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Lefty Grove's Peak: Overrated?

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  • Lefty Grove's Peak: Overrated?

    I recall conversations I had in the past here at the Fever about Lefty Grove not facing the Yankees much in his prime. Happily one of the position benefits of my latest research products is the ability to rank and rate the strength of schedule for individual starting pitchers (and for teams as a whole, BTW, but that's another conversation).

    It might interest some of you folks to get an inside look at how strong offenses were relative to average that faced Grove in his career.

    This data is derived from the Fiato/Souders Matrix, which is a comprehensive method for separating out the various contextual factors that can influence run scoring in the linear series of individual baseball games that make up a season. I've introduced the matrix here loosely before but it has undergone some revision and improvement in the last few months so I'll give you gist of how it is now constructed.

    In each game there are two scores. A visitor's score and the home team's score. (duh). Each fo those scores is influenced by, minimally, 5 major factors.

    a) The league average run scoring rate (serving as a surrogate for the many things that combine to impact every game within a season...ball liveliness, park sizes, mound height, strike zone enforcement etc)
    b) The offensive skill of the team doing the scoring
    c) The static defensive skill of the team trying to stop the scoring
    d) The unique defensive skill of the starting pitcher for the defending team
    e) The park in which the game was played.

    What the F/S matrix does, essentially, is account for those five contextual factors for each game, and then add the games up, thus producing counts of games played on the left hand side and run scoring figures on the right hand side which when simplified give me a clear picture of what was most likely to have contributed to deviations from league average scoring.

    If anyone is interested in a full description of how the matrix really works, I'd be happy to provide some mathematical definitions at a later time.

    As I said above, one of the things I can learn from the F/S Matrix is how strong the competition was for a starting pitcher in a given year (look at each of his starts, find the team he faced and attach their offensive skill value to that game...sum the games and find the average offensive skill).

    Strength of Schedule for a starting pitcher is expressed as runs per game started above average (meaning how many runs per game above average were the offenses that faced a given starter).

    Here is what Grove's career looks like:
    Code:
    Year	GS	SOS
    1925	18	-0.05
    1926	33	0.15
    1927	28	-0.09
    1928	31	0.03
    1929	37	-0.20
    1930	32	-0.33
    1931	30	-0.12
    1932	30	-0.05
    1933	28	-0.13
    1934	12	-0.06
    1935	30	0.17
    1936	30	0.41
    1937	32	0.14
    1938	21	-0.05
    1939	23	0.10
    1940	21	-0.14
    1941	21	-0.19
    Right when he was posting his highest ERA+ seasons, he was also facing some seriously weakened competition.

    Grove was pitching in a league with a R/G rate over 5, but even so, in his prime years, the offenses he faced were some 2-5% worse than normal. It may not sound like a lot, but it's something that needs to be considered IMHO.

    I've got all kinds of data on the strengths of schedule faced by pitchers, team offenses and team defenses that might interest some of you...

    Thoughts?

  • #2
    Quick addition to the above info...it's interesting to see that Grove got away with pitching against inferior competition with the Athletics but upon his arrival in Boston, was immediately expected to face the BEST teams on a regular basis...interesting to note the difference in styles of the two managers.

    Comment


    • #3
      Looks as if a lot of the usage patterns were the manager's doing. That .41 boost in SOS in 1936 makes that season look huge I'm guessing.....

      Comment


      • #4
        Sabr Matt, that looks like an interesting study to be sure. I for one would like to see some details on the metrics used in determining the offensive and defensive skills.

        While it appears his peak came against a weaker SOS, he still pitched off the charts in the tougher SOS years too. In 1936 his toughest year going by SOS he posted the 2nd best ERA+ of his career at 188, actually higher than the ERA+ he posted in 1930 which according to your chart was the weakest SOS-wise. Also his best season, 1931 was only the 6th weakest according to your SOS chart. I wonder since Grove seemed to do nearly as well and in some cases better in the tough SOS years as opposed to the weaker SOS years, what does it really tell us about Grove?
        I can see real application in a study like this for pitchers who are generally under appreciated or may have had the bad luck to pitch for poorer quality teams.
        Really nice work, Sabr Matt.

        Comment


        • #5
          The impression I get is that overall, Grove's peak averaged a fairly weak SOS but that 1936 season suggests that his manager in Philly was an idiot...that he could have been just as effective had he gone against tougher competition.

          I have this kind of data for every starting pitcher in major league history since 1876 and I'm seeing it as a possible way to see whether managers are leveraging their starters well (best starters against tough competition, worst starters against weak competition)...as one possible application.

          Of course the main purpose is to adjust the expected production for each player to account for the imbalances in talent faced. In this example, if we foud that the 1930 AL scored 5.41 R/G and Grove faced a set of batters that were 0.33 runs weaker than that...then our starting point for his expected RA would be 5.08 instead of 5.41. Further adjustments would be made for the average parks in which he pitched to get a final figure for how many runs an average pitcher in Grove's shoes would allow per 9 innings and that would be used as the basis for rating Grove himself.

          But you can do a lot interesting things with this type of data.

          Comment


          • #6
            Very interesting, SABR Matt.
            I'm sure that your matrix tools are extremely comprehensive, but still have one question...since we know that Grove was one of the top pitchers in the league no matter what, even if overrated, don't the offenses of the "top" offenses that he wasn't facing look a little better than they should have?
            Really, it cuts both ways...Grove and the '30 Yanks hitters, say, both look better from not facing each other. Do you agree with this, and is this adjusted for?
            "I throw him four wide ones, then try to pick him off first base." - Preacher Roe on pitching to Musial

            Comment


            • #7
              The Matrix rates strength of schedule in all directions...pitching, overall defense and offense.

              The 1930 Yankees rate as having faced a very weak defensive schedule...in fact when you combine the strength of starting pitchers they faced and the strength of fielders they faced, the 30 Yankees' offense faced a net defense that would be expected to allow about 0.21 runs more than league average...that was mostly the starting pitchers BTW...for some reason they faced weak pitching that year...the team defenses were about average (because the 1930 Yankees had a defense that wasn't that far from average).

              Comment


              • #8
                And BTW so there's less confusion...the intrinsic strengths of the offenses and defenses (and pitchers) that are found by the FSIA Matrix (not to mention the intrinsic nature of the parks) are the direct result of factoring out strength of schedule...so the score the 1930 Yankee offense gets (and every offense faced by Grove or anyone else) is a score that is as close as possible to an independent reading of how many runs above average per game that team would score if they faced average pitching and defense in an average park.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Matt, great work, as others have said. Are you working on a way to compare pitchers using this data? Grove seems to hold up, but what about WJ, Clemens, Seaver, Maddux, Gibson, etc. etc.?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I don't recommend using the F/S Matrix in isolation as your only tool for rating pitchers (because the best assumption I could make when building the matrix is that the starting pitcher and the team defense as a whole were equally responsible for run prevention...any other constants I might use would be subjective influences on the matrix and not likely to hold up for all time periods). However, I can certainly show you strength of schedule profiles for any pitchers you want...and the SoS numbers themselves will get used as an adjustment to the context in which each pitcher performed...thus aiding in the total assessment of pitchers.

                    Her, for example, is what Walter Johnson's profile looks like:
                    Code:
                    Year	GS	SOS
                    1907	12	0.02
                    1908	30	0.03
                    1909	36	0.07
                    1910	42	0.00
                    1911	37	0.05
                    1912	37	0.02
                    1913	36	0.14
                    1914	40	0.02
                    1915	39	0.13
                    1916	38	0.08
                    1917	34	0.03
                    1918	29	0.07
                    1919	29	-0.01
                    1920	15	0.08
                    1921	32	0.12
                    1922	31	0.05
                    1923	34	0.06
                    1924	38	0.00
                    1925	29	0.03
                    1926	33	-0.03
                    1927	15	-0.41
                    And I would argue that's what an ace's strength of schedule should look like.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by SABR Matt View Post
                      I recall conversations I had in the past here at the Fever about Lefty Grove not facing the Yankees much in his prime.
                      Right when he was posting his highest ERA+ seasons, he was also facing some seriously weakened competition.

                      Grove was pitching in a league with a R/G rate over 5, but even so, in his prime years, the offenses he faced were some 2-5% worse than normal. It may not sound like a lot, but it's something that needs to be considered IMHO.
                      Matt,
                      This is very interesting, and I commend your efforts! These kind of adjustments are absolutely necessary if we ever want to get a truly accurate picture of a player's worth.

                      For pitchers prior to the 50's, when we have full PBP data....are you using innings or starts against various teams? IP against seems much more accurate- if you look at Grove from 29'-31' using innings, it looks different than going by starts or games pitched against.

                      Lefty Grove from 1929-1931 pitched:

                      140.2 innings against Boston.
                      140.1 innings against Cleveland.
                      138.2 innings against Detroit.
                      125.2 innings against Washington.
                      124.1 innings against Chicago.
                      104.1 innings against St. Louis
                      72 innings against New York
                      0 innings against Philadelphia

                      If he had pitched an equal amount of innings against the other 7 teams in the AL, Grove would have pitched about 50 more innings in those years against the Yankees.

                      Also, I'd be interested to see Walberg's scores in light of the extreme disparities highlighted below, and your thoughts about how much that affected Grove and Walberg's ERA+ numbers, as a result of that usage pattern.

                      Here are the big three of the 1930 Philadelphia Athletics. The teams are listed in order of runs scored.

                      Grove pitched:

                      1. 16.2 innings against NY.
                      2. 46.2 innings against Washington.
                      3. 48.0 innings against Cleveland.
                      4. 56.0 innings against Detroit.
                      5. 34.1 innings against StL.
                      6. 35.2 innings against Chicago.
                      7. 53.2 innings against Boston.

                      Walberg pitched:

                      1. 54.0 innings against NY.
                      2. 52.1 innings against Washington.
                      3. 20.1 innings against Cleveland.
                      4. 17.0 innings against Detroit.
                      5. 38.1 innings against StL.
                      6. 19.0 innings against Chicago.
                      7. 08.2 innings against Boston.

                      Also, what do you think of Jaffe's work on leveraging? How does Mordecai Brown look vis-a-vis your system? You might want to check out info I recently posted today on Brown, or refer directly to Jaffe's work.

                      As far as I know, there are 6 installments in his "pitcher leveraging" series over at THBT. Very, very interesting stuff.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        csh...I have no systematic resource for determining IP in each start and incorporating that into my database, so I'm using number of starts. Besides which, if you get hammered against a certain line-up, you're not going to get many IP against them which is going to be like a double-whammy punishment for pitchers who, for one reason or another, get owned by a certain high-scoring team. Using starts is a better way to gauge how the pitcher was used (because all the manager can do is plug the guy into the starting line-up).

                        And under most circumstances, the IP differences are going to be proportional with the start differences anyway.

                        As for Walberg:

                        Here are the SOS for all of the starters on the 1930 As, ordered by SOS:
                        Code:
                        Pitcher         GS      SOS
                        Howard Ehmke    1       2.12
                        Charlie Perkins 1       2.12
                        Jack Quinn      6       0.51
                        Rube Walberg    30      0.34
                        George Earnshaw 39      -0.20
                        Lefty Grove     32      -0.33
                        Roy Mahalfey    17      -0.35
                        Bill Shores     19      -0.47
                        Eddie Rommel    9       -0.49
                        Walberg and Grove were basically direct opposites. Which lines up nicely with your data.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Note, BTW, that overall the As had a light schedule offensively. Which makes sense considering they never had to face their own offense...which was rather potent.

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