ALWC and ALDS Starting Pitcher Predictions: Foul Ball Totals Accurate Predictors of How Long Starters will Last?

Foul Ball Predictions So Far: AL Version

 

With the Wild Card and ALDS series’ completed, I thought I’d take this post to break down the wonder of foul ball predictions I’ve made this postseason thus far, and illustrate some interesting data regarding the first-of-its-kind study into the relevance of foul balls in baseball.

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This is the postseason, so some of the commonly accepted “rules” of the game no longer apply. As a result of this fact, I am giving the predictions a modest +/- 1 inning range.

 

I based my numbers on the “100 pitches rule” used by most skippers in the modern era of baseball. This assumption became an issue when I crunched the numbers and realized that the AL starters weren’t even averaging 100 pitches. Their average in the ALWC and both ALD Series’ topped at 97.8 pitches on average, with two significant anomalies in Chen and Wilson taken out of the equation. Had I left them in, the total AL pitch count average, as I explain more below, would have been sub-90.

So, how well has assessing how soon a pitcher will be removed from a postseason game based on the number of hitters who generated offense versus were out after their plate appearance with one or more foul balls gone? Given the stricter pitch counts and the +/-1 inning range I predict within, it’s going surprisingly well, maybe even modestly better than the guys on First Pitch and a few other SiriusXM MLB Network shows.

 

ALWC

The game between the Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals saw John Lester making it 8 innings and James Shields lasting 6.2 innings. Based on their 2013 foul ball data, I predicted that Lester would be out in 7.1 innings and Shields would be gone in 5. Thus, I predicted a +/-1 of 12.1 innings. They combined for 14.2. I was off by a mere 0.1 innings (10.1-14.1) given the plus/minus.

ALDS 1: Tigers v. Orioles

The Game 1 match-up between these teams was between Detroit Tigers ace Max Scherzer and Tillman. For Scherzer, I predicted 6.1 innings. I adjusted his 2013 numbers because he wasn’t nearly as dominant as last season, but that was an error apparently, because he lasted 7.1 (and many Tigers fans think he should have been left in to finish the 8th). I was also slightly off on Tillman. He lasted 5 after I predicted 6. But again, the starters met my overall prediction of 12.1 innings between them, and both were within the +/-1.

 

(c) Columbia Tribune
(c) Columbia Tribune

Game 2 between these teams brought about a major anomaly. I’d predicted 6 for Verlander and 7 for Chen. Verlander was pulled way too early, only going five innings and Chen, well, who knows what happened there. He was out in 3.2 innings. This means I was off on Chen by 2.1 innings with the +/- 1 figured in. Clearly, that was a shocker based on the numbers.

 

In Game 3 the Tigers put David Price against Norris. I had Price lasting 6 maximum and Norris lasting 7. Price went 8. Norris came out at 6.1 innings. This means I was off 1.1 innings even when I adjust for the plus/minus.

 

Overall, the foul ball based predictions were close. The total innings off when Chen is out of the equation is 2.1 innings with the +/-1, and 4.2 with Chen figured in.

 

ALDS 2: Kansas City Royals vs. Los Angeles Angels

In Game 1 Vargas and Weaver met. For these starters, I predicted 6 and 7 respectively. I was dead on. They lasted exactly that long.

 

Game 2 was a close prediction as well, one that was within the plus/minus range. This match-up saw Ventura face off against Shoemaker. Ventura, I said, would be out in 7 and Shoemaker would exit in 6. I missed Ventura by one inning (but still within the +/- 1 innings range), and was right about Shoemaker lasting 6.

 

The final game of the series, Game 3, pitted Wilson and Shields against one another. This was a mess. Wilson came out after only 23 pitches (2/3rds of an inning). Like Chen, this was an anomaly. As for Shields, I predicted 7-8 innings. He topped out at 6 innings, but within the plus/minus. Overall though I was .1 inning off if I take out the Wilson start and consider the +/- 1 adjustment. Not bad. With the Wilson start included, I was about 6 innings off.

 

Overall, the foul ball based predications were close in this series too. The total innings off when Wilson is taken out of the equation is 0 innings with the +/-1, but a whopping 5.1 with him figured in.

 

In total, the American League games messed me up in a major way when we consider the two flukes named Chen and Wilson.

 

Observations

One thing I noticed while running the numbers up to this point is the Wild Card averages for pitches hurled by starters came to 97.75 (99.5 for ALWC and 95.5 for NLWC). That rate dropped in the ALDS series’. They dropped significantly to 88.17 pitches on average. Even when I take out the Chen and Wilson anomalies it is an average of 97.8. The NLDS series’ ended up being at the century mark, with starters averaging 100 pitches before being pulled. It’s this increased pitch count that made me significantly more accurate for the NL series’ than those in the AL.

 

On another note, the percentages of foul balls vs. offensive play also illustrated the importance of foul balls in predicting not only the inning a pitcher would be pulled within +/-1 inning, but also allowed me to choose with significant accuracy which hurler would last the longest in the game. Of the 7 AL games (1 ALWC and 6 ALDS games) I predicted using foul ball data only, I missed two starters. Perhaps ironically, those pitchers are both Detroit Tigers; I had Norris outlasting Price and Chen going longer than Verlander. Chen may have been accurate had he not been removed in 3.2 innings with a mere 57 pitches tossed. This means I predicted with about a 72% accuracy, missing the +/- 1 inning totals by 2.1 innings when Chen and Wilson are taken out.

 

Considering it’s the playoffs, that’s pretty good for a first-of-its-kind analysis and the prognostications included in it.