ElViento: It’s no secret: the control (or lack thereof) shown by the Cougar baseball pitching staff this year has hurt the team. But just how much? Let’s take another ill-advised foray into sabermetrics to get an estimation.
As of last weekend’s games, the Cougars ranked dead last in conference in walks allowed by the pitching staff, with a staggering 215 walks allowed through 334 innings pitched. Add in 42 hit batsmen, and you have entirely too many free base runners for the opposition.
Using Bill James’ component ERA formula, given the Cougar pitching staff’s peripheral statistics through 38 games, the expected team ERA would be 6.38. The actual team ERA was 6.09. We’ll keep that 0.29 difference in mind, be it due to dumb luck, differences between the college and pro games, whatever. We will also be using expected W-L record, which predicts that the Cougars would have 16.6 wins (actual: 16) through 38 games.
So, let’s see how much control has haunted the Cougars. First, let’s take UAB as an example. UAB has gotten league-average control from its pitching staff thus far. Taking UAB’s BB+HBP/9 IP and extending it to how many innings the Cougar pitching staff has thrown, that would leave the Cougars with 192 free runners allowed instead of 257. How much of a difference is that? It would drop the Coogs component ERA by better than a run, from 6.38 to 5.37.
How many fewer earned runs would the Coogs have allowed this year with a 1.01 lower ERA? Thirty-seven. Take away 37 runs allowed from expected win-loss, and you see expected wins rise by 3.00.
In one sentence, that means that if the Cougar pitching staff had league-average control, we’d be three wins better than we are. If three wins doesn’t seem like a lot, keep in mind we’ve only played 38 games through the span of this sample. If we had league-average control, our winning percentage would be 8% better. If at least two of those wins came in conference play, we’d be in a tie (in the loss column) for second place in conference play instead of dead last.
Let’s take it a step further. What if Cougar pitchers had good control? Let’s take ECU’s conference-leading control, and see what effects it would have.
At the rate ECU allows free baserunners, the Coogs would have allowed 125 free baserunners at this point, a drop of over half. That would drop team ERA by an expected 1.98, which would translate in a drop from 6.09 to 4.11. A difference of 1.98 over 334 innings means seventy-three fewer earned runs allowed. By expected wins, that would give the Cougars at least twenty-three wins.
Let me repeat that. If our pitching control matched that of ECU, we can expect that our team would have been 23-15 heading into the last two midweek games, instead of 16-22, which it actually was. We would be in second-place in Conference USA, easily.
Now before you go blaming everything on the pitching staff, keep in mind that the hitters haven’t been pulling their share of the load, either. Heading into this week, the Coogs ranked dead-last in C-USA in runs scored, doubles, home runs, walks drawn, on base percentage and slugging percentage. So: everything that matters. (But hey! We led in triples!)
I just don’t get it. Last year’s team wasn’t very good because there wasn’t enough talent. There is undeniable talent on this team. But it hasn’t translated into wins. Bad pitching control is a factor, but it’s not the only factor. What else has gone so wrong this year? I don’t know. Sometimes, numbers only tell you so much.