Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 1:21 PM
We have a pretty rare occurrence tonight in Major League Baseball. Two pitchers matched up in a game are BOTH facing their former teams! And, the statistics involved with those pitchers shed light on a very important factor that handicappers must be aware of when evaluating players.
The pitchers: Mat Latos of Cincinnati and Edinson Volquez of San Diego
The important factor: Park Effects!
San Diego is a pitching paradise. The dimensions aren’t friendly to hitters. Visibility isn’t great in night games (helping strikeout pitchers), and there’s often a heavy layer of marine air that keeps fly balls from going as deep as they should. Padres pitchers often have misleadingly good stats because they get to pitch their home games in such great throwing conditions.
Cincinnati is much more of a hitting friendly park, particularly in terms of home runs. It doesn’t seem like as much of a bandbox since the steroid era ended. But, it’s still a good home run park that makes it tougher than normal for good pitchers to post dominating numbers.
Tonight…we have a pitcher who moved from San Diego to Cincinnati visiting a pitcher who moved from Cincinnati to San Diego. Let’s see what happened to their stats.
Prior 3 Years: 3.37 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 1 homer every 11 innings
This Season: 4.42, 1.23 WHIP, 1 homer every 5.7 innings
Latos seemed like a promising young pitcher when he was with the Padres. But, some of that was just a park illusion. You can see that he’s MUCH more home run prone now that he’s pitching in a different environment. And, his ERA is more in line with that of a generic innings-muncher rather than an up-and-coming star. Cincinnati was hoping they were acquiring a guy who could help lead them to the NL Central crown this year. Hey, it’s a weak division and they’re definitely in a good position to make a run at it. But, Latos isn’t any sort of staff ace that can carry the team on his back. Maybe he’ll throw a gem tonight in his return to San Diego. Being a home-run prone pitcher in Cincinnati during July and August could turn out to be quite a problem though.
Prior 3 Years: 5.01 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 1 homer every 7 innings
This Season: 3.68 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 1 homer every 12.5 innings
Here we have the same thing in reverse. Volquez was always a disappointment for the Reds. Some of that was the way Dusty Baker tried to ruin his arm the way he did with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior! But, Volquez was obviously having trouble with consistency and home runs. Everyone gave up on him. San Diego, a losing team looking for pitchers gave him a shot…and suddenly his stats are down to something respectable. Well, the WHIP still has some work to do. But, the ERA is low…and Volquez isn’t a gopher ball machine any more.
There are some in the media talking about what a disappointment Latos has been, and what a surprise Volquez has been. Yet…those guys haven’t changed much at all! In fact, they have similar stats when you line them up properly.
AS A PADRE
Latos: 3.37 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 1 homer every 11 innings (over 3 seasons)
Volquez: 3.68 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 1 homer every 12.5 innings (this season)
AS A RED
Latos: 4.42, 1.23 WHIP, 1 homer every 5.7 innings (this season)
Volquez: 5.01 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 1 homer every 7 innings (over 3 seasons)
Latos is the better pitcher. He has better numbers in both of those comparisons. But, the difference isn’t all that dramatic. They’re “similar” pitchers who have been flip-flopped from relative extremes. Cincinnati did upgrade if you think of them as “replacing” Volquez with Latos. The Padres did get worse. It’s funny how that shows up in the team standings rather than with their individual numbers.
*An ERA of 3.68 for a Padres pitcher is actually pretty bad given the context. Poor number for getting to throw home games in a pitcher’s paradise. Volquez is the same below average pitcher he was before…it’s just that “average” is much different within a marine layer.
*An ERA of 4.42 for a Reds pitcher isn’t the end of the world when you adjust for context. He’s also the same pitcher he was before. Latos is pitching in higher scoring games within a more reasonable context of ballparks.
And, THIS is why Latos is -135 favorite tonight over Volquez even though he has the less impressive 2012 stat line. The market has become more savvy about ballpark effects even if the mainstream media hasn’t. If you want to beat the market, you’d better stop paying so much attention to sportswriters and color announcers!
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