What stats should we use to rate a starting pitcher?

When I was hosting a radio sports show about a week ago on 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore, a caller came on to say how mediocre he thought Jeremy Guthrie was and that his lack of wins proved that fact.

Guthrie went 11-14 with an ERA of 3.83 over 32 starts in 2010.


My argument was then, and often is about starting pitchers, that the win category is pretty much the last stat you should look at to rate a pitcher. It is one stat almost out of their control. What if the team doesn’t score any runs or makes several mental or physical miscues behind the pitcher?

In Guthrie’s 14 losses last year, the O’s scored just 22 runs while he was in the game and 35 total. Hard to win many of those.

All of this leads me to the point of this blog today and I want your feedback. How do you grade a starting pitcher and what stats do you look at in doing that?

You can almost always look at pitchers that are among the league leaders in strikeouts and ERA and they will usually be some of the top hurlers.

Two stats I like to look at are WHIP and also the team’s overall record in games that pitcher starts.

Obviously, hits and walks per inning pitched is important as it stands to reason that a hurler that allows fewer runners is better than one who struggles in that category.

Sometimes, while a starter doesn’t get a win when he pitches, his team does; and isn’t winning the most important thing? Maybe a little inconsistent of me to downgrade a starter’s win total, but look at the team stat here.

Still, I think it can show a pitcher that keeps his team in the game and can be useful. By the way, the best here on the O’s staff from 2010 were Brian Matusz at 16-16 and Jake Arrieta at 9-9. Those were the O’s records in the games that Matusz and Arrieta pitched.

Matusz’s finish was so strong last season that the club went 11-1 over his last 12 starts. More in his favor, they scored four runs or less in eight of those 11 wins, so his margin for error was small and the Orioles still won those games.

As for the WHIP stat, I could use that one to further establish my opinion that Guthrie is underrated.

His WHIP last year of 1.16 was easily best among O’s starters with Matusz next at 1.34. In fact, in the WHIP stat, Guthrie topped CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Matt Garza, David Price and Chris Carpenter. Impressive; wish I had that stat ready for that caller.

But even some element of this stat is out of a pitcher’s control at least to some degree. He can be squeezed by an umpire and walk several hitters and/or two fielders could let a pop fall in and that would be scored a single. But it is still a strong stat for me.

To a lesser degree, I like a pitcher that throws a lot of innings, which in today’s game can be reaching the 200 figure. Just 13 AL hurlers pitched more than Guthrie’s 209 1/3 last year. There is a lot more to talent than just giving a team innings, but that shows durability to me and pitchers that can crank out 200-inning seasons bring something to the table for sure.

So what say you? What stats help you determine the quality of a starting pitcher?

Come on out tonight: Jen Royle and I, along with our MASNsports.com staff will be at Hightopps in Timonim tonight, starting at 6 p.m. for another Orioles’ chat with fans. The first two have been great, hope we see many of you tonight. The excitement for opening day is building, so come on out. There will be trivia, prizes, great food and drink and great O’s talk.

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