KILL THE WIN

For those of you that follow Brian Kenny on twitter you know his mission this season has been to “#KILLTHEWIN”. This is a worthwhile mission and I’m here to voice my support. Granted if you are a follower of this blog (I probably lost them when I didn’t post for two years) you know the win is an expired stat, but this is for those who may have happened upon 4PARL by chance.

The win is an archaic stat that currently has no useful performance evaluation qualities. Despite that, too much stock is put into the win by coaches, players, fans, and the media. These parties need to progress in terms of its evaluative thought process and there are several easy to learn metrics available on the internet that are better indicators of a pitchers performance.

The box score dates back to the early 1860’s when writer Henry Chadwick devised a system to better track the game of baseball and keep tallies of individual stats. At the time, the win was a stat that made sense. Pitchers pitched all nine innings. If he won, the team won. Fast forward some 150 years and the win is no longer a relevant stat in baseball. This is what the stat does- it gives credit to the pitcher who leaves the game with his team winning, assuming the team does go on to win. It makes no distinction of how the pitcher performed during his time in the game. it does not matter if the pitcher threw a shutout or gave up ten runs. If he leaves with a lead and the team keeps that lead, the pitcher gets a win.

How ridiculous is that? You can get credit for helping a team win, even if your performance hurt the team. On September 17, Yusmeiro Petit went six innings for the San Francisco Giants against the New York Mets. He allowed seven hits and three walks for a total of ten base runners. He gave up four runs in those six innings and struck out just one batter. Yet he still got the win to go to 4-0 on the season. On the final game of the regular season, Justin Verlander threw six shutout innings against the Miami Marlins. He allowed three hits and a walk while striking out ten batters. Yet his team was no-hit so he had nothing to show for it. Tell me how it makes sense that Petit can pitch pretty terrible and be credited with a win, while Justin Verlander can put up a much better performance and not get credit for it. You can’t.

Now let’s play everybody’s favorite game: Pitcher A and Pitcher B.

Pitcher A: 21-3, 214 IP, 10.08 K/9, 2.35 BB/9, 0.76 HR/9, 2.74 FIP

Pitcher B: 12-10, 204 IP, 9.51 K/9, 2.03 BB/9, 0.66 HR/9, 2.61 FIP

Here we see two near identical, dominant pitchers. Both have K rates over 9, low BB and HR rates, and FIPs well under 3.0. Yet one pitcher is 21-3 and the other has a near .500 win/loss record. Well, pitcher A is Cy Young favorite Max Scherzer. The other is Felix Hernandez.

If wins had any value in evaluating performance, then Felix Hernandez should be much better than 12-10. The difference is that Felix Hernandez plays for the Mariners who scored 3.85 runs per game while Scherzer played for the Tigers who scored 4.91 runs per game. And that figure jumped up to 5.9 runs in games that Scherzer pitched! It’d be near impossible NOT to win 20 games with that kind of run support.

So as you can tell, so many outside factors other than a pitcher influence their win and loss record. Sure, most of the time the pitcher still has to be at least average in a game to get a win. But he needs help from the defense- a good defense can take away quite a few runs in a season. Moreover, the pitcher needs a lot of help from the offense. You can be dominant but still not get the win. You can be terrible but still get a win because the offense scored ten runs.

In the face of all this common sense, coaches, players, fans, and the media still put value in the win. When Max Scherzer won his 20th game, it was a huge news story. In fact, he will probably win the Cy Young this year on his 21 wins alone, and not because he did the three things a pitcher can control well (strikeouts, walks, home runs). Jack Morris is still a Hall of Fame contender because of his 254 career wins even though he was “only” a good pitcher. Tom Glavine is in the Hall of Fame for winning over 300 career games, even though he was simply a mediocre pitcher for most of his career- he just had the fortune of playing for a dominant Braves team in the 1990’s.

Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland is one of the many coaches who still loves the win. In regards to Scherzer he said earlier this season, “I also like guys that win. I’d rather have a pitcher nobody is talking about who has won 15 games than somebody everyone is raving about who has won five”. That is a very stubborn point of view. Baseball is very much a team game. Mediocre pitchers can win 15 games and start pitchers can win very few. Chris Tillman won 16 games this year. He had a 4.42 FIP and did more to hurt his team than help with an atrocious 1.44 HR/9. Stephen Strasburg only won 8 games despite putting up some pretty fantastic numbers.

The win was created during the Civil War. Baseball thought needs to catch up with the 21st century. A stat that is 150 years old should not carry the weight that it does. It has no evaluative value and yet it still is one of the most popular statistics in the game. This should not be when there is a wealth of performance stats that are widely available a better indicator of pitcher performance.

Pitchers control three outcomes: strikeouts, walks, and home runs. They do not full control hits because the defense and their range plays a big part in whether a ball is caught for an out or not. A home run is a controllable skill because the defense has no impact on the result and because some pitchers are ground ball pitchers while others are fly ball pitchers. So you can look at K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 which is the rate per innings of those three categories. FIP or Fielding Independent Pitching takes those three outcomes into account and adjusts for the league and it is on the ERA scale so it’s easy for the casual fan to know what is a good FIP and a bad FIP. These basic indicators are simple to understand, easy to calculate and/or look up, and better for evaluating pitcher performance.

It’s the year 2013. KILL THE WIN.

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