The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Before I got involved with fantasy baseball, I thought that pitchers' wins and losses were the stupidest statistic in the sport. I now believe that wins and losses are the stupidest statistic associated with any human endeavor.

One obvious problem with wins and losses is that pitchers are given credit, or blame, for the performance of the entire team. Give up eight runs while your team scores ten, and you're a winner! Thus poor Jeremy Bonderman, a decent young pitcher for the horrible Detroit Tigers, had 2003 numbers (6-19) that no New York Yankee starter could approach even in his worst nightmares. (Jeff Weaver, New York's worst starter and clearly an inferior player, was 7-9 last year).

While sportswriters and announcers realize that wins and losses don't necessarily reflect pitcher performance, they do so in a weird way. The pitcher is treated as if he is some sort of feudal lord, and the position players are serfs who are supposed to produce a reasonable number of hits for him. Last year Tim Hudson was "plagued by no-decisions." Players buy into this, or pretend to, so Athletics would talk about how they needed to "get Tim the win." Yet if one position player had a stellar game and the team lost, you would never hear anyone say that the other batters had let him down.

Another reason that wins and losses are stupid is that the assignment of the statistics is somewhat arbitrary. "A pitcher is credited with a win when, in a game won by his team, he is the team's pitcher at the time that his team takes a lead that it does not relinquish for the remainder of the game." If he is the starter, he must pitch five innings. Conversely, a loss is assigned to a pitcher who last gives up the lead to the other team.

Suppose a starter gives up eight runs in five innings while his team scores nine. He is pulled from the game, and the relief staff holds the opponents scoreless. Does the starter really deserve the win? Or, to use a not-so-contrived example, suppose Oakland starter Mark Redman pitches six innings and yields two runs. He leaves the game with Oakland leading 4-2. The next two relievers surrender four runs. Finally reliever Chris Hammond enters the game and gets Oakland out of the inning. Oakland responds with a three-run seventh inning, and the A's win. Chris Hammond, who pitched one and a third innings, is given the win. Did Hammond really contribute more to the Athletics' win than Redman?

The flip side of this is that in close games, it is some random reliever who takes the loss, just because he was the most recent pitcher to suffer a lead change. In a recent game between the Mets and the Expos, Expos starter Zach Day gave up two runs in five innings. Reliever Luis Ayala gave up one run in the eleventh inning, and was charged with the loss.

(Redman and Ayala are both on my fantasy team. Yes, I have an axe to grind, and it is large and blunt.)



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