Monday, June 26, 2006

Dream, if you will, a picture:

1. We have six more than capable major league starting pitchers.

2. One of them is in the minor leagues right now.

3. One of them that is in the major leagues has experience as a reliever.

4. The reliable part of our bullpen consists of two guys.

Well, the wrap-up here actually seems a bit obvious: move Kelvim Escobar to the bullpen and recall Jered Weaver, who dealt a 14-strikeout shutout in his most recent minor league start.

But I'm not so sure that this is the best course of action. Kelvim in the bullpen is just the third guy out of the pen, and I don't know that such a guy could be as valuable as a productive starter, which Kelvim certainly is, his bad start yesterday against Arizona notwithstanding.

There are, with Kelvim, a couple of different issues I want to address here:

1. His K Rate

As has been noted elsewhere in the Halosphere, Kelvim is striking out less men this year, which may be worrisome as he heads into his contract extension. Is it really?

The following is the percentage of batters Kelvim has struck out every season as a starting pitcher only, along with the rate of all starting pitchers in the American League:
Year  Kelvim's K%    AL K%    Diff
1997 --- --- --
1998 21% 16% 5%
1999 16% 15% 1%
2000 17% 15% 2%
2001 21% 15% 6%
2002 --- --- --
2003 19% 15% 4%
2004 22% 15% 7%
2005 27% 15% 12%
2006 17% 14%* 3%
CAREER 19% 15%* 4%
THRU '05 19% 15% 4%
*figure approximated
We see that Kelvim is definitely striking out less guys than he ever has in an Angel uniform, but his numbers aren't far out of line with his career performances in this regard. (Also note that his 2005 performance reeks of small sample, as he was hurt early in the year and made only seven starts all season).

So while this is something to pay attention to, I don't think it's quite time to sound alarms.

(In case you were wondering, Kelvim over his career has struck out 25% of batters he has faced in relief, where the average AL relief pitcher has struck out 18%.)

2. Does Kelvim pitch just well enough to lose?

Since joining the Angels, Kelvim has an ERA of 3.92 as a starter, which is very good, but has only managed a win-loss record of 18-23. This may lead some to believe that he just "doesn't know how to win" or somesuch nonsense. Does Kelvim lose a disproportionate amount of close games? Does he give up leads? Does he "not know how to win"?

Let's look at all 23 of Kelvim's losses as a starter with the Angels (with thanks, of course, to Retrosheet):

April 14, 2004 at Oakland
5.7 IP, 4 R, 4 ER
Final: Oakland 7, Angels 1

That's just a bad start, no mystery about it.

May 16, 2004 at Baltimore
6.3 IP, 3 R, 3 ER
Final: Baltimore 4, Angels 0

An okay start from Kelvim, but the Angels got shut out by the great Sidney Ponson. The only thing Kelvim could have done to win this game is allow negative runs.

June 18, 2004 at Houston
6.7 IP, 4 R, 4 ER
Final: Houston 5, Angels 0

A bad start and a combined shutout from the Houston pitchers.

June 23, 2004 vs. Oakland
6 IP, 3 R, 3 ER
Final: Oakland 7, Angels 1

The Angels jumped out to a 1-0 lead in this game, which Kelvim then "blew" by giving up three runs. Unfortunately, the Angels were finished scoring. I guess if you want to make the argument that he doesn't have what it takes to win, you can go ahead and blame him for not shutting out Oakland in this game.

July 4, 2004 vs. Chavez Ravine
6.3 IP, 6 R, 6 ER
Final: Chavez Ravine 6, Angels 2

Again, a plain ol' bad start.

July 16, 2004 vs. Boston
6 IP, 3 R, 3 ER
Final: Boston 4, Angels 2

Boston got the lead here, and was able to ride Pedro Martinez to a victory over Kelvim's quality start. Kelvim would have had to have allowed only one (or zero) runs to win this game.

July 21, 2004 at Texas
6.7 IP, 3 R, 3 ER
Final: Texas 3, Angels 2

Texas was up 2-1 going into the top of the seventh when the Angels tied the game. The Angels immediately gave up the tie in the bottom of the inning, when Francisco Rodriguez allowed a two-out double to Micheal Young to allow a run charged to Kelvim to score. So you can blame Kelvim for letting a runner get to third with two outs, but he needed assistance in not knowing how to win in this game.

July 26, 2004 at Texas
7.3 IP, 6 R, 6 ER
Final: Texas 6, Angels 1

Just a bad start.

August 17, 2004 at Tampa Bay
4.7 IP, 5 R, 5 ER
Final: Tampa Bay 8, Angels 3

Again, this is just a day where Kelvim didn't have it. He did have lead at one point, but was struggling and unable to hold it.

September 8, 2004 vs. Toronto
8 IP, 1 R, 1 ER
Final: Toronto 1, Angels 0

Kelvim struck out 12 men, but fell to the historic combo of Justin Miller and Justin Speier. Kelvim gave up a run in the first, and that was it. If you think this game provides evidence that Kelvim is a loser, you are simply beyond help.

September 18, 2004 vs. Texas
8 IP, 1 R, 1 ER
Final: Texas 2, Angels 0

Once again, it is impossible to blame Kelvim for this effort.

September 24, 2004 vs. Oakland
5 IP, 5 R, 5 ER
Final: Oakland 6, Angels 3

Oakland got three runs off of Kelvim in the top of the first, and it was over.

April 30, 2005 at Minnesota
7 IP, 4 R, 4 ER
Final: Minnesota 4, Angels 2

The Angels never led in this game and never got the offense going, plus Kelvim had a rather poor, though not horrific, start.

May 11, 2005 vs. Cleveland
5 IP, 4 R, 4 ER
Final: Cleveland 9, Angels 3

Kelvim did cough up the lead here, but as you can see he was having a bad game. Go ahead and count it against him if you like.

April 12, 2006 vs. Texas
4.3 IP, 8 R, 4 ER
Final: Texas 11, Angels 3

Again, just a bad start.

April 29, 2006 vs. the White Sox
5 IP, 1 R, 1 ER
Final: White Sox 2, Angels 1

A good start. A bad offense.

May 17, 2006 vs. Toronto
7 IP, 3 R, 3 ER
Final: Toronto 3, Angels 0

I'm not blaming him for this.

May 22, 2006 at Texas
6.3 IP, 3 R, 3 ER
Final: Texas 3, Angels 2

Kelvim had a 2-0 lead going into the sixth, and allowed three runs to score over the next inning-and-a-third. So you can go ahead and use this one to say he doesn't know how to win.

May 28, 2006 vs. Baltimore
6.3 IP, 5 R, 5 ER
Final: Baltimore 7, Angels 6

Kelvim carried a 4-2 lead into the seventh; he left with one out, runners on first and second, and one run in. Scot Shields allowed both inherited runners to score, so once again Kelvim got some assistance in pitching well enough to lose.

June 3, 2006 at Cleveland
5.7 IP, 8 R, 2 ER
Final: Cleveland 14, Angels 2

The Angels had just tied the game at two in the top of the sixth when the wheels fell off the wagon in the bottom of the inning. Vlad dropped the third out in right field, allowing two runs to score, and disaster ensued. Yeah, Kelvim loaded the bases, but he got out of it, and the tie was broken by Vlad's brain cramp.

June 9, 2006 vs. Seattle
8 IP, 4 R, 2 ER
Final: Seattle 4, Angels 1

Again, Kelvim would have had to have thrown a shutout to win this game. The Angels never led. No choking here.

June 19, 2006 at San Francisco
7 IP, 2 R, 2 ER
Final: San Francisco 2, Angels 1

Well, the Angels did have a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, then the Giants got two in the bottom. The scoring was over; I guess you can be really harsh on Kelvim and blame him because the Angels couldn't get a base hit until the eighth inning.

June 25, 2006 at Arizona
4.7 IP, 8 R, 8 ER
Final: Arizona 9, Angels 7

Bad start, man. Bad start.

So, looking at it, there are a few games here and there where Kelvim could have buckled down and gotten a victory, even though his team wasn't scoring runs. But, for the most part, he loses because either he gets hit hard (which happens to all pitchers) or because he gets no offensive support whatsoever (which happens to all Angel pitchers). In 17 of Kelvim's 23 starting losses with the Angels, the Halos have provided him with two runs or less to work with. I just don't think that means he's lacking. He's a valuable starting pitcher, and unless that changes dramatically he deserves a spot (and is needed) in the rotation.

really great post, i was leaning towards thinking Escobar "can't win" but this kinda proves otherwise. Thanks for taking the time to do that!
Good work! The Hardball Times Annual had an article about Bert Blyleven's poor win-loss record relative to his ERA, and whether he lacked a winner's mentality or something like that. I like your methodology a lot better than theirs.

I agree with you that Kelvim is not a choker.

What seems to be hurting Kelvim's rep is that he had such an amazing 2004. In 2004, Kelvim had 20 "good" games (6+ IP, 3 or less runs allowed), 8 "middling" games, and 5 "bad" games (either 5+ runs allowed or 1 run/inning allowed).

This year, Kelvim has 8 "good" games, 2 "middling" games and 5 "bad" games. So in order for him to pitch as well as he did in 2004, he can't have any more "bad" games this year.

However, he is still pitching well. Lackey rocks, Escobar and Santana are solid, Jeff Weaver sucks and the jury is out on Colon (insufficient data).
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