The April ERA Rarity

Admittedly, if this happened in May or June or even August nobody would notice. But April just ended and that means an entire month of data is available. And that means people will take note that Mike Pelfrey, Ubaldo Jimenez, Livan Hernandez, and Francisco Liriano had earned run averages below 1.00. A sub-1 ERA is more significant than a .300 batting average because it means the pitchers are allowing fewer than one earned run per nine innings pitched. That’s not to say ERA is meaningful though. This is just for trivial purposes. Four pitchers pulling the sub-1 ERA trick is pretty rare though, check the quantity by year:

2010: 4
2009: 1 (Zack Greinke)
2008: 1 (Cliff Lee)
2007: 0 (Closest: John Maine 1.35)
2006: 0 (Closest: John Thomson 1.32)
2005: 1 (John Patterson)
2004: 0 (Closest: Tom Glavine 1.64)
2003: 0 (Closest: Shawn Chacon 1.04)
2002: 2 (Tom Glavine and Al Leiter)

Throughout the eight season stretch from 2002-2009 we had four sub-1 ERA Aprils. 2010 matched that total. It’s easy to look at recent history (well, the last two years) and pencil in Liriano as the American League Cy Young winner – and hey, maybe he will be – but the rest of the list is rather lackluster. Here’s a look at the top xFIP through April for each of those seasons:

2010: Tim Lincecum (2.21)
2009: Javier Vazquez (2.25)
2008: John Smoltz (2.57)
2007: Jake Peavy (3.18)
2006: Cory Lidle (2.91)
2005: Johan Santana (1.93)
2004: Ben Sheets (2.75)
2003: Javier Vazquez (2.03)
2002: Curt Schilling (1.62)

The John Smoltz incited argument from last season on the granularity of ~40 innings worth of pitching need not be rehashed. This is just one month of data and it’s only notable because it’s the first and only month we have. I mean, do you know who lead the majors in xFIP for June of 2005?* Of course not. The old rule in screenwriting is that the author must mention an object or item at least seven times for the audience to remember it. I think I’ve fulfilled that requirement, but just to make sure: These numbers do not guarantee future success nor do they reflect true talent levels.

*‘Twas Chris Carpenter

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Steve C
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Steve C

I don’t know if I’d call Jimenez lackluster. Maybe a little young / raw, but he potential for greatness is most certainly there.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Yeah, I agree, especially through watching that no hitter. If he can figure that all important ‘controlled wildness’ down, he can be a force.

DavidCEisen
Guest
DavidCEisen

The lackluster comment was referring to the rest the ERA leaders from 2002 to 2007, I believe. Though I wouldn’t call Glavine lackluster.

Bill
Guest
Bill

Mike Pelfrey has already regressed, this article is outdated!

hennethannun
Guest
hennethannun

No, it was clearly referring to the 4 current sub 1.00 ERA pitchers. Liriano does not appear on the second (xFIP leaders) list.

And I think it’s pretty clear that Ubaldo Jiminez is more than lackluster. He will have to sustain something close to his early season performance for the rest of this season to become a truly elite pitcher, but he’s basically been a cy-young-quality pitcher since May of 2009.

DavidCEisen
Guest
DavidCEisen

The comment read: “It’s easy to look at recent history (well, the last two years) and pencil in Liriano as the American League Cy Young winner – and hey, maybe he will be – but the rest of the list is rather lackluster.”

If you look at the ERA leaders list the past two (Grienke and Lee) won the AL Cy Young. However if you look past those two years–hence the ‘well, the last two years’ comment–the list is rather lackluster. Though, Glavine was very good in one of those seasons and above average in the other.