Did everyone see Stephen Strasburg‘s debut on Tuesday? If you didn’t you missed a truly historic performance. Strasburg managed to exceed the seemingly un-exceedable hype while tallying 7 innings, 4 hits, 14 breathtaking K’s, and his first big league win. His fastball had more movement than any I’ve ever seen and his curveball had me shouting at my tv in amazement. His only mistake was a changeup that Delwyn Young took out of the park for a 2-run homer, but Strasburg kept his composure and finished by striking out the last SEVEN batters that he faced. I can honestly say that I’ll remember this game for the rest of my life, even if it ends up being the best one of his career ($5 says it won’t be).
(Photo cred: AP)
But you don’t come to The 26th Man for numbers you’ve already found in the boxscore- so I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to a Bill James stat called Game Score, if you are not already familiar with it. Game Score is a great stat because it’s fun to tally and it’s useful too. It’s aim is to provide a measuring stick for a starting pitcher’s performance. Game Score is calculated like this (from Baseball-Reference):
1. Start with 50 points
2. Add 1 point for each out recorded, so 3 for every inning pitched
3. Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th
4. Add 1 point for each strikeout
5. Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed
6. Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed
7. Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed
8. Subtract 1 point for each walk
For those following along with Strasburg’s boxscore from the other night, that’s good for a Game Score of 75, which is more than respectable for a Major League debut. I’m sure you’ve heard from the media that Strasburg’s 14 K’s places him behind Karl Spooner and J.R. Richard for most all-time in a Major League debut (they each had 15). Richard’s game is a great example of how you can arrive at the same Game Score in different ways. Strasburg matched Richard’s Game Score of 75 exactly, even though Richard allowed 3 runs and 7 hits. Richard’s Game Score was boosted, though, by his 9 innings pitched. It is interesting to note that Game Score doesn’t care whether you win or lose. Statisticians and even fans have begun to drift away from win-loss records and towards more significant numbers such as ERA and WHIP when determining a pitcher’s success, and Game Score matches that sentiment.
Spooner’s game was in fact much better than Richard’s and Strasburg’s, as he posted a Game Score of 93 while hurling a complete game shutout. Spooner’s start ranks 2nd all-time among pitchers making their Major League debuts though, falling just shy of Juan Marichal‘s 96 Game Score in 1960. Marichal also pitched a complete game shutout, allowing just 1 hit and 1 walk while striking out 12. Andy over at the Baseball-Reference blog recently posted about the best Major League debuts of all time.
In case these Game Score numbers seem a little arbitrary to you, here’s some sort of a frame of reference. Roger Clemens‘ 20-K game in 1986 registered a 97. Last night, Clay Buchholz took the loss after pitching 7 innings and registered a Game Score of just 56, while his counterpart Justin Masterson earned his second win of the season with a complete game shutout and a Game Score of 87. In Game 7 of the ALCS in 2004, Kevin Brown lasted just 1.1 innings for the Yankees and was rewarded with a Game Score of 25.
(Photo Cred: sullybaseball.blogspot.com)
So here’s to many more fantastic starts for Strasburg- at this point the Nationals are still bad enough and irrelevant enough to the Red Sox that I can root for him in the same way you root for the little geek to finally beat up the bully. Plus, team allegiances aside, the young man is truly a sight to see and real exciting to watch.
24 hours from now I’ll be at the airport England-bound. But dry your tears, I’ll be back in a week for your reading pleasure.