FIRE JOE MORGAN: Just Say Whatever You Want And Hope No One Notices: Tom Singer Edition


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Saturday, August 12, 2006


Just Say Whatever You Want And Hope No One Notices: Tom Singer Edition

Thanks to reader Sam for pointing me in the ultimate direction of this one, but let me start by saying:

Ever since late Thursday night, I've been thinking about this one really strange record that you may not have heard of yet. It was buried deep in the story of Boston's third straight loss to the Royals:

Emil Brown homered in the Royals' sixth. But Schilling also went into the record book in a good way. His 54th straight start without allowing an unearned run broke his own major league mark...Schilling also set the mark by going 53 in a row with Arizona over 2001-02 without an unearned run. This current streak began after he gave up two unearned runs on June 14, 2004 at Colorado.
[emphasis mine]

This seems like one of the strangest coincidences I've heard of since Scott Youkilis caught his brother's foul ball. I mean, it's impossible that Curt Schilling has some sort of incredible ability to prevent unearned runs (relative to earned runs), right? And yet this guy has not only the longest, but the second longest streak of starts without an unearned run in major league history.

I guess it makes sense that the record would belong to a very good pitcher; and certainly Schilling was excellent during the 01-02 span in Arizona (ERA+s of 154 and 136). Obviously, the fewer runs in general a dude gives up, the less likely he is to give up unearned runs.

Of course, there's another, much more important, super obvious reason why a guy might not give up a lot of unearned runs...but first, let's hear why Tom Singer thinks Schilling is so fucking good at not giving up ERs.

Curt Schilling, the intense Boston right-hander, has not allowed a single unearned run the last two seasons. That makes him tops in an overlooked category we've always considered an important tell-tale sign of pitching verve: The ability to steel up, rather than let down, after mistakes behind you.

This Schilling guy sounds tough. I remember when he pitched that game with the blood and everything! Of course he steels himself better than other players. He's the guy with the bloody sock! I bet he likes hockey. Tell me more about this verve!

It's an art, part of a pitcher's makeup. The knack of not only keeping your focus, but sharpening it, in response to peril.

He's tough and he's an artist? What a dreamboat! This guy's verve is so hot I want to suck on it.

Next time you see a Schilling game and there is a defensive breakdown around him, watch closely. He'll pace behind the mound with deliberate steps, impatient to get the ball back in his glove. Once he's got it, he'll climb the hill purposefully, look in for the sign with a determined squint ... and make his subsequent pitches with an extra grunt. That I-got-your-back attitude helps explain the fact he has not permitted an unearned run in 260 1/3 innings over the last two seasons.

This sounds an awful lot like the Curt Schilling I usually see pitching, even if a defensive lapse hasn't happened. Determined squint? You mean, like, more determined that a non-defensive-lapse-has-just-happened squint? "He'll climb the hill purposefully"? Is he usually climbing the hill with a clown nose and a pair of flippers on?

To others, errors are a refuge from responsibility. Runs are diverted from their earned run averages, prompting them to waver, even if subconsciously. "I did my job, what happens next isn't on me," is a natural reaction in any workplace -- where it isn't as measurable as on a diamond.

Man, I hate those guys. The non-Schillings. The guys who secretly love it when a dude on their own team fucks up so they can somehow pad their stats by giving up runs (impossibly).

"Everyone strives for perfection -- but it doesn't happen," says Buck Showalter, the Texas manager. "Picking up for others is part of the job description. The game is played with human beings, not computer chips. There will be failures -- and how you handle it is what separates you."

It's true you guys. Computer chips can not be there to pick up for others. Unless they are programmed to do so.

Overall this is a level playing field. Across a long season, every pitcher presumably runs into that monster: The Four-Out Inning! They all have an equal chance of taming it.

Well, yeah, they're all probably going to have at least one "four-out inning." But just how many will a given pitcher have?

And, here's where we finally get to the real point. It's pretty simple, really. The streak in question is comprised of starts without an unearned run. What, more than anything else, leads to the scoring of unearned runs? Errors. So what's the biggest factor in a streak like this? Errors.

Don't believe me? Let's look at Curt Schilling, 6/16/04 - present day.

-- 3 quick notes:
1) Yahoo! and Retrosheet have different dates for the last time Schilling gave up unearned runs, in Colorado. 6/14 or 6/16/04. Whatever.
2) The streak only includes starts. Schilling of course pitched in relief for some of '05. Though Martinez includes those appearances in his discussion, I'm not taking the time to look at them.
3) Yes, unearned runs can also be a result of passed balls and catcher's interference. But, come on.

Okay, so, the idea is: let's look at all of Curt's starts over this span and find all the times that Curt had to pick up his fellow teammates after they fucked up in the field. Remember, according to Tom Singer, it's something to watch for -- the guy steels himself and everything. I used retrosheet for '04 and '05 starts and Yahoo box scores for '06, fwiw.

In reverse chronological order, a list of games Schilling started that included an error by the Red Sox:

7/4/06: BOS 6 TB 9 -- 2 errors
4/30/06: BOS 4 TB 4 -- 1 error
9/10/5: BOS 9 NYY 2 -- 1 error
4/23/05: BOS 5 TB 6 -- 1 error
4/18/05: BOS 12 TOR 7 -- 1 error
4/13/05: BOS 2 NYY 5 -- 1 error
9/21/04: BOS 3 BAL 2 -- 1 error
9/10/04: BOS 13 SEA 2 -- 1 error
6/27/04: BOS 12 PHI 3 -- 1 error

Ten errors total. In 54 starts. But wait, it gets better:

One of the errors on 7/4/06 was after Schilling was in the game. And the other was an error on Schilling himself. Schilling himself also had the only error on 9/10/05. And 4/23/05. The error on 4/13/05 was, again, after Schilling left the game. (I know this is boring, just bear with me.) Finally, the error on 6/27/04 was also post-Schill.

So the final tally for errors while Schilling was in the game:
3 errors by Schilling himself
4 by other players.

Four errors by other players. And Tom Singer has seen this enough to notice a purposefull climb and a determined squint? Wow. I mean this seriously: either that guy is really, really an insightful baseball analyst, or he is making shit up.

Here's what Schilling did on each of the four occasions when he purposefully climbed the hill following horrible relapses by his defense.

1) 4/30/06:
With two outs in the bottom of the third, Joey Gathright steals second and takes third on a throwing error by Jason Varitek. Schilling squints to home and promptly walks Johnny Gomes. Then he strikes out Ty Wiggington.

2) 4/18/05:
Two outs again, top 2nd. Bases loaded, and Bill Mueller drops a foul pop off the bat of Frank Catalanotto. Schilling then strikes him out on the next pitch.

3) 9/21/04:
One out, top 2nd. Javy Lopez reaches on another Mueller error, sending Surhoff to second. So first and second, one out, and Schilling K's Jay Gibbons and Larry Bigbie.

4) 9/10/04:
One out, bottom 1st. Randy Winn reaches on another error by Bill Mueller. Edgar Martinez succumbs to the squint and grounds into an inning-ending double play.

Granted, he struck out 4 of the 6 guys he faced after defensive "meltdowns" -- or more accurately, he struck out 3 guys in full at bats and threw one strike to strike out another. But it's not exactly like these were life-threatening situations. It's not like he was facing Albert Pujols with no outs in the bottom of the 8th in a 2-2 tie. And, of course, the bottom line is, we're talking six plate appearances over 2 1/2 seasons.

Seven errors in 54 starts. Four by players other than Schilling himself.

And I'm supposed to believe the reason for this guy's incredible streak is his squint.

EDIT: "less runs" to "fewer runs" (thanks to KT, who finds it acceptable to use "Occam's Razor" as a verb and still call out other people on grammar)

EDIT ALSO: Info on the Catalanotto at bat. There were two strikes already at the time of the error.

BIG EDIT: Somehow I thought this article was written by Buck Martinez. It was written by Tom Singer.

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posted by dak  # 2:03 AM
By my count, during Schilling's second best streak in '01-'02, there were only 8 errors made in the field behind him while he was pitching.

That's eight non-Schilling errors in 53 starts.
I have two questions and a comment. May I proceed?

Why did Bill Mueller personally want to make Schilling give up an unearned run?

Who are the other pitchers with long streaks of no UER-giving-up? I bet they're guys with a lot of Ks, like Schill. Or else they are just a random smattering of guys with no discernable link, since the very idea of a streak like this seems way more likely to be the product of luck than skill. Much like the list of guys who have thrown no-hitters. It kills me that people think that things like no-hitters and unearned run streaks are without question the result of skill. So dumb. Roger Clemens has zero no-hitters in his career. Len Barker threw a perfecto. It's flukey, people. Flukey. Where was I? Oh yes, the comment.

You mean "fewer" runs, not "less runs."
I'll Occam's Razor you, if you're not careful.
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