Weaver in the 1 Spot

Graham has improved every year, but before he challenges for a division, he's going to have to keep improving. Obviously, he drafted a monster offense in 2001. And with that offense, he drafted a staff that was adequate enough to hold opponents to less runs than he scored. So why did he lose more than he won? Rob Neyer and Pythagorus might say it was bad luck. I like more tangible answers, and I'd like to examine Graham's decision to put Weaver in the #1 spot as a possible reason.

The forward to the examination are the stats for Graham's starting staff, which I have listed below, minus Lieber and Benson. Park's case doesn't exactly speak to the issue at hand, because he spent time in both the #3 spot and the #5 spot, I believe, but we'll include his stats just 'cuz we can.

        W  L GS  IP   SUP/9  R/9  ERA BF/9 BR/9  H/9 BB/9 SO/9 HR/9
Weaver  5 17 33 171.0   5.7 7.37 7.11 41.7 15.4 11.7  3.1  6.7 1.79
Kile   19 11 33 244.0   6.8 5.20 4.76 38.7 12.1  8.6  3.3  5.9 1.48
Park   15 11 32 222.2   7.4 6.55 6.02 40.9 14.9  8.7  5.9  6.8 1.50
Rusch   5 15 32 168.1   5.5 6.63 5.83 41.8 15.5 11.3  3.5  7.8 1.66

Weaver and Glendon Rusch -- pitching mostly as Graham's #4 -- had similar numbers, with maybe the only tangible difference being Rusch's smaller home run allowance, which may be why Rusch allowed .7 runs less per 9 than Weaver. In any event, these numbers illustrate that given a 1.6 differential between support and runs allowed (the difference between both Kile and Weaver's SUP/9 and their R/9), you get a drastic deviation in individual winning percentage ... but I don't know if the numbers say anything about whether Graham improved or hurt his team winning percentage with Weaver as his #1.

Whether it is valuable to mix up a rotation to improve your matchups is an age old question in the SL. In the early days of the SL, pitchers rarely seemed to get hurt, and we were always on the same game number, so a premium was put on who pitched where in the rotation. Yet we rarely made Weaver-at-1 type gambles. Since Internet play began in '99, we both seemed to have had pitchers hurt a lot more than ever, and have faced each other with skewed matchups (that is to say, with 1 spots not facing other 1 spots, 2 spots not facing other 2 spots, etc.) due to scheduling.

I exchanged several emails with Greg this season on the subject, usually regarding how valuable he felt Jeff D'Amico was when he wasn't in the #1 spot. While in years past I was a big proponent of the tactic and shared in Greg's opinion, these last couple years, I am no longer so certain.

The best examination I can think of for the subject of Weaver at #1 relates to my pitching staff this season, as I had a fairly balanced top 4. My #1 was Sirotka, a lefty non-Z 12. My #2 was Mussina, a righty 11 Z. My #3 was Ankiel, a lefty non-Z 11. And my #4 was Castillo, a righty non-Z 11. I had just one injury during the year, to Castillo, which prevented him from making 2 starts ... but he was replaced in those 2 starts by Carl Pavano, also a righty non-Z 11. Here are the pertinent stats for these 4 rotation spots, with Castillo and Pavano's stats combined. I won't add in Jamie Moyer and Steve Sparks's numbers, the guys who combined for 3 starts in place of Mussina and Castillo after I had clinched.

    W  L GS  IP   SUP/9  R/9  ERA BF/9 BR/9  H/9 BB/9 SO/9 HR/9
#1  9 10 33 220.1   5.1 5.47 5.15 39.9 13.4  9.0  3.8  6.3 1.67
#2  9  9 31 195.1   6.1 6.59 6.22 39.8 13.5  9.6  3.5  7.7 2.26
#3  9 10 32 180.0   4.3 5.70 5.25 40.3 13.8  8.1  5.3  8.8 1.75
#4  9 13 31 179.2   5.2 5.06 4.61 40.4 14.0  8.9  4.8  5.9 1.50

What can be gleaned from the above? If it adds credence or not to the notion that it doesn't make a difference who pitches where, I don't know, but the biggest thing I can pick up from these numbers is that ALL FOUR SPOTS FINISHED WITH 9 WINS. Other stats that stand out at me are the BF/9 numbers (all within .6) and how important the HR/9 numbers are, as my spot (#4) with the lowest R/9 had the highest BF/9 but the lowest HR/9, and in reverse the spot (#2) who had the highest R/9 had the lowest BF/9 but the highest HR/9. Curiously, the #4 spot -- you'd think facing the worst pitchers in this grouping -- had some of the best stats relevant to earning wins (lowest R/9, highest ratio of SUP/9 to R/9), but had the worst W-L record. Collectively, my SUP/9 numbers were about 5.2, with two huge variances -- a positive variance for the #2, who received 6.1 run support per 9 (didn't he face the 2nd best starter?), and a large negative variance for the #3 (didn't he face the 2nd worst starter?), who received a paltry 4.3.

I can't see anything in the above numbers -- both mine and Graham's -- that says whether it matters or not where you place your pitchers in your rotation. But I'll add what I think is an important point -- there's nothing in the data that disputes the following belief ... pitch your top pitcher in the #1 spot in the rotation, because for no other reason, it will give him the best chance to not miss a start if he gets injured, something which can affect your team's winning percentage.

I can conclude one thing, based on Weaver and Rusch's numbers and on the below numbers:

        W  L GS  IP   SUP/9  R/9  ERA BF/9 BR/9  H/9 BB/9 SO/9 HR/9
scrub1  5  7 32 125.1   7.3 5.82 5.74 41.5 15.8 11.4  4.0  4.7 1.87
scrub2  6  5 31 138.0   8.0 7.11 6.65 41.7 15.9 11.3  4.2  7.2 1.83
scrub3  1  7 30  83.1   7.0 9.18 8.64 43.8 18.3 14.4  3.6  5.2 2.59

This group represents Greg's trio of Rogers, Sele and Rekar, two 6 Z's and an 8 Z. Now these guys pitched in different spots in the rotation throughout the year due to injury, so they don't match exactly with how we were analyzing the previous set of data, but their numbers still can be useful. Their numbers that jump out at me are SUP/9, which collectively is probably just under 7.5, their innings per start, which is about 3 and 2/3 per start, and their small amount of decisions, a mere 31 (12-19) in 93 starts -- whereas Graham received 42 decisions in 65 Weaver-Rusch starts. Thanks in great part to Alfonzo, Greg scored a ton of runs in inning one, which allowed for some very high SUP/9 numbers for this group. So even if these guys gave up runs early, which they did with great frequency, Greg was able to pull these guys and use his bullpen for 5 and 1/3 and give himself a chance to win. Graham, on the other hand, averaged nearly 5.1 in the games started by Weaver and Rusch, and put himself at a grave disadvantage. No matter how bad a team's last reliever is, he'll still be better than a Jeff Weaver, which is causing a fundamental shift in the SL that any "Weaver-as-1" discussion further illustrates ... it doesn't matter where you put someone in your rotation as long as you use your bullpen for each starter in an appropriate manner. In Graham's case, that means he can pitch Weaver in the 1 spot, but not with the intention of pitching him 5 and 1/3 against the league's best, rather with the idea that your bullpen can vulture some wins from the gamble.

Tying this conclusion in with Graham's losing more than he won in 2001 despite outscoring his opponents, I'll say he didn't use his bullpen enough in the games that Weaver and Rusch pitched, which may not have affected his Pythagorean numbers, which still may have more to do with luck than anything else, as much as he may have affected his overall winning percentage.

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