Julian Tavarez: Better Than You Think

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:

  1. Josh Beckett — 58.0, 3rd
  2. Daisuke Matsuzaka — 56.1, 8th
  3. Curt Schilling — 50.5, 27th
  4. Tim Wakefield — 51.3, 23rd
  5. Julian Tavarez — 45.4, t-57th*
  1. Chien-Ming Wang — 51.1, 24th
  2. Andy Pettitte — 51.1, 25th
  3. Roger Clemens — 50.0, 30th
  4. Mike Mussina — 45.4, t-57th
  5. 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.

15 comments… add one
  • Not bad.
    Two complaints:
    1) Mussina did not enter the season as a number 2. No way. No how. Sure, he had a fine first half to 2006. But he was expected to be a league average pitcher (#3 or #4) this year. Obviously he’s still been a huge disappointment in that regard.
    2) There is no Yankee Nation, unless you mean America’s Team? And no complaints here on Hughes from this Yankee fan. He’s 21 years old and gave up 4 hits today to the 2nd best offense in baseball. I’ll take that.

    Woosta YF August 26, 2007, 11:10 pm
  • Paul,
    Interesting take.
    By this account Tavarez is statistically tied with Mussina, who is having one of the worst years of his career and is coming off probably the worst two consecutive starts of his career. If you want to say that Tavarez is doing OK because he matches Mussina, fine with me. Tavarez is probably thrilled about where he is while Mussina is about to jump off a bridge.
    As far as our #5 goes, it’s hard for me to judge his performance this year without considering the fact that he is the youngest starter in the league and – barring disastrous injury – will likely be around for another 15 years. Taking that into account, I’ll still take him over pretty much anyone’s 5th starter.
    On the larger issue, while I am not thrilled with the Yankee starting rotation by any stretch, considering that 2/5 of it was concocted on the fly thanks to injury (good riddance Carl Pavano) and disappointment (sionara Kei Igawa), I think the organization gets high marks for what in golf you would call “scrambling”.
    In other words, I think the RS place in the standings relateive to the Yankees has less to do with how this group ten pitchers matches up against each other (Hughes has only pitched 6 games after all) than it has to do with the fact that the Yankees have had to shuffle pitchers, manage many more injuries, bounce pitchers back and forth between minors and major leaagues, etc.
    If you just took our five vs. your five, yeah, I think you have an edge, but not by much, and given what the Yanks have had to manage this year, I am impressed they’re at that point.
    The one who has impressed me on the Sox is Wakefield, who always has flashes of being unhittable, but who seems to be more consistent this year than in years past. That’s just a feeling though – no stats to back it up.

    IronHorse (yf) August 26, 2007, 11:41 pm
  • Interesting post Paul. Though I don’t really trust AGS – Esteban Loaiza is ranked number 1, with one start under his belt, Bedard is #109 and Haren is #29.8

    Tyrel SF August 27, 2007, 1:14 am
  • interesting analysis paul despite the flaws pointed out by the other guys, so thanks for sharing…
    just a few comments:
    *it supports something we already knew: that the red sox pitching is more durable and consistent than the yankee pitching this year [see ironhorse’s comments]…didn’t need an analysis to drive that point home…
    *woosta’s point that mussina wasn’t really a #2 starter is how i remember it too…in fact, i’ll add that wang was not considered a legit #1 [a point that sox fans hammered home often], and clemens and hughes weren’t even in the plans for this year…so all in all, while disappointing, the yankee pitching performance hasn’t been much of a surprise…
    *seems that tavarez has been everything you could have expected as a #5 this year…he’s had some bad games, true, but he’s also had a few gems…your top 4 and bullpen have more than made up the slack…

    dc August 27, 2007, 7:49 am
  • Well, you are correct in asserting that the Sox have stronger starting pitching than the Yankees, but otherwise I’m not sure how much this shows.
    If nothing else, this AGC thing seems a bit off. To be honest, I don’t really care for many of the new stat-head figures, but that’s just me. But Wang does have more wins since 2006 than anybody else in the league, so 24th seems a bit low. I define “quality start” as getting your team in a position to win, so by that metric Wang seems like a pretty good ace.

    KurticusMaximus- YF August 27, 2007, 8:50 am
  • A “quality start”, I believe, is defined as at least 6 ip, and 3 er or less. If that is not correct I’m sure someone will hasten to correct it, but nonetheless there is a specific definition for the term. Saying “I define ‘quality start’ as getting your team in a position to win” doesn’t mean much with the lineup the Yankees have. I guess by that definition, a quality start for a White Sox pitcher would be throwing a perfect game.

    Tom sf August 27, 2007, 9:12 am
  • Speaking of the White Sox, this is not to take anything away from teh Red Sox, who are playing great, but the White Sox really mailed this past 4-game series in. Guillen even said he is having trouble motivating the team. That’s just plain embarassing.

    IronHorse-YF August 27, 2007, 9:47 am
  • Another good stat to take a look at a pitchers overall contribution in one glance for a year is Lee Sinn’s RSAA or runs saved above average. This is calculated by RA/IP – league avg RA/IP times IP. As you might imagine the Sox as a team lead the league by a very large margin in this category. Here is the stats for the two current staffs:
    Beckett 28
    Matzusaka 20
    Wakefield 12
    Schilling 9
    Tavarez -3
    Pettitte 20
    Wang 14
    Clemens 4
    Hughes -1
    Mussina -6

    Sam-YF August 27, 2007, 9:47 am
  • Well, we could spend all day coming up with creative and interesting ways to show how bad the Yankees pitching is, but that’s hardly very nice to our YF brethren here.
    Let’s talk about the bats for the Red Sox heating up…
    46-7
    Sure, the White Sox aren’t a great team, but they are a MLB team.

    LocklandSF August 27, 2007, 10:00 am
  • Sam, thanks for sharing that stat with us–I hadn’t heard of RSAA before. It definitely shows how Matzusaka has been much better than his W-L record indicates.

    Atheose August 27, 2007, 10:26 am
  • Thanks for the feedback, everyone. Yeah, AGS isn’t perfect, particularly when it’s not limited to a particular innings threshhold. A quality start in game score (type “Bill James” “game score” into Google, and you’ll get a definition) is 50 points. Most of the time, that equates to the 6IP/3ER standard that’s more traditional.
    If I remember the preseason discussions — at least on this site — correctly, Mussina was the No. 2 because YFs didn’t want to oversell Andy Pettitte’s reconversion to the American League, and so put him third. Either way, Mussina’s obviously been a disappointment. Conversely, so has Schilling, who entered as the Sox’ No. 1 starter.
    Anyway, yeah, we already knew the Sox had better starting pitching. We knew that potential existed before the season began. To me, the interesting point is how well Tavarez stacks up against the rest of the league’s theoretical No. 5s.

    Paul SF August 27, 2007, 10:48 am
  • Nice work, Paul and Sam.
    I am curious to see splits in the AGS stats – 1st half vs 2nd, for example. Paul, did you find this stuff at Baseball reference.
    I must say that the RSAA breakdown is more in line with the way I perceive the 2 rotations.
    “Sure, the White Sox aren’t a great team, but they are a MLB team.”
    In name only at this point – you must admit they’re not playing like one now.
    Just as we yf’s were reminded to temper our glee at beating up on bad teams, you would do well to keep your pounding of the hapless pale hose in perspective, I think.

    Andrews August 27, 2007, 1:29 pm
  • “reference.” ?, sorry

    Andrews August 27, 2007, 1:31 pm
  • “…preseason discussions…Mussina was the No. 2…”
    i think only by default paul…someone had to slide into that position…the question is whether sf’s and even yf’s believed he was a “legit” #2…i guess we have our answer now…

    dc August 27, 2007, 1:54 pm
  • There is something that I believe people either missed or have downplayed that I observed earlier this season with Julian Tavarez that I believe seriously impacted his performance. Tavarez was on the hill pitching in late June against the Mariners. Tavarez had had a recent string of good performances and was 5-4, and he was consistently chipping away at his ERA. During that Mariners game, Julian who had been breezing along, threw a pitch and came up limping, my first reaction was “uh oh, here were go!” Julian kept pitching but in that game and thereafter he was routinely hit pretty hard and had a string of 4 straight losses before his demotion to the pen. It’s not scientific but I have a feeling Julian was hurting more that he let on and it really affected his pitching… After all, in the debacle that was the closing games of ’06 Julian was the Sox most consistent starter. Given that he’s had a fair amount of rest in the pen, I think his performance against the White Sox indicates to me that he’s healed and ready to pitch, if he continues in the starting role I expect Tavarez will pitch more like he did when he was 5-4, before he came up lame.

    Brian August 28, 2007, 12:47 am

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