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Wednesday, October 06, 2004
The Big Inning

Much has been said about Jon Garland, and "the Big Inning", the theory that seemed to sprout up sometime last season. Hawk would lament about the big inning coming up to bite Big Jon again. I grew tired of the phrase much more so than I did the occasional three run inning.

When Hawk started this season again complaining about the big inning, I really thought to myself about how runs were scored in the Majors, and whether there was anything to his assertion. I not-so-secretly thought that it was just his imagination that Garland's ERA was more affected by the big inning than other comparable pitchers.

I like to call it the yellow Jeep theory. The yellow Jeep is a rare vehicle. It occupies a small portion of all cars on the road, yet by me planting the seed with this little interlude you will ultimately notice every single yellow jeep you pass for the foreseeable future. It's unavoidable. You'll be stuck on the Kennedy and it will be right there next to you, you wouldn't have thought anything of it before, but now; it's a Yellow Jeep.

So I set out to do an objective study of exactly how Jon Garland has allowed runs to score, and how he compared to other pitchers. Tedious at times, this required that I dig through the box scores and game logs of both Garland, and those to whom I wished to compare. The result was a very small sample size. I only dug through a few pitchers logs. All were carefully selected, however.

I went through each of Jon's last three seasons, to see if there was any marked difference from year to year. Then I selected 3 pitchers to compare him to, not knowing what the results would indicate. The three pitchers I chose were Mark Buehrle, easily accessible to anyone familiar with the White Sox; Carlos Silva, #3 pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, playing in a hitter friendly park this season; Bronson Arroyo, #3/4 pitcher for the Boston Redsox.

The pitchers all shared a few traits. 1)They pitched in the AL. 2)They pitched in hitter friendly parks. 3)with the exception of Buehrle, each was not the teams top starter.(I wasn't looking to include any aces here, but by the same token, I wasn't trying to include a bunch of scrubs either.)

To accurately conduct this "study" (study in quotes because I recognize the extremely small sample size) I had to first define what the big inning was. Thankfully, in one of Jon's last few starts DJ actually mentioned specifically what a big inning is. He defined it as any inning where a pitcher allows three or more runs. Simple enough, and very handy.

Keith Woolner did a study a few years ago about how teams scored runs, or more accurately he did a highly complicated study that happened to include how many runs and how often in an inning. The key piece of information you need from it is this,
...between 1980 and 1998, 94.6% of all innings had less than three runs scored; 87.8% had less than two, and 73% of all innings played saw no runs scored.
There you go. Between 1980 and 1998 the big inning occured just 5.4% of the time. That's our baseline.

This baseline has a few flaws however. 1) It included all of baseball, not just the American League. 2) Scoring has increased. Rapidly. In the last three seasons runs per game has increased from 4.618 to 4.728 to 4.814. Back in 1980, runs per game was down around 4.25. So we have to take that into consideration when we make our final comparison.

Alright then, how about some raw data? These should be fairly simple to read. The numbers across the top represent the Runs per Inning. Listed in the row below that is the number of occurrences for each (i.e. 14 2-run innings). Below that is the total number of runs associated with that inning. And finally below that is the Number of innings and runs attributed to little inning and the big inning.

Jon Garland
2004 -- 217IP 4.89ERA
# of times341485201
total runs342824201007
Innings & runs48 & 6216 & 61

This season 49.5% of Jon's runs have come during the big inning, which accounted for 7.37% of all of his innings pitched.

2003 -- 191.2IP 4.51ERA
# of times41141010
total runs41283040
Innings & runs55 & 6911 & 34

In 2003, 33% of Jon's runs came during the big inning, which accounted for 5.7% of all of his innings pitched.

2002 -- 192.2IP 4.58ERA
# of times27131123
total runs272633815
Innings & runs40 & 5316 & 56

In 2002, 51.4% of Jon's runs came during the big inning, which accounted for 8.3% of all of his innings pitched.

Mark Buehrle 245IP 3.89ERA
# of times381792101
total runs3834278507
Innings & runs55 & 7113& 47

This season 34.7% of Mark's runs have come during the big inning, which accounted for 5.3% of all of his innings pitched.

Carlos Silva -- 203IP 4.23ERA
# of times3317522
total runs333415810
Innings & runs50 & 679 & 33

This season, 33% of Carlos' runs have come during the big inning, accounting for 4.43% of all of his innings pitched.

Bronson Arroyo -- 178.2IP 4.03ERA
# of times2815912
total runs283027410
Innings & runs43 & 5812& 41

This season, 41.4% of Bronson's runs have come during the big inning, accounting for 6.8% of all of his innings pitched.

There's a whole lot of information there to digest. Distilling the information further: On his career(last three seasons actually), Garland has allowed runs to score in 30.9% of his innings pitched, compared to just 27% as cited in the study. Taking into consideration the inflation in runs scored in recent years, along with the bandbox of a ballpark Garland has called home this past season, and I think Jon's numbers come out pretty close to average. Is that a great thing? No. But I can't really say that Jon has been the big inning pitcher that Hawk would like you to believe.

This season, and in 2002, a larger portion of Jon's runs came from the big inning, but there's only a little correlation to his ERA. In 2003, Jon was very good at avoiding the big inning, yet his ERA was still right at league average due to the extraordinary amount of 1-run innings he allowed.

I set out to prove Hawk and DJ wrong by doing this little study, and while I didn't do that, I didn't exactly prove them right either.

Notes: I feel, without actually doing the work to find out, that the percentage of Big Innings in the American League now is closer to 6%(and maybe more) than the study I cited shows. While doing the study, I used all runs (earned or unearned), as it's the pitchers job to prevent runs, and that's what the original study measured. There is a small number of innings not included in the pitchers total, because I counted runs from innings where a pitcher was charged runs, but may not have recorded outs. (i.e. 6.0+IP 5ER, where 2 ER where in the 7th inning, only counted as 6 innings pitched) This inflates the % a little bit.