Letâ€™s talk about the Win. I think we all agree that wins, if they are at all useful, are only useful to gain some insight into starting pitchers. Nobody cares about the W-L records of Phil Regan, Oscar Villareal or Mariano Rivera except to provide trivia.
I think we can also agree that, whatever else you think about them, wins are less important when starting pitchers go 5 or 6 innings than when they went 7 to 9 innings. So they are clearly less important than they used to be.
The argument for wins is that they provide a combined statistic (for starters only) of effectiveness and durability. ERA is a good measure of effectiveness (or FIP, or WHIP) but you can be effective and only start 10 games a year.Innings pitched is a good measure of durability, but doesnâ€™t distinguish between great pitchers and innings-eaters. Wins combine both. The only downside of wins to combine these two important characteristics, it is argued, is that it depends on offensive prowess of the team.
But we already have a counting stat that measures a combination of effectiveness and durability, and does so in a way that is completely independent of how many runs your team scores: WAR. If WAR is telling you one thing and Wins are telling you something else, itâ€™s almost certainly Wins that are misleading.
A great example of this is the 2018 Nola-deGrom debate. Aaron Nola started 33 times, pitched 212 1/3 innings to a 2.37 ERA. Jacob deGrom started 32 times and pitched 217 innings to a 1.70 ERA. deGrom gave up 7 fewer homers (17-10) struck out 45 more batters (269-224) Nola earned 9.7 WAR and deGrom earned 9.5. But Nola was 17-6 and deGrom was 10-9. And nobody was fooled: deGrom got 29 of the 30 first place votes for Cy Young. (Max Scherzer got the other one, not Nola.) Nola even had the slightly higher WAR because of park adjustments playing in Citizens Bank. But the extra wins, and the win differential, were properly treated as meaningless.
At the other end, Drew Hutchinson was 13-5 with 18 starts for the Blue Jays in 2015. He pitched to a 5.57 ERA and amassed -1.5 WAR. The Blue Jays werenâ€™t fooled. They sent him to the minors, couldnâ€™t figure out how to make him a decent pitcher and traded him to the Pirates, who donâ€™t know how to make anyone a decent pitcher. Hutchinson has mostly kicked around in the minors ever since.
We know WAR isnâ€™t perfect, but show me an example of a pitcher whose WAR is highly at odds with his W-L numbers where itâ€™s obviously WAR that missed something. I have a friend who Iâ€™ll call Dirk (because that happens to be his name) who thinks that Wins are a sign of psychological strength for a starting pitcher â€“ unlike WAR (or any other stat for that matter) it shows that a starting pitcher didnâ€™t let the other team take the lead, and refused to do so even on the days his own team sucked with the bat. My only problem with that story is that itâ€™s like clutch hitting â€“ itâ€™s a nice story, and nothing more.
Speaking of Aaron Nola, he was pitching against the Braves tonight. And for the first five of them, he was the Aaron Nola of 2018, and just about every other Aaron Nola season. But he was matched by Kyle Wright, who gave up a homer to the only player in MLB history whose name is an anagram of TRUE JOLT, MA. His critical inning came in the 3rd, when with the bases loaded and no outs, he induced a strikeout from Alex Bohm and a Bryce Harper double play.
There are no timeouts in baseball, but Snit manufactured one by taking a challenge which had no chance of succeeding just to delay the proceedings long enough to substitute Will Smith for Wright. Why he wanted to do that, on the other hand, is a puzzling question. Odubel Herrera took Smithâ€™s first pitch into the right field corner to score two runs, charged to Wright, natch. Hancock can still ride on his performance in the postseason with me, but if he’s going to have to depend on everyone else to drag his ass to the postseason, we’re all going to get a little testy.
At that point, Nola went on cruise control, and one more run in the top of the 8th off Jesse Chavez added a little more reliever room required when an Olson double finally shoved Nola aside in the 9th. Nola earned the “Win.” He also pitched very well, which is way more important.
With the loss, the record for longest streakless span in MLB history is looking very good.
Please. Enough already with the â€œone swing away from tying the gameâ€ stuff if youâ€™re going to spend the rest of your night talking about â€œgoing the other wayâ€ and â€œa walk is a rally.â€
Next: can someone explain to me what â€œright guy at the right timeâ€ is supposed to mean?Â As opposed to what?Â Wrong guy at the right time?Â Right guy at the wrong time?Â Wrong guy at the wrong time? (What would such a time be?)Â What time isnâ€™t the right time to do something positive? Â Is Kyle Wright ever wrong?
 OKâ€¦ maybe Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton.
The classic example of a guy whose WAR overstated his effectiveness is Ricky Nolasco, whose superlative K/BB ratio led to a gaudy FIP that masked the fact that he couldn’t actually ever keep runs off the board. His 114-118 W-L record, and his 4.56 career ERA, do a far better job of telling the tale of his career than his 26.1 fWAR.
Ah, the great bWAR vs fWAR pitching debate. bWAR doesn’t use FIP as its basis, but runs/9 innings adjusted for defense. And it gives Nolasco less than half the WAR than Fangraphs does, making him a lot closer to Joel Pineiro than to Stephen Strasburg.
I do grant that you have raised a valid point, which is that pitching WAR is a good more frothy and uncertain than batting WAR in general.
With the lineup we trotted out there tonight Wright had to pitch a shutout .. we have a very weak bench .. we need another position player or 2 .. gotta give some guys a break ..
Yes, I was thinking of mentioning his vastly more reasonable rWAR, but as it would have undercut my argument, I elected to eschew it. Lies, damned lies, and statistics!
Side note: If you ever do a “random former Brave of the day” feature, Oscar Villareal is about as random as you can get!
Wonderful recap. JF and AAR do educate us unwashed heathen. Thanks, guys, for making this great site greater.
Stick the numbers up your butt. Learn the game of baseball.
Don’t go looking up Freddie Freeman highlights today. 😑
Ah, the great bWAR vs fWAR pitching debate…
it means nothing to me now, nor I believe will it ever, but…
the joy of reading an instant recap at the midnight hour…
or shredding the dawn with what’s just gone before…
brings Napoleon and Josephine to mind, immediately after Waterloo…
‘Get it up’ she is reputed to have said. ‘Nothing else matters.’
JonathanF…I thank you. Your self discipline at these moments spoils us all.
@8 well, we knew there was a good chance Freeman would outperform Olson for at least the beginning of their contracts…
Very good explanation of your position on Wins JonathanF. There are definitely advantages to WAR, and as you said, no one is fooled by a pitcher with a lot of wins and terrible peripherals. One of the things that wins does is give immediate feedback (sometimes not accurate) on a game by game basis. It will be hard to change that mindset – i.e., Wright is at 1.6 WAR after starting 9 of the Braves’ first 45 games. He is tied with Nola and Scherzer for 14th place and just behind Fried. Interestingly Michael Kopech is tied for first in WAR at 2.3 and is 1 and 1 with a 1.29 ERA on a .500 White Sox team. I agree that this is a good stat to see where a pitcher is and this is a case in point. I just don’t see changing the mindset anytime soon and I think both can coexist. Having multiple WAR metrics (bWAR, fWAR, rWAR, …) does not help the average baseball fan’s understanding of things.
@11 the multiple versions of WAR are more confusing than it should be just in virtue of using the same name. bWAR vs fWAR is kind of analogous to wins versus quality starts in that one measures what actually happened whereas the other measures something like what we should have expected to happen.
Wins have never been a perfect way to evaluate pitchers and have become less and less so as the role of starting pitchers change over time, and newer ways to evaluate them arise.
Over history, wins do offer a picture of how the role of starting pitchers has evolved over time. The very definition goes back to an era where pitchers apparently were to be shamed if they came out of a game before their team had an insurmountable lead. We do a pretty good job of understanding both Cy Young and Tom Seaver in context.
It will be interesting when Jacob deGrom retires with fewer than 100 wins.
God, that’s a tragic thought.
Apropos of nothing, Dane Dunning and Matt Manning genuinely sound like Marvel superhero alter egos.
With apologies to EdK and blazon (but I want to thank EdK for advising me to taking my numbing suppositories) there will always be tension between stats that said what happened and stats that said what should have happened. In the limit, one could take Statcast data alone in the “what should have happened” mode. Pitchers throw a pitch with velocity and movement in various planes. Batters decide to swing or not and then have a likelihood of various trajectories and velocities and then fielders have likelihoods of turning batted balls into outs. It’s all xwOBA and the like. That’s baseball as seen by Asimov’s Hari Seldon. Since none of us is Hari Seldon, it’s also impossible.
One level less abstract is FIP for pitchers and some variety of OPS for hitters. It’s what you did, but divorced from the grubby details of actually making runs and winning and losing games. FIP is noisier than OPS, which causes the divergences in preferred metrics.
The next level up is box score stats. This is what happened and what created every run scored and given up — kinda.
The last level is WPA. And it creates a full circle from the Hari Seldon-like omnisicence of the physics to a probabilistic assessment of every completed play in the game in terms of the ultimate goal — winning a game — from physics of particular skills to probabilities of winning particular matches with all sorts of intermediate things to assess. The discrete nature of baseball is just particularly suited to it, combined with a mania on recordkeeping. As the late Roger Angell put it: “A box score is a precisely etched miniature of the sport itself, for baseball, in spite of its grassy spaciousness and apparent unpredictability, is the most intensely and satisfyingly mathematical of all our outdoor sports. Every player in every game is subjected to a cold and ceaseless accounting; no ball is thrown and no base is gained without an instant responding judgment—ball or strike, hit or error, yea or nay—and an ensuing statistic. This encompassing neatness permits the baseball fan, aided by experience and memory, to extract from a box score the same joy, the same hallucinatory reality, that prickles the scalp of a musician when he glances at a page of his score of Don Giovanni and actually hears bassos and sopranos, woodwinds and violins.” (I hope that was spiritual enough for you, blazon.)
I wouldn’t bet against deGrom reaching 100 wins, but what an interesting career.
Didn’t pitch in the majors until age 26 (and deservingly so.) Age 34 next month and still waiting for the clock to start on his 9th major league season.
A career 2.50 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 10.7 K/9 over 8 seasons and 198 starts has given him 77 wins, due to various combinations of Met-ness, plagues, and injuries (to be honest, the latter 2 are just subsets of Met-ness.)
Averaging just under 10 wins per season, it would take him into 2024 to reach 100 (and 10 wins might be generous this year.)
Give us any statistics you are dabbling with JF. I enjoy reading them.
The death this week at 67 of the actor Ray Liotta of world wide Goodfellas fame reveals an unexpected Baseball connection…he played Shoeless Joe Jackson in Costner’s Field of Dreams. Offered the part, he did not apparently understand the concept of the film at first –
” What, are you kidding me? A dead guy who comes back to play baseball?” he told the LA Times.
Jonathan. A fine piece of writing, Grand Opera et al. I am still absorbing it and trying to come to terms with its implications for the future. (I think i may need someone to hold my hand.) But, happily, I want you to know I have the greatest respect for the Box Score, a brilliant creation. If only you’d stopped there. More soon if I may.
What’s the next thing we need to do with Olson now he’s shown us a couple of doubles?
Left field, please, left field. Make them have to split up their defense. Gaps will occur.
Matt Olson will be fine. He is maybe pressing – big contract and hometown team may be weighing on his shoulders. He’ll be alright.
Why did we not get this guy one of the last 4 days?
Falter 0-1 starting tonight Philly/Mets
What a name for a pitcher. Works for his record too.
Guess they were scared of our massive power, nursing him.
Timo…hi, maybe but…his defensive numbers are down too…I love the guy but there’s more to this.
Olson is fine. He’s not producing as much as Freddie is this year so far… he isn’t making as much, either. He leads the league in doubles… that’s not nothing. In other years Freddie didn’t produce as much as Freddie has so far. He’ll go into a three week slump at some point as well. Stop comparing Olson to Freeman. There’s no point. Olson’s not as good as Albert Pujols in his prime, either. So what?
Predictably, Falter is faltering already. Mets up 3 after 1.
Ronald Acuna’s enduring absence brings back to mind him scoring the winning run from second the other day. Much brio, he passed third at full speed and then exaggerated for effect his high kicking over-the-top celebrations as he was scoring the winning run from second. Crossing the plate to secure the win he was followed by happy team mates for a further distance, legs still kicking high. All this from third base on was essentially violent exercise, unnecessary and even at first viewing scary re his fragile knees and all. Silly, selfish. Yes, he’s young, it’s still disappoints.
Soroka looked great, talked well about things.
Faltering continues in NY, Mets up 5 in the third, Falty still in.
Delighted for Travis. As someone just said, he kept his cool.
And Tyler looks good and talks in positives.
No wonder Cooper kills us when we hang nut high change ups
I mean, it’s not like the entire world doesn’t know Anderson stinks the third time through. Way to go Snit. Snit giveth and he taketh away.
1) Anderson not getting his foot down properly at first is yet another example of how this year’s team does so many little things poorly.
2) The man in the dugout was the only one who couldn’t see the Episode happening in front of him.
@28 sleeping at the wheel again. Sometimes I think we won in spite of him.
Like bringing in Will Smith to face a guy that is like 9-12 lifetime against him…I mean, seriously?
Nor could the man in the Chop House who was so thrilled Tyler knew and played his Kennesaw game he completely lost his focus on the danger below. Really bad, unprofessional.
Mets up 7-2 in the sixth, Falter long gone.
That was expensive when they turned down the appeal at first base.
All the small things, done so very badly.
This team is every bit as maddening to watch as it was joyful last fall.
Olsons defense is bad
Mets 8 Phillies 6 in the sixth. Falter relaxed. Been in the dugout an hour or two.
Dansby is one of the base runners in the league.
Haven’t gotten to watch tonight, but Snitker leaving Anderson in once he got in trouble in the 6th was dumb. Glad the offense bailed him out apparently.
I didn’t see the whole game and it helped us several times, including final pitch, but home plate ump made some pretty bad calls.
Olson…3 K’s plus a three grab error. The man is not in a good place, needs to change his thoughts, just accept it guys.
Ronald’s heroics were perfect for the moment he found himself in. But without that tomfoolery a few nights ago they might well have okayed him to hit yesterday also, against Nola.
Poor old Jazz. never a strike! BRAVES WIN !!!! Great all round comeback performance.
Pretty sad that it looks like Andrelton Simmons is about washed up, at least offensively. (He’s only 32). He had a .558 OPS last year and in a small sample size this year his OPS is .434. I did not realize he had a 7.1 WAR in 2017 with the Angels, including the all-time best single season defensive WAR of 5.43.