#20 – Ron Darling: He Was in “Shallow Hal”

Opening Day 2011 will be the 50th Opening Day in Mets history. To honor that, around here we’ll be counting down the top 50 Mets in team history, one every weekday from now until we’ve done ‘em all. Today, #20, Ron Darling:

This post doesn’t have anything to do with Ron Darling having a part in Shallow Hal, a film I haven’t actually seen but will mock regardless. I mostly wanted to remind everyone with the title that Ron Darling is in Shallow Hal.

Anyway.

Ron Darling is one of the most durable pitchers in Mets history — from 1984-1989, he averaged 34 starts and 226 innings per season. Only the members of the Mets’ high pitching triumvirate, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Doc Gooden, have more 200 inning seasons with the team than Mr. Darling.

This durability is what gets Darling so high on the list: his ERA, once adjusted for pitching his home games at Shea Stadium, is only a tic better than average. However, because he was throwing so many innings every year, Darling gets a big bump when you compare him to a replacement level instead of the average. He was throwing 240 innings in some seasons — if you say a starter should be throwing 180 innings a year, then those extra 60 innings Darling was providing were 60 innings a lesser pitcher, such as a long reliever or Triple-A replacement starter, didn’t need to throw. Those extra innings have tremendous value, something that’s not captured in an ERA.

On the other hand, it’s possible that Darling’s ERA doesn’t entirely capture his value in another way. His won-loss record with the Mets is 99-70, which is better than one would guess based on his average ERA. As you probably already know, when you see a pitcher with a better won-loss than his ERA might suggest, the first thing to look at is usually the level of support from his teammates — a good offense and bullpen can make a pretty middling pitcher look much better than he really is.

That doesn’t appear to be the case with Darling, or at least not all of the case. Baseball-Prospectus keeps track of something called a support neutral won-loss record — which is exactly what it sounds like — which suggests that Darling’s record would have been 97-83 with an average offense and bullpen supporting him instead of the mid-’80s Mets. This new won-loss record is closer to what one would expect based on his average ERA, but even as an average pitcher with average support, Darling is still 14 games over the average of .500.

So there’s another possibility worth considering: Ron Darling was particularly good at having particularly bad games. Perhaps like Shallow Hal, this is something that may not be as bad as it sounds.

Let me explain: Imagine two pitchers, each starting two games. Pitcher Jack pitches 7 shutout innings one start, and then implodes and surrenders 16 runs in 2 innings his next time out. Pitcher Black gives up 8 runs in 5 innings his first start, and then 8 runs in 4 innings his second start. Jack and Black wind up with identical ERAs — they both gave up 16 runs over 9 innings — but Jack’s team probably went 1-1 in his starts, while Black’s team most likely lost both games; you can probably say Jack is the better pitcher in this extreme scenario. In terms of winning a game, it doesn’t matter so much if your starting pitcher gives up 8 runs or 10 runs or 16 runs, because after a certain point you’re just going to lose anyway. The extra runs are meaningless, but continue to matter for an ERA.

So it’s possible Darling was a Jack type pitcher, who had a few meltdown starts which ballooned his ERA, but was otherwise an effective pitcher. This would explain his better than expected won-loss record, and if it is the case, he might deserve to be ranked higher than #20 on this list.

Though I’m not entirely sure how to test that hypothesis out, so consider it just a suggestion for now. I don’t know: Does this fit Darling’s reputation from the time?

***

Most career wins by pitchers born in Hawaii:

Rk Player W
1 Charlie Hough 216
2 Ron Darling 136
3 Milt Wilcox 119
4 Sid Fernandez 114
5 Brian Fisher 36
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/21/2011.

Most career wins by pitchers born in Hawaii who were also in Shallow Hal:

Rk Player W
1 Ron Darling 136
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/21/2011.
Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Mets, Words

6 responses to “#20 – Ron Darling: He Was in “Shallow Hal”

  1. I don’t recall Darling being particularly known for the occasional horrible start; he was pretty consistent. Looking the game logs for his worst ERA season with the mets (1987), there were only three games where he didn’t make it to the fifth inning, and he never gave up more than eight runs (and that was a game he won).

    But you make a very interesting point: after a certain point, extra runs don’t really matter. The ERA and other similarly based stats for pitchers are flawed because one bad inning can blow them up. Say you had a pitcher who pitched two complete game shutouts, then on the next game, gave up eight runs without getting an out. His ERA becomes 4.00 — good but not great. Since stats are based upon a full season, a few bad outings can make you look bad even when you’ve been excellent otherwise. Statistics ignore the game-by-game stats, mushing everything all together. But a pitcher who can pitch brilliantly two out of three starts, but terribly the third time is probably more valuable than a pitcher with the same ERA who always has a mediocre outing.

    • Patrick Flood

      Another example I think of is Francisco Rodriguez in 2009, when his ERA rose all the way to 3.71. It was mostly inflated by a handful of poor outings — I think he gave up two walkoff grandslams that year, both times with the game tied. A walkoff single still would have lost the game for the Mets, so those extra runs surrendered in the grand slams were meaningless. They still counted against his ERA, though.

  2. I recall one game where RD gave up tens runs in the first inning and was removed int he second. That may have caused the bump in his ERA right there.

  3. I remember hearing on Mets broadcasts how many no-decisions Darling used to get. Darling had 12 or 13 no-decisions for four consecutive seasons, which is a lot for a guy who pitched on average into the seventh. He didn’t finish a lot of games, either, not for that timeframe. I’m not sure what this would indicate – perhaps his offensive support game-to-game wasn’t always that strong? Or an extreme “pitching to the score” effect?

    In Darling’s six full seasons as a starter (’84-’89), the Mets’ w/l% in his no-decisions is lower than when he got the decision. (Darling went 86-52, .623; otherwise the Mets went 38-25, .603.) He looks best in 1985 (16-6 vs. 7-6) and 1987 (12-8 vs. 5-7); worst in 1986 (15-6 vs. 11-2) and 1988 (17-9 vs. 6-2). Lot of volatility there.

  4. I agree with nightfly here. When Darling was pitching for the Mets, you’d always hear what a hard-luck pitcher he was, and about how many no-decisions he got.

    • Patrick Flood

      So that’s the book on him? Lots of no decisions? That’s interesting, because he’s 30 games over .500 with an average ERA — if he was a tough luck pitcher, that’d be quite impressive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s