Stats & Info: Brandon Lyon

Enter Sandman
Mariano Rivera
Mariano Rivera continues to add to his Hall of Fame legacy. At 41 years old Rivera has not lost a single step, leading the majors with 13 saves. In 18 appearances this season, Rivera has allowed a run just twice, and boasts a miniscule 0.45 WHIP at Yankee Stadium in 2011. His 1.53 ERA this year is also bringing down his career number of 2.22, good for tops among all pitchers with 1,000 innings in the Live Ball era (since 1920).

This season, Rivera has nine saves in which he did not allow a baserunner, a statistic Stats & Info has coined as a "Game Over" save. Rivera has three more than the next-highest pitcher in the Game Over saves index.

Rivera is allowing just five percent of batters faced to score, seven percent clear of the league average according to Inside Edge. As usual, his cutter has been doing most of the damage. He relies on his trademark pitch over 90 percent of the time with two strikes against a batter this season, and in those situations hitters are posting just a .194 average.

He’s also working on his 11th season with an ERA below 2.00, which would tie the mark set by the great Walter Johnson according to Rivera is also just four shy of reaching 1,000 games for his career, something only 14 pitchers in baseball history can claim.

No aspect of the Astros is particularly great this season, but the bullpen is certainly one of the glaring weaknesses. Houston has just five saves through Thursday, tied for the fewest in baseball. In contrast, the team already has nine blown saves. Astros relievers are also allowing a .300 batting average, by far the highest in the majors.

Brandon Lyon, now on the 15-day DL, has really struggled in relief this season. He has a WHIP over 2.10, and before going on the disabled list Lyon had allowed at least one earned run in four of his past five appearances. He has been extremely ineffective against lefties this year, allowing a .563 batting average and an OPS of 1.526.

Change of Pace
Ryan Madson
Ryan Madson of the Philadelphia Phillies has dominated in his newfound role as closer. Between May 7 and Thursday, Madson has three saves in as many appearances and has given up just two hits and no walks. Madson has just a 0.60 ERA this season, and in his last three outings his changeup has been key. Against the pitch, hitters are swinging and missing a staggering 62.5 percent of the time.

The case against ERA & introducing RPA

March, 31, 2010
Picture this: Top of the 9th inning, two out, men on second and third and the home team is up three. With the setup man unable to finish the game, the manager calls on the closer who he was trying to rest. The crowd goes wild as the bullpen doors open, but the noise quickly turns to silence as the closer gives up a two-run double. With the lead down to one run, the crowd rallies to the aid of the closer who induces a harmless ground ball. Game over.

Final stat line for the closer: (Save) 1/3 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, H, 0 BB, 0 K.

ERA: 0.00

Situations similar to this occur somewhat frequently in baseball. For years pitchers have been judged on ERA, wins, losses, saves and strikeouts. While this formula may work for starters, it leaves a lot to be desired for relievers. Relievers can’t be evaluated by ERA. ERA is based on 9 innings and most relievers rarely pitch more than an inning or two per game. Runs, and even more importantly, inherited runs scored are far more important in measuring a reliever’s success.

Now, you may be wondering how unearned runs can be counted against a reliever. It doesn’t seem fair does it? Well, the reality is relievers have one job to do: Come into the game, and get out of jams. Whether a reliever comes in with the bases loaded or no one on base, his job remains the same. That job, again, is to come into the game and leave the game with the score the same way as when they entered.

So, with this in mind I set out to create a stat that took into account the two most important stats for a reliever: runs allowed, and inherited runs scored. Rather than divide this number by innings, I chose to divide by appearances.

The result is the following formula that I dubbed “Runs Per Appearance” (RPA): Runs allowed plus inherited runs scored divided by pitching appearances.

The results are simple, like the formula. Good pitchers had solid RPA averages while pitchers who were helped by errors and inherited runs scoring and not their own, were exposed. Check out the results below.

Here's another way to illustrate it. While both Jamey Wright (4.33 ERA last season) and Manny Acosta (4.34 ERA) had similar ERAs, their RPAs (1.123 and .639 respectively) differed greatly. The league average among all relievers last season was .935. That takes into account all long relievers, closers, setup men, and specialists. So Wright had a below-average performance in terms of RPA while Acosta actually had an above-average season in terms of RPA. His .639 RPA is far from Mariano Rivera or Joe Nathan status, but it was most certainly above average for a reliever.

Is (R)uns (P)er (A)ppearance (RPA) a perfect stat? Absolutely not. However, RPA does tell a much more accurate story for relievers than ERA. If nothing else, this should be something interesting to track in 2010.