Is Our Pitching Staff Average?

The other night during a game thread I mentioned how glad I am to see the depth in our lineup because it can overcome some average pitching performances. What I meant is that in 2009, on any given night, it was pretty difficult to predict whether Pavano, Baker, or Slowey were going to have a good night, an average night, or a bad night. Attempting to make that same prediction about Liriano or Blackburn was a fool's errand. And, that I expected that we were in store for more of the same this season;a lot of ups and downs with our young pitching staff, where on any given night we can watch Scott Baker hold the Sox or Royals to 1 or 2 earned runs in 7 complete innings while the next couple of starts we can watch him get lit up for 5 or 6 earned runs in 4 or 5 innings.  We now have the lineup to keep us competitive even in those 'poor' starts, let alone 'average' starts.

I was a bit surprised, however, to read the vociferous anger from some others claiming that our staff is above average and that two or three of them (Liriano, Baker and Slowey) could actually be 'aces' this year. And while I wasn't attempting to quantify the pitcher's as a whole, but rather point out that if history is a reliable source of information our young staff can be a bit erratic, I was intrigued by the idea of what makes an average pitcher. 

So I looked at eras this season so far and thought I might find out what the AL average is, but didn't find that stat conveniently compiled for me the first place that I looked, and I sure wasn't going to do that math. Then I figured I would pull out the median, but hell, I can't do that either. So I decided to throw out some numbers that I hope have meaning but are still convenient for me. You don't like 'convenient for me'? What are you, my wife? Go back to Jersey already.

59 starting pitchers qualify in the AL for  stats. 59 divided by 2 = 29. (yes it does, because that is a convenient number for me).

Who is the pitcher with the number 29 era ranking? Mr. average Carl Pavano, with an era of 3.73.  Liriano appears to be ranked somwhere ahead of Pavano, but where exactly was beyond me. Kevin Slowey was ranked 23rd with an era of 3.42 . Baker and Blackburn are well below average era at  51 (5.72) and 56 (6.85) respectively.  Looking at staff averages I think this is math I can do: 1+ 23 + 29 + 51 + 56/5 = 32. 32 is greater than 29, or a little below average.

Ok, kidding aside, the league average era is 4.14 so far. The Twins (out of 14 AL teams) are ranked 5th in team era (3.74) but 10th in BAA. They have given up, by far, the fewest walks, but are also close to last in strikeouts (well at least if you throw out Cleveland who is an odd outlier).  Its nice to see that they are near the top in WHIP (3rd), but it is a little frustrating to see that they are in the bottom half of innings pitched. They are at the top in K/BB, but near the bottom in K/9. It's nice to see that they are in the bottom half of HRs given up, but frustrating to see that they are in the top half of total hits given up (barely) and total bases given up.

So seriously, at first blush, for non stat geeks, does that appear to be average or what? For every metric where they are near the top there is a correspondingly pertinent metric where they are near the bottom. I know not all of these stats are as accurate in assessing actual performance as others (I'm partial to WHIP myself, if for no other reason than it seems to correlate pretty well with the results I actually see from our starters over time).  So, for what its worth I'll throw out a pair that seem pretty impressive, even though I don't know what these two are actually for (no I'm not referring to my genitalia): the Twins pitching staff is first in FIP (3.81) and  2nd in xFIP (4.09).

I toyed with the idea of using other goofy ways to measure "average" (by adding Liriano's stats to Blackburn's stats and dividing by two for example), but ultimately decided that being first in 'Field Independant Pitching' is a pretty good indicator that overall our starting staff, as young and erratic as they are, are better than average.

I won't be fully convinced however, (my dislike for jack Morris as an announcer aside) that our pitching staff has actually climbed over that ambiguous term 'average' until they can consistently keep our bullpen off of the mound until at least the 7th inning.

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