Searching for the Holy Grail has nothing on the search for the statistic that can tell you which team in MLB will finish first.
That search is endless, highlighted by the “money ball” concept of the Oakland A’s.
Under GM Billy Bean, Oakland instituted on-base percentage as a prime number to decide who could help you in the lineup to score runs when you didn’t have the money to be on the market trying to outbid the Red Sox and Yankees for the biggest names in the game.
That has served Oakland well over the years in keeping them competitive.
All know there is no one stat that will bring you the ultimate answer. It’s all about trying to find those numbers that can at least head you in a winning direction.
The Oakland emphasis on getting on base leads to teams taking pitches to run counts deep and force starters out of games early so a team could get to the soft underbelly of most clubs — the middle relief corps.
Since middle relief has been a problem for many teams, it makes sense that the more you can stay away from that group, the better the chance of winning.
That brings us to another vital stat that seems to take one in a winning direction: The number of innings thrown by starters in a season.
Right now the top teams in that department in the AL are Toronto, Minnesota, Texas, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Boston, Seattle, New York, Detroit and the Angels.
All of those clubs are early contending teams and in the case of the Sox, the starter innings pitched brings one closer to the truth than does the ERA number.
Boston starters are 12th in the AL in starter ERA at 5.26. That has not prevented the starters from going deep into games in comparison with other teams in the AL.
The Sox have been saved, literally, by a bullpen that is No. 1 in the league in ERA at 2.95.
Texas has made the biggest turnaround in starter innings pitched under the new doctrine of GM Nolan Ryan who has told his rotation not to be looking over to the dugout for help in the fifth or sixth inning.
What has not changed in the history of the game is the beginning and end-all is pitching.
What has also not changed is trying to figure out in this day and age of specialty pitchers and bullpen roles what formula brings you to the “W.”
As important as noting those teams with starters who have gone the most innings, are those teams at the other end.
Cleveland, Oakland, Baltimore and the White Sox have not gotten starter innings and they are teams struggling not to fall out of the races early.
Step back and take a look at today’s game and the starter innings pitched stat is big.
Hitters are trying to up their on-base percentage and take pitches. Middle relief corps are questionable.
The longer a starter can stay in the game, the less the middle relief is tested and probably the more strikes he is throwing, forcing the patient hitters to be less patient.
Starter innings pitched may not be the Holy Grail of the game, but teams pray that number is a good one.