Working on my articles (parts one and two) where I begin to make sense1 of what teams are spending on starting pitching I noticed that I had some data that needed to be cleaned. More specifically, I noticed that for one reason or another the 1985 and 1987 Texas Rangers didn’t have any money apportioned for their bullpen. Well, after a quick check on Fangraphs, I can assure you that the Rangers teams in both ’85 and ’87 had relievers, used them quite frequently, and even had a few players with saves and everything. The way I defined a starting pitcher needed to be reworked, which will play into later posts, but the Texas Rangers’ starters did not toss 162 complete games.
What I did notice, however, is that in both ’85 and ’87 the Rangers used a lot of starting pitchers. The team used 14 starters in 1985 and 12 in 1987. Wow. In a 162-game season, the Rangers were basically trying a new starter every 11.5 to 13.5 games. They weren’t, certainly. People make spot starts from time to time, but those seemed like a lot of pitchers to begin a game for a team with winning aspirations.2 Is it a lot, though? Just because I think that sounds high, maybe using 12-14 starters in a season is something all teams do. So, I decided to look into it just a little bit.
This is for both us. I needed a break from trying to figure out rotation salaries. You needed a break from reading all of that. This isn’t completely off topic. I did technically come across this while researching the other articles.
The first thing I realized is that teams evaluate a lot of young players as the seasons draw to a close and the rosters expand in September. So, to keep things relatively equal in data to be evaluated (or to not penalize good teams in pennant chases for not using additional starters down the stretch) I removed all of the players that made their debut in September of that particular year. I then looked at the numbers again, looking at things like median, average—you know, the typical stuff that one looks at in a situation like this.
12 starters isn’t all that high. Heck, since 1985 teams have used an average of 10 starters per season with the middle 50% coming in between nine and 11. With a standard deviation of 2.09, the ’87 Rangers were fairly typical. Not particularly noteworthy except that year Charlie Hough started 40 games, which is the last time a Major League starter started 40 or more games and with all probability will be the last. That was neat. I like unique things like that. Makes these Easter egg hunts all the more worth it.
The ’85 Rangers were still shy of two deviations from the mean. Going by the 68-95-99.7 rule that states 68.27% of all data is less than one standard deviation from the mean, 95.45% is less than two, and 99.73% is less than three, neither the ’85 nor the ’87 teams are all that particularly interesting. Using 12 and 14 starting pitchers in a season is greater than average (even greater than the Rangers’ team average over that time), but that doesn’t place them in extraordinary company or anything.
If we want to discuss an extraordinary use of starting pitching we can look to the 1993 Cleveland Indians. They used 18 starters that season, nearly four deviations from the mean, and it probably won’t shock you to learn that they finished 76-86 on the season. Two years later they would win 100 games, but in the early 90s they were churning through starters and suffering through sub .500 records. On that ’93 team, they gave starts to a 37-year old Bob Ojeda, a 36-year old Matt Young, and a 35-year old Mike Bielecki.
Since 1985 there have been 20 occurrences where a team has used 15 or more starters in a season, and Texas has three of those. In both 2003 and 2004 they used 16 starters while in 2008 they used 15. The Kansas City Royals also managed to use 15 or more starters three times: In 1992 and 2003 the October Wunderkinds used 15 starters in each while in 2006 they used 17. The Royals are one of four teams that have used starters at or in excess of three standard deviations from the mean: the ’93 Indians, the 1996 Pittsburgh Pirates with 17, the 2003 Cincinnati Reds also at 17, and the 2006 Royals. Out of 828 individual team seasons, that sort of thing happens 0.48% of the time. Only the Indians topped 70 wins out of those teams.
If you’re wondering what teams averaged the most and fewest starters over the 29 years dating from 2013 back to ’85, I have that information as well. Technically, the Colorado Rockies have averaged 11 starters, which led this group, but since they began play in 1993 the set of data isn’t entirely equivalent. For 29 years, Texas has averaged 10.97 starters with the New York Yankees and the Royals tied for second at 10.83. The Atlanta Braves averaged the fewest with 8.28. The latter definitely speaks to the quality of their starters but also their durability.
The table below lists the values for all of the teams over the years. For clarity’s sake, I cleaned up the data so that all iterations of the Angels, Marlins, and Expos/Nationals are categorized by franchise.
|Team||Min||1st Quadrant||Median||Mean||3rd Quadrant||Max||Range|
Summary of Starters Used by Major League Franchises Since 1985
Also, here’s a colorful boxplot of this same information. I’m doubling up because I thought you deserved a graphic. Also, the colors remind me of Otter Pops, and that makes me happy.
That’s about all I have for right now. This post was more a diversion than analysis. It was interesting. Maybe one day soon I’ll try and determine if the use of more starters means anything or not. Does average starter age correlate to number of starters used or career WAR, FIP, whatever? I don’t know. There’s probably a lot that can be done with this information.
Just not today.