Many baseball statistics are kept at the forefront of…uh, baseball statistics because they’re pretty easy to calculate and they’ve been around for a while. This doesn’t mean that they’re inherently useful or revealing. One such statistic is wins for a pitcher–because it’s somewhat dependent on how many runs they receive in support, it can’t directly measure whether they’re doing well at retiring batters and not giving up runs. It’s also dependent on when they receive runs in support. Witness the countless “BS, W” (which are a little bit, if you’ll pardon my language…um, BS)–a starting pitcher does well, the reliever gives up the lead, but is credited with the win because the team eventually rallies back anyway.
So–urged on by a couple of nice instigators–I got to playing with an idea for re-awarding pitcher wins, part of it plagiarized from another sport entirely. In the admittedly small sample size of 33 Cubs victories this year (shush), my system “felt” egregiously wrong three times, due to a vulnerability that I realized going in. This is, coincidentally, exactly as many as “egregious” assignments of winning pitchers under the normal system. So I can’t really say my way is an improvement (hence why I’m not going into details. Yet. Maybe later once I’ve tweaked it and/or come up with a funny acronym.)
I do, however, want to discuss some interesting case studies. My system and the standard system agreed in 24 of the 33 cases; setting aside 6 more “egregious” games leaves a couple other borderline judgments. Maybe looking at some of these will show you how awkward this system is…
April 13: Cubs 9, Astros 5
Carlos Zambrano started the game for the Cubs, who led 6-0 when he took the hill in the bottom of the sixth. He then gave up five runs before being pulled for Marcos Mateo, who recorded one out to get out of the inning. Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Marmol pitched scoreless seventh, eighth, and ninth innings respectively. Zambrano was the actual winning pitcher, despite almost giving the game away. My system would credit Wood with the victory. Had the Cubs not scored one run in the top of the sixth, Zambrano wouldn’t have gotten the win…on the other hand, that one run was his solo homer, so perhaps he deserves the credit after all.
May 7: Cubs 3, Reds 2
Casey Coleman entered the bottom of the seventh with the Cubs up by one. He walked the leadoff batter and then gave up a single for first and third with nobody out. Wood came in to induce an out at second that brought in one run, a sacrifice bunt, and another single that brought in the go-ahead run. He got out of the inning, James Russell retired two batters in the eighth, and Marmol pitched a scoreless inning-and-a-third before picking up the win when the Cubs walked off (twice, but that’s another story). My system also credits Marmol with the victory…did Coleman really deserve it, or were those two batters too big a liability? I might still need to make some tweaks as far as inherited runners go.
June 14: Cubs 5, Brewers 4, ten innings.
Even more time for more pitchers and more…intrigue.
Randy Wells left the game after six, with the Cubs down by 3. Rodrigo Lopez pitched a scoreless seventh (the Cubs got another run in the bottom half, so it was 3-1), but Lopez walked the leadoff batter in the eighth and was pulled for Russell. Russell gave up a bunt which moved the runner to second, and was removed for Chris “Not That One” Carpenter. He gave up a double to bring in a run (charged to Lopez), but then got out of the inning. In the bottom of the eighth, the Cubs scored three to tie the game. Marmol and Jeff Samardzija pitched scoreless ninths and tenths respectively, and walked off in the tenth to give Samardzija the win. My system credits Carpenter with the victory, which seems wrong–he pitched two-thirds of an inning, during which one run was scored. On the other hand, did anyone else really deserve the win?
The point is, only timing distinguishes Marmol and Samardzija’s performance, and it doesn’t make sense to put a lot of value on a raw statistic that is influenced by factors so arbitrary. I might go off and tweak my system, but for now my recommendation is bipartite. Either a) do not award “blown save/win” under any circumstances, and give the win to the guy whose game would have been saved had the save not been blown, or/and b) track statistics more meaningful than wins (and, for that matter, saves), which you should do anyway. :p
Also, read the actual rules about “effective”ness for winning pitchers, as shown here (pages 110-111). I’d be curious to see how many times a season rules 10.17 (b) and (c) are applied, among all teams.