Let’s do some fun stuff with numbers and take a unique look at where Sox and Yanks starters fall, relative to the league. I’m particularly interested in Julian Tavarez, who has had some awful stretches as the Sox’ primary fifth starter, but who I suspect is actually very good for what he’s being asked to do.
If you take the 14 AL teams and assume that each team has five starters, and that those starters theoretically should be pitching to their respective slots in the rotation, you get rankings like this:
No. 1 starters: 1-14
No. 2 starters: 15-28
No. 3 starters: 29-42
No. 4 starters: 43-56
No. 5 starters: 58-72
In other words, in any given stat — let’s use average game score, in which 50+ is a quality start — because there are 14 teams in the AL, each team’s ace should be filling one of the top 14 spots. Each team’s No. 2 should fill the each of the next 14, etc.
Obviously, it doesn’t at all work out that way in reality. Some teams have multiple aces. Others have none. But if you look at a pitcher’s ranking and plug it into this graph, you can at least determine — based on his slot in the rotation — whether he’s up to snuff with what you’d expect from the rest of the league.
For example, if you have a No. 5 starter like Tavarez, theoretcially you’d want him to be in the top half of the 58/72 range, so somewhere above 65th place in average quality start. Anywhere below that, and there are enough pitchers in the league doing better than him to fill all five spots of most other rosters, and your team needs an upgrade. If you have an ace who’s ranked 30th in AGS, then your staff is likely in major trouble — as most teams probably have two starters better than him. It’s rudimentary, but it seems to work when you plug in real pitchers (following the jump).
Here’s the Sox’ and Yanks’ current five starters, their average game scores, and their rankings:
- Josh Beckett — 58.0, 3rd
- Daisuke Matsuzaka — 56.1, 8th
- Curt Schilling — 50.5, 27th
- Tim Wakefield — 51.3, 23rd
- Julian Tavarez — 45.4, t-57th*
- Chien-Ming Wang — 51.1, 24th
- Andy Pettitte — 51.1, 25th
- Roger Clemens — 50.0, 30th
- Mike Mussina — 45.4, t-57th
- Phil Hughes — 49.6 — t-32nd*
* Hughes and Tavarez weren’t on ESPN.com’s leaderboards for AQS, so I used Baseball-Reference’s gamelogs and plugged them in, making sure to bump Tavarez and Mussina down a slot for Hughes’ entrance.
I switched the orders around from Opening Day, as performance during the season obviously changes who you depend on to be your stopper, and who you depend on to be your stopgap. I think these about sum up where the Sox and Yanks, and their fans, would rank these pitchers in order of dependability (not surprising that the top three from each will be facing off this week).
Needless to say, the Sox come out favorably. Beckett is in the top tier of No. 1 pitchers, while Matsuzaka is well outperforming his role as a No. 2. Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield are considered the 3 and 4 respectively, yet both are performing like No. 2 starters.The gap between those four and Tavarez is quite large indeed, which helps to explain why it’s so easy to overlook what a good job Julian is doing. Tied with Mike Mussina for 57th, he holds the top spot in the expected range for a fifth starter. So, using this metric, he’s doing as good a job as you should reasonably expect any fifth starter to do.
The Yankees, meanwhile, have solid starters but no aces. Wang is considered the ace, but his average game score this season is what you’d expect from a bottom-tier No. 2. Andy Pettitte, conversely, has been every bit as good as YFs hoped, particularly in the second half. Likewise, Clemens — in one of the top spots in the No. 3 range — is certainly no worse than expected. Mussina, entering the season as the Yanks’ No. 2, has been disastrous; his average start is exactly like Julian Tavarez’s. Which is fine if you’re journeyman reliever Julian Tavarez. Not if you’re borderline-HOFer Mike Mussina. Phil Hughes has alternated terrific and mediocre starts to wind up near Clemens overall. For a fifth starter, he’s doing even better than Tavarez, though you wouldn’t know it from listening to the more vocal elements of Yankee Nation.
Obviously, this isn’t scientific by any stretch. But I think it gives a fair view on how well a particular starter is doing vs. the rest of the league for his position in the rotation. It’s not much different than looking at a position player’s rank in OPS among others at his position, and deeming him successful if he’s in the top half or top third. With pitchers, it’s a little more relative. And Julian Tavarez, as I suspected, has been relatively good.