Sunday, August 25, 2013


Thanks to Max Scherzer, who went 19-1 despite the "death of the win" (something that, like the demise of Mark Twain, has been greatly exaggerated...), and to Marty Noble, for braving the slings and arrows to write about one of the most extreme seasons in baseball history.

What's that? Who? When? Where? (You erstwhile journalists can fill in the rest.) Well, it's ElRoy Face, the tiny (5'8") reliever for the Pittsburgh Pirates--just call him "Roy," it's a lot easier on you when you're typing--who was in the right place at the right time about as often as humanly possible in 1959 en route to setting a record for relief wins (18) and a WPCT record (.947) by virtue of losing once and once only.

But the title of up above there says: "Reliever Run Support." Say what? It's not something that you're going to find as a handy-dandy strap-on stat from Forman et fil, or anywhere else, for that matter (short of a consultation with Retrosheet wizards such as Tom Ruane, or Mike Emeigh, guys who've spent years making sabermetrics safe for research, and/or vice-versa).

In fact, it's quite probably an alien concept, particularly in the present-day baseball world, where relievers rarely go more than an inning at a time and the results of such quantification might seem egregiously random.

But just for S's and G's, let's define it. Relief pitchers who close out an inning are, in the following half-inning, the recipients of their team's run scoring efforts. That's true even if they get all three outs in the inning they pitched, or just one. If the team's next at-bats, in that adjacent inning, produce a ton of runs and turn the game around, the reliever will often get a win--but he'll also have received "X" number of runs of run support in that inning.

You can add that up for relievers just as is currently done for starters.

You just never see it.

Well, what better place to start adding it up than with a reliever who managed to vulture 18 wins in a single season?

And that is what is laid out for you, in our patented over-the-edge fashion, over at the right. All of Face's 57 appearances for Pittsburgh in 1959 are captured, with the run support in the relevant innings (we've taken to calling them "Pitcher of Record Innings Pitched," or PORIP, because--well, because somebody has to name these and when volunteers were solicited, everyone else took a step backwards...).

There are a few games where Roy (trying to stay away from the full name, lest we suddenly have an epidemic of Jetsons jokes...) doesn't have any PORIP associated with his time on the mound. This occurs when he--or any other pitcher, for that matter--records a one-inning save. (Which happens a lot these days, in fact.) That's why his PORIP total is lower than his actual IP.

So he has 83 PORIP, and in those innings the Pirates scored a total of 58 runs. When you do the math (OK, I'll do the math...58 divided by 83 times nine...) you'll see that the Pirates scored just under 6.3 runs per nine innings during Face's "face time."

That's a nice average, and it would be interesting to see where it ranks in terms of relievers. (Nice as it is, it's not as nice as the run support average that Max Scherzer has thus far in his 19-1 season: the Tigers are averaging 7.39 runs per game for him right now--and that's probably higher if we calculated it per nine innings.)

Marty Noble's interview with Face, reminiscing about this season, included a nicely self-deprecating observation by Roy, who was keenly aware of his good fortune that year. "I'd come in with a lead, give it up and then pitch well enough after my teams scored more so we could win. It happened so often, it was amazing."

Actually, it didn't happen that often. The chart shows that Face had four "blown wins"--somewhat confusing shorthand for "Blown Save Wins," where the pitcher does just what Face describes above. (It appears that the record for most "blown wins" in a season is six, held by Rollie Fingers, who pulled off that feat in 1976.)

The chart has a column where the cumulative PORIP is shown over the course of the season. That number peaks near eight per 9 IP in mid-June, which was the second consecutive month in which Face recorded five wins.

The chart shows that Roy had a lot of good fortune in extra innings--the Pirates scored 18 runs for him in 19 extra-inning PORIPs. As a result, ten of Face's eighteen reliefs came in extra-inning games.

What's astonishing about that won-loss record--beyond the mere fact of its existence--is that Face faded badly in the second half of the year. His ERA at the All-Star Break in 1959 was 1.12. Afterwards it was 4.82. Batters hit .194 against him prior to the break, .361 after. You can look all of that up here.

Our little chart at the left (monthly summary, including ERA and wins) shows that the Bucs ramped up their run support in August just when the fading Face needed it, scoring 15 runs in Face's 15 PORIP. That kept him undefeated for another month even as hitters were teeing off on him (they hit .410 against him that month).

We can run a Pythagorean estimate of what Roy's WPCT would be, using PORIP vs. his runs allowed. It's a bit out of whack compared to a starter, of course, because game contexts are more fluid and random when relievers enter the game than when a pitcher takes the mound in the first inning with the score 0-0. But we'll run it anyway, just because we can. It works out to a Pythagorean Winning Percentage (PWP) of .825. So, with that type of support, and with nineteen decisions, Faee was supposed to go 16-3.

Of course, the key phrase there is "with that type of support." It's doubtful that many relievers get support like that in a single month, much less a whole season. We'd be getting a lot closer to reality if we took the Pirates' 1959 R/G (4.23) and plotted it against Roy's RA/G. When we do that, his PWP is .694 (approximately 13-6 over a projected nineteen decisions).

But, let's face it, it's just not as interesting--or as much fun--as 18-1. Extremes may be fluky, but they are fun. And in this cockeyed caravan, you and me and a lapsed "deep dish" director (to be named later...) can dig their frantic fingernails into fun with enough force that we can live enough to laugh another day--and/or vice-versa.