What’s a no-hitter worth?

Last night, Minnesota Twins’ pitcher Francisco Liriano threw the first no-hitter of the 2011 Major League Baseball season. No-nos are so rare that they are entrenched in baseball lore alongside the perfect game. With new statistics developed over the last twenty years, the no-hitters value is changing.

Famous baseball statistician Bill James created the GameScore. The tool seeks to measure a pitcher’s value over the course of a single game. The GameScore has since been translated to position players under a different formula and name, but James’ formula remains the go-to for evaluating a pitcher’s performance.

Warning: some math will follow. The formula itself begins with the number 50. 50 represents the average score of a single game. Any final score above 50 is an above average performance, while anything below 50 is sub-average. Then outs, innings pitched, and strikeouts are added to the number while hits, earned runs, unearned runs, and walks are subtracted from the number. All put together, the formula = 50 + 1* Outs (recorded) + 2*IP after the 4th + 1*K – 2*H – 4*ER – 2*Unearned Runs – 1*BB.

Liriano’s no-hitter scored an 83 on James’ formula. An 83 doesn’t sound too bad, right? That’s good enough for a B in grade school and college. But it’s only the fourteenth best game pitched this season. Four pitchers have scored 90 or above this season: Cliff Lee with the season’s best (to date) 92, Dan Haren and Ian Kennedy each with a 91 score game, and Tim Hudson with a 90 (he just finished that game about an hour ago).

Francisco Liriano

Other pitchers ahead of Liriano include Anibal Sanchez (89), Josh Beckett (87), Kyle Lohse (87), Dice-K Matsuzaka (86), Jaime Garcia (86), Carlos Zambrano (85), Chad Billingsley (85), Jason Marquis (84), James Shields (84), Roy Halladay (83), Shields again (83), and Yovani Gallardo (83). Obviously, Liriano is in a four-way ties for fourteenth, but the fact remains that his no-hitter is not worth as much as the aura that surrounds the unique feat.

So what brought down Liriano’s score? Obviously it wasn’t the outs recorded or the number of innings pitched past the fourth inning. His low strikeout total (2 for the game) hurt. In fact, of the twenty best games pitched this season, only Gallardo had an equally low strikeout total. No other pitcher in the top twenty games struck out less than six. Another element that doomed Liriano was his high walk total. He issued six free passes to the White Sox in the game which accounted for twice as much as any other pitcher in the the top twenty games.

In 2010, there were five no-hitters (not counting Halladay’s post-season no-no). Ubaldo Jimenez, Roy Halladay, Dallas Braden, Edwin Jackson, and Matt Garza each accomplished the feat during MLB’s 162 game season. Yet, only three of those fantastic performances made the top twenty pitched games according to GameScore: Halladay second with a 98, Braden tied for fourth with a 93, and Garza tied for seventh with a 92. Halladay’s playoff no-hitter scored a 94. The very next day, Giants’ ace Tim Lincecum scored a 96 for a two-hit shutout over the Atlanta Braves.

Roy Halladay

Avoiding the GameScore metric for just a second, all of these games are well-pitched and deserve recognition. However, if you asked the average fan, which of the games is better, I’m betting they’d pick the no-hitter 99 times out of 100. And their choice may be justified. Then again, they may be choosing the worse performance (I know, really nit-picking here).

The point, though, is that baseball fans and statisticians have introduced interesting new measures of a player’s effectiveness over the last two decades. Tradition will continue to favor the no-hitter. Baseball has been around for nearly 150 years, and that doesn’t go away over a single game or twenty years of new formulas.

No-hitters are great to watch. They have everything a fan wants: heart-pounding excitement, anticipation, a great defensive play or two saving the game, etc. Just know, they’re not the only way to gauge a pitcher’s performance.

If you’d like to follow GameScore throughout the season, click here.

Impact of the Cliff Lee trade

Hours after I posted a weekend preview series detailing the possible trade of Cliff Lee to the Bronx Bombers, it all fell through and Lee ended up with the Texas Rangers. The Rangers had been interested all along, but were reluctant to deal prospects and an MLB-ready first baseman within the division. However, they conquered their fears and pulled the trigger Russian roulette style.

The big question in the aftermath is the following: Does Cliff Lee make the Rangers a World Series team? They would not have made the deal if they did not think so. Let’s check it out Michael Street style, aka aspiring future GM.

Cliff Lee will now be wearing the blue and red of Texas

1. The Rangers record – Texas currently owns the third best record in the American League, trailing only the Yankees and Rays (arguably the two best teams in baseball to date). Texas also leads its division by 5.5 games and the perennial West winning Angels finally seem unable to replace what they lost in the off-season. The Rangers have a chance to win the division and play deep into October.

2. The Yankees (among other teams) wanted Lee – New York owns the best record in the majors and still felt the need to send a possible future catcher plus other prospects for a half-season rental. Keeping a player away from one of your chief competitors is always a good thing.

3. Lee is not an egomaniac – Cliff Lee proved last season that he can fit into a team in the middle of the season and become “one of the guys.” He ascended from a last place team to a first place team in a similar fashion. Lee assumed the ace role of the Philly staff without causing a ruckus. He will do the same thing in Texas.

4. Lee is an ace – He’s a bona fide top of the rotation pitcher. He’s easily the best thing to grace the mound in Arlington since Nolan Ryan. He has a 2.34 ERA, 5 complete games, and averages one walk EVERY eighteen innings pitched. For comparison, the rest of the Texas staff has a combined 4 complete games. Every five days, Lee will take pressure off of the bullpen and with the Texas offense behind him, he will feel less pressure himself.

With all of that said, does the acquisition make Texas better than New York, Tampa Bay, Boston, Minnesota, Detroit, or Chicago (the primary competitors in the AL as of now)? I’m not sure. I do know that it gives them a fighting chance. Lee gives them the one thing Texas has been needing for the last few years – an ace. Texas has what it needs, can they capitalize?

MLB Round-Up 7/5 edition

The last pre-All Star game MLB Round-up is served today, hot and fresh.

Team of the Week

American League – New York Yankees. No team really stood out in the Junior Circuit over the past seven days, but this award is for the half-season mark. The Yankees have been the most consistent team in baseball. Sure, they trialed the hot-starting Rays early on, but the Yanks remained on their heels the entire time. Their team is still in need of some help before the trade deadline, but right now, New York looks to be the favorite representing the AL in the Fall Classic.

National League – San Diego Padres. 7-3 in their last ten games and a three game win streak have landed the Padres the award. They lead the Atlanta Braves by one game for best record in the NL. But have the Padres been given enough respect? They’ve led the NL West from the beginning. Adrian Gonzalez is a superstar and their pitching staff may not include house-hold names, but it is talented.

Position Player of the Week

American League – Miguel Cabrera (Detroit). The Tigers first baseman rebounded from last season’s late-night-partying debacle to put up one of the best first halves in baseball. This past week he was exceptional with his .467 batting average, five RBIs, and four doubles. In the process, he helped the Tigers reach a tie with the Twins for first place.

National League – Rafael Furcal (Los Angeles). The Dodger short stop was the only player in baseball to post a batting average over .500 in the past week (.538). His two home runs and two doubles boosted his slugging percentage to .923 for the week. If the Dodgers want to catch the Padres, they a healthy Furcal performing his best at the top of the lineup.

Pitcher of the Week

American League – Cliff Lee (Seattle). Seventeen innings, thirteen strikeouts, a complete game, a 2.12 ERA, and two wins spells what exactly? Trade bait. Lee has pitched extremely well since returning from injury. However, with Seattle’s last place residence, Cliff Lee will be bringing in some young prospects for Seattle by July 31.

National League – Adam Wainwright (St. Louis). Wainwright has ascended to one of the game’s best pitchers. His 0.59 ERA in two wins (one complete game) and sixteen strikeouts in fifteen plus innings was outstanding. He’s also 9-0 at home this season.