The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
The "W" is Effectively Dead

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the tight race in the National League for the Cy Young Award, between Aaron Nola, Max Scherzer, and Jacob deGrom.  All three of them could make a legitimate claim for the title; but as I’ve followed them since then, I’ve become convinced New York Mets ace deGrom will emerge as the winner.

Whether deGrom winds up winning the award or not, his performance for the season will put another nail in the coffin for considering the “win” as a relevant statistic to guage a pitcher’s value to his team.

For the past couple of years, the true baseball statheads have been harping on the point that winning or losing decisions should not be considered an individual measure because of many factors which are not under the pitcher’s control.  They’ve finally convinced most of the baseball community the “W” should be de-emphasized, if not discontinued altogether.

To help prove their point, consider that the Mets inept offense has been a huge culprit in deGrom’s win-loss record this year.  In his 29 starts, the Mets have a 12-17 record.  In 18 of those starts, the Mets scored three or fewer runs.  In only five of his starts has deGrom yielded three or more earned runs.  His current 1.71 ERA is the second-lowest in the National League since Dwight Gooden posted a 1.53 ERA in 1985.

Actually, the notion that wins not being a good measure for pitching effectiveness has been around for a while.  When Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award in 2010, having barely recorded a better-than-.500 winning percentage with 13 wins and 12 losses for the season, it was considered heresy by many of the baseball analysts, particularly the old-timers.  He beat out David Price and CC Sabathia, with 19 and 21 wins respectively, who finished second and third in the voting.  Yet Hernandez won on the merits of his league-leading 2.27 ERA, while he was the workhorse of the American League with 34 starts and 249.2 innings pitched. 

So, how did professional baseball evolve to the point where pitchers’ effectiveness was measured by number of wins?  In the formative years of the sport over a hundred years ago, wins and losses were indeed relevant statistics for pitchers.  That was because most pitchers threw complete games and could largely be held responsible for limiting the total number of runs opponents were scoring in games.  Of course that presumption was flawed then, as it is now, but there weren’t other meaningful measures of pitcher effectiveness in place then, as there are now.  But with the conservative nature of most baseball historians and reporters over the years, there wasn’t much motivation to change, since ERA, strikeouts, and walks were also available as additional key performance indicators.

Nowadays the occurrence of complete games is a rarity.  The total number for the entire season so far, including both leagues, is only 40.  By comparison, Hall of Fame pitcher Cy Young, after whom the prestigious pitching award is named, had nine seasons (during 1891-1904) in which he pitched 40 or more complete games by himself. 

As is evidenced with deGrom and other pitchers, a win is not a true indicator of individual performance.  Other factors, such as the defensive play of a pitcher’s teammates, as well as how many runs his teammates score in a game, have a direct bearing on whether a pitcher is credited with a win or loss.  A starting pitcher, who yields to his team’s bullpen to finish a game, is dependent on subsequent relief pitchers to maintain a lead the team had when the starting pitcher was removed from the game.  Again, these are factors not under the pitcher’s control.

Despite the efforts by some (MLB Network TV host Brian Kenney is an example) to effectively kill the “W” statistic, it is still prevalently reported in game summaries and box scores as to which pitcher is credited with the win.  The astute baseball follower will recognize that the stat is meaningless, but it may take a few more years, maybe even another generation of baseball enthusiasts before this practice is finally discontinued.

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