When the Chicago Cubs dumped Milton Bradley on the Seattle Mariners, the trade was assuredly about saving some cash. The fact that the Mariners required the Cubs to take back some pitcher in the deal generally didn’t merit comment (except the requisite “Carlos Silva? But that guy sucks!”).
Now, it merits comment.
Together with Tom Gorzelanny, the back-end of the rotation fill-ins have, for the duration of this yet short season, been a bright spot on the club. So much so that, when Ted Lilly returned from injury, manager Lou Piniella preferred to do the unthinkable – bump Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen – than move either Gorzelanny or Silva. To date, Silva has started three games, all of them quality, and he’s put up a 0.95 ERA and a paper thin 0.632 WHIP.
But for all of Silva’s 2010 success thus far, aren’t we simply being fooled? It’s just three starts, after all, and this is a guy who was the worst starting pitcher in all of baseball from 2008 to 2009. If only there were some simple, back-of-the hand calculation that an admitted non-statistician could perform to give us a rough sense of whether Silva’s success this year has been the product of a Larry Rothschild-induced set of mechanical adjustments or merely a statistical fluke.
If only. (Here’s where the triumphant music kicks up – I’m thinking a trendy remix of We Are the Champions and Umbrella. Don’t judge.) For your consideration:
Carlos Silva had 6 starts in 2009, 1 of which was a “quality start” (three or fewer earned runs in six or more innings). In 2008, he had 28 starts, 10 of which were quality. Together, that’s a 32.35% chance in the last two years that when Silva took the mound, he’d throw a quality start. So what does that say about his 3 for 3 start to the 2010 season?
Well, if he were the same pitcher today that he was in 2008-2009, the odds that he would string together 3 consecutive quality starts are not good. Simple math here: .3235 times .3235 times .3235 yields a mere 3.38% chance that the Carlos Silva of 2008-2009 could put together three consecutive quality starts.
That suggests that his start to the 2010 season has not been luck. It suggests, instead, that this is not the same Carlos Silva. The calculation is conservative, too: Silva’s starts this year haven’t been merely “quality,” they’ve been above and beyond. Thus, the odds are long that Silva is simply a luckier pitcher than he was in 2008-09. The odds are long that his back-to-back-to-back excellent starts do not say anything about actual improvement in Silva this year.
Then again, when it comes to the Chicago Cubs, no odds of suck are too long.