A confluence of two events compelled to write this post not only on a weekend, but a holiday weekend, guaranteeing it a (not at all) widespread audience. The first was my daily compilation of games in which the pitching win was a misleading stat for the games of Friday, August 30th--it seemed more brutal than usual:
The thumbnail descriptions of the three types of games are included in the table and I'll give further explanation as I discuss each of the games, which is the purpose of this post--to view in detail just how the win gives an incomplete or distorted picture of pitching performance.
I was already primed by tweets that Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) put out on Friday evening:
Best part of 87, is it's "man's man" Nolan Ryan. Not even HR/Mitch dare speak ill of #twtw. Led AL: ERA, ERA+, K's, K/BB. 5th in Cy. (8-16)
— Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) August 31, 2013
Nolan Ryan pitched for a Houston Astros team that had won 96 games and made the playoffs in 1986 but backslid to 76 wins in 1987. His 8-16 record would be the focal point for the average baseball fan who would say "Look at that--he lost all those games, HE'S why the Astros were so bad that year!" Kenny rightly points out that his win-loss record in no way came close to reflecting how well he pitched. Max Scherzer is all but guaranteed to win the AL Cy Young with whatever gaudy record he'll finish with (AND the best run support in baseball) while Chris Sale has been the most effective pitcher in the AL and has a 10-12 record to show for it thanks to woeful offense and defense by the Sox, and he's the proud owner of the 11th-worst run support in his starts in baseball. Figure out which is which:
Max Scherzer is going to win a Cy Young with numbers that are indistinguishable from Chris Sale (and the 12-8 Felix Hernandez). And, Sale's numbers are the top row.
The rest of this post will discuss the individual games to show just how capricious and unfair the win is and why every effort needs to continue to #KillTheWin.
Yu Darvish, Rangers
This is a very simple and common story--Darvish was pitching well until he reached the 7th and gave up back-to-back homers to Chris Herrmann and Justin Morneau and ended his game giving up a double to Trevor Plouffe. Neal Cotts was brought in to relieve, gave up a single but was saved as Plouffe was thrown out trying to score. A Quality Start for Darvish and no run support from the Rangers as they lost 3-2. Darvish did everything HE was supposed to do and got a loss for his efforts.
Jordan Zimmerman, Nationals
Almost the same story. Whatever issues the Nationals are having this year, Zimmerman isn't one of them and he had another effective game and was removed in the 8th with the Nationals down 3-1. They managed to score another run but Zimmerman was doomed by the same thing as Darvish, a team that didn't capitalize on a very good effort.
It's a broken record at this point. To even be part of this category a pitcher had to have a Game Score of 60 or greater, implying that he had done all he could to insure team success--it's not like these pitchers were giving up hits by the gross. Generaly speaking, the Ripoff can be pinned squarely on an offense that doesn't produce, as the Royals, Diamondbacks and Marlins scored 2, 0 and 1 run respectively in these games. Yep, be sure to hang that loss on the pitcher, it's all HIS fault.
CC Sabathia, NY Yankees
Cheap Wins, by definition a win with a Game Score of 49 or less (and remember that only starting pitchers get Game Scores) are a much more diverse species. In Sabathia's case he managed to keep the Orioles down to only 5 earned runs (a nifty 7.94 ERA--THAT'S worth $23 million) in 5.2 innings. He wasn't bad, but he certainly wasn't the reason the Yankees won and kept their feeble Wild Card hopes alive--that would be the two-runs homers by Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki.
Jorge De La Rosa, Colorado
De La Rosa will get NL Cy Young votes for no other reason that he'll finish with something like a 16-8 record while pitching in Colorado. His game was okay--not many strikeouts, not many walks and he only allowed the Reds to score three runs. The Rockies scored six runs while he was in the game (none of which De La Rosa scored or drove in), so he, like Sabathia was the recipient of an offense that delivered. This is no knock on him--he's been amazingly effective for the past two months, only allowing more than 3 runs in 1 of his last 15 starts--it's only that his pitching, while keeping the Reds at bay, was not the reason Colorado won.
Cheap wins are part of the game and happen every day--it's the vulture wins that drive starting pitchers (and their agents) crazy at contract time. These are basically any win by a reliever, and there were two varieties yesterday.
B.J. Rosenberg, Philadelphia
The Cubs-Phillies game was tied 5-5 when Rosenberg was brought in to work the 8th inning. Other than a two-out double he was effective, striking out both pinch hitter Logan Watkins and Junior Lake. Chances are he would have been replaced no matter what, but it was his luck that Michael Young drove in Roger Bernadina for the game-winning run in the bottom of the 8th. Did Rosenberg do what he was supposed to do--of course, he allowed no runs, but for throwing 16 pitches AND being the pitcher of record since Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg hadn't yet officially removed him he was awarded the win.
Ryan Cook, Oakland
Cook took a different path, entering the game with a 3-1 lead over the Rays. With runners on 1st and 2nd he gave up a single to Evan Longoria to load the bases. Matthew Joyce drove in David DeJesus with a sacrifice fly and James Loney doubled in Ben Zobrist. Cook got through the rest of the inning allowing no runs, and in another kick in the teeth, allowed earned runs to be charged to Jarrod Parker. Cook was lucky enough to have Jed Lowrie drive in Coco Crisp for the winning run in the bottom of the 8th giving Cook that most special of wins, the one that comes with a blown save as well.
15 games, 30 starting pitchers, and of those 30, 9 (30%) received decisions that weren't commensurate with their effort. This chart shows how often that's happened in 2013:
I know, that one hurts a bit, but it's a stacked-bar graph showing how many of three variants of bad wins there are on a given day this year. That's why giving undue (and almost complete) influence on this one stat, one that in 2013 has NOT accurately reflected pitching performance in 33.7% (545 Ripoffs, 184 Cheap Wins and 626 Vulture Wins) of games, OVER ONE-THIRD is ridiculous and has to be reigned in.
Wednesday was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. While I'll admit that killing the win is not as important as civil rights (this is a joke, feel free to laugh), it's time to have a March on Baseball Lunacy. Step up and help Brian Kenny and others reduce (or even better, eliminate) the emphasis on an outdated stat that if the game was started fresh today wouldn't even be invented. Write your Congressman/woman, sign this petition to get President Obama to kill the win through Executive Order, protest outside of Major League ballparks and raise awareness, but whatever we do, let's all resolve to