Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Winning Isn't Everything

As I settle down to watch the All-Star game (a game which Johan Santana was not even a finalist to start), I want to visit a topic that's gotten a lot of attention recently: Win-Loss records for starting pitchers. As Jayson Stark and the Sabermetricians have pointed out, this is an over-rated stat. It doesn't tell you very much about how good the pitcher is - the guy with the most wins isn't necessary the best pitcher (see 2005 AL Cy Young).

Winning or losing depends on an element of the game which has nothing to do with pitching: run support. A starter may throw a quality start every time, but if his team doesn't score while he's in the game, he won't accumulate many wins. He may not even have a winning record to show for all that consistency. What's even crazier, he might win a game in which he pitches poorly.

This past week, Scott Baker of the Twins gave us one of the all-time best possible examples of this. On Sunday night, July 1st, he pitched a complete game gem, allowing just one run on three hits, and needing just 79 pitches to complete eight innings. But, Jeremy Bonderman didn't give up any runs that night, and Baker took the loss. In his next start, on July sixth, Baker was rocked for 7 earned runs on 9 hits, and needed 99 pitches to complete just 5 innings. But, the Twins' bats went berzerk, and scored 14 runs in those 5 innings, so Baker won the game, 20-14.

Now, who are Twins fans hoping is going to show up Thursday night - the guy who lost on Sunday, or the guy who won the next Friday? I'm hoping for the loser, myself.

Reliance on Win-Loss records causes GMs to overpay for free agents. It causes deserving candidates to be overlooked for honors like the All-Star game, post-season awards, and the Hall of Fame. Winning percentage is one of the reasons many voters site for not voting for Bert Blyleven for the Hall. If he'd had just one more win per season (or one fewer loss), he'd probably be in by now. Which is to say, if his teammates had scored him just a couple more runs in one game per year. It doesn't really have anything to do with Bert.

I hope we're moving toward a time when people can more attention to the meaningful stats, and thereby give the accolades to the players who actually earn them on the field.

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