Preseason Heartburn Rankings

Well, after watching Tom Gorzelanny and his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day on Sunday, I’ve spent some time thinking about the Nats pitchers.

Specifically, what is it about certain pitchers that gives a Nats fan heartburn as they take the mound? Why am I always so apprehensive when Gorzelanny comes into the game? Because I remember days like Sunday, when Gorzo serves up a smorgasbord of pitching futility: walks, wild pitches, home runs.

So I got to thinking: what if I ranked the Nats pitchers by their propensity to give up home runs–that is, by their HR/9 rate? Well, if we look at totals since 2008 (my standard measuring interval on this blog), the list looks like this:

  1. Atahualpa Severino (1.93)Throw this one out for exceedingly small sample size–only 4.2 IP
  2. Tom Gorzelanny (1.19) As expected, Gorzo ranks high here.
  3. Tyler Clippard (1.08)
  4. Craig Stammen (1.00)
  5. Edwin Jackson (0.97)
  6. Jordan Zimmermann (0.95)
  7. John Lannan (0.93)
  8. Gio Gonzalez (0.92)But wait, you say: Gio pitched in the Oakland Coliseum until this season! Yup. But the Coliseum is actually just a bit smaller than Nats Park: 400 ft. to straight-away center (402 in Nats Park). Nats park is a bit smaller to right-center than the Coliseum, though.
  9. Yunesky Maya (0.92)Wait, what?!
  10. Chien-Ming Wang (0.86)
  11. Sean Burnett (0.85)
  12. Brad Lidge (0.84)
  13. Ross Detwiler (0.79)
  14. Ryan Perry (0.78)
  15. Drew Storen (0.76)
  16. Stephen Strasburg (0.49)
  17. Ryan Mattheus (0.28)
  18. Henry Rodriguez(0.28)
  19. Cole Kimball (0.00) Throw this one out for small sample size, too: only 14 IP

There are more than a few surprises in that list. I don’t think I’ve met a serious Nats fan yet who told me that he felt as queasy seeing Clippard enter a game as he did watching Gorzelanny–and yet, based purely on the home-run rate, Clippard should be giving me as much heartburn as my third half-smoke.

There’s got to be a better way to think about pitcher-induced gastrointestinal distress. What happens if we add walks to the number of home runs given up? That wouldn’t be quite it, either. No, let’s add all of the bad things we can blame on the pitcher: home runs, walks, hit batsmen, wild pitches, balks. That ought to give me a better idea of how gut-wrenching a pitcher is. Just to be clear, then, the calculation looks like this:

\text{Heartburn Index} = (\frac{HR + BB + HBP + BK + WP}{IP}) \times 9

Note that I haven’t weighted any of these bad outcomes–I’m not really all that concerned about that yet. I just want a rough indicator of how much heartburn I’m likely to suffer. How do the Nats pitchers look now?

CORRECTION: I re-checked my figures this evening, and discovered a number of rounding errors. Most baseball stat lines express innings pitched as a pseudo-decimal. That is, “4.2” stands for “four and two-thirds of an inning.” I had neglected to convert that shorthand into decimals, resulting in rounding errors. Corrected figures below.

First, we’ll have to discard two relievers whose number of innings pitched is too small for any heartburn index numbers to be even remotely fair:

  • Cole Kimball. Heartburn Index: 9.00.
  • Atahualpa Severino. Heartburn Index: 3.85

Which brings us to the Heartburn Index Rankings for “qualifying” pitchers:

  1. Henry Rodriguez. Heartburn Index: 8.51.. Hot Rod shoots to the top of the heartburn ratings because of his high walk rate and league-leading wild-pitch numbers. Fortunately, he doesn’t give up all that many home runs. Let’s hope 2012 Hot Rod gets into a groove like he did in the 2010 LVBP season.
  2. Brad Lidge. Heartburn Index: 6.85.A high walk rate (5.55 BB/9) is the culprit here, as well.
  3. Ryan Perry. Heartburn Index: 6.58
  4. Tom Gorzelanny. Heartburn Index: 6.01. Gorzo looks like he’ll be used in the long-reliever role this year, but it bears mentioning that, were he a starter, he would have the highest heartburn index among Nats starters.
  5. Gio Gonzalez. Heartburn Index: 5.88. Same old story here: Gio’s walk rate and wild pitches give him the highest heartburn rating of any of the pitchers in the current starting rotation. Indeed, his heartburn index is a full 0.89 greater than the next-nearest candidate for a starting rotation spot, Ross Detwiler. Good thing Gio’s got excellent strikeout stuff (8.59 K/9).
  6. Yunesky Maya. Heartburn Index: 5.68 I don’t think we’ll be seeing an awful lot of Maya at Nats Park this summer, for obvious reasons. But if time and chance bring Maya back to DC, let’s hope the long-range weather forecasts are right and that the summer will be a bit cooler, since he apparently wilts in the heat.
  7. Ryan Mattheus. Heartburn Index: 5.63
  8. Sean Burnett. Heartburn Index: 5.62. I’ll admit, these two puzzled me. If I saw Mattheus trotting to the mound, the game never seemed too far out of reach for me. On the other hand, watching Burnett make his entrance always filled me with dread: “Oh no, here we go again…“. Maybe I’ll give ol’ crooked-hat a chance this year.
  9. Tyler Clippard. Heartburn Index: 5.22
  10. Ross Detwiler. Heartburn Index: 4.99 Of the pitchers competing for the fifth slot in the starting rotation, Detwiler has the highest heartburn index.
  11. Edwin Jackson. Heartburn Index: 4.84
  12. John Lannan. Heartburn Index: 4.76
  13. Chien-Ming Wang. Heartburn Index: 4.38
  14. Drew Storen. Heartburn Index: 4.34. Storen doesn’t give up cookies all that often.
  15. Craig Stammen. Heartburn Index: 4.09 Now this is a surprise. It looks like Stammen’s only major flaw is a propensity to give up way too many home runs. Otherwise, his heartburn index is astonishingly low.
  16. Jordan Zimmermann. Heartburn Index: 3.71 JZ is perhaps the most workmanlike pitcher on the staff. He doesn’t make many mistakes.
  17. Stephen Strasburg. Heartburn Index: 2.54. In this, as in so many other categories, Strasburg is simply incomparable.

There you have it, folks. Again, don’t treat this as a “real” stat–think of it more as the mind confirming what the eyes see. There are some paradoxes here, though. Hot Rod, for instance, tops the heartburn charts, but has the second-lowest FIP (3.22) on the staff–a testament to his strikeout prowess.

5 thoughts on “Preseason Heartburn Rankings

    • The Coliseum’s generous (RFK-esque) foul territory doesn’t factor into the Heartburn Index, though (I don’t think). Only one event makes contact with a bat–a Home Run–and without looking at park adjustment factors right now, I’d guess that Nats Park and the Coliseum are more or less equivalent.

  1. RE: Stammen’s ranking. He had the lowest tERA of any National last year, at 1.63; league average is 4ish. It’s not perfect, but it’s a quasi-measure of fielding independent pitching, as it is taking into account the fieldability of contact made against him. Basically, when contact is made against Stammen, it’s normally right at someone. Wang, Detwiler, and Lannan hover around 5.00 tERA, Gorzo is 4.00.

    • Stammen’s tERA from 2008-2011 isn’t so good-looking, though. At 4.91, he ranks 4th behind Yunesky Maya (6.04!), Ross Detwiler (5.18), and John Lannan (5.01), which leads me to believe that Stammen’s 2011 numbers are anomalous.

      If we don’t count Severino and Kimball, tERA, FIP, and Heartburn rankings over 2008-2011 all pretty much agree. Henry Rodriguez is still the mystery, though. He tops the staff in Heartburn, but is second only to Strasburg in FIP and has the 5th-best tERA on the staff. Hot Rod confounds me even more than he seems to confound opposing batters.

  2. Pingback: Looking at the Bullpen: Shutdowns and Meltdowns | Natstradamus

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