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The meaning of Drew Pomeranz's disaster start

Pomeranz was terrible Monday night. That was pretty unusual for an Athletics starter.

Seconds later, Pomeranz fractured his hand.
Seconds later, Pomeranz fractured his hand.
Thearon W. Henderson

Drew Pomeranz was a disaster Monday night. He allowed eight runs and didn't make it out of the fourth inning, then topped off his evening by fracturing his non-pitching hand hitting a chair in frustration. It was a weird game to watch, because an implosion by a starting pitcher is not something that A's fans have been subjected to very often in 2014 (at least, an implosion by an Oakland starter). A "disaster start" is usually defined as more earned runs than innings pitched, and Pomeranz definitely qualified for such a distinction. However, here is a complete list of disaster starts by Oakland pitchers this year:

Dan Straily, Apr. 15, vs. LAA: 3⅔ innings, 6 runs
Tommy Milone, May 3, vs. Bos: 4 innings, 6 runs
Drew Pomeranz, June 16, vs. Tex: 3⅔ innings, 8 runs

That's it. That's all of them. And the A's went on to win Straily's stinker, so they managed a 1-2 record in those three games. It goes without saying, but this is a big deal. When you get at least a decent outing (if not a quality start) out of your starter in every single game, you will always be in a good position to win. It's a huge reason why the A's have the best record in the AL, and it's a big contributor to their amazing run differential. Most blowout losses begin with disaster starts, and the A's almost never have a disaster start. It's also a great way to save your bullpen from doing extra work in contests that have deteriorated into meaningless affairs with foregone conclusions. Futhermore, it must be noted that all three of these starts came from the guys in the back of the rotation; Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, and Jesse Chavez have all avoided completely blowing it in any individual game. (Other notes: only four other games in which Oakland's starter has even allowed five runs, with a 2-2 team record; only three other games in which a non-ejected starter has failed to make it out of the fifth, and each time the starter only allowed two runs)

How does Oakland compare to other teams in this regard? In order to help out the competition a little bit, I added my own twist to the definition of a disaster start. Here's what I looked for:

- more earned runs than innings pitched
- no more than five innings pitched

I figure that if you manage to make it through six or seven innings despite giving up a ton of runs, you should get some extra credit. Maybe it means the offense kept you in the game, or maybe it just means that you helped save the bullpen for the next day. But a start of, say, seven runs in six innings just doesn't seem as bad to me as seven runs in three innings. So, with this new rule in mind, here's how some of the top teams (and the AL West) have fared in this department:

Giants: 5 DS, 2-3 record, 2 by Lincecum, 1 by Cain
Dodgers: 6 DS, 0-6 record, 2 by Ryu, 1 by Kershaw
Cardinals: 6, 0-6 record, 2 by Wainwright
Brewers: 5 DS, 1-4 record, 2 by Garza
Braves: 6 DS, 1-5 record, by 5 different pitchers
Nationals: 10 DS, 1-9 record, 2 by Strasburg, 1 by Zimmermann
Tigers: 4 DS, 0-4 record, PLUS 4 more starts of 6- innings and 7+ runs (all losses)
Royals: 8 DS, 1-7 record, plus 3 starts of 7+ runs by Shields
Blue Jays: 9 DS, 0-9 record, 2 by Dickey (and one technical DS by Buehrle, 5⅓ & 7)
Rangers: 10 DS, 1-9 record, 1 by Darvish (vs. Oak)
Angels: 4 DS, 0-4 record, 1 by Wilson
Mariners: 8 DS, 2-6 record
Astros: 9 DS, 0-9 record
Athletics: 3 DS, 1-2 record, none by top starters

You want to know one of the secrets behind Oakland's first-half success? There it is. Just never, ever have your starter suck. Easy peasy.