Take a set of numbers. Add them together to determine their sum. Then, divide that sum by the number of digits in the set. Voila. You just learned how to calculate an average. High schoolers can do it. Middle schoolers can do it. Even sports writers and New Yorkers can do it, provided they have enough fingers and toes.
But while an average may be simple and practical, it doesn't tell you a heck of a lot. If Jane has 50 bacon double cheeseburgers and 10 days until her vegan parents return home from vacation and she wants to eat an equal amount of bacon double cheeseburgers each day, then her elementary school math will work just fine. But if Jane's parents come home from vacation and learn that Jane has eaten 50 bacon double cheeseburgers in the 10 days they were gone, knowing that she ate an average of five per day really doesn't do much good, since she might have eaten all of them on the first day, making her a practicing vegan for the previous nine.
It's probably not a very good analogy, but I'm hungry, so it is the first one that popped into my mind.
Regardless, there are some inherent flaws when it comes to using averages for anything more than a cursory understanding of a situation at hand. This is especially true when it comes to sports. A guy can go 3-for-3 with three home runs one game, and then finish out the week 6-for-24 with no home runs, and you can say that he's averaging a home run every nine at-bats, or that he's been homerless in his last 24. Depends on how you feel about the guy (And, at times, what media outlet you work for).
Which brings us to the Phillies' decision to option Kyle Kendrick to the minor leagues.
In his last 18 games, 16 of them starts, Kendrick has a 4.12 ERA. Not a sparkling number, but lower than Joe Blanton's or Jamie Moyer's over that period of time.
But average doesn't tell you much about consistency, and consistency is one of the reasons Kendrick didn't have a longer leash.
His average says that he gave up about 4 runs every nine innings in his last 16 starts. And he averaged roughly 6 innings per start during that stretch.
But in how many of those 16 starts did he actually pitch at least 6 innings and hold an opponent to 4 runs-or-less per nine? Eight.
So in 1 out of every 2 starts, Kendrick allowed the equivalent of 5 runs-or-more per nine innings. The Phillies are 13-28 in games in which an opponent scores at least 5 runs. That's a winning percentage of about .317.
Pretty much it boils down to this: A pitcher who throws a complete game shut-out one night and then allows 6 runs in 5 innings the next night has an ERA of 3.86. But he only put his team in position to win 50 percent of his starts.
There are other factors that Earned Run Average negates. Like, well, runs that aren't earned.
During the aforementioned 16-start stretch, Kendrick allowed six unearned runs.
There are two possible explanations:
1) He was unlucky.
2) At 4.19 K/9, he has the second-lowest strikeout rate of any NL starter with at least 80 innings pitched (Aaron Cook checks in at 4.13). More balls in play = more balls to mis-play = a proclivity for unearned runs.
Speaking of Aaron Cook, the Rockies' sinkerballer helps off-set his paltry K rate with a 1.47 groundball to flyball average. Kendrick's is 0.79, which is marginally worse than the 0.87 mark he posted during his successful rookie season.
And speaking of balls in play, Kendrick's opponents are hitting just .269 on balls in play this season. That's 15 points lower than his BABIP in 2007, and 23 points lower than his career average.
I don't really look at BABIP as anything more than a small wisp of smoke that bears investigating.
But when you consider that Kendrick is striking out roughly the same amount of batters, and coaxing roughly the same amount of groundballs, and allowing roughly the same amount of home runs, as he has during his career, and his ERA is already high and his BABIP is already low, and he hasn't strung more than two quality starts together in a row, you can see why the Phillies decided to send him back to Lehigh Valley to continue to work on his game.
Kendrick has allowed at least 5 runs in 8 starts this season, which is tied for the most in the National League (with Bud Norris and Rodrigo Lopez). Furthermore, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton are both tied for fourth with 7 starts of 5 runs or more. A contending rotation can afford to have one such pitcher. Certainly not three.
Kendrick has options and has a change-up and slider that the Phillies feel he still needs to improve on in order to lower his .975 OPS against left-handed hitters. The club still feels like Blanton is destined to find himself. And Moyer is Moyer.
That's not to say that Andrew Carpenter is the answer, or that Kendrick didn't have his moments. Really, you had to be impressed with the way Kendrick handled himself after initially losing out on a spot in the rotation back in spring training.
But it's getting down to a certain time for the Phillies.
UPDATE. . .
Here's one other thing to take into consideration. . .
If Kendrick remained on the active roster all season, he almost certainly would have qualified for salary arbitration as a Super Two, which would have meant a healthy raise for next season. Most players are eligible for arbitration after their third full season. But players who are close to three full years of service can qualify if they are among the 17 percent of players with the most service time in their class.
Historically, if a player reaches 2 years and 130 days of service time, he is a pretty good bet to be a Super Two.
Right now, Kendrick is right around 2 years and 100 days of service time.
Right now, he is highly unlikely to qualify as a Super Two. A month from now, he would have been a good bet to qualify.
The difference could be at least a million bucks.