The diminishing value of wins in the MLB

Remember my friend Holloway? If you don’t, he is my friend that I have labeled the angriest baseball fan in the history of the game. His text tirades or casual out-for-drink rants are invaluable to me, as I often expand them and turn them into a piece on Wayniac Nation. Most often, I find myself agreeing with him, as I did when he was upset about comments on Mike Trout.

Well, what has Holloway ticked off this time?

Jay and I have been working on how to get this piece to come to fruition for some time now. Essentially, how to prove to the world that the win is the most meaningless stat in baseball for starting pitchers. In fact, it is a stat that can hurt the talent and stock of many of the league’s best pitchers.

Of course, fantasy baseball led me to my tipping point, and now I can see clearly the problem with “wins” and “losses” for a pitcher.

The other night Matt Shoemaker was pitching a dandy against the New York Yankees. He made it to the seventh before surrendering back-to-back home runs, allowing the game to be tied. He allowed two base runners to reach in the eighth, and he was eventually pulled after getting two outs. That’s when Jose Alvarez comes in, getting paid more than government employees and teachers, to get one measly out against a 39-year old (who, grant it has been red hot of late). Instead, he throws two pitches and serves up Carlos Beltran‘s game-winning home run.

If the Angels had come back, Alvarez would have picked up the win… for blowing the game.

How does Shoemaker get the loss in this situation? I mean I understand the rules, but logically? Wins and losses are so arbitrary in today’s MLB because starting pitchers are having less and less to do with them.

Holloway: My main argument is a SABR argument. There are only three true outcomes in an at bat that a pitcher can control: walk, home run, and a strikeout. Everything else is left up to his defense and the score keeper. A pitcher can get the ground ball he needs to get out of an inning but he can’t control his infielders range or defense. An outfielder loses a ball in the sun and it’s not an error, the hit or runs scored from it are charged to the pitcher and consequently the no decision or L from the misplayed ball goes to the pitcher as well.

Relievers are a big problem as well.

Holloway:  Game has changed, nobody finishes what they started. Starting pitchers are only asked to go five or six innings.

You have these guys that are “specialists”, you know, they call them LOOGYs or set-up men or closers or “the seventh-inning guy” and because of how much bullpens have expanded over the past five years alone, a lot of these guys aren’t even that good at their jobs.

Let’s look at someone like Darren O’Day for example, widely considered one of the best set-up men in the league. He is 25-9 since coming to Baltimore five seasons ago, adding on 14 saves. What if he was on the Padres, or the current Braves? He would certainly have a lot less wins wouldn’t he? Does that diminish his value any? Of course not, because you are looking at a guy who has essentially racked up a strikeout per inning with WHIP usually under 1.00 and ERAs in the low twos at his worst. But for the casual fan, wins and losses are the easiest thing to look at, and still are by many baseball fans.

Then you look at a guy like Alfredo Aceves on the Yankees a few years back. He went 10-1, but was nowhere near the talent that O’Day was. I thought this guy was garbage — a junk baller — that had the benefit of coming into close games and having the Yankees offense take a lead for him… a lead that he even sometimes blew. He turned it into a multi-million-dollar contract — for being a middle reliever, not even a closer mind you — in free agency with the Red Sox, and he would post three consecutive seasons with ERAs over 4.86 and disappear by the age of 31.

Look at Cole Hamels. In the two-and-a half seasons before he was traded, he was a combined 23-30. Some people felt he had “thrown too many innings” and was falling off, but the real baseball enthusiast saw nothing had changed in his peripheral game. He still struck a lot of people out, he still had low WHIPs, and a 4.00 ERA is an afterthought when it comes to Hamels.

Then you look at a guy like Ivan Nova. Nova was considered an up and coming starting pitcher because of his “breakout” 2011 rookie year. He went 16-4 that season, playing for a New York Yankees team whose offense was atop the leaderboards. But the reality was is that his walks-per-nine were nearly identical to his strikeout-per-nine, his WHIP was 1.33 and he allowed almost a hit an inning (8.9). In the years since, we have seen the truth behind who Nova really is, but because he came out with a 16-win season, he garnered Rookie of the Year votes. Imagine if he were on the 2011 Astros that won 56 games?

Holloway: I hate when an “expert” says “he has 15 wins out of 20 games started.” That just shows he can put his team in a position to win. Then on the other hand they will say “he only has eight wins out of 20 games started, with an ERA of 3.50, but just hasn’t got any run support”. It’s one or the other and hasn’t the 8-win guy put his team in a position to win? These guys contradict themselves on the subject.”

It’s very frustrating in a time when fantasy sports is so relevant in what constitutes sports knowledge. It’s almost more valuable to carry a guy like Kelvin Herrera on your roster than a stud-pitcher on a fringe team, think Aaron Nola, because the bad outings Herrera has will be dumped on the starter, and the good outings will get him “wins”.

I rather see the starting pitcher on my team go out there and toss seven innings of solid baseball, post quality starts in 85-percent of his outings than worry about if he is 8-16. That’s not his problem. Corey Kluber is 5-6 with a 3.84 ERA, Jose Quintana is 5-6 with a 2.58 ERA and then there’s good ol’ Rick Porcello, sitting at 7-2 with a 4.04 ERA, less strikeouts than both and a whopping 12 home runs allowed, three more than Kluber and Quintana combined. Who would you rather pitching for you?

If wins weren’t still such an important stat, Felix Hernandez would have at least one more Cy Young Award under his belt (still ironic that he won his one Cy Young with a 13-12 record, but he then lost to Corey Kluber and the ONLY stat Kluber trumped King Felix in was… wins). If wins weren’t so important, the “will anyone ever reach 300 wins” conversation wouldn’t still come up… but it does.

I grew up in the late 70s and 80s when pitchers pitched and closers closed. The 1986 Mets essentially rolled with a five-man bullpen, and Joe Girardi uses five relievers a night.  My father grew up in an era where pitchers were wusses if they didn’t hurl 250 innings a year and my grandfather grew up in an era when pitchers threw until the game was over. “12th inning, coach? No problem, I got three more in me.”

Pitchers throw harder these days. They throw different pitches in different styles and monitoring pitch counts and innings isn’t the worst thing in the world. But the game has changed, and with that, so has the value of wins as determining the worth of a starting pitcher.






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