another newbie MLB question

I mentioned in an earlier thread that I’ve become a casual fan of baseball since it came back to DC. I’m trying to understand the game on a deeper level, so I sometimes ask stupid questions. Here is my latest:

It’s kind of conventional wisdom in DC sports writing that Jordan Zimmermann doesn’t get the run support that Gonzalez or Strasburg do and that if he did, he’d be considered every bit as good as they are. My question is: why would that be the case? Has it just been a statistical accident that the Nats’ lineup hasn’t performed as well for Zimmermann as they hyave for Gio and Stras, or is there a systemic reason for it?

Yes, sometimes one pitcher will get far less run support than another on the same team, or far more. The quality of the other team’s pitchers can be a factor but there is not always a discernible reason for these kinds of things over the course of a whole year. Sometimes pitchers just don’t have much luck with run support. Statistics like wins and losses don’t take that into account, which is one reason people are paying more attention to other measurements that focus on the stuff the pitcher can control. Zimmermann has an unimpressive 5-6 record this year, but yes, the other stats say he’s been much better than that.

Zimmermann has 1.12 walks and hits per inning pitched, 74 strikeouts and 22 walks this season. His ERA+, which takes his ERA, adjusts for the various ballparks he’s pitched in, and compares it to the rest of the league, is a very good of 151. Strasburg is 9-4 with a WHIP of 1.10, 128 Ks and 28 walks and an ERA+ of 140. Gonzalez is 12-3 with a WHIP of 1.11, 118 strikeouts and 42 strikeouts and a 135 ERA+. So in terms of those stats, yes, he’s at about the same level as the other two pitchers. On the other hand they strike out far more hitters than Zimmermann does and I think that has to work in their favor- especially Strasburg, who leads the league in Ks. Strasburg has walked about the same number of hitters as Zimmermann while striking out almost twice as many. Zimmermann strikes out 3.3 batters for each walk and Gonzalez is at 2.8, which is a less favorable radio- but still, he strikes out a lot more batters.

Thanks for the detailed answer. Now another question: I have heard rumors that they sometimes will play baseball into late September, or even October, but as a Nats fan, I’ve never had a chance to find out if these are true, could it be that the tales are true are and we’re about to find out in DC?

They don’t have baseball in October down there? Are you sure that’s not a scheduling error?

-Yankees fan

My favorite lack of support for a good pitcher was for Randy Johnson with the Diamondbacks in 1999. The four games that he pitched from June 25 to July 10 went like this:
June 25 vs. St. Louis: Johnson gives up 5 hits and 1 run in 9 innings, but they lose 1-0. His team supported him with 0 hits and 0 runs.
June 30 vs. Cincinnati: Johnson gives up 7 hits and 2 runs in 8 innings (CG), but they lose 2-0. His team supported him with 1 hit and 0 runs.
July 5 vs. St. Louis: Johnson gives up 4 hits and 1 run in 8 innings (CG), but they lose 1-0. His team supported him with 2 hits and 0 runs.
July 10 vs. Oakland: Johnson gives up 3 hits and 2 runs (1 unearned) in 7 innings, but they lose 2-0. His team supported him with 3 hits and 0 runs.

From 4 excellent pitching performances, he was 0-4. His support was a grand total of 6 hits and 0 runs over the 4 games.

To top off the stretch, in his next game he gave up 6 hits and 0 runs in 8 innings. He left with his team leading 2-0. The reliever blew the save in the 9th, giving up 3 runs to lose 3-2.

Taking this discussion to the “next level,” I would say that Zimmermann has not pitched as well as Strasburg/Gonzalez. This has nothing to do with his won/loss record and more to do with his various luck-based peripherals.

Defense-Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS) is a theory (which agrees well with reality) that a pitcher has little to no control over balls that are hit into play. This excludes home runs. Basically, a pitcher is expected to have a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of between .290 and .310. Zimmermann is at .267 right now, which would indicate that he has been lucky in the first half of the season. Gonzalez has a similar BABIP, but because he strikes out so many more guys, that means fewer balls in play and thus the effect is lessened. Where I’m going with all this is that Zimmermann’s ERA is not indicative of how he has pitched in the first half this year. Based on the things a pitcher has most control over (home runs, walks and strikeouts), we would expect his ERA to be about a run higher (3.6 or so) if his various luck-based peripheral stats were normal.

By xFIP:

Zimmerman 3.72
Strasburg 2.61
Gonzalez 3.06

So yeah, I’m with markdash - Zimmerman’s been pretty good, but the other two are better.

Thanks, my question isn’t whether Zimm is as good as Gio or Stras (I don’t think even Zimm would think that), but rather what circumstances cause Zimm to not get the same kind of run support that Gio and Stras get.

It’s just pure luck. It’s to be expected such differences in run support will happen by mere chance.