IS A CZ STARTER AS
GOOD AS A B NAKED?
AND OTHER QUESTIONS ABOUT PITCHING YOU WERE
AFRAID TO ASK ABOUT MAIL LEAGUE PITCHING
By
Published in the APBA Journal July, 2001
One of the regular challenges to draft league managers is to decide how
much pitching they need to be competitive and to figure out when upgrading
starting pitching is worthwhile and when it is too costly.
It’s not that a manager wouldn’t want the best pitching he or she could
get, it’s just that good pitching isn’t given away these days and managers have
to decide what’s a fair price to pay in a trade or in the draft for pitching.
We explore this issue here asking what a pitcher of different grades is
worth in comparison with league average pitchers and when compared with how a
DZ “replacement” pitcher drafted to fill needed starts might perform.
Using the tools that
Runs add up to wins, we all know, and Palmer has estimated that for
every ten runs more a team scores than it gives up over a season, it is likely
to win one more game. Our study looks at the flip side of this insight by
focusing on runs allowed (and not allowed) rather than runs produced.
It does this by examining the relationship between pitching grades and
runs yielded to estimate the number of wins starting pitchers with different
APBA grades are worth while holding hitting constant. For example, we ask if a
manager adds a BZ starter to his staff, how much better is the team likely to
do?
APBA specifies that
pitching matters and captures this through the assignment of pitching grades.
While replayers have been telling us for years that replay outcomes reflect
actual player and team performance, we are especially interested in how
differences in pitching grades translate into wins and losses in draft leagues.
A draft league manager will want to know how different mixes of
pitching grades among the starters are likely to perform and how choices
concerning efforts to obtain hitting versus pitching might affect chances of
making the playoffs or winning a pennant.[1]
After all, draft league managers are often faced with real choices such
as whether to stick with a CZ starter or to try and obtain a B but without
control. Is giving up a good deal of hitting to upgrade a starter worthwhile?[2]
There are at least two obvious ways to examine the question of not just
whether pitching grades matter, but how much they affect a team’s wins and
losses. One is to run a million or so versions of the computer game with the
same position players in the lineup day after day only varying the pitching and
then analyzing what difference the pitchers make. This would be easy and
appealing from a scientific point of view.
Instead we decided to take a second approach: analyze data from a real
draft league. For one thing we have more confidence in the dice than in the
computer (except for doing our data analysis). Second, we have what is almost a
reallife situation: managers have drafted players and are competing for real
playoff situations. They have made the choices about rosters and about player
usage. Third, as our results show, managerial decisions regarding player usage
turns out to be relevant in our analysis in ways that a computer simulation
might not have fully anticipated.
To study this question,
There is a clear drop off in performance as one moves from A to D
grades that are measured in a variety of ways. Pitchers with better grades give
up fewer runs (and earned runs), fewer hits and walks per 9 innings, earn more
wins and fewer losses, hurl more shutouts, and have more complete games.
In addition, it is clear from Table 2 that for pitchers at the same
grade, those with a Z control rating do better than those without it, although
control doesn’t matter as much as the grade itself. Finally, the data in Table
2 show that A’s throw about 50 more innings a season than B’s who throw about
50 more than C’s. So you don’t just get a better pitcher when you upgrade, you
get him for more innings. But you knew this right?
Since we promised to tell you how much more a higher grade pitcher is
worth in wins and losses to a team over a season, we have to move beyond the
ERA and the statistics presented already to do this. Because not all starters
throw the same number of innings we first need a common standard of comparison.
Ethan decided that since the average Mail 3 starter pitched about 210
innings in a season that he would calculate runs allowed per 210 innings which
is shown in the second column in Table 2 to given us a level playing field on
which to compare starters over a season. Clearly there is a net increase in
runs given up as one moves from AZ to D nonZ pitchers.
The runs allowed statistic then allows us to compare pitching value
using
The 10 runs
Comparing pitching grades (and taking the Z into account) gives us an
estimate of the number of wins a pitcher at each grade is worth and is shown in
Table 3 column 2. Here we compare pitchers at each grade against what is a
League Typical Starter—simply the mean of all starters over the three year
period which is shown in the sixth column in Table 3. This shows that an AZ
starter is worth 4.5 more wins and year and a D nonZ starter produces 5.6 more
losses for his team —and the other grades, not surprisingly, fall in between
these two.
It is clear that while the absence of a Z rating hurts pitching
performance as we said earlier, in all cases the nonZ is closer to the Z
pitcher with the same grade than to the Z pitcher at the next lowest grade.
There is no support for the idea that it’s better to have a starter with
control than one with no control and a higher grade.
Interestingly, the results clearly show that the Z rating improves a pitcher’s
runs yielded less for higher graded pitchers than for those with poor grades.
As we move from A to D the magnitude of the difference between Z and nonZ
pitchers increases from .2 to .4 to .8 to 2.4 wins per year. The lower the
grade the more the Z is worth.
The explanation for this is that better pitchers are giving up fewer
hits which advance runs and produce runs while each time D pitchers put runners
on base through walks, there is a greater chance of these free passes resulting
in runs scored.
Pitchers with higher grades and good control not only yield fewer runs
but also throw more innings than lower graded, noncontrol hurlers. The extra
innings, shown in Table 3 column 3, are benefits as they take pressure off a
team’s bullpen.
Table 3 provides our estimates of the value of the extra (or fewer)
innings a pitcher throws over the 210 average for a starter (column 4) and the
following column (5) is our estimate of the benefit derived from the ability of
a team to use relievers more selectively. The extra (or fewer) inning value is
simply an estimate based on the runs yielded by a starter compared with the
league average for the additional (or fewer) innings pitched by a starter at
each grade.[4]
To estimate how a starter affects bullpen usage was a bit more
complicated and our figures are presented in Table 4. To do this
More specifically, the average pen had 65 innings of A relief, 194 of B
relief and 101 of C. Good starters meant that a team could drop C relief innings
and use a higher proportion of A and B relievers. Table 4 shows how many runs
this is worth over a season for a starter at each grade by comparing the runs
an average pen would yield with each mix of innings (above or below 360) with
the higher or lower inning total the pitcher at each grade would produce.
The run differential is not large but it is consistent and shows that
the pen innings difference ranges from +.7 wins to 1.0 losses Table 3
column 5).
The last two columns of Table 3 present two different estimates of a
pitcher’s overall win/loss value. The more conservative estimate shown in
column five combines the wins (or losses) from a hurler’s grade, the extra (or
fewer) innings thrown and the bullpen value in comparison with a league average
pitcher. It shows that there is a gain of about six wins a year for an AZ
starter over a league average pitcher and a loss of five games when a D nonZ
is used. What’s more there is a clear stair step progression just as APBA
boards would like it.
But some readers might think there is something curious about using the
league average starter for a comparison since few managers just have a league
average starter sitting on the bench ready to be used if needed.
More realistically, draft league managers face a choice between
drafting what might be a league average starter in some early to middle round
of their draft (or trading for one) and using a DZ (or even a D nonZ) that
they might pick up at the end of the draft.
While this costs them a roster spot, it is not expensive in terms of
draft picks. The final column shows how much a pitcher at each grade is worth
over a DZ starter and the results are quite clear. The AZ is worth and extra
nine wins and the BZ another five and a half. According to these estimates if
the replacement starter is a D, a team’s win total will take a pretty big hit.
How do our calculations help managers think about staff composition?
The final table offers our estimate of how many more (or fewer) wins a team is
likely to chalk up over a season depending upon the composition of its pitching
staff pitching against league average starters.[6]
It shows that good pitching with an average hitting team can do very
well. In most draft leagues with 16 to 24 teams, 93 wins will garner a playoff
berth. On the other hand, a team with all DZ starters needs to make up 16 games
(160 runs over opponents) just to play .500 ball, a pretty tough feat and then
needs another 120 runs to match the team with a very good staff. This requires
an incredibly good offense.
In conclusion, we have shown that good starters produce four benefits
for a team. They give up fewer runs, they throw more innings, and they allow a
manager to use a bullpen more selectively. In addition, good starters allow a
team to go with a smaller bullpen so a manager can save roster spots for a good
pinch hitter or prospect. But acquiring good pitchers can be costly.
To decide if it is worth upgrading a starter we offer the figures in Table
3 to estimate the wins he might garner and to ask if this is greater or less
than the runs a position player who would be traded (or drafted) in the
pitcher’s stead might produce.
Table 1: MAIL 3 PITCHING PERFORMANCE BY GRADE OF STARTER, 199698
Grade 
# 
R/210 
ERA 
G 
GS 
CG 
SH 
W 
L 
IP 
H/9 
R/9 
HR/9 
BB/9 
K/9 
A 
14 
73.5 
2.85 
32.9 
32.9 
26.6 
3.43 
21 
10.3 
288 
5.4 
3.15 
1.1 
2.65 
8.81 
B 
85 
99.2 
3.82 
31.3 
31.3 
13.0 
2.06 
15.4 
11.0 
238 
7.6 
4.25 
1.2 
2.99 
6.98 
C 
141 
119.7 
4.64 
29.3 
29.2 
7.4 
1.45 
11.4 
10.8 
194 
9.5 
5.13 
1.2 
3.19 
6.57 
D 
67 
161.0 
6.27 
29.8 
28.6 
7.85 
0.6 
7.0 
15.2 
187 
11.9 
6.90 
1.4 
3.42 
6.91 
AVG 

118.2 
4.59 
30.1 
29.8 
9.9 
1.52 
12.0 
11.8 
209 
9.09 
5.07 
1.2 
3.14 
6.91 
Table 2: Mail 3 Pitching
Performances
By Grade and Control of Starter,
199698
Grade 
# 
R/210 
ERA 
G 
GS 
CG 
SH 
W 
L 
IP 
H/9 
R/9 
HR/9 
BB/9 
K/9 
AZ 
9 
72.8 
2.80 
33.7 
33.7 
27.3 
3.8 
21.3 
10.4 
293.4 
5.44 
3.12 
1.13 
2.45 
8.90 
A NonZ 
5 
75.6 
2.97 
31.6 
31.6 
25.2 
2.8 
20.4 
10.0 
277.4 
5.47 
3.24 
1.06 
3.05 
8.70 
BZ 
44 
97.3 
3.72 
32.6 
32.6 
14.6 
2.2 
16.8 
11.5 
251.7 
7.67 
4.17 
1.26 
2.53 
6.86 
B NonZ 
41 
101.7 
3.93 
29.8 
29.8 
11.2 
1.9 
13.8 
10.4 
224.1 
7.48 
4.36 
1.21 
3.55 
7.14 
CZ 
59 
114.8 
4.48 
29.5 
29.5 
8.0 
1.7 
11.7 
10.9 
198.4 
8.91 
4.92 
1.18 
2.64 
6.37 
C NonZ 
82 
123.4 
4.76 
28.9 
28.7 
6.9 
1.2 
11.0 
10.6 
189.5 
8.82 
5.29 
1.22 
3.60 
6.74 
DZ 
31 
150.0 
5.86 
32.5 
31.1 
8.7 
0.7 
8.3 
15.7 
206.2 
11.65 
6.43 
1.39 
2.76 
6.68 
D NonZ 
36 
173.8 
6.63 
28.2 
27.1 
7.3 
0.5 
6.2 
15.2 
175.0 
11.96 
7.45 
1.42 
4.09 
7.11 
All 
307 
118.2 
4.59 
30.1 
29.8 
9.9 
1.5 
11.99 
11.8 
209.2 
9.09 
5.07 
1.24 
3.14 
6.91 
Table 3: Estimates of Pitcher
Difference
in Wins and Losses Over One
Season
GRADE 
(2) 
EXTRA INN THROWN (3) 
EXTRA INN VALUE (4) 
SAVED PEN VALUE (5) 
TOTAL WINS (6) 
TOTAL WINS OVER DZ (7) 
AZ 
4.5 
83 
.7 
.7 
5.9 
9.0 
A NON Z 
4.3 
67 
.5 
.6 
5.4 
8.5 
BZ 
2.1 
32 
.1 
.3 
2.3 
5.4 
B NON Z 
1.7 
14 
.1 
.1 
1.7 
4.8 
CZ 
.3 
12 
.1 
.3 
.1 
3.2 
C NONZ 
.5 
20 
.3 
.5 
.7 
2.4 
DZ 
3.2 
3 
.1 
0 
3.1 
0 
D NONZ 
5.6 
35 
1.4 
1 
5.2 
2.1 
Table 4: IMPACT OF ADJUSTED BULLPEN USAGE FOR STARTERS OF DIFFERENT
GRADES AND CONTROL RATINGS

Average
Bullpen Usage Needed by Mail 3 Teams 




A 
B 
C 
D 
Tot 



Innings 
65.1 
193.6 
101.3 
 
360 



Runs
Allowed/9 
3.15 
3.82 
4.64 
6.90 
3.93 















Bullpen
Innings Needed 
Bullpen
Runs Yielded 



Starter 
A 
B 
C 
D 
Total 
Average 
Improved 
Difference 


AZ 
65 
194 
18 

277 
121.0 
114 
7.0 


A 
65 
194 
34 

293 
128.0 
122.5 
5.5 


BZ 
65 
194 
69 

328 
143.2 
140.6 
2.6 


B 
65 
194 
87 

346 
151.0 
149.9 
1.1 


CZ 
65 
194 
106 
7 
372 
162.4 
165.0 
 2.6 


C 
65 
194 
106 
15 
380 
166.0 
171.1 
 5.1 


DZ 
65 
194 
104 

363 
158.5 
158.6 
 0.1 


D 
65 
194 
106 
30 
395 
172.5 
182.6 
10.1 

Staff makeup 
Versus League Average 
Versus All DZ 
Record 
AZ, 2BZ, B nonZ, CZ 
+12.3 
+27.8 
(9369) 
2BZ,
B nonZ, 2 CZ 
+ 6.4 
+22.0 
(8874) 
BZ, B nonZ, 2CZ, C nonZ 
+ 3.5 
+19.0 
(8478) 
B nonZ CZ, 2 C nonZ, DZ 
 2.7 
+12.8 
(7884) 
2CZ,
C nonZ, 2 DZ 
 6.7 
+ 8.8 
(7488) 
2 C
nonZ, 3 DZ 
 10.7 
+ 4.8 
(7092) 
5 DZ 
15.5 
0 
(6597) 
[1] One issue we don’t consider
here but which is a question that can easily be addressed using our framework
for analysis is the size of a league. Few draft leagues we know about have the
30 teams found in the major leagues.
Many have 30 (or larger) player rosters, and as a result have better
hitting and pitching than the average major league team. We also realize that
leagues vary in their restrictions on player usage.
[2] We are only presuming
calculations with one year in mind and assume that the longer term potential of
the players in question is equal.
[3] The starting pitchers used
in the study accounted for 94% of the games started over the three year period
and the average number of starters per team is 5.1.
[4] Note the anomaly that the D nonZ is worth +1.4 runs because he throws
an average of 35 innings less than a league average starter.
[5] There is a slight
discrepancy between the innings pitched by the starters included in the study
and all starters since the study only included those starters who had at least
15 starts.
[6] Because we estimated the
impact of saved bullpen innings for individual pitchers, the estimates might be
a little different when considering the composition of an entire staff.
However, because the impact relatively small except for pitchers at the
extremes we thing the numbers here are good general guidelines.