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More Hits Than Dexy's Midnight Runners

The second I saw Hiroki Kuroda swing the bat I thought “that looks like a man that hasn't touched a bat since high school”. The way he just feebly waved his arms at a pitch with no real motion in the rest of his body made it look like you could have stuck a mediocre college hitter up there, and he’d at least look better.


As with most of my scouting impressions, I was wrong about Kuroda never touching a bat since high school. He had 324 professional at bats in Japan, where he managed to be Doug Davis bad, hitting .086/.096/.114 in his career. Not quite hasn’t held a bat in 15 years, but it is almost to the point where every time he gets a hit you can consider it dumb luck (case in point, last nights double). After watching Mark Hendrickson flail away the last two years, and now seeing Kuroda making like a bad episode of the office every fifth day, I wondered, how much can the other elements of a pitcher’s game hurt his final numbers.


As it stands, this type of analysis really isn’t that interesting as I thought it would be when I started. If you look at the lowest VORPs by pitchers the last few years, you can see the low end of what a pitcher can do. Since 2003, the average offensive VORP by the worst pitcher in the league was -7.88 (this is thrown a bit out of whack by Aaron Harang’s 2005, where he managed to go 2 for 78 with a single and no walks, though Doug Davis’ 2004 where he went 1 for 71 with a walk comes close.) Since these were done by pitchers in hitter’s parks, you have to adjust a little for Kuroda in Dodger Stadium; making his floor somewhere around seven runs. It is a little interesting to note that in the years where Doug Davis was a starter, the best performance he turned in was fourth to worst in baseball, the other three years he was the worst.


The other thing to note is fielding. I’m not nearly as sure about Kuroda’s fielding as about his hitting. Sure he botched that play last night, but very few people notice pitchers fielding except when they fail, so this is more hypothetical. Since I like to use DeWan’s +/-, I’ll look at that to rate pitchers. The worst fielder over the past three years was Daniel Cabrera, who averaged missing 3.5 plays per year. Since +/- is measured in plays above average, we need to convert that to runs over replacement.


To convert plays to runs, I’ll use the same theory I used when looking at Tony Abreu, and assume a missed play by a pitcher will result in a single, and in turn cost the team .789 runs per miss.


To get an idea of what the difference between runs above average and runs above replacement are, I looked at the difference in those numbers for the Dodgers the last three years.  For the most part, they’re exactly the same, since pitchers get so few chances. The difference between average and replacement level for a pitcher is less than one run. As an estimate, we’ll say there’s a .5 run difference between average and replacement level. When you convert 3.5 missed plays to runs above replacement, you get 2.26 runs.


Putting this all together, if a pitcher his horrible both offensively, and defensively, he’ll cost is team a bit more than nine runs, or close to a win. If Kuroda has a 26.1 VORP like he’s projected to last year, he’d drop to around 15 runs. This is the difference between 2007’s Jon Garland and Braden Looper.


Pitchers get so few offensive and defensive chances that it’s rare that they affect his value that much. However, if the pitcher is notably bad at those things, it will bring his value way down.


On a personal note, today is my third blogging birthday. In those three years, I’ve gone from nothing to co writing for arguably the second biggest non-comedy based Dodger blog around. Take that, people from high school.