Over at WHYGAVS, Pat mentions Shawn Chacon leaving, with this comment:"Fun aside for everyone that misses Josh Fogg: aside from win/loss record (which is terribly arbitrary), Chacon's career numbers are pretty similar to Fogg's. And he's younger!" I'm not setting out to prove anyone right or wrong, or to defend either of these guys. But I had been looking at Fogg's numbers at BBRef during the playoffs and was just trying to see what was there.
I present this because it interested me, and hopefully you.
Fogg and Chacon have arrived at their career figures quite differently. I'm not going to go in depth with their stats, just use ERA+ to try and show... something.
Chacon's ERA+ by year, and yeah, he was a reliever a lot, but here it is:
And now Fogg's:
Fogg tops out at 97 (twice), but never lower than 83. Chacon is clearly in a good year bad year pattern, so can we stop the relentless bashing and get him back in 2009? (smiley face here) But seriously, if they're so replaceable, they wouldn't keep getting (well-paying) jobs. And the notion of replacability seems to be at the core of the criticism of them, and I don't think it applies well to Fogg.
When I was browsing Fogg's figs, I started looking at game logs. I wanted to look at innings pitched and runs allowed. It's known that he's not going to K many guys, and he will walk some, and I'm not interested in his dominance, just his effectiveness.
Fogg, in what we all probably think was a pretty bad 2005, gave the Pirates 11 umambiguously good starts, 8 unambiguously bad ones, and 9 mediocre ones. The team went 9-19 in those starts. I used old-school, quick and dirty benchmarks. 6 IP and 3 runs or less was good. 5/3 was mediocre, 5/2 was good. If he didn't go five it was bad, regardless of runs. The point was, did the team (forgetting the offense generated) have a reasonable chance to win when he left the game, based on how he pitched. If you disagree with the metrics, do your own diary, I won't get into a hair-splitting contest in the comments.
So in 2005, 20/29 starts were good or mediocre. For perspective, in 2002, 24/33 were good or mediocre, and in 2007, it was only 18/29. Yet most people would probably consider 2007 his best year.
Looking at his starts points out a problem I have when most people evaluate this type of pitcher. All pitchers get compared to some sort of gold standard, like Johan Santana. But there are always guys who are effective who don't K a lot, and BB more than you'd like. It's pointless to look at Fogg's Game Scores, for example. Even on his best day, he'll give up more baserunners, and whiff far fewer than other Game Score kings. And while we look at hitters' splits (L/R), starting pitchers really don't get that luxury. The stats are there, but they must face the whole lineup anyway.
Fogg and other non-dominant pitchers may have some sort of platoon-like advantage over certain types of teams or hitters. I also wouldn't discount the umpire effect. Fogg might be a dragon slayer -- if the home plate ump is generous with his strike zone. And most teams, especially NL teams, are not dragons. If I had the ability (and desire, and time), I'd do a full-blown research project on it.
This is going to sound like veteranosity, and I don't mean it to. Sort of. Er, well, I guess I sorta do. At some point, some pitchers that don't have filthy stuff just "get it." They understand how to pitch. They are effective, but with limits. And Fogg is one of the better of this type, because he's consistent. His fluctuations in ERA are due to subtle changes in the number of good/bad/mediocre starts. But basically, in 66% of his starts he gives his team a chance to win. Some years it may be closer to 60%, other years closer to 70%. And a particularly horrendous outing or two might skew his season numbers further, because it's unlikely he'll have a particularly dominant outing or two to offset it.
So what? So... I think Fogg has value, and that Fogg might = Matt Morris. The number of poor outings they produce is large enough, and sometimes come in spurts, so that we might over-focus on the bad. The trick is paying Fogg what he's worth, and that's way above the minimum, but well below Mo(rris) money. And I don't want to debate Fogg's salary either. I'm just saying he may not be as fungible as some think.