There’s always two sides to every statistical debate about a pitcher’s value; the side that uses advanced statistics to their advantage to reveal what isn’t shown on the surface, and the side that uses some basic less valuable or old school metrics. However, there’s one particular number that should be abolished from a pitcher’s stat line – their W-L record. A pitcher’s W-L record is often misleading, and may be the most useless stat in baseball.
When it comes down to it, winning is the most important thing in baseball. Wins lead to postseasons, which in turn can lead to World Series rings. While the win definitely is the most important factor of a team, it is just that – a team statistic. To use such team stats as a measuring stick for a pitcher’s talent is absurd. Guys like Kershaw, Sale, and Arrieta have high win amounts and they are arguably the best in baseball, but it is not their wins that make them the best, it’s their contributions to the wins.
Instead of using wins as a basis to judge a player’s performance, one can easily substitute the WAR statistic (Wins Above Replacement). WAR helps measure a players contribution throughout the season, thus telling us how many “wins” they are worth. Kershaw, Arrieta, and Sale have WAR‘s of 12.9, 9.8, & 8.6 dating back to the start of the 2015 season (which are the three best WAR‘s in baseball). These guys also have 24, 31, and 22 wins respectively, which makes sense. Good pitchers have more wins therefore the win is a good measure of talent… well not so fast.
The problem with the win stat is that it is so inconsistent and relies on the entire team’s performance, not the talent of just one guy. Yes, better pitchers will put their teams in better positions thus increasing win amounts, but that is what WAR is for, and often times mediocre guys get lucky and get the victory. Since 2015, Rubby de la Rosa ranks 25th in the bigs with wins (18), ahead of guys like Degrom (17), Archer (16), and Syndergaard (15). So does that make de la Rosa better than those three guys? Well statistics and accolades show not. Rubby ranks in the bottom four of all big league starters in WAR, and with 43 games pitched in that span it shows consistent mediocrity, so why the big win total? Well he plays on the Arizona Diamondbacks who last season held one of, if not the best offenses in baseball; once again, the win is a team stat.
Let’s see if there’s any good pitchers with low win amounts for the 2016 season to see if it’s not only possible to win being mediocre, but it’s also possible to lose being brilliant. Masahiro Tanaka holds only a 3-1 record, yet has a 2.0 WAR (tied 14th), which is only .3 behind big man Chris Sale for this season. Out of 12 games pitched, 8 have gone to no decision because of a lack of Yankee offense on the day, or bullpen malfunction. Therefore, his win amount does not fairly represent his talents, because his W-L record is not just in his hands, but in the hands of the entire team.
The win stat therefore cannot be justified as a reasonable stat to represent a players talent and abilities. Going off wins, one could argue that Josh Tomlin (8-1, 0.7 WAR) is better than teammate Corey Kluber (5-6, 2.0 WAR). That argument is obviously absurd, as the former has simply gotten better breaks than the latter. To represent talent, we must use individual stats, not team stats.