Stats & Info: Nick Blackburn

Superior starts leaderboard update

July, 13, 2010
The first half of the baseball season was highlighted by several incredible individual pitching performances, with four no-hitters in the books and 18 different pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title that have an ERA under 3.00. Hurlers have dominated the headlines so much during the first few months that 2010 is already being dubbed “The Year of the Pitcher” by experts and pundits across the country.

Prior to the season, we set out to redefine the traditional quality start stat (6 IP, 3 ER or fewer), with the intent to make it a more legitimate statistic that would reward the best performances by a starting pitcher. Little did we know that pitchers would redefine quality over and over again throughout the first half of the season.

First, a quick summary of our method to define a “Superior Start”: we took the two elements of a starter's pitching line that are now used in current definition of a quality start (innings and earned runs) and assigned a 0-100 grade on each outing based on the expected team winning percentage, given the combo of innings and earned runs allowed by the starter.

Since our last update in May, we made one significant change to the model: the grade on each start is now season-dependent, meaning that it is now calculated relative to all starts made that season. Even with this adjustment, a Superior Start is still defined as any start with a grade of 75 or greater.

Now, here’s a look at the first-half leaders in Superior Starts:

Not surprisingly, six of the top seven pitchers in Superior Starts are slated to take the mound tonight in Anaheim. David Price, the American League All-Star Game starter is just off this list with nine superior starts this season

The Yankees – who enter the break with the most wins – also lead in Superior Starts and are the only team in the majors with five pitchers that have at least five superior starts each. The Pirates have the fewest number of superior starts with 14, which is only one more than the individual leader, Josh Johnson!

Speaking of bad pitching, there actually was some in the first half of the season, and to make sure that it gets proper recognition, we also have created an Inferior Start metric. It is defined as any start with a grade of 25 or below.

Here are the “leaders in inferiority” at the break:

Scott Kazmir wins the award for the worst start of the first half, with his five-inning, 13-run disaster this past Saturday against the Athletics. And it should come as no surprise to see the Pirates, Indians and Orioles leading the list of most Inferior Starts, as they also rank second, first, and fourth, respectively, in the most losses among major-league teams entering the second half of the season.

Be sure to look for our Superior Starts leaderboard later this month on Baseball Tonight, and for further updates during the rest of the season.

Tuesday's 1st pitch: Stairs ties a record

April, 6, 2010
Today’s Trivia: Matt Stairs tied a major league record on Monday just by getting into the game. In making his Padres debut, Stairs has now played for 12 different teams, which ties Deacon McGuire (who played from 1884 to 1912) for the most ever by a position player. Pitchers Mike Morgan and Ron Villone can also claim 12 teams. Stairs had been tied for second with an eclectic group: Royce Clayton, Todd Zeile, Kenny Lofton and Paul Bako. Since breaking into the big leagues in 1992, Stairs has had more than 600 teammates. Who are Stairs’ only two former teammates currently in the Hall of Fame?

Jason Heyward In Context: Jason Heyward was 317 days old when Bobby Cox was hired by the Braves to replace Russ Nixon as manager in 1990. On Monday, as Cox managed his final Opening Day, Heyward stole the show. Not only did Heyward homer in his first career plate appearance, he did so with his first swing, depositing a 2-0 Carlos Zambrano pitch deep to right. That won’t do much to lessen the hype surrounding the phenom, who is just 20 years and 240 days old right now. Let’s put his accomplishment in context:

-- According the Elias Sports Bureau, Heyward is the youngest player to homer in his first at-bat since Cincinnati’s Ted Tappe in 1950. Whitey Lockman was 20 days shy of his 19th birthday when he hit a home run in his first at-bat for the Giants in 1945. That makes Heyward the third youngest to do it according to Elias.

-- Perhaps the Braves should start more rookies on Opening Day. Last year, Jordan Schafer homered in the opener in his first career plate appearance. He was the first rookie to start on Opening Day for the Braves since Chipper Jones. Before Schafer, the last player to homer on Opening Day in his first plate appearance was Kazuo Matsui in 2004. Before that it was Will Clark in 1986.

-- Another gem from Elias: Only two players who homered in their first major league at-bat are in the Hall of Fame: Earl Averill (who did it for the 1929 Indians) and Hoyt Wilhelm (for the 1952 New York Giants). It was the only home run of Wilhelm's big league career.

-- Baseball Tonight researcher Mark Simon points out that Frank Howard’s 382 career homers are the most ever for a player who hit a home run in his first game. Other notables: Orlando Cepeda, Yogi Berra, Bobby Bonds.

Quote of the Day: "I was yelling 'Balk' as soon as he threw it." - Phillies catcher Brian Schneider on President Obama’s pitch, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Today’s Leaderboard: It’s April, which means it is Joe Saunders’ month to shine. The Angels lefty, who makes his season debut tonight against the Twins, is 10-1 in April in his career. That’s the best April win percentage of any pitcher (minimum 10 decisions) over the last 50 years. Among active players, Joe Nathan’s 9-1 April record is the next best. April magic will be put to its greatest test on Thursday when Dontrelle Willis and his 14-2 record take the hill.

Matchups of the Day: A pair of interesting head-to-head battles in Anaheim tonight. Bobby Abreu is a lifetime .538 hitter against Nick Blackburn. Only Chone Figgins (.563) has flummoxed Blackburn more. (Side note: Figgins draws Dallas Braden tonight, against whom he is a .538 hitter.) But there’s an even more intriguing matchup to watch: Joe Mauer is 0-8 lifetime against Joe Saunders. His last three at-bats were infield groundouts. Mike Mussina is the only other pitcher against whom Mauer is hitless in at least eight at-bats.

Trivia Answer: Stairs’ longest stop on his odyssey was in Oakland from 1996 to 2000. In 1998, he played with Rickey Henderson. His second Hall of Fame teammate is a bit tougher to get, but’s Oracle tool comes to the rescue. In his initial cup of coffee with the Expos in 1992 (13 games), Stairs teamed up with Gary Carter, who was in his final season.