The Beauty of Game Score

Happy weekend… and welcome to San Francisco, Shark Samardzija! The Giants are finally off the shneid (for one day at least), and I thought today would be a good day to check in.

Ok folks, here’s the harsh reality. Cove Chatter is no longer a day to day blog – it hasn’t been for quite some time. ¬†At this rate, it’s not even really a weekly blog anymore. I do feel guilty about that sometimes, but that’s why I have a Twitter account where I’m active nearly every day.

If you’re looking for that kind of coverage, the Giants beat writers are some of the best in baseball as far as I’m concerned. On the minor league front, there are so many places now to get your fill of prospect information. DrB’s is always a daily stopping point for me, as are Roger Munter’s daily recaps on McCovey Chronicles (I’m not sure I’ve ever given a plug for MCC, but Roger does an awesome job over there).

If you didn’t know, Conner P is back in the mix over at Giant Potential as well. He too does a much better job of covering the organization day-to-day than I could dream of. He’s asking for a small subscription commitment this year to help him keep things going. It’s far less than any other paid baseball site out there, and it’s highly recommended coverage.

As for me, I’ve been ready to take on something different a while now. I’ve been intrigued by baseball stats since my childhood card-collecting days. I was good at math all through school, though I didn’t take any stats classes in high school or college. I’m not into 95% of the advanced metrics, and I probably won’t ever be. But I have always played around a little with numbers and (very) simple formulas, in hopes of finding a new way to look at a baseball player.

Though I certainly didn’t create it, game score has really changed the way I look at baseball. There are three main reasons, I think, for why I have fallen in love with it. First, it reads more like a fantasy baseball number than any stat on the back of a baseball card – I’ve always loved fantasy, especially the head-to-head points leagues. Second, game score, though created by Bill James himself, has never caught on as a favored method of evaluating starting pitchers. It’s that “something different” I’ve been searching for. Finally, game score makes evaluating a pitcher so much easier to me. It literally takes all of those “counting stats” from the back of baseball cards (IP, H, ERA, BB, K) and incorporates them into one very clean, simple to calculate number.

Is game score perfect? No. No metric is. As I’ve posted more and more scores to Twitter lately, some people have asked me whether it is adjusted for park factor, opponent, etc. The answer is no, although I found a Bill James article from a few years ago where he talked about using an adjusted game score formula. I have no idea how I’d ever get my hands on said formula, but you know what? I’m ok with that. It seems everybody wants things to be normalized, adjusted, perfected in today’s society.

But life isn’t perfect, and baseball is no different. Is it tougher on average to pitch in Coors Field than it is in AT&T? Absolutely! But there are days (and even nights) during the season when the ball has major carry in San Francisco too. And honestly, the Rockies play 81 games a season outside of Colorado and still stink. So, while it would be fun to experiment with an adjusted version of game score, it really doesn’t bother me to use the same formula for every pitcher in every park in MLB (and the minors too). Think about this for a minute: when a pitcher gets blown up in Colorado, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, etc., does his ERA get an adjustment because he was pitching in a bandbox? Nope. I’m not sure his game score needs one either.

The beauty of game score for me is that I can sort the information in so many different ways. I can sort by the total game score a pitcher has accumulated during a season (total GSc), his average score (Avg GSc), his record based on each start (a “true” calculation of wins, losses, and no decisions, if you will), or the game score advantage (Advantage) that he’s earned over the course of the season. Game score advantage is a new wrinkle I added into my spreadsheets, and it was something Bill had mentioned in that article about adjusted GSc. What it boils down to is a + or – rating from the base score of 50 that each pitcher starts every game with.

For example, Jeff Samardzija’s 68 GSc (a win) from last night bumped his total Advantage for the season by +18, while Jarred Cosart’s 18 GSc (loss) dipped his Advantage a whopping 32 points for the year. In 2015, Clayton Kershaw owned the highest mark in MLB at +594. Kyle Kendrick was dead last at -213. That’s an 800 point difference. Just think about that for a second!

I can also use game score to measure team success. And quite often (as I showed in a post this offseason), the correlation is pretty solid. Consider our 2016 Gigantes, who have accumulated a game score record of 6-8-4 so far this year. If we take the 4 no decisions and evenly distribute them into the wins and losses, that’s a record of 8-10… exactly the same as the club in real life. Now, it doesn’t match up perfectly for every team, but it’s not too far off on most. That’s pretty cool to me (the correlation, not the 8-10 Giants record!).

Side note: I’ve explained this in previous posts, but a game score “win” is earned by a score of 55 or higher. So far this season, teams whose pitchers who pass that threshold are winning 70% of the time (165 wins in 234 chances). A no decision is handed out for a score of 44-54. Teams have won 46% of the 110 games where pitchers have scored in that range in 2016. A loss is given for a score of 43 or less (32 wins in 148 chances this year; 22%).

Another side note:. Apparently statistician Tom Tango (he goes by the nickname Tango Tiger) loves game score as well. He’s even created a new version (2.0) that starts each pitcher with 40 points instead of 50 and gives more reward for innings pitched. I’ve been reading a lot of Tom’s work lately, and I really like the version 2.0, which can be found in pitcher game logs at Fangraphs (the classic score can still be found in Baseball-Reference and MLB box scores). I’d love to take a closer look at it, but at this point, I have no desire to recalculate almost a month of data I’ve logged from this season.

Ok, so let’s take a look at what the numbers are telling us in 2016, both for teams and individual pitchers.

Team GSc Wins

  1. Cubs = 13
  2. White Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Nationals = 11

Giants = 6

Team GSc Avg (league average is 51.8)

  1. Cubs = 63.5
  2. Nats = 59.8
  3. White Sox = 58.8
  4. Phillies = 57.7
  5. Royals = 56.6

Giants = 49.1

Individual Total GSc

  1. Jake Arrieta = 301
  2. Clayton Kershaw = 283
  3. Chris Sale = 281
  4. Jon Lester = 262
  5. Edinson Volquez = 250
  6. Jose Quintana = 241
  7. Cole Hamels = 235
  8. Sonny Gray = 234
  9. Jonny Cueto = 229
  10. Aaron Nola = 229

Individual GSc Avg

  1. Jake Arrieta = 75.3
  2. Noah Syndergaard = 71.0
  3. Clayton Kershaw = 70.8
  4. Vince Velasquez = 70.7
  5. Chris Sale = 70.3
  6. Stephen Strasburg = 69.7
  7. Mat Latos = 69.0
  8. Drew Smyly = 68.7
  9. Danny Salazar = 67.7
  10. Ian Kennedy = 67.3

Individual GSc Wins

Arrieta, Kershaw, and Sale are tied for first at 4-0-0. There are 23 pitchers who have 3 GSc wins this year.

Advantage (Top 10)

  1. Jake Arrieta – +101
  2. Clayton Kershaw – +83
  3. Chris Sale – +81
  4. Noah Syndergaard – +63
  5. Vincent Velasquez – +62
  6. Jon Lester – +62
  7. Stephen Strasburg – +59
  8. Mat Latos – +57
  9. Drew Smyly – +56
  10. Danny Salazar – +53)

Giants: Cueto +29; Samardzija +24; Bumgarner +10; Cain -22; Peavy -57

158 pitchers have started a game in MLB this year. Peavy’s -57 advantage is #156.

That’s a lot of information, but I hope I’ve laid it out in a manner that’s easy to read and comprehend. I’ll post more as we move through the season. I’m keeping tabs on SP prospects throughout the Giants organization, and will give periodic updates on that front as well. What are your thoughts? Does game score pass the sniff test? Should it get more recognition and coverage? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

As always, thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!