By no means is this article a knock to what guys like Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright and even Bartolo Colon have done this season, but what significance do wins have? Do wins determine who wins the Cy Young? Do they fully display the caliber of pitcher that the player may be?
While wins should remain a stat for pitchers, they shouldn’t be one that is heavily focused on going forward.
To show that wins can be somewhat pointless, let’s take for example Felix Hernandez. In 2010, King Felix won the American League Cy Young Award despite having a record of 13-12. Only one time before, when Fernando Valenzuela won the award in 1981, had a starting pitcher won the award with only 13 wins. Clearly, wins didn’t factor into the Baseball Writer’s Association of America’s voting as that year David Price had 19 wins and CC Sabathia had 21.
So, what should pitchers be ranked on then? Well for starters, ERA or earned run average, is by far the biggest factor for a starting pitcher. In that 2010 AL Cy Young race, Hernandez had a career low ERA of 2.27 whereas Price had an ERA of 2.72 and Sabathia an ERA of 3.18. Next, innings pitched would be the second biggest factor for any starting pitcher. Once again, Hernandez led the other two candidates as he had a career high 249.2 innings pitched in 2010.
Moving on from that 2010 race, it’s clearly evident that a pitcher has their own strengths to rely on. While the Detroit Tigers’ Max Scherzer sits at a pretty 13-0 record, his teammate in Anibal Sanchez has the lowest ERA on the team at 2.76 where Scherzer’s is 3.09, which is far from bad. However a lot of his success has to do with the team he plays for, in this case the Tigers. This season, the Tigers rank third among the MLB’s best offensive teams, so clearly, they’re able to support their pitchers even if they run into a bit of a jam more often than not.
However, looking at the opposite end of the spectrum, we’ll see Clayton Kershaw who even though he has a low 1.93 ERA this season in 18 starts, only has a record of 7-5. Kershaw’s team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, rank 29th out of the 30 teams in baseball offensively. I’m not saying that a pitcher is going to do poorly or incredible based on their team’s offense, but it surely can influence it in a lot of ways. Look at the Boston Red Sox, who lead the MLB in offense, yet have three starting pitchers with ERAs over 4.00, and Jon Lester in particular who has eight wins despite his high 4.41 ERA.
Okay, so the pitcher’s team aside, there are quite a few other essential factors for pitchers. Quality starts are a stat that I feel is quite overlooked not only for a team, but for the individual pitcher as well. First off, a quality start is when a pitcher goes at least six complete innings while giving up no more than three earned runs. If we look at the top six pitchers with the most quality starts this season, we’ll see that three of them (in order), Travis Wood, James Shields and Matt Harvey have offenses that rank in lower half of the MLB, yet these starters absolutely dominate nearly every time out.
Beyond this point, I feel that using the argument of the success of a strikeout pitcher such as Yu Darvish is better than the success of a pitcher like Mike Leake (who has nearly 100 strikeouts less than Darvish) is pretty abysmal. Sure, we can focus on the fact that more strikes and misses help a pitcher overall, but like in real estate, pitching is about location. For instance, Leake this season has relied on the ground ball 51.7% of the time for his outs, but does that make him a lesser pitcher than Darvish? Of course not, it’s all about how a pitcher commands the game.
So really, wins shouldn’t factor into how well a pitcher performers. While nearly every pitcher’s goal is to become a member of the 300 win club, I feel it’s something that adds on extra pressure. I’m not saying that wins as a stat should be abolished for pitchers, but it would certainly be interesting if we marked them solely on ERA, quality starts and innings pitched. Added bonuses could included a strikeout per nine innings ratio alongside a lower walk ratio, but once again, it’s all about how a pitcher commands a game.
Stats courtesy of FanGraphs.