Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Don't blame the pitcher

One of the biggest criticisms anyone can lay on Kerry Wood is his inability to win ballgames. In his six seasons as a Cub, Wood has never won more than 14 games in a year. A possible reason for this centers around his endurance: Wood has never averaged more than 6.4 innings per start, as compared to fellow Texan Greg Maddux, who averaged over 7 innings a start for the most of his prolific career. But it's also conceivable that Wood's ability to win is hindered by the Cubs all-or-nothing offense.

In 2004, Wood went a sub-par 8-9 with a 3.72 ERA, representing perhaps his second-worst season in his career. However Wood could have won as many as 3 or 4 more games had his team actually provided some run support for him this year. Wood had 5 no-decisions. He went 7 or more innings in three of those games, and 6 innings in a fourth. All told, his ERA in those 5 no-decisions was merely 1.89, and perhaps serves as a solid example of the all-or-nothing approach that Dusty Baker took with his offense last year. Similarly, Mark Prior had 10 no-decisions last season, 5 of which he gave up 2 runs or fewer in 6 innings of work or more. For Prior's 10 no-decisions, he had an ERA of 3.57. Also, Carlos Zambrano (who had a breakthrough 2004) threw 7 no-decisions for 45.2 innings and an ERA of 3.15.

But last year is hardly the only time the Cubs offense has been hit-and-miss. In 2003, Kerry Wood had 8 no-decisions, and during those he threw 49.1 innings with an ERA of 3.10. In his amazing 2003 campaign, Prior threw only 6 no decisions, never allowing more than 2 earned runs in those games (both games in which he allowed 2 earned runs, he'd given 8 innings of work). Prior's ERA was 1.71. Zambrano threw a whopping 9 no-decisions in '03, for 56.1 innings of work, with an ERA of 3.99 in those games.

And in 2002, Wood threw 10 no-decisions, games in which he averaged 6.62 innings of work. His ERA in those games was 3.78.

But just comparing those numbers doesn't really tell us anything, which is why I propose we compare with a prolific 20-game winner, Curt Schilling. Schilling is a workhorse with the luck of being on good offensive teams in two out of the last three years. As a consequence he's won 23 games in '02, and 21 games in '04, sandwiching an injury-plagued 2003 in which he went 8-9 but with a 2.95 ERA.

In 2004, Schilling only threw 5 games in which he received a no-decision, and only one of them could have gone as a win. His ERA in those games was 4.72, a full run and a half higher than his overall ERA of that season.

In the injury plagued 2003, Schilling threw 7 no-decisions in 24 starts, for 46.1 innings pitched and an ERA of 3.69. And we can also compare it with his 2002 year, when he threw six no-decisions for 43.1 innings of work and an ERA of 3.74 (again, half a run higher than his overall ERA).

While it's still a very small sample, I think we can see a pattern here. Clearly we should expect any good pitcher to have perhaps as many as half a dozen no-decisions in a season. Even Randy Johnson, who has played hurt and on offensive-deprived teams in the last few years tends to only throw 5-7 no-decisions each year. So for Kerry Wood to throw 5 while missing a third of the season, or for Prior to throw 10 while missing even more time is a true symptom of Dusty's all-or-nothing approach.

Perhaps a good correlator would be the player's ERA. If a player's ERA during his no-decisions is drastically higher than his overall ERA, we can assume that he's surrounded by a competent offense that provides him with good run support. But if a pitcher's ERA is significantly lower, then we can presume that every game is a struggle and the offense is sporadic at best.

Obviously Dusty isn't about to change his approach. The Cubs will keep banking on the three-run homer while leaving the bases littered with runners who will fail to score runs. But this approach will never work at Wrigley Field, where it suddenly becomes a lot more difficult to hit the longball once the September chill sets in. (In other words, it probably wasn't a coincidence that the offense collectively slumped at the end of this past season.) People are lamenting the addition of powerless hitter Jerry Hairston, but I think he's exactly the type of player the Cubs need. He's a guy with some speed who hits a lot of doubles. In fact, if the Cubs were ever one of the league leaders in doubles (perhaps a hard task in the smaller confines of Wrigley Field), we might see not only a few 20-game winners, but a World Series pennant as well.

Erin

Since when is Greg Maddux a Texan? He's from Las Vegas...

Andy

I agree that wins don't tell the whole story.

Perhaps a better statistic to use than win/losses or even no-decisions would be quality starts versus non-quality starts:

2002: 22-11
2003: 22-10
2004: 12-10

I really like to use quality starts as an indicator of success, because it's independent of a team's offense and it measures both the endurance and effectiveness of a pitching performance.

It's clear that 2004 was a rough year for Kerry, but that had a lot to do with his triceps injury...he was 5-1 in QS before the game in which he was injured.

Andy Dolan

I'd like to see Kerry get to the fourth inning sometime before he hits the 100 pitch mark. That'd be nice.

DuBois Harem

Right on, Andy!

Chicago Tribune's Chicago's Best Blogs award