Thanks to Tom Tango for pointing out that last night’s Seattle-Tampa Bay game is the PERFECT example of the utter stupidity of the pitcher win as currently constituted.
Mariners starter J.A. Happ gave up three runs in six innings — what we have come to know as a quality start. However, when he left the game, his team trailed 3-2 so he was not eligible for a win. He was only eligible for a loss. Tampa Bay’s Alex Colome had only pitched 5 1/3 innings, but he gave up just two earned runs so he left the game in the opposite position, eligible only for a win, not a loss.
Seattle got Happ “off the hook” — as they say on the radio — by scoring four runs off of Tampa Bay’s Jake McGee in the eighth inning. McGee gave up a single to Rickie Weeks, another to Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz then hit what probably should have been a double play grounder, only Nick Franklin made an error and the bases were loaded. Kyle Seager followed with the grand slam.
That put Tom Wilhemsen in position to get the win. Why? Well, he’d he’d pitched a whole inning. It was a scoreless inning even though he did give up a single and a double. Why should he get the win? Well, you know, that’s the system. McGee, naturally, was now going to take the loss.
But of course it gets much sillier. The Rays trailed by three runs in the ninth, but then they came back. They did this by obliterating closer Fernando Rodney. David DeJesus singled, Brandon Guyer singled, Joey Butler was hit by a pitch, Evan Longoria doubled. Then there was an intentional walk and a run scoring groundout. And the game was tied.
And now, whew, well now nothing. The game was tied. By baseball’s rules, a tie game is a new game when it comes to pitchers getting the win or loss. McGee was off the hook. Willhemsen got his win taken away. Happ and Colome, who had each pitched more than half the game, were distant memories.
In the 10th, Kyle Seager homered again, this time off Brad Boxberger. That gave Seattle a 7-6 lead. The Mariners made it hold up with a breezy scoreless inning by reliever Joe Beimel.
And so what happened in the end? Right: The win went to FERNANDO BLEEPING RODNEY. Yep. He pitched one disastrous inning, blew a three-run lead, got the win. Sandy Koufax’s perfect game equaled one win. Fernando Rodney’s three-run implosion equaled one win.
Some misunderstand: My idea of counting team wins rather than pitcher wins for starters is not based on some idea that it’s more FAIR than the way it’s done now. I don’t think it’s “fair” to credit pitchers for wins and losses at all; they don’t win or lose games. There are examples EVERY SINGLE DAY oft how unfair the win is now.
But fair-unfair, in my view statistics should COUNT THINGS. Right now, we credit pitchers for wins and losses in this cockamamie way that counts some stuff, doesn’t count other stuff, gives more weight to some things than other things and so on. These absurd add-ons confound and confuse and, in my opinion, don’t add anything to the conversation.
If the idea of the pitcher win statistic is — as I think it is — to determine which starting pitchers give their teams their best chance to win, then let’s actually record what starting pitchers give their teams their best chance to win.
Here, in case you were wondering, were the records of the 20-game winners in baseball last year:
Chris Tillman: 24-10
Max Scherzer: 24-9
Clayton Kershaw: 23-4
Jordan Zimmerman: 23-9
Adam Wainwright: 23-9
Jered Weaver: 22-12
Corey Kluber: 22-12
Felix Hernandez: 22-12
Johnny Cueto: 22-12
Scott Kazmir: 21-11
Mark Buehrle: 21-11
James Shields: 21-13
Henderson Alvarez: 20-10
Jon Lester: 20-12
Phil Hughes: 20-12
Madison Bumgarner: 20-13
David Price: 20-14
One final point about the win: It often seems like this is an old-school, new-school argument. That is to say, that traditionalists supposedly love the pitcher record and see great truths in it while new school people tend to write off pitcher wins and losses as pointless and silly. Obviously this is a cliche and a generalization — many people have nuanced views, maybe they like pitcher wins for what they are, maybe they don’t like pitcher wins but can see some value in it, and so on.
But even beyond the generalization I don’t think the old-school, new-school conflict is real because as far as I can tell NOBODY gives a rip about relief pitcher wins. Harold Reynolds, who I have come to think of as the Saint of the Pitcher Win, doesn’t care about relief pitcher wins. Jack Morris fans*, who will recite Morris’ record ad nauseum, don’t care about relief pitcher wins.
*I meant to put this in the original piece — Jack Morris, by team wins, is a 300-game winner. His career record was 302-224. That puts him 25th since Deadball in pitcher wins, which is pretty good, and his .574 win percentage is 42nd among 200-game winners.
Does this help or hurt his Hall of Fame argument? Probably neither — I don’t think anyone has had their Hall of Fame argument dissected quite as thoroughly as Morris. The 302 wins looks better because of the way we have come to view 300-game winners, but realistically he still has Dennis Marinez (304), Frank Tanana (308), Andy Pettitte (316), Mike Mussina (325), Jamie Moyer (343), Jim Kaat (345) and Tommy John (386) in front of him.
Here’s how little we care about relief pitcher wins: Mariano Rivera is the most celebrated reliever in baseball history; do you have ANY idea what his won-loss record was? Does it matter in the least? In his best years, he was 4-2, 6-5, 5-5 and 6-4. Who cares? Why are we wasting those wins and losses on him when we don’t even follow it?
Or this: There are two pitchers in this Hall of Fame with LOSING RECORDS. How ridiculous is that? How could that even happen? Well, it happened because they are relievers and nobody cares — one is Rollie Fingers (114-118) and the other is Bruce Sutter (68-71) and it just doesn’t matter. The wins and losses that relief pitchers get just disappear into the ether.
And that is as big a reason as any why it would be so easy to just switch this thing. We’re not looking at relief pitcher wins and losses ANYWAY. We could start giving wins and losses to the starters and it would take weeks before anyone would even notice.
So what would we be losing? There would be those who say that wins as now constituted reward starters who go deeper into games. But I just don’t think that’s true because, basically, NOBODY goes deeper into games. We’re talking about one or two extra outs — nobody completes games, nobody grits it out in the eighth inning, nobody comes close to completing games. That’s just an old way of thinking. Clayton Kershaw goes deeper into games than anybody … he averages 7 inning starts and has completed just 11 games since 2011, none so far this year. That’s what constitutes going deep into games in 2015.
I honestly don’t think we would be losing anything. I think won-loss records would still reflect, in the same general way that the hodgepodge pitcher win stat does now, who the best starting pitchers are. But we would get a little bit clearer picture and we wouldn’t be giving lip service to silly and outdated statistical guidelines. Clear the fog.