Thankfully, the baseball community has moved beyond judging pitchers solely by their won-lost record. Last season, Clayton Kershaw took home the NL Cy Young despite having three fewer wins than Adam Wainwright. More famously, Felix Hernandez won the AL Cy Young in 2010 with just a 13-12 record. However, those were extreme cases where pitchers had major advantages in other measures of pitching performance, notably ERA. Since Hernandez’s Cy Young, the AL wins leader has won the Cy Young three consecutive seasons. Wins clearly remain a factor in many people’s evaluations.
Of course, pitchers who perform well tend to earn more wins than those who do not, but there are still inputs to those wins that are out of the pitchers’ control. The primary factor is run support, which Baseball Info Solutions calculates as the number of runs an offense scores while a pitcher is in the game prorated over nine innings. In 2010, the Mariners scored just 3.10 runs per nine in Hernandez’s starts, which was the second lowest total among qualified starters. That’s 3.03 runs fewer than the Yankees scored for C.C. Sabathia (a 21-game winner) per nine that season!
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the pitchers in 2014 who have seen the best and worst run support. First, here are the starters with the best run support this season:
|Best Run Support, 2014|
|Player||Average Run Support|
|C.J. Wilson, Angels||6.55|
|Jorge de la Rosa, Rockies||6.31|
|Colby Lewis, Rangers||5.97|
|Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles||5.96|
|Madison Bumgarner, Giants||5.87|
C.J. Wilson leads the way with an average of 6.55 runs of support per start. The Angels actually lead baseball with 744 runs this season, so they were the best bet to have a pitcher at the top of the list. Teammate Jered Weaver just missed the top five with 5.80 runs of support per nine.
Like Wilson, Jorge de la Rosa benefits from an offense that scores a lot of runs. In his case, it’s the Rockies, who have the third most runs in baseball with 700. In contrast, Colby Lewis is a surprise. The Rangers are 20th in runs scored, so Lewis actually received much more run support than the average Rangers’ starter. But Lewis has been unable to take advantage of his good fortune. With a 5.12 ERA, which is not far below his 5.97 runs of support per nine, Lewis has compiled a 10-13 record.
Wei-Yin Chen and Madison Bumgarner don’t often need their exceptional run support. Chen has the 10th lowest walk rate among qualified starters this season (1.66 walks per nine), and Bumgarner has the 12th highest strikeout rate (9.17 strikeouts per nine). That has led them to a 3.58 and 2.91 ERA, respectively. Unsurprisingly, they are tied for sixth and tied for third in baseball in wins.
Here are the starters with the worst run support:
|Worst Run Support, 2014|
|Player||Average Run Support|
|Nathan Eovaldi, Marlins||2.89|
|Eric Stults, Padres||3.04|
|Francisco Liriano, Pirates||3.09|
|Alex Wood, Braves||3.16|
|Yovani Gallardo, Brewers||3.29|
Nathan Eovaldi of the Marlins sets the low bar with 2.89 runs of support per nine. That seems to be a bit of an outlier since the Marlins are middle of the pack with 613 runs scored. They do not hold a candle to the Padres in that respect, however. The Padres have scored just 489 runs this season. That is 255 runs fewer than the league-leading Angels and 61 runs fewer than the Braves, who are second to last. With such an anemic offense, Padres’ starters are prominent at or near the bottom of the list. Eric Stults has had the second lowest run support, and Ian Kennedy just missed the list with 3.36 runs per nine.
The Braves may be substantially better on offense than the Padres, but Alex Wood and Julio Teheran have not benefited from that. Wood has the fourth lowest run support with 3.16 runs per start, and Teheran is in the bottom 12, as well.
Francisco Liriano and Yovani Gallardo are the opposite of Colby Lewis. The Pirates have the 8th most runs and the Brewers have the 13th most runs in baseball this season, but both pitchers are in the bottom five in run support per nine. Charlie Morton (3.72 run support per nine) of the Pirates is the only other qualified Pirates or Brewers starter with less than 4.00 runs per nine of support.
“Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.”