In my attempt to bring a new statistic into everyday baseball lexicon, I tracked what I designated “stopper statistics” throughout the 2015 season. To introduce the term to a new audience, a stopper is the term given to a pitcher attempting to stop their team’s losing streak of three or more games – as we all know from Major League, three games are what they call a streak. Earl Weaver famously said “momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher”, and that quote drove me to track these occurrences.
A starting pitcher always has the capability of putting their team in a great position for a win. Throughout last season, I gave updates on Twitter on stopper occurrences and posted articles on who was leading the league towards becoming the “Stopper of the Year”. The award is based on ERA and team wins in those starts – a stopper’s true job is to stop the losing, and even though a starting pitcher can’t fully control everything, it’s only fair to do it that way. Innings pitched were also considered as a losing streak generally goes hand-in-hand with a taxed bullpen. A stopper should also be helping the team by giving the bullpen a break.
Perhaps less surprising than winning the NL Cy Young award, Jake Arrieta won the 2015 award (Cole Hamels won the inaugural award in 2014). Arrieta was 4-0 with a 0.29 ERA, averaging eight innings per start. Jerome Williams took the 2015 crown as the less-heralded worst stopper (Justin Masterson took it in 2014). Williams was 0-4 with a 9.77 ERA, averaging below four innings per start.
The statistic has come with some quirks in its infancy. Aces dominated the leaderboard in 2015, which wasn’t the case in 2014. Players like Derek Holland and Gavin Floyd put up fantastic numbers in 2014 but it was the household names of Kershaw, Greinke and Harvey that were on top this past season.
Losing teams will naturally give their pitchers more occurrences, but that may eventually lead to the relevance of this statistic. Successful teams find themselves avoiding losing streaks because they have pitchers at the top of their rotation that can “stop the bleeding” and get them back in the W column.
With the new season starting Sunday, who are your predictions for 2016’s Stopper of the Year? Will it be an ace who excels in the few opportunities they are given, or a pitcher, like Hamels in 2014, that puts a losing team on their back every fifth day? Follow me on Twitter for frequent updates and on Baseball Essential for summary articles throughout the season.