It’s become customary for serious baseball fans to roll their eyes at the notion that pitching wins should count for anything. However, at the end of every year, once the baseball season is finished, and awards begin getting handed out for accomplishments made over the previous six months, a debate erupts over the merits of such things as a pitcher winning twenty games.
When it comes to Cy Young Award voting, which is done by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (abbreviated BBWAA, without irony), the last few years have seen something of a transformation. Pitchers without high win totals are being considered like they have never been considered before. The best example of this is in 2010, when Felix Hernandez, with a record of 13-12, while pitching for the lowly Seattle Mariners, was voted to be the best pitcher in the American League. This, despite C.C. Sabathia, not an unworthy candidate by any means, finishing the year with a 21-7 record for the New York Yankees.
This season, the debate is appearing to take shape once again, and the main focal points of the likely argument both pitches yesterday, and both pitched quite well.
Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, the reigning AL Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player Award winner, faced the New York Yankees last night in the Motor City. He struck out 14 of the 35 batters he faced, pitching eight innings and allowing two runs, neither of which were earned, leading his Tigers to a 7-2 victory. Meanwhile, in Oakland, Los Angeles Angels starter Jered Weaver threw a shutout against the Athletics, striking out nine batters and allowing only four hits over nine innings. The Angles distanced themselves from the A’s with a 4-0 win.
The respective victories mean that Verlander’s record is now 12-7 on the season, while Weaver’s was improved to 15-1 last night.
In terms of what I like to call LCD stats (because they’re used on television broadcasts to cater to the lowest common denominator), this is how Verlander and Weaver compare:
- Verlander: 12-7; 168 2/3 IP; 2.51 ERA; 0.98 WHIP.
- Weaver: 15-1; 131 IP; 2.13 ERA; 0.92 WHIP.
In terms of the numbers I’m more prone to looking at to judge performance, this is how the two pitchers compare:
- Verlander: 168 2/3 IP; 25.0% K%; 6.2% BB%; 2.95 FIP; .252 BABIP; 74.8% LOB%; 8.7% HR/FB.
- Weaver: 131 IP; 20.4% K%; 5.4% BB%; 3.22 FIP; .230 BABIP; 81.7 LOB%; 6.8% HR/FB.
The last three numbers being looked at here tend to tell us how much the pitcher has benefited from good random occurrences, as all three tend to be outside the realm of control for a pitcher. A low BABIP means that balls being put into play are being scooped up at a better rate by the pitcher’s defense, a high LOB% means that more runners are being stranded so the sequencing of hits given up by the pitcher are fortunate, and a low home run to fly ball ratio suggests that the fly balls that the pitcher gives up are being kept in the stadium more frequently than average.
What we see here is that while Verlander is pitching better than Weaver overall on the season, the outcomes are falling more in line for the Angels starter than they are for the Tigers ace. So, it’s understandable if you want to refer to Weaver as having the best season, as far as pitchers go in the American League, but just be careful in suggesting that he is the best pitcher in the American League.
And even in an argument in favor of Weaver, it’s unnecessary to quote his record. He’s having a good enough season as it is, without using such an unnecessary crutch. Quickly, here’s why we should avoid talking about 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 defense, further lessening a starting pitcher’s responsibility, leaving us with just pitching, which also must account for relievers which further limits the amount for which a starting pitcher is responsible.
And even within this remaining percentile of responsibility, there’s an entire element of luck (pitchers can’t control where balls are hit, in what order luck will or won’t go their way and balls that carry/don’t carry over the fence) for which we’re not accounting.
It’s great that Jered Weaver is pitching well, 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, and that’s before even getting into the arbitrariness with which a win is handed out (starters must pitch five innings, leave the game while winning, etc.).
And The Rest
A truly excellent piece of work on salaries in baseball and the trends that see certain positions paid more than others. [FanGraphs]
So, you want to manage a Major League Baseball team? [Baseball Prospectus]
The San Francisco Giants just had left-handed reliever Jose Mijares land in their lap. [Giants Nirvana]
Evan Longoria is ready to return to Major League Baseball, and more specifically the Tampa Bay Rays. [News Tribune]
Chicago Cubs starter Matt Garza is out indefinitely with an elbow problem. [Chicago Sun-Times]
Cesar Izturis is now a member of the Washington Nationals. [Federal Baseball]
The Philadelphia Phillies just witnessed their sellout streak at Citizens Bank Park end. [Yahoo! Sports]
The San Diego Padres are minutes away from officially having a new ownership group. [UT San Diego]
Vernon Wells is playing horribly. [LA Times]
David Ortiz’s achilles is a-killing him. This was funnier in my head. [Over The Monster]
Money was important to the Miami Marlins in the Hanley Ramirez trade. No shit, Sherlock. [Fish Stripes]