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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why the 'pitcher wins' stat is outdated & pointless

Like most sports, the baseball decision-makers are an old-boys club who are slow to accept change - if they accept it at all. Hence, there's a reticence to employ, look at, learn, or acknowledge new or advanced statistics. At best, useful and indicative stats like WAR, BABIP, OPS+, FIP, UZR, wRC+, etc are accepted at a glacial pace.

Case in point: pitcher wins. During baseball broadcasts and in many written pieces, a pitcher's won/lost record is displayed before any other stat. The colour commentator and the analyst always lead their roundup of the pitcher with the number of wins he's accumulated, or losses he's endured.

The dichotomy of the situation is incredible; is there a more prominent stat that's as pointless as pitcher wins?

As a confusing and outdated foundation, feel free to read MLB's official rules that explains how a pitcher earns a win. Needless to say, it's a lawyer's wet dream: complicated rule-jargon at its finest. The basic nuts and bolts are pretty simple though: a pitcher can pitch really well and not record a win, while another can pitch really bad and still claim a W.

Incredibly, the rules are actually open to interpretation in certain situations. The official scorer can decide which pitcher gets the win, a situation that occurred after Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. The win was initially given to San Francisco Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner after five incredible innings of run-free relief. But - after deliberation by the scoring committee - the win was eventually awarded to Jeremy Affeldt, who they determined was not "ineffective in a brief appearance" after throwing 2.1 relief innings ahead of Bumgarner.

Now, just for fun - and to further prove the point - here's a purely hypothetical scenario:

Let's say Pitcher A starts a game and gives up 22 earned runs in five innings, but his theoretical counterpart, the similarly named Pitcher B (no relation), surrenders 23 unearned runs. Both teams' bullpens subsequently throw four innings of shutout ball. Guess what? Pitcher A hates his manager but he still picks up the win; Pitcher B the loss. Which is precisely where the issue lies: did Pitcher A do anything to earn a win? No, he pitched terribly. Much worse than Pitcher B, whose ERA is 0.00 after the game.

The problem could come from the mindset of baseball in general (fans, front office, players, media) thinking there has to be a win awarded to an individual pitcher in every game - an ingrained part of baseball culture. But a pitching win isn't necessary; if the pitcher did nothing to earn the win, they don't deserve the credit.

Plainly put, pitcher wins as a stat shouldn't exist.

The only worthwhile measuring stick pitcher wins can be used as is an indicator of a pitcher's longevity. To wit: if a pitcher has many wins, then it could be reasoned he had a long, successful career. Cy Young had 511 wins, and his career was 22 years long; Roger Clemens: 354 wins, 24 years; Nolan Ryan, 324 wins, 27 years; Greg Maddux, 355 wins, 23 years. You get the picture: generally speaking, a pitcher isn't going to stick around in the majors for upwards of 20 years if they're not any good (the original gangsta LOOGY, Jesse Orosco - with his record 1252 games for a pitcher and middling late-career stats - notwithstanding).

Obviously, there are much better indicators of a pitcher's worth these days, such as the aforementioned WAR, FIP and other advanced stats, but if those are too highfalutin' for the old school folk (Get off my lawn!), there's plenty of other ingrained - yet still indicative - stats that can be used, like ERA, WHIP, Ks/9 and BBs/9.

It's pretty easy to tell who the good pitchers are without resorting to a wholly arbitrary stat like pitcher wins. So don't do use them. Let's do away with them, shall we? Let pitcher wins go the way of the Dodo bird, let them go gentle into that good night.

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