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]

Comments (22)

  1. Don’t entirely agree that BABIP, LOB% and HR/FB are just reflective of luck. This doesn’t give pitchers a whole lot of credit, or take into consideration the different types of pitchers out there. Some guys may give up more contact but it’s harder to square up so guys ground out or fly out more often. And I know around here it’s customary to scoff at “pitching to the score” or “pitching to the situation” because of course pitchers are trying to get every batter out regardless of the score or situation. How they do it, on the other hand, is a consideration. Ask any pitcher and they’ll tell you that with the bases open they’re more willing to take the chance of pitching to contact for the sake of sparing themselves some pitches. With the bases juiced they’re more likely to try to strike a batter out and choose their pitches accordingly because it’s not worth the risk of letting the guy put it in play.

    It’s not that I don’t see how there is a great deal of good fortune involved in those particular stats, but the statement that “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” kind of makes it sound as if pitchers just serve meat balls over the plate and hope the batters don’t crush them. The pitches they throw and where they throw them do matter, and good pitchers will consider the situation and pitch accordingly.

    Anyways, I hope I haven’t made myself sound like a neanderthal, just trying to give pitchers a bit more credit because there’s more than luck that goes into those numbers.

    I like the overall analysis though, good comparison of the two pitchers.

    • I didn’t get the impression that Parkes was stating it definitely. He used the word “tends” too often for that. I also think he’s right because if you look at year to year correlation there really isn’t one for moat pitcher in those stats or in batted ball numbers either. I’m sure there are exceptions, but on the whole this is the case.

  2. Really enjoy your writing Parkes, but would it kill you to dial down the pretension a little bit when it comes to talking about stats?

    By your logic my father, a lifelong baseball fan, is not a serious fan because he isn’t fully aware of and doesn’t have the spare time to learn about the more relevant stats that have come to prominence in the last decade. Don’t really see how that makes sense.

    • Pretension? It seems a reasonably laid out argument to me. And I’d suggest that no, your dad isn’t a serious baseball fan of he still count pitcher wins and losses. It’s like being a big supporter of science but believing in god.

      • What seems like pretension is the natural result of Parks being a hundred times smarter than anyone else.

      • Do you really believe you have to understand advanced stats to be serious fan?

        • I think we’re getting caught up on one descriptive word: “serious.” And no, you don’t have to understand advanced stats to be a “serious” fan. But in my opinion, not understanding the lack of value in tracking wins is a sign that you’re not up to date with the game … and so, yeah, I’d question how serious you are about baseball.

          • First of all, Gator never said anything about pitcher wins. Second of all “fans” enjoy the game for a million different reasons. My 90 year grandparent couldn’t explain the first thing about baseball statistics. They still live and breathe the game all summer long.

          • Sorry, some lifelong baseball fans are just lowest common denominator then.

            In all, er, seriousness, I probably just chose to read it in a slightly pretentious tone, which I doubt was your intention. Lot to be said for tone of voice.

          • The majority of the industry still believes in pitcher wins. They need education yes, but to say they aren’t serious is just silly to me.

      • “It’s like being a big supporter of science but believing in god.”

        Like Gallileo? or Einstein? or…. probably countless other scientists who were also religious?

        • I like how this article explains which stats are important and which aren’t, but starts by saying that if you don’t already know or agree with what follows, then you’re part of the lowest common denominator.


  3. who ever has the best ERA should win the CY Young, end of..hate all the shitty background stats.

  4. Just want to add that as decent a player as Jackson is in Detroit playing center field…Mike Trout is going to get to a lot more balls, so that fly ball rate in LA is right off the bat, going to be better than Verlander`s.

    • That’s not what the stat indicates. It’s HR/FB. As in what percentage of of the fly balls he gives up go over the wall. There’s only so much the defense can do about those, and the number of HRs a guy pulls back from over the wall per pitcher isn’t going to affect the numbers much. That said I’ll even present your evidence for you because they’re just so fun to watch. The second one was even for Weaver :) But yeah that one HR saved isn’t going to affect that percentage much.

      • It would actually up his percentage to about 7.5% which is a pretty significant gain. These things matter.

        • Oh I get that it can. I guess I just meant that an outfielder will only pull back a few HRs a year, and the odds of them being for a particular pitcher are slim. So to automatically assume that Mike Trout will dramatically influence that number is a bit of a stretch. That 1 HR (or 0.7%) will also become less significant as more FBs are hit and more of them go for HRs.

          Besides, I was mostly just looking for excuses to post awesome Mike Trout catches after watching them a dozen times myself :P

  5. But profession sport expert Jeff Sammut said on 590 that Cliff Lee is an overpaid bust, ‘cos he’s 2-6 on the year. I don’t know Parkes, I think you might need to re-assess your thesis in light of this Sammuttian analysis.

  6. Murray Chass read this and his head exploded.

  7. Verlander has been objectively better by the numbers, but not by enough that it’s going to burn my ass too much if Cy Young voters (assuming neither of them has a disastrous 6-week stretch to finish the year) have a conversation that includes wins. Especially given the difference in IP, this is close and there is definitely a conversation to be had.

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