Depending on how you look at numbers, San Francisco Giants starting pitchers are actually making the grade

San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito delivers against the Colorado Rockies during the first inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito delivers against the Colorado Rockies during the first inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

So when you were in school, did you prefer teachers who graded on letter grades (A, B, C, etc.) or on a strict percentage basis (100%, 90%, etc.)?

I preferred the letter-grade system. Why? Under that system, a failure is a failure. If you bomb a quiz, you regroup and come back next time.

But under the percentage system, there are degrees to failure: 50 percent, 40 percent, 30 percent, etc. If you bomb a quiz under this system, it could take you a long time to recover.

If people use the ERA as way to grade pitchers, the majority of Giants starters are failing. But ERA penalizes degrees of failure, which are very difficult to recover.

If you give up six runs in a game, you’re probably going to lose. So if you give up an seventh run, eighth run or ninth run, those runs generally don’t turn many wins into losses. But they can blow up an ERA.

And it’s easier to blow up an ERA than it is to fix it.

So let’s break down the Giants starters.

First off, we’re going to excuse Madison Bumgarner from this exercise, because’s he’s been the teacher’s pet with his 1.77 ERA. Go out and play, MadBum.

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito waits for a new ball as Milwaukee Brewers' Yuniesky Betancourt rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam during the third inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 16, 2013, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Barry Zito: 4.86 ERA, 9 ER in 16.2 IP

Eight of his nine earned runs came in 2/3 of an inning on Monday. In his other 16 innings, he’s allowed one run or an 0.56 ERA.

Tim Lincecum, Yoenis Cespedes

Tim Lincecum: 5.63 ERA, 10 ER in 16 IP

Nine of his 10 earned runs came in two innings of work. In his other 14 innings, he’s allowed one run or an 0.63 ERA.

Matt Cain

Matt Cain: 5.94 ERA, 11 ER in 16.2 IP

Nine of his 11 earned runs came in 2/3 of an inning against the Cardinals. In his other 16 innings, he’s allowed two runs or 1.13 ERA.

Ryan Vogelsong

Ryan Vogelsong, 7.15 ERA, 9 ER in 11.1 IP

Seven of his 9 ER came in two innings. In the other 9.1 IP, he’s allowed two runs or 2.00 ERA.

Even if you looked at the team’s ERA, which includes the bullpen, right now the Giants rank 11th in the NL with a 4.26 ERA.

But if you removed Cain’s nine-run inning and Zito’s eight-run inning, suddenly the Giants’ team ERA is 3.08 or second-best in the NL.

Bottom line, blow-up innings are rare, but damaging to an ERA. They skew the numbers. If you look harder, the Giants pitching is just fine.

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