Fans of baseball, especially those fans of the Texas Rangers, tend to have the same dream; all five starters, the closer and every guy in the lineup on fire at the time. Would it not be great if all nine starters were tearing the cover off the ball at the same time and all five starting hurlers were dealing? Instead, we tend to see several hitters in the lineup be performing well, several starters struggling and the rest somewhere in between. Starting pitchers also vary from start to start. Rarely do we see a majority of the team clicking at once, and because of this baseball fans know that a win for their team is all that matters. Even if Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Adrian Beltre struggle in a game, as long as the Texas Rangers win it does not matter. Even if Yu Darvish gives up three early runs and blows an early lead, as long as Texas comes back to take the W Rangers fans are happy. Texas Rangers fans know the importance of each win and nothing matters to the Rangers more than a victory.
Unfortunately, the importance of the win for the team often causes fans to assign similar weight to a win for a pitcher. It is often the first thing out of an announcer’s mouth once a game is concluded, “So and so pitcher gets the win.” Is this interesting? Certainly, but it is also pointless. Fans of the Texas Rangers have watched enough Yu Darvish this season, and last, to know that a pitcher only controls half the game. Actually, not even half the game, Nick Martinez almost lost his last start after one crucial error from Josh Wilson. A pitcher can have a dominant outing, get no run support and lose. Conversely a pitcher can get hammered and still win behind a barrage of runs. Last season, Max Scherzer won the Cy Young mostly on his win loss record. Felix Hernandez and Yu Darvish both out pitched him but neither got the type of run support the Scherzer enjoyed and thus did not have the same amount of wins Scherzer sported.
Good starters still get their share of wins, because they give their teams a better chance to win every night, but pitchers on bad teams can have poor records despite having a good season. Felix Hernandez always comes to mind in this discussion. Hernandez consistently keeps a low ERA and gets deep into games but frequently suffers a win loss record near .500 because of Seattle’s terrible offense.
Smart baseball fans should immediately disregard arguments about a pitcher’s performance based on wins and losses. Currently, Lance Lynn leads the majors in wins with 4 but sports a pedestrian 3.49 ERA meanwhile, Alex Wood has a 2 and 3 record with a great 1.54 ERA. Want Rangers related nonsense? Yu Darvish started 1 and 0 with a 1.61 ERA and narrowly avoided losses in two straight games with two freakish late inning meltdowns by what we are guaranteed to be actual major league teams. Today we saw Yu bounce back
Even more annoying is analysis based on a reliever’s win loss records. Relievers not only have the same issues mentioned above, they have the additional weirdness of being inserted into games that are already in progress. In the end, wins and losses are not that important for analyzing a pitcher’s performance because wins and losses are a noisy indicator of a pitcher’s performance. It is far better to rely on statistics that actually point to a pitcher’s ability to limit runs. You cannot ask a pitcher for anything more than to limit runs scored.