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How Could You Trade Billy Pierce?

Back in late February, we had our local SABR chapter (Don Lund chapter) meeting.  At the meeting, there were a couple of great presentations and one mediocre one (it was by some Hardball Times writer).  At the end of the meeting, a gentleman by the name of Mark Plawecki gave an impromptu presentation on his upcoming book that rates pitchers.  He gave enough information to to make me curious so I began talking to him about it via email.

And now his book is out and it’s called How Could You Trade Billy Pierce? – Essays and Analyses of MLB’s Best Pitchers (1901-2005).  In the book, he introduces his formula for rating pitchers called Park Adjusted Pitching Average (PAPA).  I don’t want to give too much away, but it basically takes how many times a pitcher got a batter out compared to the league average and it blends it with how many runs he gave up compared to the league average.  It’s not too difficult of a calculation to where a non-stathead like me could understand it (I try to think I’m getting better) but it also takes out some more well known, and deceptive, figures thrown around in the main stream media.  For example, wins and losses don’t play into the equation at all, and I like that.  A pitcher could get a win because he got some great offense, some great defense, some great relief pitching, or all of the above.  In fact he could have a rough start and still pick up a win.  PAPA takes all of that out and measures how a pitcher performs specifically on what that pitcher does.

And the ultimate numbers make a ton of sense.  If you flip to 1968 you’ve got Bob Gibson first and Denny McClain second.  Can’t argue too much with that.  In 2005, a lot of people argued against Bartolo Colon winning the Cy Young, and according to PAPA, he wasn’t deserving. At the top of the list are Roger Clemens and Johan Santana, who were obviously the best pitchers sans their win/loss record.  And in 1961, the Tigers dominated the list.  Jim Bunning and Frank Lary came in at one and two and then further down the list is Don Mossi at eight.

Okay, now you’re probably thinking, what do I get with the book.  And my response is, “a lot.”  The first part of the book is the largest, and it breaks down each season.  You get a well written essay on a highlighted pitcher and then you get that year’s top ten PAPA leaders.  You also get the winner of what Mr. Plawecki calls the Foran Award, which is the pitcher with the best PAPA that finished with a losing record that season.  And you also get that season’s World Series gem.  Occasionally, you’ll also get a list.  The 1968 write up has the top ten single season PAPA’s from 1919 through 1993 because the top guy on that list was Gibson in 1968.  After 105 of those, you’d figure the book would be well worth the $13 at Amazon.com, but hold on because you get more.

At the back of the book, you get a series of lists that attempt to break down who the greatest pitchers are.  You get a top 25 list based on peak value and a top 25 list based on career value as well as some back up information that was used to compile PAPA (like average innings pitched).

In conclusion, I really liked this book and I can see myself referring back to it often.  And it has a little of something for everyone.  Essays for those looking for some history, lists for those looking to compare some of the greats and commentary on each of the seasons so you know which teams had the best pitching in a given season.

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