevor Williams 5.55 0.123 45.17
Chad Kuhl 5.08 0.120 42.22

 

One thing to note is that instead of multiplying the IP per game by the GC, I divided it. This is because we’d like to see IP per Game go up and the Gini Coefficient go down, the countervailing pressures create a noisy statistic if we multiply it, but dividing it has both measures working in the same direction so it cleans a lot of those problems up.

Taillon was the most consistent pitcher last season with 22 of his 25 starts ended with him pitching into between the 5th and 7th innings. Nova was technically the least consistent by the Gini measure, but this was largely because he was a victim of his own success, pitching into at least the 7th in 12 of his 30 starts. By the “Innings Eater” consistency score, IP per G/Gini, Nova was the second most valuable.

While I don’t have any formal way of weighting both the ER an IP consistency scores into one overall score, Nova being the most consistent at Earned Runs and second in IP gives him the title of staff anchor for 2017.

What about the 2018 season?

Earned Runs

 

Pitcher ERA FIP ER Gini gERA gFIP
Trevor Williams 3.13 4.62 0.30 0.93 1.37
Chad Kuhl 4.12 4.71 0.32 1.31 1.50
Ivan Nova 4.84 4.21 0.33 1.61 1.40
Jameson Taillon 4.42 4.01 0.52 2.32 2.10

 

Trevor Williams has clearly been the Pittsburgh Pirates most consistent run preventer. He has both the lowest ERA and the lowest ER Gini of anyone on the staff, and thus his gERA is the lowest of anyone. Taillon would have that title with a gERA of 0.60, were it not for his two bad starts, but obviously they did happen and inflated his ERA and Gini accordingly. Chad Kuhl is having a sneakily good campaign so far, his ERA is second lowest in this group, and he is just a couple hundredths of a point behind Williams in terms of consistency. It doesn’t seem that many people are giving Kuhl his due except for his recent 7 inning, 8 strikeout, and 1 hit shove session against a really good Brewers team. If Kuhl keeps this up he should start getting that recognition.

Innings Pitched

 

Pitcher IP per G IP Gini IP per G/Gini
Trevor Williams 5.75 0.01 402.64
Chad Kuhl 5.62 0.06 87.40
Ivan Nova 5.58 0.16 35.43
Jameson Taillon 5.24 0.20 26.80

 

Williams has once again been fantastic in this arena, up until his last start his IP Gini was a perfect 0 and is still very close to that mark. His Innings Pitched per Game and IP Gini are both the best on the staff and his IP per G/Gini is astronomically good, showing that he is eating innings consistently this season. Similarly, Kuhl is having a really good campaign in this regard, having the second most IP/G and second best IP Gini. Kuhl well above both Taillon and Nova’s marks for the 2017 season.

It’s a really interesting idea; if there were two pitchers I was expecting consistency out of at the beginning of the year it was Taillon and Nova and if there was a pitcher I was expecting volatility out of it was Kuhl. The opposite has been true this season.

Williams and Kuhl have been the anchors of the rotation so far this season. I don’t know how long this will last though, Williams has an ERA almost 1.5 runs below his FIP, suggesting he should regress at some point this season. Kuhl does have a FIP higher than his ERA, but not to the same extent as Williams; additionally as Nathan Hursh pointed out on our sister site, Kuhl has the makings of a high quality starter. Finally, Taillon and Nova are more likely in slumps rather than in their new normal, so I’d expect them to challenge the other two for the anchor spot as the season rolls along.

All that being said, this is what good rotations do; when good pitchers have bad stretches, the other pitchers pick them up. While Nova and Taillon are in one of those down stretches, and Williams and Kuhl are picking up the slack helping the Pirates stay in the division hunt a quarter of the way through the season.

Nate Werner is a senior at Penn State, where he is studying for his B.S. in Economics. He is a lifelong Pirates fan that uses the tools of statistical analysis to dive deeper into the numbers of baseball. His goal is to take the style of analysis used in front offices across the Major Leagues and bring it to the computer screens of everyday fans. You can read some of Nate’s more general analyses of baseball on goldboxstats.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter @GoldBoxStats.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Interview: Pittsburgh Pirates announcer Joe Block

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Today I had the pleasure of talking to Joe Block for the latest Locked on Pirates podcast.

The Pittsburgh Pirates found a good one when they brought in Joe Block to their announce team prior to the 2016 season. He graciously granted me some time for the Locked on Pirates podcast today while the club is in San Francisco. It was a lively talk that was very eye-opening in many ways. Here ya go:

 

 

Hear Joe’s thoughts on:

  • The role of analytics and advanced stats in his broadcast.
  • The maturation of Gregory Polanco
  • The “creaminess” of the current Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen,
  • And much more!

Pittsburgh Pirates fans – Subscribe, Rate, Review!

Locked on Pirates is the semi-daily Pittsburgh Pirates podcast of choice for discerning Pirates fans.

Jason Rollison from Bucs Dugout and others will help you through the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates season.

You can help chart the podcast’s success by subscribing to our podcast and writing a review!

We are on every podcast app that ties into iTunes, so search for us! Or, if you’re on an Android or iOS device, please just click the links below to subscribe, and while there, why not leave a review?

Using something other than these three? Just search for “Locked on Pirates” in your podcast app of choice.

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Pittsburgh Pirates

LOP’s Jason Rollison on ESPN Radio’s Adam Crowley show

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Locked on Pirates host Jason Rollison joined Adam Crowley of ESPN Radio in Pittsburgh to talk all things trade deadline. Listen in as they both try to process how the hell the Pittsburgh Pirates got Chris Archer

 

 

Pittsburgh Pirates fans – Subscribe, Rate, Review!

Locked on Pirates is the semi-daily Pittsburgh Pirates podcast of choice for discerning Pirates fans.

Jason Rollison from Bucs Dugout and others will help you through the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates season.

You can help chart the podcast’s success by subscribing to our podcast and writing a review!

We are on every podcast app that ties into iTunes, so search for us! Or, if you’re on an Android or iOS device, please just click the links below to subscribe, and while there, why not leave a review?

Using something other than these three? Just search for “Locked on Pirates” in your podcast app of choice.

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Pittsburgh Pirates

The Corey Dickerson Dilemma

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The latest episode of Locked on Pirates is LIVE. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ nine-game winning streak has re-fueled a few hot topics going around in Pirates circles.

The latest episode of Locked on Pirates is here:

 

 

Today we talk:

  • The Corey Dickerson Dilemma
  • GM Speak and why it is sometimes necessary
  • Left-handed relievers that could be available

Pittsburgh Pirates fans – Subscribe, Rate, Review!

Locked on Pirates is the semi-daily Pittsburgh Pirates podcast of choice for discerning Pirates fans.

Jason Rollison from Bucs Dugout and others will help you through the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates season.

You can help chart the podcast’s success by subscribing to our podcast and writing a review!

We are on every podcast app that ties into iTunes, so search for us! Or, if you’re on an Android or iOS device, please just click the links below to subscribe, and while there, why not leave a review?

Using something other than these three? Just search for “Locked on Pirates” in your podcast app of choice.

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