Quickly On Pitching Wins

ESPN’s Sweet Spot Blog, which you won’t be surprised to learn is no longer run by Rob Neyer, has a story by Baseball Tonight host Steve Berthuaime crediting Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Kevin Correia for being they type of pitcher who goes out and wins games.

Yet, all the guy is doing is winning games. I’ll say that again: HE — WINS — GAMES.

Here’s a quick and concise reason as to why he is very, very wrong in his assessment of pitching wins.

While a starting pitcher is responsible for a larger percentage of the game than any other player who steps into the batter’s box or plays the field, he isn’t responsible for everything that happens in a game. He’s not even responsible for half of what happens.

Baseball is split up first between offense and defense. The offense is responsible for half an inning and then the defense is responsible for the other half. Already, there’s 50% of a game that a pitcher has nothing to do with. We take defense, and under this category falls pitching and fielding. Fielders are obviously responsible for fielding, further lessening a starting pitcher’s responsibility, leaving us with pitching, which also must account for relievers which brings down the amount for which a starting pitcher is responsible even further. And even within that percentile, there’s an entire element of luck (pitchers can’t control where balls are hit and no hitter is good enough to put balls precisely into play) for which we’re not accounting.

It’s great that Kevin Correia seems to be pitching well (I’d expect regression looking at his strikeout rate, walk rate and BABIP) and it’s great that it’s led to him having more pitching wins than anyone else in baseball, but wins alone are meaningless in any sense.

It’s neither a predictor of future or an indication of past success because, as we’ve just established, there’s so much of the game, so many different elements, outside of a pitcher’s control that contribute to a team winning or losing a game. It also doesn’t help that there are seemingly arbitrary rules associated with getting a win (starters must pitch five innings, leave the game while winning, etc.).

Comments (9)

  1. I’d like to see them scrap wins and instead go with quality starts

    so if the pitcher gets a quality start, whether they win or lose, they get 1 , if they don’t get a quality start they get a tick in the other column

  2. In other news, humans are descended from apes and the world is round. Aren’t we over wins yet?

  3. Remember when Jared Weaver was 6-0 and the best pitcher in baseball… ahhhhh wins…

  4. Lol Dew, so because he’s not picking up wins anymore he’s no longer as good??
    still a really good pitcher..

    also, Drew, i also enjoy picking up strippers.

  5. One thing on “pitchers are responsible for less than half of the game”… the idea of win could be thought of as beating the opposition pitcher in a one on one matchup. If pitchers pitch complete games, and the lineups are of similar quality, the stat kind of makes sense. It’s like saying ” a pool player only accounts for 50%”, true but missing the point. Of course nowadays its unsuited to its intended purpose, and we have enough in depth data to properly evaluate them using far better metrics, but the above truism irks me a little

  6. @btc:

    The major difference between your pool example and pitching is that pitching isn’t a direct competition. Not only do pitchers not interact with each other, they don’t even interact with the same group of people. Using the logic of the pool example, you could say that a pitcher is responsible for slightly less than 50% of the half of the inning in which he competes with the other team, or 25% of the whole inning. There is no one on one matchup between pitchers. It’s effectively like two separate games that are taking place, which are then compared after 9 innings..

    There’s also the fact that lineups are rarely similar, and that pitchers rarely pitch a full 9 innings.

  7. …do we really still need this article? i mean, i feel like the type of person who comes here probably knows this by now. Steve Berthuaime isn’t talking to ‘us’ and we don’t need it explained to us that he’s wrong.

    this seems like a cheap excuse for ‘hey guys, aren’t we all awesomely smart for understanding that wins are a dumb number? those poor dinosaurs out there who just haven’t learned.’ and i think this is just as annoying as the dinosaurs themselves.

    • In a world where Jack Morris just got 66% of the HOF vote, I think it’s fair to say that there is some need to reaffirm pretty basic truths about how baseball works.

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