Half-way in: MLB’s 2013 top pitchers and the fans who flock to see them

When baseball fans come out to the park, something has to be the main trigger for bringing them there. Maybe the weather is great, maybe it’s a Friday, or maybe their team has won several in a row. However there’s another reason that comes up all the time. If you casually ask a fan if they want to go to this evening’s game, they’ll usually follow it up with a question: “Who’s pitching?” The pitching matchup is probably one of the best predictors of whether your team will win or lose, and people will pay extra to see a star pitcher take his turn on the mound.

With this in mind, we here at StubHub decided to use our data to look at which pitchers have been the greatest “draw” in Major League Baseball thus far into 2013. They’re the ones that the home fans flock to see and that people talk about the next day. To create this analysis, we looked at dozens of pitchers and examined the on-site activity and viewing frequency for their team’s tickets on days when they were starting. We compiled that into one metric which we labeled “demand”. We then compared those numbers to the demand for his team on days he was NOT starting to determine what kind of lift occurs on his scheduled start days. We specifically limited the games to home games since some fans will avoid seeing their team if they know they’re going to face an unstoppable opposing pitcher. With that said, here’s a short countdown of the top-drawing pitchers for the first half of the 2013 season.

5. Matt Harvey, New York Mets: 8-2, 2.23 ERA – There is not a single name in baseball that has been more talked about over the last few months than emerging Mets ace Matt Harvey. The 24-year-old pitcher burst onto the scene with a blazing fastball and is currently first in the National League in strikeouts. However his status as a media darling is contributing to his fame as much as his stellar pitching. Just since April he has already a) started the All-Star game for the National League, b) thrown a near-perfect game, c) dated a Victoria’s Secret model and d) starred in one of the best comedy bits of the year on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. At this pace he’ll be mayor of New York by fall. When Harvey pitches at Citi Field, the Mets see demand that is 33% higher than for games when any other Met pitches. Seeing as how Harvey was relatively unknown early in the season, that demand number is likely to rise considerably by year’s end.

4. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox: 6-8, 2.85 ERA – Surprised? So were we. But when you think about it, Sale is a clear bright spot on a last-place Chicago team. He’s 5th in the league in ERA and strikeouts, but his name is rarely mentioned among the league’s elite. Chicago fans didn’t fail to take notice though. When Sale is pitching at home, White Sox tickets and event pages see demand that is 50% higher than when anyone else starts.

3. C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees: 9-8, 4.37 ERA – The big Yankees left-hander comes in at number three. Though the humor magazine “The Onion” claims his best advantage is that his “massive frame blocks out the sun, giving batters poor hitting light”, stat-heads know that Sabathia has been one of baseball’s most consistent pitchers over the last decade. With 200 career wins and no fewer than 11 wins in any of his 12 previous major league seasons, C.C. is a proven winner. When Sabathia is pitching at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees see demand on StubHub go up to 51% higher than when any other Yankee starts.

2. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals: 5-7, 2.97 ERA – Few names have generated buzz over the last couple years like Strasburg. Once referred to by Sports Illustrated as “the most hyped and closely-watched pitching prospect in the history of baseball”, Strasburg has alternated between injury and domination during his short career. This year is no exception. Though his 5 wins aren’t exceptional, we’re guessing that fans were more impressed by his 7 consecutive starts allowing 1 earned run or less. Overall, the Nationals see interest in their games increasing by 52% when Strasburg is pitching.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers: 9-6, 2.01 ERA – Fittingly, the number one slot goes to the best pitcher in baseball. Over the first half of the season, Kershaw has been nearly unhittable and leads the majors in a variety of pitching categories, including ERA, batting average allowed, on base percentage allowed, slugging percentage allowed, WHIP, Wins above replacement, etc, etc. His career ERA of 2.69 is the best of all active players by nearly a half-run, and is the best ever among pitchers in the live-ball era with 1000 career innings. It’s hard to argue with those kinds of numbers. When Kershaw is on the mound in L.A., Dodgers games see 67% higher demand than when any other Dodger is pitching.

Other pitchers who got close to making the list were Seattle ace Felix Hernandez and Boston breakout Clay Buchholz. To see how these pitchers rank at the end of the year, check back in with us here on our blog. And of course you can always watch baseball’s brightest stars in person by picking out a game to attend on StubHub.com.

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