Truth Lies in the Num­bers

Pitch­ers’ ERAs Al­most Al­ways Rise and Fall With Switch From One League to the Other

The Washington Post Sunday - - Wizards Insider - By Dave Sheinin

When a start­ing pitcher switches leagues, it is gen­er­ally as­sumed he will see an adjustment of around three-quar­ters of a run to his ERA, re­sult­ing from the fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences be­tween the Amer­i­can and Na­tional leagues. Some­times the change is far more dra­matic.

So, it is per­haps not sur­pris­ing that Ra­mon Or­tiz has gone from a 5.57 ERA last year in Wash­ing­ton to a 1.80 ERA through his first two starts this sea­son for Min­nesota.

Or that Steve Trach­sel (4.97 ERA with the New York Mets last year) has a 2.63 ERA for the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles through two starts.

Or that Barry Zito, the most ex­pen­sive free agent pitcher in his­tory, has gone from a 3.83 in Oak­land last year to an 8.18 through two starts in San Fran­cisco.

But hold on a minute. Those ex­am­ples are all back­ward. Or­tiz and Trach­sel, mov­ing from the NL to the AL, are sup­posed to see their ERAs rise — ow­ing largely to the pres­ence of the des­ig­nated hit­ter in the ju­nior cir­cuit — while Zito, go­ing the op­po­site di­rec­tion (and to an ex­treme pitcher’s park at that), should be see­ing a drop in his ERA. What’s the deal? “You may as­sume my ERA is go­ing up be­cause I switched leagues,” Trach­sel said. “But I don’t.”

With all due re­spect, Mr. Trach­sel, we chalk up th­ese sta­tis­ti­cal anom­alies to the small sam­ple sizes from 2007. When all is said and done, we ex­pect Trach­sel, Or­tiz, Zito and all the other league-switch­ers to fall in line with re­cent his­tory, which says it is vir­tu­ally a given that a pitcher go­ing from the NL to the AL will see a rise in ERA, while a pitcher mov­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion will see a drop.

“The DH, ob­vi­ously, is a huge dy­namic,” said Detroit Tigers closer Todd Jones, who has switched leagues five times. “But it’s more than that. There are dif­fer­ing the­o­ries of team-build­ing. In [the AL], with a mid­dle in­fielder, they’ll still take a bat over a glove. In the NL, they’ll take a glove. It’s not that it’s eas­ier in the NL, it’s just dif­fer­ent. In the NL, they’ll bunt and play small ball. But here, it’s a lock-and-load league.”

Ori­oles pitch­ing coach Leo Maz­zone, him­self a league-switcher in 2006, takes it a step fur­ther: “Look at the No. 9 hit­ter,” he said. “In the NL, it’s a pitcher. In the AL, not only is it not a pitcher, but it’s usu­ally a burner — he’s like a sec­ond lead­off hit­ter. So it’s like you’re fac­ing back-to-back lead­off hit­ters.”

The last class of league-switch­ers for which there is a full sea­son’s worth of data proves the point. In 2006, 10 pitch­ers who had thrown at least 100 in­nings in the NL in 2005 switched to the AL. Eight pitch­ers, mean­time, made the op­po­site switch. Of those 18 pitch­ers, all but one ex­pe­ri­enced the ex­pected rise/drop in ERA — an av­er­age rise of .78 for those who moved from the NL to the AL, and an av­er­age drop of .85 for those who went the op­po­site way.

The only pitcher who bucked the trend, Vi­cente Padilla (who went from 4.71 in Philadel­phia to 4.50 in Texas), had the ben­e­fit of leav­ing one of the most ex­treme hit­ters’ parks in the NL.

When you ex­pand the list to in­clude other prom­i­nent pitch­ers who switched leagues in re­cent years, they al­most uni­formly fol­lowed the pat­tern. (In­ter­est­ingly, the most prom­i­nent trend-bucker, Kevin Mill­wood, was an­other who, like Padilla, made the smart ca­reer move of flee­ing Philly’s launch­ing pad.)

So re­joice, Randy John­son and Mark Red­man — you low­ered your ERA be­fore you threw your first pitch this year. And pray, Jeff Weaver and Tomo Ohka — hope you like higher ERAs.

As for you, Roger Cle­mens (and we know you pay at­ten­tion to th­ese things), keep this trend in mind as you de­cide whether you re­ally want to go back to the AL this year.

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