Monday, June 13, 2011

Run Support

The AL and the NL each now have one pitcher who has won nine games. Over in the NL, it's Roy Halladay, who has managed the feat by pitching lights-out -- he currently has a 2.39 ERA. Here in the AL, it is Jon Lester who has done it by pitching only slightly better than the league average. So what is his secret? Run support.

For every nine innings that Lester pitches, the Red Sox score 9.77 runs. Insane. Among qualified pitchers, that's the second best run support in the major leagues.*

Here are the run support stats for the entire rotation. 2011 numbers are first, followed by full-season 2010 numbers in parentheses:

Lester -9.77 (6.88)
Lackey - 8.12 (7.07)
Buchholz - 6.37 (6.79)
Wakefield - 5.77 (5.45)
Beckett - 5.75 (7.67)

While Lester's run support is up, Beckett's run support is down. A lot. (Though even so it is only just slightly below the median figure --5.77 -- for all qualified big league pitchers.) Perhaps he is just so dominant that our hitters figure they can take things easy when he's on the mound.

On the other hand, the Sox have never given Wakefield that much support, which makes his accomplishments that much more impressive.

* "Qualified pitchers" are those that have pitched an average of at least one inning for every game their team has played, i.e., the "qualified pitchers" on the Red Sox staff are those that have pitched at least 65 innings. The run support leader among all qualified pitchers in the big leagues is Jake Arrieta of the Baltimore Orioles, whose run support is at 9.79, just the tiniest sliver above Lester's. Despite Jake's 4.48 ERA, he is already an 8-game winner.


  1. Run support is an interesting angle, and one that I occasionally ponder when Don & Jerry bring it up. My impression was that certain pitchers like Lester and Lackey always seem to get run support while others don't - and now I can see that the numbers support it!
    Although I wonder how innings pitched plays into this: recently, even when Wakefield pitches well, he's not pitching that long (my gut tells me that he averages 5-6 innings an outing), which gives his teammates less of an opportunity to score runs for him. It seems like the Sox score more runs against the soft underbelly of most teams bullpens after their patient bats have chased the opposing starter from the game (although admitably this may not be born out by the numbers and i'm too lazy to do the research). So if the starter doesn't make it to those later innings, they miss out on those opportunities.

  2. No doubt, there is any number of reasons why the run support stat is misleading. It may be, for instance, that Josh Beckett simply gets matched up more against great pitchers (e.g., he's already pitched against Sabathia multiple times this year.) It may also be that, by a quirk of the schedule, some pitchers have pitched more at home.

    None of that changes my initial argument - that Lester's record is due largely to his impressive run support. But you're right, it's simplistic to say that the run support is because the lineup simply supports some pitchers more than others.

  3. What I find fascinating about baseball stats is that none of them really tell you the whole story. Some stats are more useful than others, and other stats are useful for pointing out trends or aspects of the game that aren't immediately apparent. It's like to get a true picture of a player, you need to take all of the available stats and look at them together and a true picture starts to obliquely form out of all of the data...

    I appreciate you compiling and sharing all of these numbers! It's fascinating to think about.