Why pitcher wins are NOT the worst stat ever
It’s Cy Young time, and this year it looks like we’ll have a good battle on our hands in both leagues. Luckily members of the BBWAA are much better educated than in previous generations, and they no longer automatically grant the award to the pitcher with the most wins.
I don’t think I need to rehash why it’s an awful stat. Very briefly, pitching 5 innings and leaving with a 10-9 lead, may give you the W, but pitching 9 and leaving in a scoreless tie won’t get you anything. And then there’s the reliance on your bullpen to hold your lead and/or your team to score runs, giving up unearned runs that aren’t your fault, relief pitchers getting wins without having to throw a pitch… I could go on, but I think most knowledgeable baseball fans know you don’t measure a pitcher’s value on wins.
In previous generations that wasn’t necessarily true. There have been many deserving Cy Young candidates robbed in the past because of voters overreliance on the win stat. When Bob Welch won 27 games in 1990, it was a given he would get the award. Never mind the fact that Roger Clemens‘ ERA was a whole run lower, he struck out almost twice as many batters, gave up fewer home runs and walks, had a WAR above 10, while Welch didn’t even reach 3…. wait! Am I actually lobbying for the Texas Con Man? Who is actually from Ohio and whose real name isn’t even Roger? I feel the sudden urge to go take a shower. How about I make the point with Welch’s teammate, Dave Stewart who “only” won 22 games, but had a lower ERA, less home runs, 11 complete games… or Dave Stieb or Chuck Finley who both had a better ERAs, K:BB ratios, WAR, but unfortunately only had 18 wins so became afterthoughts. Red Sox fans will immediately tell you that Pedro was robbed by Barry Zito in 2002 and that voters looked at the 3 extra wins Zito had as the deciding factor. And as you go back further in history you get more examples.
The point is that wins are a very bad stat (as far as pitchers are concerned – they are kind of important in figuring out which teams should make the playoffs). And most intelligent baseball people rightfully poo-poo (did I really just say that?) them these days when talking about pitcher’s performance.
But as bad as it is, there is another stat that in my mind is even worse. Unfortunately, even supposedly smart baseball people still put too much of an emphasis on it. At every level, from little league to MLB. And it’s a very common stat. It’s hits. This article is getting long, so you’ll have to wait for a future post to see why.