I’m a big fan of MLB Network’s Brian Kenny and am completely on his side in (de)valuing the ‘win’ stat for pitchers.
With everything we are able to tell about a pitcher–thanks to advanced statistics (as well as physics)–you’d think a win or loss wouldn’t have the amount of bearing it does in terms of what actually happened when a player was on the mound.
Still, we have focus–rather emphasis–placed on what a pitcher’s record is right along side the debatable importance of earned run average.
I will say that knowing a pitchers record (ERA as well, but I digress) isn’t completely useless, but it isn’t exactly necessary either.
Simply put, a pitchers’ job is nothing more than preventing the other team from scoring more runs than his team. Consider this–if a pitcher leaves a game with a lead, lets say 2-0, then a reliever comes in and makes a mistake or two allowing the opposing team to either tie or take the lead. Poof–the effort of the starting pitcher is null and void. No win, no loss, nothing to show for his work. Heck, a guy could come in the following inning, pitch to maybe two batters and potentially ‘win’ the game for his team under certain circumstances.
Never mind fairness, does that even make any sense? For a stat that carries as much weight as its given, I find it hard to take it seriously when it can be awarded with such minimal involvement.
Lets try to put this into perspective by looking at the pitcher perceived by many to be the best in all of baseball, Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers. Scherzer has started 20 games (five no-decisions) and has a 14-1 record. Quite an accomplishment and admirable in its consistency. He ranks 27th in out of all starters with a 3.14 ERA and a slightly better FIP of 2.81 (6th overall).
So you have a guy with a near-perfect record who yields nearly a run less per nine innings than the league average, along with one of the best fielding-independent averages in all of Major League Baseball.
Scherzer is tops in something else–run support. Per nine innings, the Tigers score over seven runs a game for him. Matching that against his ERA, you have a differential of roughly +4.
So should we be celebrating his 14 wins, or the fact that he’s able to keep the other team well out of reach of winning a game when he takes the mound? Would we be feeling the same way if his ERA was 4.50 or over 5.00? Because even then, he still has a run differential of +2–of course, his record would be much more blemished (and don’t forget, we are only talking about earned runs here).
Scherzer’s 14 wins are more the result of the Tigers ability to score runs for him as it is his ability to keep the opponents from scoring more.
Scherzer is just one example. There are many pitchers in the league whose stats tell a similar story–many more on the flip-side.
The ten pitchers chart below includes W-L record, reflects both ERA and RS/9, and follows with run differential staring with the most run support:
Least run support:
Wins should stay where they belong–with the team. The outcome of a game tends to rely on pitching more than anything else, but there are simply to many things to consider once a ball is put into play. Perhaps we should start paying more attention to run support/differential, or maybe its time to start pushing FIP more as a better understanding of what a pitcher is capable of independent of what his team can or cannot do for him when he starts.
Kill the win.