Let’s get rid of pitching wins

Everyone has dreams. I’m not referring to what happens when our mid-sleep imaginations run wild, but dreams in the sense that we all have aspirations, goals and hopes for our lives. I have a ton of dreams, big and small, but one of them might sound a little strange.

I dream that one morning I’ll wake up to a world in which the pitching win no longer exists as a baseball statistic. I can’t stand pitching wins. Pitching wins may not be the worst baseball statistic ever invented, but quite honestly it is the one I like the least. I listed some quotes below that always seem to make me cringe:

“He pitched well, but didn’t get the win”

“He never pitches great, but he always pitches just well enough to get the win”

When I read or hear quotes like that the first thought that always pops into my mind is an exasperated “Who cares?” But for some reason people still care and I’m slightly pessimistic that we may ever see the day when people don’t talk about pitching wins. The sabermetric community hates pitching wins, but not everyone listens to saber-heads. Pitching wins still alter the perceptions of many baseball fans, which is the main reason why I can’t stand the statistic.

Here’s a quick blind test:

IP/Start K/BB RA9 FIP xFIP SIERA FRA
Pitcher A 7.2 5.00 2.74 2.83 3.52 3.60 3.27
Pitcher B 7.0 6.46 3.65 3.27 3.13 3.08 3.66

**Note: The FIP (fielding independent pitching) used is FanGraphs calculation

Which pitcher was more effective?

From just looking at this quickly it seems that Pitcher A was more adept at run prevention and gave up fewer home runs, while Pitcher B had better strikeout-to-walk numbers, and their ability to go deep into games is essentially a wash. But can we tell from just these metrics which pitcher was most effective?

Usually I think that information would be just about enough, but in this case I think the comparison is too close and we need some additional information. I listed some questions below that could be asked, to better our understanding of which pitcher was the most effective:
{exp:list_maker}1. What is the difference between the hitting environment two pitchers’ home parks?
2. How good were the defenses behind the pitchers?
3. What was the quality of opponents that each pitcher faced?
4. What was the difference between the two pitchers’ BABIPs (batting average on balls in play)? {/exp:list_maker}
The answers;
1. These are run and home run park factors from each pitcher’s home park. For reference, a hitter-friendly environment would have a park factor over one:

Pitcher A: ESPN Run/HR Park Factor: 0.995/0.824
Pitcher B: ESPN Run/HR Park Factor: 0.967/1.085

-Maybe it wasn’t Pitcher B’s fault that he gave up so many home runs, as is indicated by his HR Park factor and his xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching.)

2. A positive defensive efficiency is good, while negative is bad:

Pitcher A’s team park-adjusted Defensive Efficiency: -0.83
Pitcher B’s team park-adjusted Defensive Efficiency: -0.63

-Both pitchers had below average defensive behind them.

3. A league average TAv (True Average) is .260, anything above is above average:

Pitcher A: had an oppTAv (opposing True Average) of .268
Pitcher B: had an oppTAv of .273

-Pitcher B faced slightly tougher opponents, but both pitchers faced above average opponents

4. A BABIP above league average is typically assumed to be unlucky, but if the team’s defense isn’t good (as is this case with both pitchers), then the team’s staff BABIP usually ends up above league average:

Pitcher A’s BABIP/LgAvg BABIP/Team Staff BABIP: .301/.296/.301
Pitcher B’s BABIP/LgAvg BABIP/Team Staff BABIP: .316/.293/.299

-Pitcher B faced tougher opponents than Pitcher A, which could have led to his higher BABIP, but I don’t think that accounts for all of it, especially because pitcher B’s BABIP is so much higher than his team’s staff BABIP. A case could be made for Pitcher B being unluckier than Pitcher A.

So I’ve dumped out a ton of information (probably too much) about these two pitchers, but we still haven’t answered the question of which one is the more effective. When we consider the fact that run prevention is a pitcher’s primary responsibility than the scale tilts slightly towards Pitcher A, but when the other factors are considered I’d say the comparison is pretty close to even.

Who are they?

{exp:list_maker}Pitcher A: 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee
Pitcher B: Lee’s 2012 season {/exp:list_maker}
So, somehow Lee’s Cy Young year versus this year, which is considered by many to be a “down-year” is almost a draw in terms of effectiveness. Where did the difference in Cy Young vs. less-than-stellar come from?

My opinion is a difference came from perception that comes from pitching wins. Lee won 22 games in 2008, but he has won only four games so far this season.

There is the argument that pitching wins mattered in the Cy Young voters minds a lot more in 2008 than they do today. The basis of this argument comes from Felix Hernandez winning the 2010 award, with just 13 wins.

That award was considered a win for the sabermetric community, but why is that Lee’s four-win season is still considered a down-year, in 2012?

The difference in Lee’s ERA and peripheral statistics like FIP, xFIP and SIERA (Skill-Interactive ERA) could be the first reason for this perception. Depending on the way the reader wants to interpret those three statistics, either Lee is going to better over the next three weeks than he was earlier this year, or he already has been better than his ERA would indicate.

The interesting thing is that Lee’s ERA really isn’t bad. HIs current ERA (3.50) is almost a full run worse than it was last season (2.54), but it still ranks in the top 15 among NL qualified starters.

I really think the perception of Lee’s season has been distorted by his low win total; which has as much to do (if not more) with the Phillies’ defense, bullpen and offense when Lee pitches than Lee’s actual performance.

Here’s another brief comparison. This time between Johnny Cueto and Lee, this season.

Cueto vs. Lee

Starter GS IP Wins QS Fair_QS K/BB ERA RA9 FIP xFIP SIERA FRA
Johnny Cueto 29 193 17 20 14 3.69 2.71 2.90 3.15 3.57 3.55 4.08
Cliff Lee 25 175 4 16 15 6.46 3.50 3.65 3.27 3.13 3.08 3.66

Both the mainstream media and the sabermetric community consider Cueto to be one of the frontrunners for the Cy Young award.

Last week, Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated ranked Cueto as the number two NL Cy Young candidate. Two weeks ago, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote an article entitled “Johnny Cueto For Cy Young.” Corcoran’s article cited Cueto’s run prevention as the main reason backing his Cy Young candidacy. Cameron also cited that ability, but proposed a theory for why Cueto is able to prevent runs lower than his peripheral statistics would indicate.

Cameron’s theory is that Cueto’s pickoff move and ability to control the running game is a major factor in his left-on-base percentage being so high and in turn his LOB-Wins (left-on-base wins) also being high:

Cueto’s pickoff move isn’t the stuff of legends yet, but it probably should be. The list of the top ten pickoffs by a pitcher this year includes nine left-handed pitchers and Johnny Cueto, and despite being right-handed…

Cueto’s been doing this kind of thing all year long, and it’s gotten to the point where there’s no real point even trying to get much of a lead off first base, much less think about taking second. Opposing baserunners have managed one steal off Cueto all season, matching the same number of stolen bases that he allowed in 2011…

Like we acknowledge that Dickey and Cain are likely influencing a decent amount of their hit prevention, we should also acknowledge that Cueto is influencing a large part of his runner stranding, and given that he also leads both of them in FIP, we should give Cueto enough credit for his FDP that he returns to the top of the heap in the Cy Young race once again.

Cameron makes a fair point about Cueto controlling the running game, but is the fact that he picked off seven runners and allowed only one steal enough to explain his entire LOB percentage? Here’s a breakdown of the running game against Cueto in 2011 vs. 2012:

Year Pickoffs SB CS (PO+CS)-SB LOB% All Scored Runs Saved
2012 7 1 7 13 79.2% 73.9% 6.25
2011 2 1 4 5 76.4% 73.9% 4.21

The last two columns are the most important. The second last (titled All Scored) shows what Cueto’s left-on-base-percentage would be if all of the runners who had either been caught stealing or picked off had actually scored, which isn’t really a fair assumption, but the result is interesting. The result for each season was exactly the same (73.9 percent), which is much closer to league average than Cueto’s actual LOB percentage. The last column shows how many runs those runners would have scored had they stayed on base, based on Tom Tango’s Run Expectancy Matrix for 1993-2010.

I think this actually backs Cameron’s point pretty well. It seems that Cueto does save runs with his ability to control the running game, especially once we consider that Cincinnati Reds catchers throw out only about 21 percent of runners on average when Cueto isn’t on the mound. It also seems that Cameron is probably right, with his theory that Cueto strands more runners than average, because of his ability to hold and pick runners off. This is pretty interesting stuff, but it really has nothing to do with the point I’m trying to make.

So, back to pitching wins. In neither article did the author discuss Cueto’s win total, although the Sports Illustrated article did cite it in the post. I’m happy that the authors didn’t discuss the total because I don’t think any Cy Young discussion should involve wins. But at the same time, I think subconsciously both of these authors thought about Cueto’s win total.

I really wonder whether Cueto is a Cy Young Candidate because he’s been a great pitcher or if he is a Cy Young candidate because he’s been a good pitcher who has a lot of wins.

Although, Hernandez won a Cy Young with just 13 wins, my theory is that authors of “Who is going to win the Cy Young”-type articles think that the voters still care about pitching win totals (and they’re probably right). For instance here’s Corcoran’s top three for each league’s win totals vs. their ranking in the league based on FRA (Fair-Run Average):

Pitcher (League) Wins (Rank) FRA (Rank)
1. Justin Verlander (AL) 13 (t-8th) 3.31 (2nd)
2. Felix Hernandez (AL) 13 (t-8th) 3.24 (1st)
3. David Price (AL) 17 (1st) 3.78 (6th)
1. R.A. Dickey (NL) 18 (t-1st) 3.76 (t-7th)
2. Johnny Cueto (NL) 17 (3rd) 4.08 (16th)
3. Clayton Kershaw (NL) 12 (t-16th) 3.31 (t-2nd)

FRA isn’t a perfect statistic, but it’s probably the best we have to use right now at describing what the pitcher actually deserved to give up on the field. It seems to me that wins and actual performance are still weighted equally. According to Rob Neyer’s Cy Young Predictor it seems as though pitching wins are weighted even more heavily than actual performance.

If Price, Dickey and Cueto had 12-13 wins would they be ranked so high?

My guess is probably not, and I think the authors would admit that as well.

I’m just confused as to why pitching wins matter. Why can’t Cueto win the Cy Young because he’s been incredible run preventer and his pickoff move allows him to prevent runs even more effectively? Why are his 17 wins such an important factor in their decision, and more importantly in our perception of Cueto as a pitcher?

I’d also like to know whether a starting pitcher ever will win the Cy Young Award with a single-digit win total? Or if mainstream baseball fans will ever admit that a pitcher like Lee, with such a low win total, is actually having a really good season, despite his record?

The sabermetrically inclined Phillies bloggers at Crashburn Alley watch Lee every fifth day and understand how much better he’s been than his win total, but most do not perceive him in this way.

Our perception of Lee is that he is having a down year, yet he leads Cueto in a bunch of pitching categories. But for some reason Cueto is the Cy Young candidate and Lee is not. The difference in their ERAs is obviously a large factor for Cueto being perceived as better, but I still think the wins are a major factor in distorting our perceptions of the two pitchers.

For instance, many people use Quality Starts (at least six innings and less than three earned runs for the starter) as a better substitute for wins. The statistic essentially tells us whether the pitcher gave his team the chance to win, but so many other factors affect who actually wins the game. Cueto has more Quality Starts (20) than Lee (16), but if we convert the statistic into Fair Quality Starts, which is the same statistic, but based on the runs the pitcher should have given up, then Lee ranks ahead of Cueto (15 to 14). If we use FAIR_QS instead of wins, Lee may in fact look like the better Cy Young candidate.

It may sound crazy to consider Lee a Cy Young candidate, but consider this fact: He ranks second in xFIP and SIERA, as well as is in the top five of FRA Fair_QS and also ranks in the top-10 in FIP.

Just because Felix Hernandez won a Cy Young with 13 wins does not mean the voters ignore wins now. It means they ignored it once. It still alters perception and is a major factor for Cueto being a Cy Young candidate, while Lee is nowhere near the conversation. I am in no way trying to say that Cueto shouldn’t be a Cy Young candidate, because he should be. But it’s just stupid that baseball fans still look at Lee, as not so good, but Cueto as great.

It’s all a matter of perception, and pitching wins still distort our perceptions, no matter who we are. They’re still published everywhere (including sabermetric sites) as part of each pitcher’s main stat line, so they’re almost impossible to ignore. They need to go. Fantasy leagues should stop using them, Cy Young and Hall of Fame voters should ignore them and baseball announcers, and fans should start ignoring them.

I know this argument has been beaten to death by sabermetric columnists for years, but I had to say something about it. The day probably will never come when pitching wins are eliminated from baseball’s culture.

But you know what?

I’m going to keep dreaming for that day, and you should too.

References & Resources
Statistics for this post came from all over the place, including Baseball-Reference, Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs.

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Comments

  1. Glenn DuPaul said...

    @Ian

    I think your comment does a good job of explaining the point I was attempting to make.  You’re probably right that they didn’t completely ignore wins at all, because like you said if Felix had won three games he probably would not have won the award.  I think you’re right that in their eyes his 13 wins were “enough” to qualify for Cy Young “eligibility”. 

    It’s all a matter of perception.  Hernandez’ win total was perceived as not low enough to offset his other statistics

  2. Todd said...

    “In neither article did the author discuss Cueto’s win total, although the Sports Illustrated article did cite it in the post. I’m happy that the authors didn’t discuss the total because I don’t think any Cy Young discussion should involve wins. But at the same time, I think subconsciously both of these authors thought about Cueto’s win total.”

    You have absolutely no evidence for this. It’s not as if, just because Wins are a bad statistic, that means we should actively avoid pitchers with high win totals when considering awards. I’m totally on board with you for doing away with the statistic, but keep your focus on the actual problem. Don’t invent invisible dragons to slay and ignore real progress where it exists.

  3. Todd said...

    It’s also worth noting that, although pitching wins are a poor statistic, they are nonetheless correlated with good pitching- just not as closely as other, better metrics. Nonetheless, when you ask,

    “I’d also like to know whether a starting pitcher ever will win the Cy Young Award with a single-digit win total?”

    In the long run, the answer is probably no as much or more because it would be hard for the best pitcher in the league to have so few wins, as because he would be rejected due to his win total.

  4. Todd said...

    One more comment, and then I’ll shut up. The usage of pitching wins by fantasy leagues is a more complex issue than just “wins suck and need to go”. Having them as a statistic results in certain strategic considerations that you would alter by removing them. Maybe fantasy leagues would be better without them, and maybe they wouldn’t, but just pointing out that wins aren’t a great statistic isn’t remotely enough to prove the point (any more that it would be about RBIs or SVs or ERA or whatever).

  5. Glenn DuPaul said...

    @Todd

    I’m not trying to say pitchers with high win totals should be ignored.  Justin Verlander was the best pitcher in the AL last year and he obviously had a lot of wins. 

    I also do not have any evidence for subconscious of either author, because well, how could I? I think there is progress, but I also still don’t think authors write Cy Young articles without pitcher wins on their minds.  Because most people still think (and they’re probably right) that the voters care about wins. 

    Pitcher wins do correlate fairly well with good pitching and you could be right that the best starter in either league will almost inevitably end up with a double-digit win total. 

    But I still think there’s a chance that someday a pitcher with single-digit wins will be best pitcher, and if that day comes, will the voters give him the award?

    I really don’t know.

  6. David P Stokes said...

    Definately agree with the idea that if we’re going to be getting rid of any official statistic, saves should probably be first to go.  After all, winning the game is the goal of the team, even if it is credited to an individual pitcher, but saves are purely an individual goal—in fact, from the team POV, it would probably be better to win by a large enough margin that a save situation doesn’t arise in the first place.

  7. Glenn DuPaul said...

    @David

    I agree that saves are awful and our purely an individual goal.  Also it’s true that winning the game is the goal of the team, but why should we credit that to an individual pitcher, or credit an individual pitcher with a loss? In today’s game with   so many relievers being used, in most games at least 13 players contribute (or detract from) to each win or loss.  Why should one player get the credit?

    Even if a pitcher throws a no-hitter, his team still had to score and his fielders still had to catch the ball.  The win can’t possibly be all his.

    Also, I hate when managers “manage” for the win.  Like say a team is up 8-5 in the top of the 5th, the home manager will sometimes try to leave the pitcher in to finish the inning (even though he’s lost effectiveness and is hurting his team), just so he can get enough innings to “qualify” for a win.

  8. Glenn DuPaul said...

    I didn’t know that actually, but that seriously depresses me.  Luckily I haven’t thought about holds in about five years

  9. Goldgarf said...

    Imagine if we said about hitters:  “He never hits great, but he always hits just well enough to help his team win.”  Sounds like Nick Punto.

  10. hopbitters said...

    Ancient stats gotta go : a particular favorite of mine is when the pitcher makes an error and then gets let off the hook by being awarded unearned runs.

    -

    Saves and holds are an abomination unto themselves and probably deserve to be derided in their own article.

    -

    “…Nationals organization tells their pitchers to ‘only have one K per inning’ because it keeps pitches per inning down…”

    That is gold. Giving up three straight first-pitch home runs and taking an early shower keeps the ol’ pitch count down, too.

  11. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    I’ve also seen people list Lincecum’s 15 win Cy Young as the first example of voters ignoring wins in voting for the Cy Young.  Both Wainwright and Carpenter had more wins and better winning percentages, plus the Cards won their division and the Giants finished third.

    A stat I like to use is Ron Shandler’s org’s Pure Quality Starts or PQS. They take a sabermetric bent to the quality start stat, though not to the degree, obviously, that FQS does.  Still, it agrees with the analysis here that both seasons were very good, and makes the case that 2012 is better. 

    In 2009, he had a 68% DOM and 3% DIS, which means 68% of his starts were deemed dominant starts (with PQS of 4 or 5) and only 3% disaster starts (with PQS of 0 or 1).  So far in 2012, he has an 80% DOM and 4% DIS.  If he finishes the season without another disaster start, that would drop to 3% DIS.  He has 4 more starts left, so even if he had neither a DOM or DIS start in those 4 starts, he would still have a better profile with a 69% DOM and 3% DIS.  Given that he’s been like a machine with his DOM starts (in his worse 4 game sequence, he had 2 DOM out of 4 starts), his DOM should be at least 76%.

    In my experience looking at the DOM% for pitching seasons, over 40% is good, over 50% is great, and over 70% is elite.  This hews with your assessment that Lee’s season in 2012 is not much different from his 2009, except that he only has 4 wins to show for it.

    Lastly, I would note that my research into PQS in the playoffs for the past few years (2008-2011) showed that (and I know that this is obvious, but good to confirm) that the team expected to win (where DOM start expected to beat non-DOM, DIS start expected to lose to non-DIS) did, .718 winning percentage.  Not overwhelming, but still a good percentage.  (here is my study:  http://obsessivegiantscompulsive.blogspot.com/2012/01/pqs-in-playoffs-second-in-series.html)

    This hews with research by THT and BP previously on how pitching is the competitive advantage in the playoffs.  When you have dominant pitchers, a rotation of starters whose collectively DOM% is high, you give yourself an advantage over the other playoff teams that do not have as dominant a staff.  It is not panacea – see Phillies in 2011 – but I think the 2010 Giants showed the efficacy of that strategy. 

    And as we can see from the history of quality starts (or PQS), there are pitchers who are remarkably consistent in their ability to consistently throw a quality start.  Put 3-4 of them into your rotation, get into the playoffs, and that will get you deeper into the playoffs more consistently than any offense (FYI both the THT and BP studies found that offense provided little to no value in the ability to go deep into the playoffs; it is pitching and fielding that did it). 

    Good pitching normally wins to a great extent.  Put together a rotation of that, you put together a team that is more likely to win series in the playoffs, more likely to go deeper into the playoffs, more likely to win World Series.

    That’s why I’ve been saying since the late 2000’s that the Giants are going to be the team of the 2010 decade if the pitching can stay healthy and ownership is willing to pay the necessary amounts to keep the pitching (Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner) around.  It also helps that the offense is rounding out nicely as well, led by Posey.

    I am thankful every day that the Rays and the other teams let Posey to us, even more so than Lincecum falling to us.

  12. Paul G. said...

    I am torn.

    The idea that a pitcher could be the most effective pitcher in the league with a record of 5-22 is possible.  Our poor sap could do everything right but if he gets no run support and he gets no defensive help and his bullpen blows leads at an embarrassing pace and he suffers generous helpings of bad luck, it is quite possible that 5-22 is quite an accomplishment.

    However, the point of baseball is to win games.  As much as we like to look at runs and strikeout ratios and pitch charts, wins are the thing.  The win statistic made more sense in the days when most games were complete games and relief pitchers were used out of desperation rather than preference, and even then there were flaws which have become more pronounced over time.  But for all its flaws, pitching wins and losses measures the ultimate outcome, the thing that differentiates the pennant from the also-ran, the only thing that really matters.  So if you are going to argue that a pitcher with single digit wins is actually the best in the league, you are also arguing that the most important outcome in baseball is of secondary consideration, which is an odd assertion. 

    To extend this to a non-baseball field, say you have a salesperson.  He is extremely skilled.  He scores top of the chart on any objective or subjective sales skill rating that you would care to come up with.  Unfortunately, his company makes products that are shoddy and dangerous yet very expensive, his management thinks that Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss would be a great role model if he stopped trying so hard, and his sales territory is made entirely of people who either consider his product line a violation of their religion or who typically greet visitors with gunshots.  Despite this, he provides record sales for the territory.  Unfortunately, that’s a relative term as he is dead last among his fellow salespersons by a wide margin.  In the end, he lost money for the company.  Would you consider this person to be a successful salesperson?  I wouldn’t.  How can you be successful without making any money?  That’s the whole point!  They would have been better off if they replaced him with a toaster!  They would even get free toast!

    Anywho, to the point, I don’t see anyone winning the Cy Young with single-digit wins, nor should it happen unless there is something extremely unusual going on.  Winning is so important that it simply cannot be ignored; there are limits to how far one can ignore outcomes for the process.  The only way I could see it happening is if the pitcher in question is ridiculously good, his teammates would have been cut from the 1962 Mets AAA team, and the rest of the elite pitchers crop is mediocre.  Oh, and he better win 9 games.  And I am OK with that.

  13. Tom B said...

    What is the solution in a fantasy environment?  Last year in a roto league I swept K, ERA, WHIP and K/BB categories, but was second to last in wins.  Guess who didn’t win that league? :/

  14. Matt said...

    When they award the World Series to the team with the highest Team WAR, then I’d be in favor of doing away with wins.

    • John Ogrin said...

      Halleujah ! Someone who gets it . WINNING is the ONLY thing that matters . A good mathematician can make numbers say whatever they want . When Steve Carlton pitched for the 1972 Phillies (Or Gaylord Perry that same year for the Indians) they were the best team in the league . When he didn’t ? They were historically abysmal . Great pitchers make the difference and WINNING is what makes them great . Carlton won IN SPITE of his team . They won BECAUSE of him . The odds in Baseball are determined by pitching . It dictates the game and win totals are how the best teams and pitchers must always be measured . There are lies , damned lies , …… and statistics .

  15. hopbitters said...

    I think there’s an implicit assumption in assigning wins that pitchers are infallibly the determining factor in a win or a loss. Wins (as currently expressed), placed in context, are an indicator of the performance of a given pitcher, but neither a complete nor a particularly strong one.

    In fantasy, I don’t have as much of a problem with wins or saves, because the goal of fantasy is a bit different (in my view, at least). You’re compiling stats and the strategy is in finding a balance in accumulating disparate stats from a limited set of players. What those stats are doesn’t necessarily matter.

  16. mando3b said...

    This is the best argument I’ve seen against using wins as such an important statistic. There is something inside me rebelling, however, against any suggestion that wins are totally irrelevant when considering a pitcher’s effectiveness. Couldn’t having a lot of wins be a kind of general indicator that the pitcher has a lot of these more precise stats going for him? After all, in most cases a lousy pitcher doesn’t get a chance for a lot of wins, not only because he’s not effective, but because the manager won’t let him pitch a lot. I would like to see some hard statistical analysis of the pitchers with the most wins in baseball history: what is the correlation between those wins and where they stand in all these finer statistical categories? Is that even possible for someone from so long ago as Cy Young? To conclude, the weekly “THT Awards” regularly demonstrates the point of this article (that “awarding wins and to the pitcher is an archaic practice that must stop”—forgive me if this paraphrase is inaccurate—it’s the end of a long day!); however, I still believe that wins/losses does indicate something worth knowing about pitchers. The question is not should we get rid of that stat, but how best to use it.

  17. mando3b said...

    One quick follow-up: as you can tell I’m a mathophobic humanist who teaches languages and literature; I’ve gotten to the point that I can figure out my batting average in my head on my way back to the dugout, but that’s as quantitative as it gets. (And, yes, I know that BA is viewed as the most over-rated baseball statistic by the Sabremetric community. That’s all we have time for in our 45+ league . . . )

  18. Glenn DuPaul said...

    @PaulG and Matt
    First off, the team with the highest win total (not WAR) doesn’t always win the World Series.  Also the goal of every team is to win games. It’s all that matters.  But attributing wins to one person is silly, when so many other players on the field contribute.

    @mando3B I’m not sure what the correlation is between wins and these “finer” metrics, but I’m guessing it’s fairly high.  I don’t endorse this article but here’s a link to the correlation between ERA and wins http://www.raysindex.com/2009/09/debunking-the-myth-wins-is-a-useless-statistic-for-starting-pitchers.html

    Also, BA is nowhere close to the most over-rated statistic by the sabermetric community.  I think the whole Moneyball/OBP thing gives BA a bad rap.  It’s still important and useful, just not important as OBP, and also shouldn’t be the reason to name anyone the “batting champion”.

  19. Simon said...

    Glenn

    Good article with some food for thought.

    I would have thought that Holds and Saves should surely go before Wins. It used to be held that relievers were the pitchers who were not good enough to start.

    Maybe the true mark of greatness should be number of pitches per out, rather than Wins or ERA. The less pitches a starter needs to get batters out, the deeper he can pitch into a game, and therefore, the more use he will be to his club.

  20. Glenn DuPaul said...

    @Simon

    I don’t think Wins are the worst statistic in the world.. but for whatever reason I just hate them.  Pitches per out would be a great statistic,but I think it’s foolish that the Nationals organization tells their pitchers to “only have one K per inning” because it keeps pitches per inning down, which isn’t true at all

  21. Ancient stats gotta go said...

    Pitching is or should be considered by (number of batters faced)  (number of outs obtained)  (number of opponent runs scored)—none of that unearned run BS either.  Runs win or lose games, pitch count or innings does not enter into that decision.  The first step should be to remove Errors, so that unearned runs are tossed too.  Errors are total BS, if I do not try to get the ball, I cannot make an error—if I do try, sometimes I will fail, and that is not an error, it is reality.  If you take a look at when a team most often loses a game, it’s the 7th inning – so what do Saves & Holds represent then?

  22. Ian R. said...

    I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that the Cy Young voters completely ignored wins in 2010. Yes, Hernandez won the award over, say, CC Sabathia, who led the league with an impressive 21 wins (not to mention two 19-game winners), but 13 is still a respectable total in the modern era. Hernandez won the award chiefly because he led the league in two other categories that the voters love: ERA (2.27) and IP (249.2). Those are eye-popping numbers, especially when compared to Sabathia, whose ERA was almost a full point higher (3.18) and who pitched 12 fewer innings (237.2).

    Still, if King Felix had gone 3-12 rather than 13-12, I imagine the voting results would have been rather different.

  23. bucdaddy said...

    Glenn,

    I’m playing some devil’s advocate here: If you eliminate pitching wins as a stat, you eliminate one yardstick (along with the reviled ERA and saves) that millions of casual fans, rightly or wrongly, use to evaluate starting pitchers. You also eliminate potential milestones from many fans’ minds. Why make the game less fun for them? You’re free to ignore pitching wins all you want.

    Now could casual fans be trained to appreciate wOBA and xFIP and dozens of other stathead numbers?* Some of them, perhaps. But most of them aren’t going to know they need to show up at the ballpark unless they see this:

    Sunday’s games
    Pittsburgh (Correia 8-10) at Philadelphia (Halladay 29-2), 1:30 p.m.

    Just like if you start trying to persuade people that a perfect game is (yawn) no big deal, nothing to get excited about, no reason even to flip the channel, you’re kind of discouraging people from watching baseball. And why would you want to do that? The game needs all the casual fans too, to help pay the bills.

    *—I am NOT using “stathead” as a pejorative. I know “wins” is …. not the most useful stat. I surely get what you’re trying to say. But for many many fans it’s a convenient, if only generally accurate, shorthand. Could a fan base of millions and millions of people who don’t delve into the numbers as deeply as you do be taught to get excited about seeing a game involving a pitcher with the best (insert your favorite pitcher-evaluating stat here) in baseball? Perhaps. I wouldn’t want to bet on it, though. Maybe we’ll evolve in that direction, some, in the next 200 years, but first there would be tremendous bickering and arguing among sabr types about which number best represents a pitcher’s abilities …

    You see where I’m at?

    You might still want to show up to see Halladay (no record, not even 0-0) pitch because he has great peripherals numbers, and you and a dozen other fans can enjoy the stadium to yourselves. But I wouldn’t expect everyone else to know or understand the peripherals, or even want to bother learning them, in my lifetime, anyway, and that’s all I have left.

  24. bucdaddy said...

    Well, sorry, I know you wouldn’t use “saves” to evaluate a starting pitcher, I was just noting the stats that 90 percent of the fan base knows and kind of understands and uses to differentiate pitcher A’s abilities from pitcher B’s.

  25. hopbitters said...

    bucdaddy, I think if a casual fan doesn’t know who Roy Halladay is or what to expect from him, they’re not going to the ballpark to see baseball. They’re going to the ballpark to blow off a few hours and have some beers with friends. And even if people are looking at records to decide if they want to go to the park, to be perfectly honest, I’m not any more concerned about their attendance than I am about the people who spend the whole game yapping into their phones.

    I’m not saying Wins are completely devoid of meaning, but I don’t think any decision involving the game should be predicated on the habits of those who have no particular interest in it.

  26. Glenn DuPaul said...

    @bucdaddy
    You think most casual fans won’t show up to the ballpark if they don’t know the probable pitchers’ records? That makes no sense. 

    Casual fans and fans who take baseball more seriously should want them to watch the game. Statistics are useless on a per game basis.  Any baseball fan who is attending a game should enjoy it and not worry about win totals, and definitely not worry about FAIR_QS, xFIP, WAR, SIERA, etc. 

    Also, I don’t understand how suggesting that I’d rather watch one of the worst television shows (Can we call it that?) than Roy Halladay pitch is playing devil’s advocate.

  27. bucdaddy said...

    Somehow, this whole discussion seems to kind of mirror the one a couple weeks ago where the poster didn’t bother to watch any of a perfect game in the making. I could imagine Roy Halladay with a 29-2 record pitching on the last day of the season and Mr. DuPaul saying, “Ho-hum, big deal, let’s see if the Kardashians are on.”

  28. NKu said...

    To write that the saber metric community hates pitching wins kinda, ya know, makes ME cringe.  I mean , really?  come on; stat savvy doesn’t preclude digging the history, including funky attributions like pitching wins and the wacky somewhat misconstrued importance attached to’em.  511 (509), 41, 40, 31-6, 27 in ‘72, 30 in ‘34… Right there with .406, 56, and 36 ….

    You feed da beast that is our mother’s basement … Stop it .. Slap slap

  29. Paul G. said...

    @Glenn: Now, now, don’t ask the question if a pitcher with single-digit wins can win the Cy Young and then bring up the World Series.  As you well know, playoffs games don’t count.  And please do not insert the insanity of small sample sizes into a comment thread that has already reserved a week at the sanitarium.

    Oh, heck, while I am here again I might as well go off the cliff (pun intended).  Yes, the other players in the game do contribute to winning (there you made me state the obvious, again), but the starting pitchers, on average, are going to have more impact on that than anyone else.  They will be involved in every defensive play until they exit, and unless there is a DH involved they are offensively involved as well.  Now, true, W-L made greater sense in the days when the majority of pitched games were complete games and non-complete games usually indicated that the pitcher was getting lit up like a pinball machine.  But it is still a good indicator of the pitcher’s success or failure at winning, which, if I may inject a little football here, is the only thing.

    Just for the sake of going completely mad, I decided to do a comparison of Cliff Lee’s season so far compared to my favorite cheap win whipping boy, Storm Davis in his 1989 Oakland A’s incarnation.  To continue to state the obvious, Mr. Lee is lots better than Mr. Davis except for the fact that Mr. Lee is currently 5-7 and Mr. Davis went 19-7.  Just because I apparently have nothing better to do, I decided to look at all the games the pitchers were involved in.  The Phillies have gone 11-15 when Cliff Lee starts a game (5-7 when he gets a decision, 6-8 when he doesn’t).  On the other end of the scale, Oakland was 24-7 when Storm started.  Yes, if he didn’t get a decision the A’s went 5-0.

    Now, if you asking me who has the better talent or who I would rather have on my roster or who gets the gold star on my stathead scoreboard, proving that I have not gone completely bonkers I don’t think there is any question that I want Cliff Lee.  But if you are asking who had the more successful season, that’s not so obvious.  24-7 >> 11-15.  Yes, it is grossly unfair.  If you switched their places I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Lee went 27-3 and Storm was traded for cash considerations in July with a 3-9 record.  But if we look at actual outcomes, which is kinda the point, there is something to be said for, well, winning.

  30. Glenn DuPaul said...

    @bucdaddy

    Your comment confuses me… what does watching the game have anything to do with pitching wins? You learn an infinite more from actually watching the games than you would from just simply finding out which pitcher “won”. 

    For instance, if you went back and watched every inning pitched by both Ricky Romero and Cliff Lee, this season, who would you conclude is the better pitcher?

    I’m positive it wouldn’t be Romero, despite the fact that he’s won three more games than Lee. 

    Also, take the case of Justin Verlander.  His 2012 numbers are almost identical to his 2011 numbers.. they’re probably slightly worse, but still.  He should’ve won the Cy Young, last year, when he won 24 games.  And he should win the Cy Young this dear, even though he only has 13 wins so far. 

    And finally, if Halladay won 29 games, he would almost have to have had the most dominant season in recent memory; in which case I would pay hundreds of dollars to see him pitch instead of watching the Kardashians.

  31. Paul G. said...

    @Glenn
    Actually, Storm Davis is the argument why wins are useful.  All other things being equal, I’d rather have the pitcher who is 24-7 in games that he starts, even if he is awful, than the best pitcher in the league if he is going to bag me 11-15.  Well, at least this season.  Next season I would like to trade the guy that is 24-7 for the guy that is 11-15.

    I’d also rather have the closer who has an ERA of 9.63 who never blows a save or a tie.  Outcomes, baby!  And then I’ll package him with the 24-7 starter before the magic wears off.

    For the record, the 1989 A’s had a good hitting team but the team OPS+ of 104 is hardly overwhelming.  What people don’t realize is they had the best pitching team in the AL (ERA+ 119).  Yeah, they played in a good pitchers park but those ERAs were only partially smoke and mirrors.

  32. Glenn DuPaul said...

    @Paul G how can you say that? Obviously all other things being equal you’d rather have an awful pitcher with a 24-7 record than a good pitcher with a 11-15 record.  But all other things are nowhere close to equal. Literally nowhere close.

    The A’s had the second best offense in 1989 (108 wRC+) and the best bullpen (72 ERA-).

    The 2012 Phillies have the sixth-worst bullpen (103 ERA-) and the 21st-worst offense in the majors (93 wRC+). 

    All other things are nowhere close to being equal and Storm Davis is literally a perfect argument for why wins are so utterly useless

  33. Paul G. said...

    This is my last comment before I follow bucdaddy out the exit here.

    Yeah, Storm Davis had the advantage of a better offense (though you underestimate the Phillies: 93 wRC+ is barely below average in the NL) and a better pen (golly, is that ever Papelbon and pray).  Storm Davis was not a good pitcher.  But he was given the task to pitch well enough for the A’s to win.  For that one season, he succeeded magnificently!  There is a place in the baseball statistics pantheon for a raw, dirty measure of success.  Flawed?  Yes.  Tells the whole story?  No.  Still meaningful?  I think so.

    Storm was lucky but luck is very much part of the game.  You don’t take away victories because of luck.  The guy who becomes a billionaire by meticulous research and wise investments and the guy who becomes a billionaire using an investment strategy involving a dart board are both still billionaires.  The guy with a team record of 24-7 in games he started is still 24-7 regardless.  That is success.

    And that’s my take.

  34. TC said...

    Since nothing is more important than wins and losses in any sport, and since virtually every expert states that pitching is either 70, 80 or 90% of the game, take your pick, making the pitcher easily the most important part of that equation and since any manager, whose opinion is more viable than anyone since his job depends on it, would rid himself of a pitcher who was not typically on the plus side of the W-L ledger, and finally, since a starting pitchers only job is to give up fewer runs than his team scores, isn’t Won-Loss a solid indicator of success or failure at that particular venture? Aren’t all of the rest of the stats you like so much just a way of explaining why a given pitcher was successful? And finally, once again, if the stats you are using cannot adequately explain a pitchers success or failure, shouldn’t you just dig deeper and find a new stat that does explain it? A pitchers ability to keep his opponents on the short side of the scoring, thus producing wins for his team, is valued exactly to the degree of his success. Everything else is just details.

  35. Glenn DuPaul said...

    @Paul G
    I didn’t bring the World Series into the conversation. The reason I addressed it actually had everything to do with how the playoffs are a small sample size.  I said the team with the most wins doesn’t always win the World Series, because of this comment by Matt:

    “When we start rewarding the World Series to the team with the highest WAR, then I’m in favor of doing away with wins”

    And for the Storm Davis/Cliff Lee comparison, the 1989 Oakland Athletics had the best offense that season and the best bullpen. 

    I really hope you were being sarcastic with your comparison of the two pitchers, because Davis’ 19-win record is a perfect argument for why pitching wins are useless.

  36. John C said...

    Storm Davis won 19 games in 1989 because the Oakland hitters ripped the cover off the ball nearly every time he pitched. The same thing happened with Bob Welch a year later, only Bob Welch was actually pitching good, and so he didn’t just go 19-7, he went 27-6.

    Davis’ record was pure luck. He deserves no credit for pitching at a near-replacement level and piling up wins just because his teammates happened to play well on the days he pitched. And everyone except John Schuerholz, who gave him a huge free-agent contract, knew it.

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