Why the Pitcher’s Win IS an Important Statistic

The pitcher’s win has been denigrated by followers of ‘modern statistics’ as something that is an old-fashioned, old-thinking, statistic that has little real meaning — superceded by so many more exacting stats like WHIP. RAA, OOPS, BAbip, EV, HardH%, and FIP.

These people are Dead Wrong.

The pitcher’s win is more “Big Data” than any of the modern baseball stats — most of which have been around forever they just didn’t have an acronym or abbreviation yet.

The pitcher’s Win measures a pitcher’s:

1. Ability to Go Deep Into Game & Thru Lineup 3 or More Times

Pitchers that get a lot of wins, pitch well, and pitch well into the 7th or 8th inning — even in modern times where so many pitchers get pulled automatically at 100 pitches. It measures a pitcher’s ability to keep their pitch count down to last longer, and save the bullpen.

2. Ability to “Pitch to the Score”

If they’re given 1 run, they make it hold up; if they’re given 7 runs early, they ‘throw strikes” and maybe give up some homers to make the score 7-4 or 7-5 — then get tough again to make sure their team stays on top. Catfish Hunter was famous for this, as have been most Hall of Fame pitchers.

3. Ability to “Pitch” vs “Throw”

1 and 2 above are really measures of a pitcher’s ability to “pitch” vs “throw”. Nolan Ryan for example, was a great “thrower” early in his career — and typically had .500 seasons despite all the strikeouts and no hitters. He became a better “pitcher” later on. There is a VOLUME of pitchers who have said this — that they became “Pitchers” later on in their career, vs “throwers”. They learned how to ‘rope-a-dope’ a lineup, and ‘win the game.’

Pitchers who are able to win a lot of games, are able to rope-a-dope lineups when they don’t have their best stuff. They’re able to make ‘big pitches’ in ‘tight spots’.

Example a recent game where Domingo German rope-a-doped the Red Sox, pitching 6 innings of 1-run ball — allowing a hit or a walk in every inning — but pitching just well enough to win 3-2. Said manager Aaron Boone afterwards, “(He) was good once again. I didn’t think he was as dominant as he was in LA. They squared some balls up on him tonite. But he made some big pitches when he had to.”

4. Ability to Out-Duel Other Starter

Aka mental toughness & competitiveness.

Andy Pettitte vs John Smoltz in the pivotal game 5 of the 1996 World Series comes to mind — Smoltz allowed 1 run. Pettitte out-dueled him — pitching shutout ball; Yanks won 1-0. If Gerrit Cole pitches 6 innings and allows 2 runs, and loses because the Red Sox pitcher Garrett Whitlock went 7 shutout innings — Cole will be first one to say he failed. Once you start measuring competitiveness, you are at “Big Data”.

5. What the Pitcher’s GOAL Is

Listen to any pitcher after a game — their goal is to win the game, not to lower their WHIP. Pitchers have told managers to go back into the dugout and not lift them, because they ‘have this.’  See Tommy John‘s quote below, which speaks for all pitchers — even current day.

What Tommy  John Says

Tommy John won 164 games after his famed surgery.

“That was one less than Sandy Koufax won in his entire career. Entire career,” said Tommy John several years ago in a Sporting News interview. “I’d have sportswriters tell me, ‘Yeah, but his wins were better than yours.’ And I said, ‘Better?’ I said, ‘A win’s a win.’ When Sandy (pitched), did he strike out more guys? Yeah. Did he have less hits? Yeah. But he won the ball game. That’s what he set out to do. I set out to win a ball game, and that’s what I was supposed to do.”

What Bill  James Says

In one of the most important tweets in the history of baseball analytical tweets, Bill James just tweeted this:

A Win Is MUCH MORE than a Quality Start

Some have argued that all of the above is taken into account by the new baseball statistic called the Quality Start. First — the Quality Start has been around for forever — it is an ancient stat. Second, a Win is NOT a Quality Start! It is MUCH MORE.

A Quality Start is 6 or more innings, 3 or less runs allowed. That’s a consolation-prize stat — traditionally brought up to defend a pitcher who lost. “He lost 5-2 but you know, he threw a ‘Quality Start’ — 6 innings, 3 earned runs!”

Quality Start is missing most of the 5 important measurement criteria listed above.

deGrom vs Domingo  German

What about Jacob deGrom then? Some say Jacob deGrom surely proves the pitcher’s Win is a meaningless stat — look at what he did in 2018 and 2019 — two straight Cy Youngs — in 2018 he was 10-9 1.70, leading the league in ERA and in FIP. In 2019, he was 11-8 2.43. He didn’t win because the Mets couldn’t hit.

Meanwhile Domingo German went 18-4 4.03 for the 2019 Yankees.

Answer: yes — deGrom’s inability to win is a head-shaking mar against his career. Because on those 2018 Mets, Noah Syndergaard went 13-4, and Zach Wheeler went 12-7. How come they could win, and deGrom couldn’t? The Mets were 77-85.

In 2019, Syndergaard (10-8 4.28) and Wheeler (11-8 3.96) were able to win as many games as deGrom despite Much Higher ERA’s on the same team. The Mets were 86-76.

German won 18 because he was able to pitch well, deep into games — regularly pitching into the 7th and 8th innings.

For deGrom — it’s a mystery. Sometimes a pitcher’s unlucky. Maybe its due to deGrom always pitching against the other team’s ace. In which case — again, see 1-5 above, especially #4.

This Is an OLD Argument

PS: the importance of the pitcher’s win has been debated since the 1970’s, when the inauguration of the Designated Hitter caused so many pitchers to throw complete games in the American League — leading to an over-abundance of 20 game winners, and 15 to 20 game losers.

Long before deGrom the Mets had a pitcher who pitched great but couldn’t win: in 1985, Sid Fernandez went 9-9 2.80 in 170 innings with only 108 hits allowed and 180 K’s.

In Summary

We agree with Bill. The new Bill James-esq stats are great — but it would be folly to dismiss and make fun of the existing measures, like the win.

The Win by itself is a stat full of holes — but at the same time — provides a fantastic ‘big data’ measure, which needs to be combined with other stats — like ERA, WHIP. RAA, OOPS, BAbip, EV, HardH%, and FIP — to gain a picture of a pitcher.

Comments? Feedback?

If you disagree or you agree but would like to say something else, please feel free to post below.

1 Comment

  1. Yes, an important statistic, of of SEVERAL important statistics, looking at one or two stats is why the Yankees are a mess in most of their trades

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