2016 Giants: April PQS

This post has the Giants Pure Quality Start scores for the month of April 2016, PQS as defined in Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster annual book and they published the details here (unfortunately, they removed the article; this link gets you at least to the PQS definition, read down to middle for details). I wrote on this first in 2006 (wow, 11th year of this!  10th anniversary!) and have compiled their stats on a regular basis, so I'm continuing it this season for continuity and historical comparison (there is the "PQS" label that you can click to see the old posts on this). Regular readers can skip to the next section.

This is the Quality Start with a sabermetric DIPS twist, and it gets really easy to calculate once you get used to it. I don't think it's the end all or be all, but then nothing really is that. It is, as I like to say, another piece of the puzzle. A dominating start is scored a 4 or 5 and a disaster start is scored a 0 or 1. DOM% is the percentage of starts that are dominating, DIS% is the percentage of starts that are disasters (any start under 5.0 IP is automatically a 0, or disaster).

What's Good and What's Not

From my observations, a DOM at or above the 40% mark is indicative of good pitching; above 50% is great; above 70% is elite. A low DIS is also indicative of good pitching, just look at the table in the link above showing DOM% and DIS% on the axes.

Basically, you want to see a pitcher's DOM% to be over 40% and ideally over 50%, and you want their DIS to be under 20% and ideally under 10%. For example, Johan Santana has a 76% DOM and 3% DIS in 2006 (2.77 ERA), whereas Orlando Hernandez had a 52% DOM and 28% DIS (4.66 ERA), and Adam Eaton had a 31% DOM and 31% DIS (5.12 ERA). Read the link (unfortunately, they removed the article and thus the table is no longer available, sorry), as I noted, there's a nice chart there showing the combination of high DOM% and low DIS%, and there you can see particularly how a low DIS% is so important to a low ERA.

If you had to chose a high DOM% or a low DIS%, pitchers tend to have a lower ERA when you have a low DIS% vs. a high DOM% (obviously if you combine both, you have a much better chance of having an elite pitcher).  But I think when the DOM% is high enough, you win more by choosing a high DOM% over a low DIS%, as there are more high quality games pitched overall.

I wholeheartedly recommend buying Baseball Forecaster and learning more about their methods of analyzing baseball. It has been greatly illuminating for me, and if you want to get a taste for it without paying full price, they used to sell their old editions of their annuals on their website for half price or less (plus shipping); but that was before he sold the company off, and I haven't checked recently.

Giants Starters' PQS for 2015 Season

Madison Bumgarner- (60% DOM, 0% DIS; 3:0/5):  2, 5, 2, 5, 5/

Matt Cain- (20% DOM, 40% DIS; 1:2/5):  4, 0, 0, 3, 3/

Johnny Cueto - (80% DOM, 0% DIS; 4:0/5):  4, 4, 5, 3, 5/

Chris Heston - (0% DOM, 0% DIS; 0:0/0):  /

Jake Peavy - (20% DOM, 40% DIS; 1:2/5):  3, 0, 2, 4, 0/

Jeff Samardzija - (60% DOM, 0% DIS; 3:0/5):  3, 4, 3, 4, 4/

Giants Season overall - 48% DOM, 16% DIS out of 25 games counted (12:4/25)
Giants Month of April - 48% DOM, 16% DIS out of 25 games counted (12:4/25)

The month of April for PQS was worse than we have been used to from our starting pitchers for a long time now, but common for the past year, unfortunately, and hence why we acquired Cueto and Samardzija.  (FYI, all of this commentary is about their 5th Rotation Turn as well, as it worked that way this season)

And that has been a great success, as Cueto led the rotation in DOM starts in April with 4, followed by Bumgarner and Samardzija with 3 DOM.  Both Peavy and Cain only had 1 DOM start.  And this is mirrored in DIS starts, with Peavy and Cain having 2 DIS starts each, and the rest of the rotation had none.

Again, with Bumgarner as our ace, he got off to a slow start, but without DIS starts as in prior seasons.  First three starts, he had only one DOM.  It should be noted, however, that he was suffering from the effects of the flu in these first three starts, something he would not cop to, but it should still be noted.  He actually did note that he's been struggling to find his mechanics and so far hasn't.

Despite the slow start, and like last season, he righted himself by mid-month and has a streak of 5 PQS starts, including the first start of May.  But unlike last season, he lost to the Dodgers twice, unable to out-duel Kershaw as he did last season.  He actually did beat Kershaw in his first matchup, but the bullpen coughed up the win.  The second time, he was just out pitched (again, I note that he was suffering the effects of the flu in this start).

Being at .500, there were a lot of losses to spread around, as well as wins.  And that is reflected in the SP ERA of 4.81 overall.  Most of the pitchers were good, though.   Cueto led the staff with 2.65 ERA, with Bumgarner at 3.00 ERA, not far behind.  Samardzija did his thing:  in spite of his great 60% DOM/0% DIS, he had a 3.86 ERA.

However, Peavy and Cain have stunk it up for the most part, so far.  8.61 ERA for Peavy, 7.00 ERA for Cain.  Both had K/BB which had been good before but with the strikeout explosion, their 2.43 and 2.33 K/BB, respectively, isn't all that good anymore.  Samardzija was only at 2.60 himself, but Bumgarner had a 3.80 K/BB and Cueto a 6.60 K/BB.

From what I've read, it sounds like Cain is physically sound, but is searching for some extra stamina.  His delayed spring training seems to have put him behind everyone more than had been thought or represented through the media.

I had thought it would be easy for him once healthy, but clearly I was very wrong.  Physically, he seems fine, and he was reported to be throwing easy in the low 90's in his recent starts, so the velocity is there.  And the start of games have gone well for him, it's when he gets to the middle innings that things have gone bad for him, and that is very encouraging, seems like once he gets over the hump, he could be the Cain of old that we all love and respect.  

But his inconsistencies would be more tolerable if Peavy had been at least pitching well, but it is arguable who has been worse, Cain or Peavy.  As well as the top three has been pitching, you can't have two starters who are pitching like 5th starters and do well overall, as there will be times our top guys get out-pitched, or not get supported by the bullpen, or just plain not do well, it happens, they aren't robots.

And Peavy again disappoints to start off the season.  Seems to be a pattern for him, when we got him from Boston, he had a horrible start to the season, and he basically blamed it on their catchers, raving about how great our catchers were, including the backups.  But here we are, two seasons later, same pattern, start off the season pretty bad.  The only great thing is that sometime mid-season, he finally gets right and is pretty much great, until he gets into the playoffs, where something just goes wrong for me (my guess is that he just gets too ramped up to be his good self).

Not that it's entirely their fault.  Brown has a much higher ERA than Posey does, though Buster has a huge advantage in that he catches all of Bumgarner's starts.   Plus, Cain's ERA is doable at 4.96 with Brown, but 10.12 with Posey.   But for Peavy, he's bad with both, 7.58 ERA with Posey, 13.50 ERA with Brown.

But the pattern holds for the better pitchers too (obviously, since Brown overall has been worse).  With Cueto, he has a 2.37 ERA with Posey (though that will change greatly with the Cincy start) vs. 3.86 ERA with Brown.  And for Samardzija, he has a 3.32 ERA with Posey and 4.61 ERA with Brown.  This is probably why Bochy has been mostly having Brown catch whoever happens to be pitching (besides Bumgarner), to spread the pain instead of forcing Brown on one or two other starters.

And, of course, all of this is SSS.

April 2015 Comments

I'm sure that there are fans very disappointed with the results so far, but I think things will look better going forward.  In spite of all the bad pitching, the Giants were 12-13 in April because our offense averaged 4.96 runs scored per game.  And that was with Posey and Crawford, our two top RBI guys from 2015, hitting pretty poorly with RISP so far (they were a combined 5 for 40 in RISP up to the game on May 2nd, when Crawford got a couple of big hits).  If most people stay healthy - and we've already lost some time for Posey, Panik, and now Pagan (again!) - the offense should continue to stoke the fire in the engine.

Although their record is reflective of their Pythagorean (124 runs scored vs. 121 runs allowed), the Giants underperformed in April.  A 48% DOM/16% DIS is actually good, and the dichotomy is shown when examining the Giants record by performance.  Of course, when they get a DOM start they win a lot (10-2) and when they get a DIS start they lose a lot (0-4).  Their problem has been the MID starts:  2-7.

Normally, MID starts are usually somewhere in the middle, around .500:  .521 winning percentage in 2015, .455 in 2014.  Of course, the problem is that the MID starts so far has resulted in 6.12 ERA, which tells the bigger story about why they are 2-7 in such starts:  because they have been disaster results.   They had a 4.45 ERA in MID starts in 2015.

And a lot of this can be attributed to very high BABIP for our starters, as that is where Peavy and Cain have suffered in terms of PQS, in addition to not lasting at least 6 IP (need 6 IP to get 1 PQS added, need hits equal to IP or less than to get another added; without those two, best can get is 3 PQS or less).  Cain had a .357 BABIP while Peavy had a .440 BABIP.  Lots of problems solved if they both can regress to the .300 BABIP mean.

However, bad pitchers eventually are just hittable, BABIP mean or no BABIP mean.  So we don't know yet whether this is a blip that they can pitch out of or a sign of end times.  Peavy is third in the rotation in strikes thrown (64.3%), edging out Samardzija (63.9%), with Cain last but not that far behind Samardzija (63.5%).  Cain is actually third on the team in strikes thrown looking (17.51%), edging out Samardzija (17.48%), but Peavy is a whole percentage point less (16.50%).  However, for swinging strikes, Peavy almost leads the team with 11.0% (Bum had 11.3%), and Cain brought up the rear with only 7.6% (Samardzija didn't get a lot of swing throughs either, only 9.1%).  So it looks like they might be just missing spots right now, but their arms are relatively accurate, or at least not any worse than what Samardzija has been doing.

Given how powerful it is to outpitch the other starter, I've started calculating how many PQS wins and losses (and ties) that happen in starts.  Per that, the Giants should be around 17-8, not 12-13.  This is further supported by the poor results in MID starts and lack of wins in DIS starts, which should have ended up around 15-10.

However, per Game Score (also something new I can calculate and play around with), they are basically where they should be:  average 49 Game Score.  As some might remember, I took at look at Game Score for an analysis of Kyle Crick's performances, as PQS don't work so well when the pitcher rarely makes even 5 IP, let along 6 IP, and linked to some good studies in there.  As I noted in that post, Game Score can be used in a similar way as PQS, in terms of wins (DOM starts), losses (DIS starts), or "ties" (MID starts), so to be clear, here is my view on PQS vs. Game Score:  Game Score tells you how well the pitcher did, PQS tries to tell you how well the pitcher did sabermetrically.  Kind of like the different between Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.

Thus, Game Score is a nice stat to use to examine how well a pitcher did, plus give a much finer tool for comparing pitcher's best games, but misses when it is a matter of the baseball bouncing the wrong way in the game, which PQS catches better, I believe.   For example, a team could get two great 60 Game Scores, but then a 30, and that averages out to simply a 50 Game Score.  A team should have a great season doing that in every series, but according to Game Score, the team is simply average.

That is the granularity (or lack thereof) that I love about PQS over Game Score.  A bad game is just a bad game, it does not make other good games look bad, as this example did.   It is kind of like how a bad ERA is not always indicative of how well a pitcher had done, one really bad start will plump up the ERA, even if all the other starts were good.  Still, even if we look only at Game Score Wins and Losses, the Giants are still under .500 (9-11, with 5 ties; I don't really like the term "ties" in this context, as it suggests what the other team did, I would prefer "coin toss" but that's not as short and sweet...).  So by Game Score, the Giants rotation has not been doing that well overall.

Still, the pitching has been great for the top 3.  Cueto was at a great 80% DOM in April, and both Bumgarner and Samardzija were at 60% DOM.  Plus all three were able to avoid a DIS start, which is key to keeping your overall ERA on the lower side.  In other words, 60% of our rotation is doing well, and I think that means we are in a good spot as long as they continue pitching well.  And our back end starters start to pitch better.

Overall, this just goes to show what can happen in SSS.  The Giants are currently 14-13, and that works out to .571 winning percentage at home and .462 winning percentage on the road.  Given that the goal every season is to be .600 at home (49 wins) and .500 on the road (41 wins), they are not that far behind goal, which would put them at 15-12 right now if they were on goal.   Just one win instead of a sweep in Colorado would put us there.  I would like things to be better, but I'm OK with where we are now, we are in pretty good shape overall, I think.

Should There be Changes to the Rotation?  

With Lincecum scheduling his showcase (finally), there are the same reported 20 teams who are interested (making me suspect this number might just be thrown out there by Lincecum's reps), and thus there could be an alternative, as none of our closest SP prospects are doing all that great right now.

I still think Lincecum should be a reliever and not a starter now, that is best for his longevity and results.  However, I think there is some chance that he could still be a very effective starter, especially with reports that his velocity is back into the low 90's (90-91 reported by Heyman, who appears to be Lincecum's agent's mouth piece).  And the Giants are attending, as they have stated their interest a number of times, and he has stated a number of times how he would love to be back with the Giants, but he really wants to be a starter.

Here is how I think the Giants should play it.

  • First off, if any team offers more than $5M to start, let him go.  Under that, I think it's worth a shot to try to get him.  
  • If all the teams want him for a reliever, then the Giants should be in like crazy, he would be great as our long reliever/super utility guy.
  • If a team wants him as a starter for under $5M, then I think the Giants should seriously consider pushing Peavy either onto the DL (he was like Hudson this spring, when asked how he's feeling, he never said straight out that he's feeling good, he said he felt better than last spring - and who wouldn't, his back was out and he still tried to pitch - so I think he could use some additional rest and rehab to get into playing shape, seems to take him 2-3 months) or make him the long reliever (but also kind of super-utility, bringing him in high leverage situations every once in a while) and insert Lincecum in the rotation.  Scenarios:
    • Lincecum does well:  that's obviously good
    • Lincecum tires out like he did in previous seasons:  put Peavy back into rotation, make Lincecum long reliever/super utility
    • Lincecum does OK, just middling:  Up to Giants, but I would put Peavy back in as he was great last season after returning, and make Lincecum the long reliever/super utility guy.  
    • Lincecum does poorly:  we gave it a shot, put Peavy back into the rotation, and the Giants could try Lincecum in long relief, but if he continues to struggle, we DFA him.   I've seen some people worry about doing something like that to a great icon like Lincecum, but I don't think it taints anything, he tried, he failed, we gave it a shot.  That's life.
Given how well, as I've documented here, Lincecum has actually done before either tiring out or losing his mechanics, I think he's worth a shot.  Has nothing to do with his past other than that I think he has done well if used right in recent seasons and we can use a long reliever, and if he can start, all the better, and $5M is pocket change for an MLB team in today's game.  

It's worth a try to get the Lincecum the reliever we got in the 2012 playoffs.  THAT is a weapon.  And with his rubber arm, he can pitch often and in different roles.   Plus he's still young, and he could be a linchpin in the bullpen for the next decade, if he's good (and I doubt he'll showcase himself if he's at least throwing strikes).  And our bullpen is in flux anyway, perhaps he can help steady it.