Efficiency: the ratio of useful work performed by a machine or in a process to the total energy expended
The White Sox starting rotation is pretty good. Too bad it’s so inefficient.
(Note: lots of numbers in here, so all will be rounded to the nearest tenth, except innings, which will use .1 or .2 for thirds of an inning, because otherwise it’s way too inefficient.)
Efficiency in this case refers to the number of pitches it takes to get through an inning. That, in turn, impacts how many pitches are needed to get through a game or a series or a season or a career. And efficiency can make a big difference.
Getting through an inning on 15 pitches or fewer is considered excellent. The MLB average is 16. The Sox mostly don’t come close.
A couple of years ago, in the 2021 season, every White Sox starting pitcher was in the worst third in MLB, and Dylan Cease was dead last among qualifiers for things like ERA awards. Cease came in at 17.4, with 2,952 pitches in 165.2 innings, well back of leader Zack Wheeler’s 15.0. Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn each finished at 16.6, Giolito throwing 2,971 pitches over 178.2 innings, and Lynn 2,608 over 157. Carlos Rodón and Dallas Keuchel fared equally poorly.
Last season, Giolito improved a lot, to average 15.2 over 161.2 innings. Lynn stayed right at 16.6. Cease improved very slightly, to 17.0, and Michael Kopech, in his first year as a starter, tossed 2,006 pitches over 119.1 innings, for a 16.8 average. The team average was aided greatly by super-efficient Johnny Cueto, at a hair less than 15 for his 158.1 innings of work.
Other than Cease’s excellent work on Opening Day, the first trip through the rotation looks like more of the same is coming, and Cease lost all efficiency in his second start, with 99 pitches in five frames, raising his season average to 16.3. Lynn needed 96 pitches to get through 5.2 innings in Game 2, for a 16.9 average. Giolito took 97 for five innings, a 19.4 average. Cueto’s replacement needed 98 for five, coming in at 19.6. And Michael Kopech only lasted 4.2 innings and threw 91 pitches, an average of 19.5 per inning — most of them coming back a lot harder than they went in.
Compare these numbers to, say, Mark Buehrle in 2005, with 3,475 pitches over 236.2 innings, for a 14.7 pace. To go back a bit further, in his 19-2 year Greg Maddux threw only 2,425 pitches in 209.2 innings, an amazing 11.6 clip.
White Sox opponents have no fear of being Madduxed.
BUT OUR GUYS STRIKE OUT A BUNCH OF HITTERS, WHICH ADDS UP TO MORE PITCHES
Not really. Not only was Wheeler hyper-efficient in 2021, he led the NL in strikeouts, one off of Robbie Ray’s MLB lead. And last year some guy named Verlander, who has a bit of success striking people out, completed 175 innings with 2,607 pitches, for a 14.9 pace.
It’s not striking people out that’s so inefficient, it’s taking them all to 2-2 or 3-2 counts first.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE BULLPEN? IT’S EFFICIENT, RIGHT?
Well, uh, er, hmm. Through the first five games this season, the White Sox in total used 189 pitches to get through 43 innings. That’s an incredibly lousy 19.3 pitches per inning. But who’s counting?
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES A COUPLE OF PITCHES AN INNING MAKE, ANYWAY?
In a given inning, not much.
But over a game, it accounts for whether starters can last an extra inning. Figuring starters tend to go just more than 100 pitches, 15 per inning means getting through seven on 105. An average of 17 means needing 102 to get through six.
Over a season, where pitchers need 162 innings to be “qualifying,” that’s 324 additional pitches, or an additional three whole games of strain.
Over a 10-year career, it’s an entire extra season of wear and tear on their arms.
Efficiency deficiency hurts. And it hurts worse when your bullpen is lousy, which has been the case so far this year, and was largely the case in 2022 as well.
But, hey, things went sort of well in 2021, and hunky-dory last year anyway, right? Oh, yeah.