2016 Giants: What’s the [Rotation] Plan?

**Updated: I was able to attach my spreadsheet of all SP with 15 or more starts this year. Currently, it’s sorted by average Game Score, but you can adjust it to your liking. I think it gives a pretty good idea of the different tiers of starting pitchers, and it worth looking over if you have a few minutes.

2015 MLB Game Score (document)

My previous post on pitcher Game Score and its use in evaluating pitchers (and determining their true win-loss record) didn’t really take off. That’s ok – it was a holiday weekend, and hopefully folks were enjoying quality time with the people who mean the most to them. With the hot stove heating up today though (Jordan Zimmermann to the Tigers), I would like to explore free agent and trade options for the Giants 2016 rotation. The plan is to provide a bit more perspective for Game Score, and use it to compare different pitchers.

A buffer for those who weren’t able to read the previous post: A Game Score (GS) is calculated for both starting pitchers in every game played. It starts with a baseline of 50, and adjusts depending on IP, H, R, BB and K. Baseball-Reference lists the average Game Score across MLB as 51, and I’ve read somewhere that a GS of 60 is considered a quality start, though there are obviously many ways to get there.

Jeff Angus (for SABR.org) used data from the 2007 season to conclude that a GS of 55 or higher generally gives a pitcher’s team a strong probability of winning. A score of 43 or lower resulted in a team’s likelihood of winning to be very low. Scores between 44 and 54 generally resulted in a team’s likelihood of winning to be somewhere near 50%. Angus called the latter scores “tweeners,” and used his data to help calculate a pitcher’s W-L record based on Game Score.

Of note, the mean “Average Game Score” for all of MLB in 2007 was 48.3, which Angus showed was very comparable to the mean score of 49.2 in 1987. However, in this pitching-dominant era (mean average GS of 51 across MLB), the Game Score-to-win-probability correlation really could use some tweaking. So, know that there is obviously some error in the following W-L records, but they still give a pretty accurate indication of a pitcher’s success in my opinion.

Calculating W-L record by Game Score:

GS of 55+ = Win | GS of 43- = Loss | GS of 44-54 = No Decision

For reference, the top pitchers in MLB this year by Game Score Wins were Clayton Kershaw (28 GS W) and Zack Greinke (27 GS W). Arrieta, Keuchel, and Price were all tied for 3rd with 24 GS wins apiece. Alfredo Simon and Drew Hutchinson led MLB with 15 GS Losses each, while Alex Wood (traded to the Dodgers at the deadline) could be called the most mediocre starting pitcher in 2015, logging 13 “No Decision” starts with a GS between 44 and 54.

I listed the 2015 Giants rotation by their Game Score performance in the previous post, but I’ll put them here again for comparison (and to highlight the need for upgrade).

2015 Giants Rotation

Madison Bumgarner: 22-4 (6 ND), 61.7 GS avg (#8 in MLB)

Jake Peavy: 19 GP, 9-4 (6), 53.8 GS avg (#54)

Mike Leake: 9 GP, 3-4 (2), 51. 8 GS avg with SF; 14-6 (10 nd), 54.0 GS avg combined SF/Cin (#51 in MLB)

Chris Heston: 31 GP, 14-10 (7 ND), 51.6 GS avg (#83)

Tim Lincecum: 15 GP, 5-6 (4), 49.7 GS avg (#105)

Ryan Vogelsong: 22 GP, 9-9 (4), 49.2 GS avg (#110)

Tim Hudson: 22 GP, 7-10 (5), 47.7 GS avg  (#130)

Matt Cain: 11 GP, 4-7 (0), 44.5 GS avg (Didn’t make enough starts to qualify, but you can imagine this puts him among the bottom of MLB.)

So, how do this year’s top free agent pitchers stack up through the lens of Game Score? I looked at their 2015 season, as well as their last 3 years combined. Comparing them directly with the numbers from the Giants staff above, it’s hard not to see how desperate this club is for someone who can slot near the top of that rotation.


2015 Free Agents (GP = Games Pitched) Sorted by avg GS over last 3 years.

Zack Greinke: [2015] 27-1 (4 ND), 67.1 GS avg (#3 MLB); [Last 3] 92 GP, 66-11 (16 ND), 61.5 avg – .710 GS win%

Johnny Cueto: [2015] 18-8 (6 ND), 56.6 GS avg (#28 MLB); [Last 3] 77 GP, 52-13 (12 ND), 59.8 avg – .675 GS win%

David Price: [2015] 24-4 (4 ND), 61.7 GS avg (#7 MLB); [Last 3] 93 GP, 66-16 (11 ND), 59.7 avg – .710 GS win%

Hisashi Iwakuma: [2015] 11-5 (4 ND), 56.4 GS avg (#31 MLB); [Last 3] 81 GP, 51-16 (14 ND), 57.8 avg – .630 GS win% 

Jordan Zimmermann: [2015] 18-9 (6 ND), 53.6 GS avg (#57 MLB); [Last 3] 97 GP, 61-22 (14 ND), 56.5 avg – .629 GS win% (5 yr, $110M – Detroit)

John Lackey: [2015] 21-4 (8), 57.4 (#21 MLB); [Last 3] 93 GP, 56-17 (20), 55.3 avg – .602 GS win%

Scott Kazmir: [2015] 17-9 (5), 54.9 (#38 MLB); [Last 3] 92 GP, 50-27 (15), 54.1 avg – .543 GS win%

Marco Estrada: [2015] 15-5 (8), 56.2 (#32 MLB); [Last 3] 67 GP, 32-15 (20), 54.0 avg – .478 GS win% (2yr, $26M – Toronto)

Jeff Samardzija: [2015] 15-11 (6 ND), 49.5 GS avg (#107 MLB); [Last 3] 98 GP, 51-25 (22 ND), 53.7 avg – .520 GS win%

Mike Leake: [2015] 14-6 (10), 54.0 (#51 MLB); [Last 3] 94 GP, 46-23 (25), 53.6 avg – .489 GS win%

Wei-Yin Chen: [2015] 17-4 (10), 54.3 (#47 MLB); [Last 3] 85 GP, 38-16 (31), 52.7 avg – .400 GS win%

Ian Kennedy: [2015] 15-8 (7), 51.3 (#87 MLB); [Last 3] 94 GP, 46-23 (25), 51.7 avg – .489 GS win%

Yovani Gallardo: [2015] 15-12 (6), 50.6 (#92 MLB); [Last 3] 96 GP, 46-35 (15), 51.2 avg – .479 GS win%

J.A. Happ: [2015] 16-7 (8), 53.0 (61.3 w/ Pit); [Last 3] 75 GP, 34-25 (16), 50.9 avg – .453 GS win% (3yr, $36M – Toronto)



6 thoughts on “2016 Giants: What’s the [Rotation] Plan?”

  1. I’m curious about how many starting pitchers made enough starts to qualify. The reason I ask is if Heston was 83rd in all of MLB last year and 150 starters qualified (i.e., 5 per club) then wouldn’t a crude categorization be #1 starters ranked from 1-30, #2 starters ranked from 31-60, #3 starters from 61-90, etc? If so, then does Heston profile as a #3 starter based on last year’s performance and would not then Leake profile as a #2 starter? Of course, categorization in this way is very “back of the envelope”. Any thoughts?

    1. Roger, thanks for checking in. That’s a great question. There were 150 pitchers who made at least 15 starts this year (I cheated and included Fernandez on the list, he only made 11). When I first started compiling the data last month, I grouped the numbers into a tier system just as you proposed here. The problem with that is the tiers didn’t really fall into place like I’d hoped. For example, the average GmSc in MLB this year was 52, but there are 30 or more qualified pitchers who averaged 48 or worse… not very good.

      So, I just adjusted the tiers a little bit to reflect the average scores. I ended up with the top 2 tiers including roughly 20 pitchers each, 25 for the 3rd tier, 35 or so for the 4th tier (this is the “league average” group… I suppose an average pitcher falls into that 3/4 rotation slot, but that could be up for debate), and the final tier ended up with about 50, including 20 or so guys at the bottom who were just plain lousy.

      Using that tiering system, Leake & Peavy both fall into the #3 category, Heston right in the middle of #4, and the rest of the non-Bumgarners were all #5, with Timmy actually being the closest to the tier 4 cutoff. To me, that seems like a pretty reasonable way of assessing the Giants rotation… What are your thoughts?

  2. I’m not sure why we haven’t heard from more Giants fans asking why we didn’t trade Panik for Shelby Miller or Carrasco! This would be the move of the offseason in my opinion simply because Panik could be replaced with Kendrick, Zobrist, Murphy, or even some internal options in the not too distant future for a SP that would go for over 100 million right now if they were a free agent! Not to mention the injury history and the incredible depth we have at middle infield I’m seriously scratching my head here that a deal wasn’t done.

    This offseason should be a piece of cake for Evans yet he seems to be repeating his “deer in the headlights” impersonation from last year. Here are the moves that literally will all but guarentee another WS for 2016:

    -Trade Panik for Shelby Miller.(throw in a prospect or two if we have to)
    -Sign either Lackey or Kazmir to 2-3 year deal (3 years 50 million?)
    -Sign Kendrick to a short term deal (2 years 30 million?)
    -Use remaining money to go after OF (Parra, Pearce, De Aza, Byrd, etc)

    We have internal options for the bullpen and with a rotation of Madbum, Shelby, Lackey/Kazmir, Peavy, and Cain/Heston we should be good there. Kendrick locks down 2B for a relatively cheap price (take his salary plus Shelby Miller and it equals less than what Panik plus a FA pitcher would have made) and we have options for the outfield with no long term or high $$ commitments. Not the sexiest offseason but it could be very effective.

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