By Casey Boguslaw
“Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher” – Earl Weaver
The quote above from a Hall of Fame manager exemplifies an opinion help by many regarding momentum in sports. The evolution of advanced stats has given a strong stance that momentum is simply theoretical; there is nothing that proves that a hot team will simply remain hot (or cold remains cold). When Weaver was asked about momentum in baseball, he used this quote to define that nothing else has as strong of an effect on the next day’s game as who will be taking the mound. There is a lot of truth in that statement; if a pitcher is perfectly “unhittable” no amount of BABIP luck can change the outcome of the game. To go even further, a remarkable pitching performance can only be beaten by an even more remarkable performance. The next day’s starting pitcher can completely erase the feelings of a bad loss from the previous day.
Is this a skill? Teams pay “ace” pitchers every year huge sums of money to lead their rotation. They give them that #1 spot both in the regular season and playoffs to guarantee the maximum amount of starts. However, the term “stopper” has also been given to ace pitchers over the years. When a team is going through a losing streak, an ace is looked to be able to turn the fortunes of the team and step up and get the team a W.
Another baseball genius, Lou Brown from the Major League movies, had a different great baseball quote. “If we win today, it’s called two in a row. And if we win again tomorrow, it’s called a winning streak…It has happened before!” Let’s use that quote to define a losing streak as also three games. I took a look at every team’s results from the 2014 season and singled out every instance of a three game or longer losing streak and compiled the statistics from the next day’s starting pitcher. What I was aiming to discover is who are the best “stoppers” in the game? Is a team’s perceived ace the best in a streak-breaker role?
A few notes before the results: obviously, a good team will have fewer losing streaks than a bad team thus giving pitchers on good teams less chances. The Angels and Dodgers only had three instances in 2014 each where the team was on a three-game-or-longer losing streak (the Rockies had 12). Also, to even appear in a spot where your team is on a three game losing streak is somewhat due to luck. This is the case because a pitching rotation is generally set in stone. However, another benefit of looking at these results is would it be more beneficial for a manager to switch up a rotation to get their “stopper” in to stop the bleeding?
Here are the results for each pitcher who had at least three starts with their team having lost at least three straight games, sorted by ERA. The wins and losses are the team’s results in those games, the pitcher did not necessarily receive the W or L.
|Rockies||De La Rosa, J||6||3||3.60|
|Red Sox||Lester, BOS||2||3||4.45|
|Red Sox||De La Rosa, R||1||2||4.67|
- The first item that is eye-popping is that Chris Tillman leads the list. Tillman is technically the Orioles ace but he is hardly paid as one. To be the #1 on a 96 win team is significant, but Tillman is widely unknown. His stopper stats should be continued to be kept track of during this season as he will be a free agent after the year.
- Even as good of an appearance a pitcher has, they often can’t control the ultimate result of the game. Edinson Volquez and Chris Sale had ERAs under 1 in their stopper appearances yet the team lost more of their games than they won.
- The best stats of any pitcher on the list may be Cole Hamels. The Phillies should be using these figures to drive up the trade price for their ace.
- The worst stats of any pitcher is probably Justin Masterson’s. I separated his results between the two teams he pitched for last year (he was traded midseason from the Indians to the Cardinals). He had an additional start while with the Cardinals and had a 10.38 ERA (5 ER in 4.1 IP) in the outing. The Cards also lost the game.
- The three worst stats for perceived aces – David Price, Jon Lester, Yovanni Gallardo – all pitchers who will start the season on different teams than who they started for last year (Price and Lester were traded midseason). Did their original teams see these stats before making the trades/releases?
- Some sleeper names whose agents should be touting these stats? Also possible late round picks for your upcoming fantasy drafts – Gavin Floyd, Alex Cobb, Kyle Gibson, Tyson Ross, Alex Wood.
I will keep an updated list of stopper stats for the 2015 season and provide interesting updates throughout the season. A great pitcher needs to have a short memory. He also needs to be someone whose manager can trust him in an important outing. There is sometimes no more important outing than after losing a few games in a row.