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Exploring the Sub-2.50 ERA Curse: Why Four Elite Pitchers May Regress in 2010

Mon, Mar 22, 2010

Strategy

Photo: Chris Creamer, Sportslogos.net

2009 was a remarkable year for the most elite pitchers in baseball, as four hurlers posted a sub-2.50 ERA. While this fact is incredible enough, so too is the reality that exactly zero pitchers accomplished this feat in the three years previous to ’09.

From 2000 to 2005, there were 11 instances of a pitcher posting an ERA under 2.50 with a minimum of 150 innings. This irregularity, when compared to the three-year drought from 2006 to 2008 is somewhat puzzling, though essentially meaningless to fantasy owners.

The most useful piece of information is what these pitchers do in the season after they record a sub-2.50 ERA. While this idea was touched on briefly in an earlier article, further analysis is necessary to fully understand it.

What follows is a chart which displays all 11 instances of a sub-2.50 ERA season from 2001 to 2008 (min. 150 IP). The third column reveals the pitcher’s ERA during the season listed in column two. The fourth column uncovers the difference in the pitcher’s ERA in the following season.

PLAYER YEAR ERA ERA DIFF.
Roger Clemens 2005 1.87 (+0.43)
Andy Pettitte 2005 2.39 (+1.81)
Jake Peavy 2004 2.27 (+0.61)
Pedro Martinez 2003 2.22 (+1.68)
Jason Schmidt 2003 2.34 (+0.86)
Kevin Brown 2003 2.39 (+1.70)
Mark Prior 2003 2.43 (+1.59)
Pedro Martinez 2002 2.26 (-.04)
Randy Johnson 2002 2.32 (+1.94)
Randy Johnson 2001 2.49 (-0.17)
Pedro Martinez 2000 1.74 (+0.65)

 

Only two names show up more than once on this chart: Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson. Not coincidentally, Pedro and the Big Unit were the only pitchers on this list to lower their ERA in the following season at least once. The other seven hurlers saw a significant increase in their succeeding season’s earned run totals.

On average, each pitcher’s ERA increased by 1.01 runs per nine innings in the season following their sub-2.50 campaign.

In addition to this, each pitcher averaged nearly 40 less innings pitched in the following season.

The subsequent question, of course, is which four pitchers compiled a sub-2.50 ERA in 2009? The answer includes: Zack Greinke (2.16), Chris Carpenter (2.24), Tim Lincecum (2.48) and Felix Hernandez (2.49).

While this study doesn’t necessarily suggest these Cy Young candidates should be avoided entirely in 2010, recent history indicates a sharp increase in ERA is on the horizon.

In fact, adding the average increase of 1.01 runs per nine innings to their 2009 ERAs yields the following 2010 expected totals: Zack Greinke (3.17), Chris Carpenter (3.25), Tim Lincecum (3.49) and Felix Hernandez (3.50). While these numbers remain respectable at the very least, their current ADPs (with the exception of Carpenter) reveal that fantasy owners aren’t expecting (or aren’t yet aware) of the sub-2.50 ERA curse.

You’ve been warned…

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