Does Stephen Strasburg Really Fall Apart After an Error?

The esteemed owner/curator of this blog (I’m writing in red today!) posited a question: Does Strasburg fall apart after an error is committed behind him more than any other pitcher would? There certainly seems to be a perception that he does; this is probably because people have a tendencies to remember the times when things go horribly wrong over those were nothing of significance happens.

The problem with answering this question is its subjectivity. What is “falling apart”? What standard should be used to measure “falling apart”? Why doesn’t Baseball Reference allow you to search for innings in which an error was committed? (OK, that last one is more a large inconvenience).

We decided upon looking at the Nationals’ top 4 starters in 2013 to see if there is any merit to the perception of Strasburg. Note: This means I told Jared it sounded like a good idea, and he did the research. This controls for a lot of variables: the team playing the behind the pitchers is the same, the coaches and strategy will generally be the same, the pitch calling will hopefully be consistent, etc. That seemed to be the best way to narrow it down to what the pitcher did and was responsible for.

I reviewed all of the 2013 starts for Gio, Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Haren (some of which I wish had remained forgotten) and categorized them as games with errors committed behind the pitcher and games with no errors. Further, in games with errors, I broke down the innings that they pitched into those with errors and those without. Finally, in innings with errors, I broke down what happened before the error occurred and after the error occurred. To the stats!

Pitcher Stat IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA RA FIP K/9 HR/9
Gonzalez Games No E 140.33 107 39 39 47 141 8 1 2.5 2.5 2.81 9.04 0.51
Haren Games No E 140.33 157 79 79 26 124 23 7 5.07 5.07 4.12 7.95 1.48
Strasburg Games No E 97 79 37 37 29 96 8 8 3.43 3.43 3.29 8.91 0.74
Zimmermann Games No E 128.67 130 62 62 25 102 16 3 4.34 4.34 3.73 7.13 1.12
Gonzalez Games E 55.33 62 40 34 29 51 9 1 5.53 6.51 4.95 8.3 1.46
Haren Games E 29.33 22 13 9 5 27 5 0 2.76 3.99 3.93 8.28 1.53
Strasburg Games E 86 57 34 24 27 95 8 4 2.51 3.56 3.13 9.94 0.84
Zimmermann Games E 84.67 62 19 15 15 59 3 4 1.59 2.02 2.79 6.27 0.32

From this we can see that from an overall game standpoint, the errors really didn’t have much of an effect. Aside from Gio, the pitching performance was the same or better in games with errors. So, as a whole, errors did not have a huge impact on performance.

Pitcher Stat IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA RA FIP K/9 HR/9
Gonzalez Innings No E 185 148 57 57 68 178 11 2 2.77 2.77 3.03 8.66 0.54
Haren Innings No E 164 175 86 86 31 146 27 7 4.72 4.72 4.1 8.01 1.48
Strasburg Innings No E 169.33 119 54 54 47 176 14 11 2.87 2.87 3.07 9.35 0.74
Zimmermann Innings No E 199.33 185 76 77 38 148 19 7 3.48 3.43 3.48 6.68 0.86
Gonzalez Innings E 10.67 20 18 13 8 13 5 0 10.97 15.19 8.95 10.97 4.22
Haren Innings E 6 4 4 0 0 5 1 0 0 6 3.55 7.5 1.5
Strasburg Innings E 13.67 17 17 7 9 15 2 1 4.61 11.2 4.95 9.88 1.32
Zimmermann Innings E 14 8 4 0 2 11 0 0 0 2.57 1.91 7.07 0

Here is the breakdown of the innings. Obviously, things went much worse for the starters in the innings that errors were committed with one obvious exception: Jordan Zimmermann is unfazed by errors. The Runs Allowed (RA) column (think ERA, but for all runs) seems to give credence to the idea that giving your opponent extra bases/outs/opportunities leads to giving up more runs.

But let’s take a look at those innings more closely:

Pitcher Stat IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA RA FIP K/9 HR/9
Gonzalez Before E 4.33 17 12 12 6 4 6 0 24.92 24.92 23.36 8.31 12.46
Haren Before E 2.67 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0.8 10.13 0
Strasburg Before E 4.67 7 2 2 5 3 0 1 3.86 3.86 5.62 5.79 0
Zimmermann Before E 4.67 4 0 0 2 5 0 0 0 0 2.19 9.64 0
Gonzalez After E 6.33 3 6 1 2 9 0 0 1.42 8.53 1.15 12.79 0
Haren After E 3.33 4 4 0 0 1 1 0 0 10.8 6.35 2.7 2.7
Strasburg After E 9 10 15 5 4 12 2 0 5 15 4.6 12 2
Zimmermann After E 9.33 4 4 0 0 6 0 0 0 3.86 1.76 5.79 0

There are some pretty interesting numbers there; the most of important of which may be the fact that we’re talking about maybe a game and a half worth of innings in a season where these guys pitched 30 games. Sample size is always important when drawing conclusions, and these are less than 7.5% of the whole season. But, I’m going to point things out anyway because that’s the hack sportswriter thing to do (am I right?). Yes, and also because I am insisting that you do. To our readers, know that Jared would not normally engage in such reckless mathematical extrapolation, but I am a cruel and unjust editor. I hate the wave, so it must be true. 

We can see that Strasburg does tend to give up more runs after an error than the other pitchers on the staff and his FIP goes up by about 1.5 over an errorless inning. But, he still improved after the error was committed from a FIP standpoint. The only pitcher here that had a higher FIP (ergo pitched worse after the error) was Haren, and most of that can be attributed to the one HR he gave up. *Insert remark about just one HR after an E being surprising here. 

As you can see from the “Before E” line, Strasburg wasn’t exactly lighting things up in those innings to begin with. He wasn’t as bad as Gio (I mean holy crap), but still not great. For both Strasburg and Gonzalez, it looks like the errors just exacerbated innings that were already going poorly. If you are going to draw a conclusion, it should be that the guys in the field didn’t take the opportunity to bail out their struggling pitcher, not that the pitcher got flustered after an error was committed. Though, for both Stras and Gio, there is a significant uptick in strikeouts after an error is committed. This, in my opinion, is a reflection of a “eff you guys, I do this myself” attitude.  

Also, Jordan Zimmerman doesn’t give a f@#$.

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