Getting his just DIPS
Glendon Rusch is more than just the savior of the Cubs' pitching staff, he is the vindication DIPS loyalists have been looking for. Confused? Well, let me explain.
I'll give a brief explaination of DIPS and include a link that explains DIPS in detail (hey look! a link), but for the most part I will assume that people reading this have a working knowledge of all the ingredients that factor into a DIPS ERA (or dERA, as it is known). DIPS stands for Defense Independent Pitching Statistic and was invented by Voros McCracken, who is notable for having a wicked cool name. The idea is that the pitcher has very little control over where the ball ultimately ends up after it leaves the pitchers hand and the only things he has control over are strikeouts, walks, and home runs. Batting Average on balls in play is largely a function of luck (knuckle ballers seem to be an exception) and so, in evaluating a pitcher, it is ideal to seperate out what the pitcher controls (those three true outcomes) from what he can't (the defense). And that brings us to DIPS.
The goal of DIPS, at least as far as I'm concerned, is not so much to say what the pitcher should have done in the previous season, but rather to try and figure out what he might do in the next season. Batting average on balls in play is not well correlated from one season to the next (although homers, strikeouts, and walks generally are) so using that "luck factor" to try and predict the next year's performance in not necessarily ideal. In fact, the dERA is generally better correlated with the next year's ERA than ERA (that was totally clear, right?) Basically, if you want to know what the pitcher is going to do next season, you are better off dealing with dERA than plain old ERA.
Which brings us to our old friend, Glendon. In 2003, Glendon "the Good Pitcher of the Cubs" (think Wizard of Oz) was known as Glen-done (as in, stick a fork in him). This is certainly understandable, as the poor Brewers' fans had to sit through an impossibly bad 1-12 record to go along with a 6.42 ERA. Really, truly unlovely numbers, no matter how you spin it. But in 2004 the Cubs decided to take a flier on Glendon, and those that knew of the DIPS legend that was Rusch smiled, just a little.
Why, you ask? Because buried deep beneath a mediocre career was a pitcher who struck out his fair share of batters, walked few, and was roughly average regarding homer rate. Either there was something mysterious surrounding Glendon that lead to him giving up more than his share of hits (and if you've ever read me, you know that I'm going to eliminate all possibilities before I head for the mysterious), or he was a decent season just waiting to happen. Regardless, he was a fine acquisition. Let's dive into the numbers and see why.
(note: although Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is the best number to use with DIPS, I'm going to use Batting Average Agaisnt against because it is easier to find. It will work fine for our purpose since we will be comparing Rusch to himself)
Glendon, the Early Years
Glendon's career started in 1997, where as a rookie he started 27 games and sported a not-so-nifty 5.50 ERA to go along with a 6-9 record. Rough start for the rookie, but there were signs he could have a future. Rusch had a better than 2:1 K:W ratio (for reference, Kerry Wood generally hovers around that area) but was done in by giving up 206 hits in only 170 innings for a .301 Batting average against (or BAA, pronouced Bee A A, not Baaaa like a sheep). Just for perspective, the average BAA is generally around .265, so he was well over the average. And thus the ugly ERA. The following year was more of the same, where the BAA stayed roughly the same but his K:B ratio went down...things were not going well. And why, if BABIP is supposedly largely out of the pitcher's control, was Glendon giving up so many hits? Was he a special case?
A trade to the Mets seemed to pay dividens in 2000, where Rusch finally got his BAA down to .267 (woo hoo! sweet mediocrity!) and increased his K:W to a stellar 3.5:1 while seeing his ERA drop to a solid 4.01. So finally, it seemed, his luck was turning around. But mysteriously, the very next year his K:W ratio stayed nearly the same, but his BAA jumped right back up to .301 (and his ERA jumped too, up to 4.63). The question was, what happened between 2000 & 2001 to make Rusch give up so many hits? I would argue luck, because checking out the 2001 dERA standings, we see Rusch checks in with a 3.97 dERA, right in line with his 2000 season, which is just what one would expect. So far, though, Rusch had a decent Mets career going, but once he headed over to Milwaukee, things got ugly.
It Gets Ugly
Rusch wouldn't quite hang onto those lofty standards. In 2002, his K:W ratio fell below 2:1 but he didn't give up an unusual number of runs. Actually, he was pretty lucky to only end up with a 4.70 ERA, as DIPS had him checking in at 4.80. But then came 2003...a season that Rusch would surely like to forget. Rusch was smacked around extremely hard (to the tune of a .331 BAA) despite his K:W ratio actually improving to almost 2:1. He probably should have gotten better that year, but instead he had an absolutely horrific year. Should he have been out of baseball?
The statistics community generally argued no, on the basis of Rusch's dERA. That year Rusch was, by far, the "unluckiest" pitcher in the majors. DIPS calculates that Rusch should have ended up with a 3.88 ERA and Glendon had, by a large margin, the worse differential between expected and actual ERA (2.54). If DIPS was even remotely right, then Rusch had to be due for a return to mediocrity and mediocrity certainly has value on a major league team.
Glendon, Much Beloved by Cubs' Fans
The rest is certainly Cubs' history, as Rusch was an extremely valuable pitcher for the Cubs last year. He improved his K:W ratio to 2.5:1 last year, and had a very solid BAA (.256). Woo Hoo! Something good happened to the Cubs and Hendry cemented himself as Super GM of the World (now, if only the Cubs had made the playoffs...). Rusch was rewarded with multiple millions and there was much rejoicing. This year, Rusch is walking a few too many hitters, but he is keeping the ball in the park (only one homer so far this year) and has seen his ERA dip into the 2.30 range this year. He has actually been a bit lucky this year, as a quick and dirty dERA calculation (which you can calculate yourself, using this worksheet created by Larry Mahnken of Replacement Level Yankee Weblog) leaves him with a 3.60 dERA, although that is not adjusted for ballpark. Odds are pretty solid that he ERA is going to creep up as the season progresses...but who knows. Maybe this is the year that all the bad luck gets cosmically corrected and Rusch finally gets what he deserves. Now, if only the Cubs can make the playoffs...
Many thanks to Jay Jaffe of Futility Infielder. He has compiled dERA stats for 2002 & 2003 and providing many links to DIPS related site.