Is Barry Zito among the most or least reliable starters?

We are now in the tenth decade of the live-ball era, generally acknowledged to have begun in 1920. Offensive and defensive periods have come and gone within this era, even to extremes like the 1960s, sometimes referred to as the second dead-ball era, and the homer-happy 1990s and 2000s.

With those changes, the use of starting pitchers has also changed. This post will explore those changes and look at the pitchers who have most frequently exceeded and most frequently fallen short of the changing performance standards expected of starting pitchers.

First, let’s look at length of start. At the beginning of the live-ball era, starters were expected to also be finishers or, at the least, pitch late into games. That expectation has changed to the point where pitching 8+ innings has happened in only 10% of starts since 2000, compared to more than 50% of starts prior to 1950.

Here’s a chart showing change in the length of starts.

Thus, the median length of start has grown consistently shorter, as shown in the table below.

Table 1: Cumulative Percentage of Starts by Innings Pitched per Start 
 Decade 0-4+ 5+ 6+ 7+ 8+ 9+
1920-29 19.5% 25.7% 33.4% 43.6% 57.9% 100%
1930-39 20.5% 27.2% 36.6% 48.3% 61.7% 100%
1940-49 21.1% 28.2% 37.6% 49.4% 62.6% 100%
1950-59 24.3% 32.8% 44.2% 57.7% 69.4% 100%
1960-69 23.4% 34.0% 48.1% 64.4% 75.4% 100%
1970-79 20.9% 32.0% 47.9% 64.1% 76.2% 100%
1980-89 20.9% 35.3% 54.5% 74.0% 85.5% 100%
1990-99 19.8% 37.3% 60.8% 82.6% 93.4% 100%
2000-12 17.5% 38.4% 67.7% 90.0% 97.1% 100%

The level of performance delivered by pitchers has also changed over time, as measured by Game Score. This metric is influenced by how long the pitcher pitches, how hard the pitcher is hit, and also by a pitcher’s strikeouts and walks. A higher game score indicates a game where a starting pitcher has pitched longer and better than in other games with inferior game scores.

The table below shows median game scores for each decade and length of start. The trend to (mostly) increasing game scores over time is a product of higher strikeout rates, but also of where starts of a certain length fall on the continuum of all starts in a particular decade. For the example cited earlier of starts of 8+ innings, over 35% of starts were longer (CGs or extra innings) prior to 1950, but less than 3% have been longer since 2000; thus, the game score for the post-2000 starts would be expected to be higher inasmuch as they more clearly represent the “cream” of the game starts of that period.

Table 2: Median Game Score by Length of Start
Decade 5+ 6+ 7+ 8+ 9+
1920-29 33 38 45 49 64
1930-39 34 39 46 50 65
1940-49 37 43 49 54 69
1950-59 39 45 52 56 70
1960-69 43 50 57 62 75
1970-79 41 48 55 61 72
1980-89 42 49 58 63 74
1990-99 41 50 59 67 77
2000-12 41 52 62 70 80

The above table is represented graphically below.

Putting together Table 1 and Table 2 gives us an approximate estimate of average performance level by starters in each decade, in terms of both innings pitched (quantity) and game score (quality). As an example, consider the 1950s. From Table 1, we see that the median start length was at 7+ innings and the corresponding median game score from Table 2 is 52. Thus, starts of 7+ innings with a game score of 52 can be a  proxy for average starter performance in the 1950s.

Following from the above example, I looked at the pitchers who most often turned in starts above and below median performance levels for both innings pitched and game score. These pitchers are identified in the following tables, showing the top 15 and ties in number of games, sorted by % of starts represented by those games.

First, the pitchers most often having games at or above the median innings pitched and game score thresholds. Best way to view the tables is to by decade, by typing the first year of the decade (ends in zero, e.g. 1950) in the Search box.

DecadePlayerGamesGS% of GSW-L%ERAHR/9BB/9SO/9WHIP
2000-12Randy Johnson18928167.3%0.7991.820.651.7810.970.88
2000-12Johan Santana18328464.4%0.8001.720.671.929.420.88
2000-12Roy Halladay22935764.1%0.8431.790.461.297.150.91
2000-12Tim Hudson23238460.4%0.8811.630.401.986.070.93
2000-12Roy Oswalt20233560.3%0.8541.710.531.767.670.94
2000-12CC Sabathia22638359.0%0.8611.840.552.148.230.95
2000-12Carlos Zambrano17730258.6%0.8281.640.453.367.721.02
2000-12Josh Beckett17430457.2%0.8092.030.592.208.420.95
2000-12Barry Zito21539454.6%0.8001.730.592.846.880.96
2000-12Ted Lilly17432353.9%0.7612.060.872.257.760.93
2000-12Javier Vazquez20638553.5%0.7332.030.751.698.720.89
2000-12A.J. Burnett17633352.9%0.7441.980.533.118.530.97
2000-12Mark Buehrle20839652.5%0.8191.770.611.475.210.93
2000-12Kevin Millwood18037348.3%0.7542.040.612.126.870.99
2000-12Livan Hernandez18739447.5%0.7551.970.562.295.721.06
1990-99Curt Schilling15721074.8%0.6982.260.651.878.590.93
1990-99Greg Maddux24733174.6%0.7791.680.281.446.750.90
1990-99Randy Johnson21629074.5%0.8201.970.613.2811.341.01
1990-99Roger Clemens22530573.8%0.7821.790.392.528.930.98
1990-99David Cone20428771.1%0.7632.010.542.938.801.01
1990-99Kevin Brown21031466.9%0.7601.820.351.866.830.98
1990-99Tom Glavine21532765.7%0.8511.810.432.605.941.05
1990-99John Smoltz20331564.4%0.7652.020.522.418.160.98
1990-99Mike Mussina16125463.4%0.8501.910.591.756.920.92
1990-99Andy Benes19831463.1%0.7302.110.672.387.461.01
1990-99Kevin Appier17027661.6%0.7721.940.412.667.431.00
1990-99Chuck Finley18631658.9%0.7671.860.583.007.531.07
1990-99Doug Drabek15427256.6%0.7791.990.471.936.170.97
1990-99Todd Stottlemyre15928356.2%0.7422.360.722.646.931.07
1990-99Tim Belcher15630251.7%0.7611.970.552.555.521.02
1980-89Fernando Valenzuela19728768.6%0.7201.960.373.017.131.07
1980-89Bert Blyleven19428867.4%0.7002.300.652.156.681.02
1980-89Jack Morris22333267.2%0.7222.090.622.766.231.03
1980-89Steve Carlton16024066.7%0.7272.140.442.708.041.06
1980-89Nolan Ryan20831466.2%0.7131.880.353.199.620.98
1980-89Mike Scott17527663.4%0.7791.870.512.097.060.91
1980-89Don Sutton17127063.3%0.7401.990.631.835.300.95
1980-89Dave Stieb20933163.1%0.7651.760.422.735.530.99
1980-89Charlie Hough17828263.1%0.7012.020.622.975.701.02
1980-89Bob Welch19131161.4%0.7681.810.502.206.230.97
1980-89Rick Rhoden17428860.4%0.7382.050.452.275.291.08
1980-89Mike Witt16127259.2%0.7172.150.532.486.361.04
1980-89Doyle Alexander16928958.5%0.7362.230.681.884.681.01
1980-89Frank Viola15827158.3%0.7702.100.712.106.391.01
1980-89Frank Tanana16830455.3%0.6842.080.622.335.461.03
1980-89Floyd Bannister15829453.7%0.6882.230.792.446.611.00
1970-79Tom Seaver23634568.4%0.7691.570.502.218.030.89
1970-79Gaylord Perry23236863.0%0.7771.510.441.976.170.91
1970-79Jim Palmer22135262.8%0.8211.350.412.355.300.92
1970-79Nolan Ryan20233360.7%0.7161.650.294.7610.141.08
1970-79Steve Carlton21836659.6%0.7941.720.472.687.180.99
1970-79Don Sutton20434958.5%0.8241.500.491.886.470.86
1970-79Bert Blyleven20435058.3%0.7091.510.382.087.350.95
1970-79Andy Messersmith14925758.0%0.7721.470.422.736.410.94
1970-79Fergie Jenkins20135456.8%0.7721.680.661.386.460.85
1970-79Phil Niekro21337656.6%0.7111.760.532.385.990.98
1970-79Catfish Hunter18232755.7%0.7971.720.641.805.050.86
1970-79Vida Blue17432753.2%0.8091.540.372.296.410.92
1970-79Mickey Lolich14727753.1%0.7231.610.472.126.780.99
1970-79Jerry Koosman16531352.7%0.7281.720.422.506.501.01
1970-79Rick Wise14130346.5%0.7731.660.481.834.930.94
1960-69Sandy Koufax16523769.6%0.8341.390.462.199.530.83
1960-69Juan Marichal20832065.0%0.8541.400.501.516.800.84
1960-69Bob Gibson19230263.6%0.7561.370.392.557.900.93
1960-69Gaylord Perry11820557.6%0.7281.390.361.876.440.87
1960-69Don Drysdale19735954.9%0.7871.330.381.626.890.85
1960-69Sam McDowell12122553.8%0.7961.510.403.459.540.99
1960-69Jim Bunning19236053.3%0.7591.400.491.837.350.88
1960-69Bob Veale11822352.9%0.8381.
1960-69Claude Osteen13728747.7%0.7201.500.401.875.090.92
1960-69Jim Maloney12125547.5%0.8131.390.303.128.470.92
1960-69Larry Jackson14832146.1%0.8051.420.351.544.710.86
1960-69Dean Chance11826145.2%0.7921.
1960-69Milt Pappas13330244.0%0.8261.340.452.125.310.90
1960-69Jim Kaat13831643.7%0.8351.580.561.676.080.91
1960-69Camilo Pascual11827343.2%0.8211.540.502.387.250.94
1960-69Earl Wilson12128143.1%0.7811.690.602.616.570.95
1950-59Warren Spahn23535067.1%0.8391.740.482.214.850.99
1950-59Billy Pierce18930661.8%0.7411.660.502.615.701.00
1950-59Robin Roberts22637061.1%0.7521.880.651.384.860.90
1950-59Early Wynn20033959.0%0.8421.620.473.005.401.00
1950-59Whitey Ford12120858.2%0.8661.360.383.215.361.03
1950-59Bob Lemon15026057.7%0.8451.580.433.094.031.05
1950-59Don Newcombe13724655.7%0.8021.840.631.624.740.95
1950-59Johnny Antonelli13324155.2%0.7821.690.602.515.390.99
1950-59Curt Simmons12222354.7%0.7931.670.372.535.051.00
1950-59Harvey Haddix11621454.2%0.7752.010.621.846.260.97
1950-59Lew Burdette12223053.0%0.7881.710.521.703.230.99
1950-59Bob Rush14627852.5%0.6881.780.402.594.681.01
1950-59Mike Garcia13526151.7%0.8291.700.332.344.761.03
1950-59Ned Garver12725749.4%0.7281.710.462.493.091.01
1950-59Bob Friend12126246.2%0.7271.820.482.134.481.03
1940-49Bob Feller15323166.2%0.7921.550.253.356.851.04
1940-49Spud Chandler9515162.9%0.8751.340.172.554.260.96
1940-49Tex Hughson9315659.6%0.8481.400.242.004.780.94
1940-49Bucky Walters14123859.2%0.7751.540.262.643.351.02
1940-49Hal Newhouser17230556.4%0.8231.490.
1940-49Mort Cooper11521054.8%0.8661.390.221.854.430.91
1940-49Harry Brecheen9417254.7%0.8791.330.301.754.130.92
1940-49Dizzy Trout12823953.6%0.7171.410.192.593.981.04
1940-49Claude Passeau11020753.1%0.8021.320.252.033.650.95
1940-49Tiny Bonham10119352.3%0.8331.510.381.372.720.91
1940-49Dutch Leonard13327348.7%0.7421.490.241.383.400.92
1940-49Johnny Vander Meer10521947.9%0.7701.400.223.356.061.01
1940-49Hank Borowy9220844.2%0.8441.450.212.483.681.02
1940-49Rip Sewell10123143.7%0.8221.460.252.312.520.99
1940-49Bobo Newsom11426143.7%0.7881.560.242.855.011.04
1930-39Dizzy Dean14121964.4%0.8531.780.301.785.470.99
1930-39Carl Hubbell19230363.4%0.8501.560.401.364.570.94
1930-39Lefty Grove16926863.1%0.8741.790.262.054.951.06
1930-39Lefty Gomez16827860.4%0.8401.740.293.005.351.07
1930-39Lon Warneke14724759.5%0.8161.730.371.853.951.00
1930-39Red Ruffing17429858.4%0.8011.980.372.654.861.04
1930-39Ted Lyons12723753.6%0.7521.940.351.612.261.06
1930-39Tommy Bridges14126653.0%0.8481.890.383.035.151.09
1930-39Wes Ferrell15329352.2%0.8241.910.232.923.521.15
1930-39Ed Brandt11722651.8%0.7231.830.262.253.561.01
1930-39Paul Derringer14628551.2%0.7681.760.251.464.071.01
1930-39Larry French15130449.7%0.8131.510.201.743.251.02
1930-39Danny MacFayden11925347.0%0.7801.720.202.342.901.08
1930-39Mel Harder12928545.3%0.7941.830.241.933.381.06
1930-39Earl Whitehill11728241.5%0.7842.160.303.033.181.16
1920-29Dazzy Vance17124470.1%0.7491.960.272.256.781.02
1920-29Dolf Luque18230260.3%0.6511.800.162.143.591.05
1920-29Wilbur Cooper13322160.2%0.7621.790.161.623.061.06
1920-29Pete Alexander17429060.0%0.7901.630.261.072.520.96
1920-29Urban Shocker15426159.0%0.8081.640.291.703.341.03
1920-29Red Faber17129757.6%0.7381.850.
1920-29Burleigh Grimes19333657.4%0.8121.870.242.203.481.09
1920-29Eppa Rixey17933054.2%0.7641.670.121.522.351.03
1920-29Herb Pennock15428653.8%0.8101.760.241.842.971.04
1920-29Waite Hoyt14728052.5%0.8611.770.232.192.951.07
1920-29George Uhle14928552.3%0.8221.970.162.163.411.08
1920-29Lee Meadows13225551.8%0.7601.730.191.982.641.08
1920-29Jesse Haines15029351.2%0.8071.800.
1920-29Howard Ehmke13727549.8%0.7461.700.202.403.171.02
1920-29Sad Sam Jones13627848.9%0.7921.800.252.773.021.09


And, the pitchers most often below the median innings pitched and game score thresholds. Note that this does NOT mean the “worst” pitchers. Indeed, some pitchers appear both in this table and the preceding one. Perhaps you could say these are the pitchers good enough to get the ball on a regular basis and for an extended period, but who also may cause the most anxiety for their managers when they’re on the mound.

DecadePlayerGamesGS% of GSW-L%ERAHR/9BB/9SO/9WHIP
2000-12Josh Fogg8419443.3%0.2229.342.244.455.062.10
2000-12Kip Wells8521240.1%0.0919.691.856.996.072.39
2000-12Doug Davis10328636.0%0.1258.851.536.506.842.26
2000-12Jason Marquis10128934.9%0.1649.191.845.005.292.22
2000-12Kyle Lohse11533134.7%0.2009.071.963.925.832.13
2000-12Jeff Suppan10834231.6%0.1628.521.994.855.272.16
2000-12Aaron Harang9029330.7%0.1678.662.073.997.262.07
2000-12Ted Lilly9732330.0%0.1389.302.414.797.442.03
2000-12Derek Lowe10435829.1%0.2209.411.264.335.872.20
2000-12Jamie Moyer9834428.5%0.2429.182.374.075.652.07
2000-12Barry Zito11139428.2%0.1839.201.586.206.352.17
2000-12Brad Penny8831527.9%0.2469.951.874.575.932.15
2000-12Kevin Millwood10337327.6%0.0949.521.744.646.722.20
2000-12Randy Wolf9434727.1%0.1498.782.044.876.522.06
2000-12Jon Garland8433025.5%0.16410.062.234.894.812.28
1990-99Frank Castillo7619439.2%0.1849.832.044.496.672.15
1990-99Pat Rapp6918138.1%0.2059.471.356.335.352.35
1990-99Steve Avery9226135.2%0.1759.861.785.215.952.20
1990-99Bobby Witt9827935.1%0.14510.681.866.806.482.43
1990-99Mark Gardner7723632.6%0.09610.052.454.876.432.18
1990-99John Burkett10030832.5%0.1329.451.653.706.512.14
1990-99Mike Morgan8426831.3%0.1259.431.924.535.272.16
1990-99Jaime Navarro8628530.2%0.13610.991.914.865.352.37
1990-99Mark Portugal6924228.5%0.1199.572.
1990-99Terry Mulholland7025327.7%0.20810.441.813.704.652.24
1990-99Doug Drabek7527227.6%0.05610.012.164.515.172.21
1990-99Scott Erickson8330627.1%0.08810.211.564.804.502.36
1990-99Pete Harnisch7327027.0%0.0839.182.034.505.332.06
1990-99Tim Belcher8030226.5%0.13110.742.215.234.922.34
1990-99Todd Stottlemyre7328325.8%0.2269.341.715.506.442.16
1990-99Kevin Tapani7229024.8%0.13010.962.123.325.402.27
1980-89Steve Trout9221542.8%0.1647.860.744.593.522.06
1980-89Ed Whitson9426335.7%0.1178.371.524.144.432.06
1980-89Richard Dotson9728334.3%0.1439.361.744.874.172.23
1980-89Scott McGregor8424734.0%0.10910.
1980-89Mike Krukow9027432.8%0.1279.011.444.486.262.14
1980-89Tommy John8225432.3%0.04310.581.414.012.772.38
1980-89Jerry Reuss8325832.2%0.1138.731.443.193.912.09
1980-89Mike Flanagan8827631.9%0.0969.371.634.364.642.16
1980-89Bob Knepper9230630.1%0.0928.691.364.174.382.15
1980-89Dennis Martinez7625529.8%0.13510.662.504.224.122.33
1980-89Jim Clancy9431729.7%0.09010.381.855.174.662.30
1980-89Dan Petry7125627.7%0.1489.482.025.864.742.23
1980-89Frank Tanana8330427.3%0.0359.912.223.435.792.17
1980-89Floyd Bannister8029427.2%0.1239.231.984.876.522.18
1980-89Mike Scott7427626.8%0.0579.561.434.905.492.22
1970-79Woodie Fryman11420954.5%0.2087.461.464.325.581.92
1970-79Stan Bahnsen12525449.2%0.2227.491.494.444.111.91
1970-79Jim Kaat13229045.5%0.2477.
1970-79Steve Renko12327245.2%0.1387.131.365.125.601.94
1970-79Ross Grimsley12427744.8%0.2347.371.473.283.431.89
1970-79Jack Billingham13129644.3%0.1937.561.244.574.391.99
1970-79Paul Splittorff12428643.4%0.2357.641.
1970-79Dave Roberts11426443.2%0.1227.871.173.743.741.96
1970-79Jerry Reuss12228742.5%0.1258.011.144.805.562.04
1970-79Jim Slaton11527142.4%0.1887.821.514.504.082.06
1970-79Rudy May10927140.2%0.1168.721.495.335.632.00
1970-79Mike Torrez12531339.9%0.1927.931.165.993.822.08
1970-79Dock Ellis10827439.4%0.1577.591.
1970-79Rick Wise11430337.6%0.1368.481.643.554.492.07
1970-79Ken Holtzman10629436.1%0.2257.901.474.004.532.05
1960-69Tony Cloninger10922149.3%0.2087.881.575.345.881.97
1960-69Dick Ellsworth14830848.1%0.1527.151.383.334.931.87
1960-69Steve Barber12626347.9%0.2056.350.835.495.881.92
1960-69Ray Sadecki12226146.7%0.1087.721.684.625.401.96
1960-69Jack Fisher11825845.7%0.0548.591.653.324.442.03
1960-69Don Cardwell10824344.4%0.1167.551.543.794.511.84
1960-69Joe Horlen10624044.2%0.2435.921.063.634.411.71
1960-69Jim Kaat13631643.0%0.1766.341.373.435.611.77
1960-69Mike McCormick10825143.0%0.0667.351.813.824.691.85
1960-69Camilo Pascual10927339.9%0.2146.901.454.306.101.77
1960-69Earl Wilson10928138.8%0.1597.341.905.026.201.90
1960-69Milt Pappas11330237.4%0.1647.751.733.015.211.81
1960-69Larry Jackson10632133.0%0.0857.221.343.174.591.84
1960-69Don Drysdale10535929.2%0.1876.781.563.045.901.80
1960-69Jim Bunning10536029.2%0.1307.861.713.095.931.86
1950-59Joe Nuxhall8317647.2%0.2048.341.524.024.822.02
1950-59Jim Hearn8919146.6%0.1517.821.574.922.961.99
1950-59Chuck Stobbs9420246.5%0.0878.341.384.393.722.07
1950-59Ruben Gomez8719843.9%0.0749.211.745.304.482.14
1950-59Herm Wehmeier8118543.8%0.0899.
1950-59Jim Wilson7819639.8%0.1408.871.944.734.352.07
1950-59Alex Kellner8722239.2%0.1139.651.985.003.932.16
1950-59Sal Maglie8622238.7%0.1437.552.244.264.451.97
1950-59Murry Dickson8223035.7%0.1078.632.164.473.242.12
1950-59Johnny Antonelli8324134.4%0.0938.531.854.465.002.08
1950-59Bob Friend9026234.4%0.0309.091.503.573.692.17
1950-59Mike Garcia8826133.7%0.1407.970.984.284.331.99
1950-59Don Newcombe7824631.7%0.1909.182.943.314.762.00
1950-59Bob Rush8727831.3%0.0519.411.404.064.812.16
1950-59Early Wynn8633925.4%0.1219.381.786.195.522.16
1940-49Bill Dietrich8115352.9%0.1807.070.804.752.081.95
1940-49Sid Hudson9018349.2%0.0638.100.884.502.902.04
1940-49Bill Lee8417847.2%0.1197.700.603.822.391.98
1940-49Denny Galehouse8518346.4%0.1077.290.833.723.331.95
1940-49Jack Kramer7817145.6%0.1098.400.974.892.742.11
1940-49Bill Voiselle8318345.4%0.1518.171.465.183.992.05
1940-49Allie Reynolds7919241.1%0.2657.600.986.544.632.06
1940-49Kirby Higbe8520741.1%0.1847.210.935.674.571.94
1940-49Bobo Newsom10326139.5%0.0957.360.714.884.882.07
1940-49Johnny Vander Meer8621939.3%0.0857.730.767.504.402.15
1940-49Hank Borowy7620836.5%0.1457.901.284.463.861.98
1940-49Dizzy Trout8623936.0%0.1597.400.634.934.201.98
1940-49Rip Sewell8023134.6%0.1747.060.794.132.461.92
1940-49Dutch Leonard9127333.3%0.1187.160.583.053.241.94
1940-49Hal Newhouser9030529.5%0.1497.110.636.155.252.05
1930-39Willis Hudlin10322545.8%0.1018.440.623.952.422.10
1930-39Fred Frankhouse8518645.7%0.1218.461.144.433.202.13
1930-39Bump Hadley10825742.0%0.1278.650.976.533.972.21
1930-39George Blaeholder8320041.5%0.0719.681.493.882.122.19
1930-39Guy Bush8019441.2%0.0787.930.803.412.492.07
1930-39Freddie Fitzsimmons10326039.6%0.1797.790.903.072.431.98
1930-39Mel Harder10828537.9%0.1527.280.564.052.952.01
1930-39Earl Whitehill10428236.9%0.1979.
1930-39Bill Hallahan7720936.8%0.1008.710.845.184.282.27
1930-39Danny MacFayden9125336.0%0.0988.580.533.412.382.10
1930-39Hal Schumacher8223135.5%0.2337.590.905.092.922.10
1930-39Larry French10530434.5%0.1198.
1930-39Tommy Bridges8826633.1%0.1498.521.325.615.462.14
1930-39Paul Derringer8228528.8%0.1457.980.782.493.381.97
1930-39Red Ruffing7929826.5%0.2509.
1920-29Slim Harriss11122848.7%0.0498.240.774.443.142.07
1920-29Alex Ferguson7916647.6%0.0969.711.134.672.662.20
1920-29Tom Zachary10426339.5%0.1958.310.673.941.802.17
1920-29Jack Quinn9525137.8%0.1597.710.522.832.201.98
1920-29Art Nehf7921237.3%0.2358.350.963.242.622.03
1920-29Jimmy Ring9025135.9%0.1368.910.855.243.192.24
1920-29Jesse Barnes7721535.8%0.0388.240.792.861.932.09
1920-29Waite Hoyt9628034.3%0.1258.400.693.512.732.06
1920-29Pete Donohue8524834.3%0.1119.180.552.982.292.19
1920-29Lee Meadows8225532.2%0.1329.260.633.692.932.22
1920-29Sad Sam Jones8927832.0%0.0988.840.624.772.612.21
1920-29Eppa Rixey10333031.2%0.1307.400.332.742.091.90
1920-29Jesse Haines8929330.4%0.1099.541.273.912.642.23
1920-29George Uhle8628530.2%0.0959.750.494.382.532.34
1920-29Herb Pennock7728626.9%0.1438.620.593.052.482.14


Lastly, the title question. I pose this question because Barry Zito appears in the top 4 of both above tables for the 2000 to 2012 period. Most often above median, and also most often below that level. In this case, I suspect we’re looking mainly at two half-decades, or perhaps the tale of of San Francisco Bay. East side Barry (2000-2006) has 125 ERA+, but west side Barry (2007-2012) is at just 91 ERA+.


Is Barry Zito among the most or least reliable starters? — 15 Comments

  1. I don’t want to overgeneralize, but the seems to be a lot more “feel” pitchers in the second group, the type who didn’t have great enough stuff to survive when their pitch placement was somewhat off. Which also mirrors the early Zito and the later one. Interesting charts.

  2. Check out Barry Zito’s Game Log from 2012. Out of 32 total starts, he pitched 17 Quality Starts and another 2 starts of 5+ IP in which he allowed 2 runs. In those 19 starts he had an ERA of 1.99 including 5 starts where he went 7+ IP while allowing 0 runs. In his other 13 starts, his ERA was just under 9.00. 2011 was lost to injury, but his 2010 campaign was very similar to 2012.

    Barry Zito is either very good or very bad in his starts. Yes, I am sure he was very good more often early in the decade, but he still pitches a lot of good games. He’s just a guy who runs hot and cold, probably because his lack of velocity provides him with little margin for error.

    • I haven’t seen much of Zito recently, other than what I saw in the playoffs. I was amazed how little velocity he has – if he’s not getting his other pitches over, the hitters will feast on that (not so) fastball.

  3. Doug:

    To me it would be helpful to see the total number of starts of each pitcher as a kind of control.

    Just doing some basic grunt work on a few I was interested in, Koufax had 70% of his starts in the sixties above median. Halliday had 64% of his starts 2000 onward above median. Bunning had 56% above in the sixties and 32% below, whereas poster child Zito had 56% above and 29% below. Ford in the fifties had 58% above, Wynn 54%, Spahn 67%, Antonelli 55%, Pierce 62%.

    Knowing how many times a pitcher was above the median is nice. Knowing in what percentage of his starts he was above the median is more informative for comparison purposes, and that’s what your charts made me want to do, make comparisons.

    • Thanks for the feedback, nsb.

      I will see if I can add the total starts to the tables (trying to think of a way to do it that won’t take too long).

      • Thanks, Doug.

        For me the charts are hugely interesting. Look at all those pitchers in the 1990s with over 70% of their starts above the median. Only Koufax at 69.6 comes really close of all the others in the list. I’m not knowledgeable enough or adept enough to make an interpretation of why that era should be so populated with this particular group or manifestation, but it is just one of many revealing things I have found.

        • The median is approximate. Foe example, in the 1990s, I used any game of 6+ innings with game score of 50+, based on tables 1 and 2. 6+ innings includes about 62% of starts in the 1990s, whereas 7+ innings (the approx. median for the 1960s), only includes about 52% of games in that decade. Thus, the approximate 1960s median is almost certainly the true median, whereas for the 1990s, the true median is probably 6.1 innings, rather than 6.0.

          Having said the medians are approximate, if they are off the true median, it is at most off by two outs (e.g. 6.2 innings instead of 6.0 innings). Even if you identify the precise number of outs where the median lands, that number of outs will still likely encompass several percentage points of starts beyond 50% of games.

          You can use Table 1 (or eyeball the 50% line on the first chart) to gauge for yourself whether the true median = the approximate, or if it’s likely off by one or two outs. Thus, I believe the true medians, in order, are 8.1, 8.0, 8.0, 7.1, 7.0, 7.0, 6.2, 6.1, 6.1. I debated whether to run the queries based on these suggested true medians, or whether to just use full inning cutoffs, and let the reader draw conclusions, again based on Table 1. I decided to do the latter, since I was also grouping median game scores for bands of 3 outs in Table 2 (too much work to calculate those medians for each individual number of outs).

          Hope that’s clear. If not, let me know.

        • Another thing that jumped out at me was Dazzy Vance in the 1920s, almost 10 percentage points clear of the number 2 man. Next highest gap between #1 and #2 was Spahn and Seaver in the 1950s and 1970s, at just over a 5% gap.

  4. One interesting thing I saw looking at your first chart and table was that while managers are more likely to take their starter out in the 6th inning or later, they are less likely to take them out before that. I think this is largely due to construction of the pitching staff. In the 50’s almost everyone was thought of primarily as a starter, so if you took your starter out in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd inning you had someone ready and capable of pitching many innings in the bullpen. Today, with the disappearance of the spot starter, the swing man, and even the long man, the manager is less likely to take out an ineffective starter early because of the cost to his bullpen.

    9 innings gives us a game score of 87, to which we add 1 for each K, subtract 1 for each BB, and subtract 2 for each hit, each run and each earned run. So that average 64 score in the 20’s would look something like: 9 IP, 6 H, 3R, 3ER, 3 BB, 4K. The 80 score 2000- looks like: 9 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7K. Obviously a much higher standard to meet.

    • Good observation, kds.

      I was struck by how the percentage of starts of less than 5 innings has been more or less constant. Your explanation of a possible reason makes a lot of sense.

      Also, that current CG line also rings true. Unless a pitcher is totally dominant, he’s unlikely to stay in today. In the past, if you were up 9-5 or something like that in the 7th or the 8th, the logic seemed to be something like “our guy isn’t great today, but as long as he’s throwing strikes and we’ve got the lead, we’ll leave him in there”.

    • Thanks kds.

      I was going to post how I was intrigued by the 0-4 innning start % peaked in the 50’s and 60’s, but your explanation sounds perfect.

      ” In the 50′s almost everyone was thought of primarily as a starter, so if you took your starter out in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd inning you had someone ready and capable of pitching many innings in the bullpen. Today, with the disappearance of the spot starter, the swing man, and even the long man, the manager is less likely to take out an ineffective starter early because of the cost to his bullpen.”

      Pre-1950’s the starting pitcher just pitched unless there was a disaster or injury. Didn’t carry enough pitchers on the roster.
      1950’s – 1960’s the relief pitcher was pretty much just that – another starter that took over due to a bad (but perhaps still recoverable) outing (similar to what you might see in the post-season). But we still did not have the modern “relief pitcher”.
      1970’s on – more defined relief pitcher roles including fireman, set-up, LOOGY and closer. Too many roster spots for short relievers. a 3-inning outing by your #1 or #2 starter could throw off your whole week.

      • Just to show one way the game has changed, there was a Zane Grey story in The Red-Headed Outfield that featured a pitcher who gave up 7 runs in the first inning and won the game.

  5. Doug: Just a suggestion. I think you are better off creating 2D charts rather than 3D. The 3D charts do not properly align with the grid lines. Looking at your first chart the back edges of the tops of the columns should be tangent to the 100% line but there is a slight gap. I created a 3D chart of my own and the same thing happened. Also the grid lines pertain to the back edges of the columns but your eyes want to align them with the front edges.

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