Friday, September 01, 2006

Steve's "Trachy" Season Paying Off Nicely

by Rob Hyman

The win is one of the lesser telling statistics in baseball. My esteemed colleague Doug Silversten wrote about this in his June 12th column “When Wins and Losses are Meaningless Stats. Doug is right – the win is a meaningless stat and Roger Clemens’ 2005 season is a great example of that. He finished 13-8 with a 1.87 ERA. Five times during the season, he left the game in a scoreless tie, only for his Astros to lose 1-0. In nine of his 32 starts, he got zero run support. Point is - his mediocre win total, which was not his fault, kept him from winning his 8th Cy Young Award.

Well there is something going on in the National League this year that has magnified this point even further. Something that has jumped from just some luck (good or bad) affecting a player’s season into a statistical anomaly. This phenomenon is known as Steve Trachsel. Steve’s career ERA entering this season was 4.23 and his record is 119-135. Not impressive by any means, but he is reliable 4th or 5th starter. Except for last year’s back injury, Steve has been a mainstay in his team’s (Cubs '93-'99, Rays and Jays in 2000 and Mets since 2001) starting rotation. In 350 career starts, he has averaged 6.1 innings per start. His career walk to strikeout ratio is a respectable, 1.89 (for comparison - Clemens’ is 2.96; Maddux 3.36; Glavine 1.75).

This season, Steve’s ERA is 4.98. Assuming it ended up around there (anywhere between 4.81 and 5.14 will do), it will the third-worst ERA of his career. His average innings per start is at 5.62 – second lowest in his career. Strikeout to walk ratio – 1.12. That’s the worst in his 14-year career. That’s a result of being on pace for his lowest strikeout total (87) and third-highest walk total (77).

Okay, so he’s not having a great season – what’s the big deal? The big deal is that if you take a look at the wins leaders in the National League – guess who is tied at the top. Yup you got it, Steve Trachsel is 14-5 and is tied with four others for the league lead in wins. Only one time in the last 50 years has the National League wins leader ended the season with an ERA over 4.00 (Lew Burdette won 21 games for the 1959 Milwaukee Braves with a 4.07 ERA.) So here is Trachsel flirting with a 5.00 ERA and a league lead in wins.

The best two explanations I can come up with both help prove Doug’s theory because they have nothing to do with Steve:
  • Right place, Right time: This is by far the best team Steve has ever been on. Trachsel has never been on a 90-win team (okay fine – the 1998 Cubs won 90 games, but it was thanks to Trachsel’s win in a one-game wildcard playoff). The Mets have scored the most runs in the National League and their bullpen has the lowest ERA in the league. This means great run support and great bullpen support. So when on May 23rd, Steve gave up 6 runs in five innings to the Phillies, the Mets were able to overcome a 6-2 deficit to win 9-8 in 16 innings – a sure loss becomes a no decision. On August 23rd against St. Louis, Steve did the same – 6 runs in 5 innings – but the Mets offense was charged up and Trachsel got the win in a 10-8 game.
  • AL Interleague domination: In interleague play, the AL defeated the NL 154 – 98. So it’s no wonder that 14 wins is leading the way with one month to go. There have been a lot less wins to go around. At this pace, the leader will probably end up with 17 or 18 wins – the lowest top win total in a non-shortened season since Rick Sutcliffe’s 18 wins for the Cubs in 1987.

If Trachsel does end up on top, he may get the distinction of being the first pitcher to do so and not get any Cy Young Award votes.

Well in this year of statistical oddity for Steve, at least he can be comforted to know that he threw his first complete game in three years. It was your run of the mill complete game: May 11th at Philly - two runs, six hits, 4 ½ IP, lost 2-0. The game was called for rain in the 5th, but he still gets credit for a complete game. Yeah – it’s been a pretty standard year for him.

Rob Hyman's column, "The Weekend Warrior", appears alternate Friday's.

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