May 20, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) pitches during the sixth inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Reds won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

Pitching, Pitching, Pitching...

Since starting the season 4-8, the Reds have proceeded to win 19 of 30 games. Not that it matters at all right now, but they’re currently .5 games behind the reeling Red Birds, who are getting a short vacation from havoc in San Diego.

The Reds haven’t made this turnaround with the bats – they’re hitting a lot of home runs (13 HR in last 7 games, accounting for 17 of their 29 runs (59%)), which is nice, but it’s not telling even a fraction of the story. The Reds are doing what they’re doing now because of pitching. Pitching. Pitching. Pitching. More Pitching.

May 21, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Leake pitches during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Great American Ball Park. The Reds defeated the Braves 4-1. Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE)

My favorite local columnist, Paul Daugherty, offered this regarding the merits of a quality start:

“Quality Start = Mindless Stat. One of the TV guys, I forget which, praised his (Leake’s) ‘quality start.’ The Morning Man isn’t a big believer in contrived stats. I’m not sure who invented it, but he needs to go back to the drawing board. The definition is simple: Six or more innings pitched, three or fewer runs allowed.

Three earned runs over 6 innings is a 4.50 ERA. That’s quality?”

Why yes, Paul.  It is.

Let’s first make a distinction – Your #1, your ace, is not judged by quality starts.  Ditto your #2, #3.  These guys are typically going to be facing other #1, #2, #3s.  Guys pitching 1-3 are pitching 1-3 because they don’t allow a lot of runs.  They are expected, every time, to go seven innings and give up no more than a run or so.  Big expectations, but that’s life at the top of a rotation.  The bottom is a bit different.

Mike Leake and Homer Bailey aren’t expected to go 7-8 innings and toss shut out ball.  They’re expected to pitch well and keep the Reds within an inning’s worth of allocated outs to tie.  Three.  That’s how you judge the efficiency at the back of the rotation.  That’s why the quality start is an incredibly useful tool.

Just consider the logistics.  The Reds are 17-7 when a pitcher has given them a quality start.  The quality start isn’t going to win anyone an MVP.  No one is going to win the Cy Young based on the number of quality starts he’s given.  But a quality start means your team, at the worst, is within an inning’s reach, and furthermore, ensures the bullpen will not be taxed that evening.

The Reds are on a four game winning streak.  They’ve also gotten four consecutive quality starts.

Correlation doesn’t imply causation.  But it sure looks convincing.

Consider the month of May, a month in which we’ve seen the Cardinals and Reds virtually swap momentum.  The Reds currently boast a team 3.32 ERA for the month of May and are tied at fourth for the fewest earned runs allowed.  Pretty good.

The Cardinals in May?   4.54 ERA.  Only two pitching staffs are having a worse month than them.  Even though they’ve still amassed the fourth best team batting average and scored the second most RBIs and runs scored (second to Texas), they’ve gone 11-10 this month.

Scott Rolen said it best: “Momentum only goes as far as the next starting pitcher takes you.”

For now, enjoy the ride.

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Tags: Baseball Cincinnati Cincinnati Reds Dusty Baker Pitching Red Birds Reds Rotation St Louis Cardinals

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