Sunday, July 13, 2014

Poor Peavy

Poor Jake Peavy. He's made 19 starts for the Boston Red Sox this year, 12 of them quality, and has one win to show for it. One stinking win. That right there should tell you everything you need to know about why wins and losses are not a good way to measure pitching performance.

Take his most recent start, for example. On Saturday, July 12rh Peavy goes into the eighth inning against the Houston Astros, a horrendous team that should be mince meat for the defending World Series champions. Peavy has one of his best starts of the season, surrendering three earned runs on six hits and a walk while striking out nine. Peavy pitches well enough to win, except that he doesn't. He doesn't even get away with a no-decision because the Red Sox only manage to scrape together two runs against a pitching staff with the league's second-worst ERA. They fall 3-2, sticking Peavy with the hard-luck loss.

That game was Peavy's first half in a nutshell. He's pitched well enough to be a .500 pitcher at least, and if this were last year he'd have a winning record. That says more about how inept the Red Sox offense has been this year than it does how well the three-time All-Star has pitched. Peavy's been far from good in his second season with the Sox, but he hasn't been nearly as bad as his 1-8 record would suggest. Both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs have him at above replacement level, even if they agree that his 4.59 ERA, when adjusted for league and park, is 12 or 13 percent worse than average. With an average GameScore of 50, a number he's reached or exceeded 13 times this season, Peavy's been the very definition of average.

His record doesn't reflect that, however. Since earning his first win of the season in Toronto on April 25th, he's suffered eight straight losses despite making eight quality starts.  The victim of bad luck and poor run support, he takes an ugly 1-8 record into the All-Star Break. For that he can blame Boston's batsmen, who haven't mustered much offense this year but have been lifeless when he's taken the mound. They've scored four runs or less in 15 of his 19 starts, averaging 2.83 runs per start and making Peavy the least-supported qualified starting pitcher in the American League.

When your lineup goes dormant like that it doesn't make an ounce of difference who's pitching. You have to be near-perfect. Nobody could win regularly with such a slim margin of error (well, except maybe Clayton Kershaw). No wonder the Sox have dropped Peavy's eight most recent starts and 11 of his last 12.

Peavy deserves much better. He's allowed three earned runs or fewer in 12 of his 19 starts. Last year, backed by a potent Boston offense averaging 5.27 runs per game, he would have won the majority of those starts. But this year's outfit, trotting out a lineup with more holes than Swiss cheese, has come away with victories in just four of them and none since May 29th.

Plain bad luck has to account for Peavy's pitiful record as well. It seems like ages ago, but the former Cy Young got off to a great start with a 3.09 ERA through Mother's Day. Boston won four of those first seven starts, six of them quality, but he was rewarded with one win, one loss and five no-decisions. In June alone, when Peavy was tagged with five losses in his six starts, Boston plated a grand total of nine runs, as in one fewer than ten. They were shutout twice, scored twice three times, and totaled three on June 3rd in Cleveland.

Peavy also has to be peeved that lesser starters have fared better. Rotation-mates Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront, both with ERAs over five, have seven wins between them in six more starts. The Rangers' Colby Lewis has six wins in spite of his 6.37 ERA. Minnesota's Ricky Nolasco has a 5.90 ERA, but is 5-7. Colorado's Juan Nicasio's even worse at 5.92, but somehow he's 5-5. The list goes on. Peavy's pitched much, much better than all of them, but you wouldn't know it by looking at their records.

Peavy's hasn't always pitched well, but more often than not he's pitched well enough to win. Unfortunately Boston's lineup has let him down. The Red Sox have talked about trading Peavy before the July 31st deadlline, and for his sake I hope they do. In the meantime, his pursuit of that elusive second win of the year continues.

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