If a pitcher has a win-loss record of 14-8 on the season, most fans would probably say that pitcher had a pretty successful season and that they were a pretty good pitcher. But that’s not always true. In fact, wins and losses are a pretty bad way to evaluate pitchers, as they have little to do with the actual performance in a game. Earlier this season, on April 18, 2012, Matt Cain pitched nine shutout innings, but did not receive a win because he was opposed by Cliff Lee, who pitched 10 shutout innings. Of course, Lee also did not receive the win, as the game was not decided until the 11th, when the Phillies bullpen lost the game. On another day, both pitchers would have recorded shutouts, but on that day neither got a win.
On the other hand, there are pitchers like Nick Blackburn (stats), who has four wins on the season, three of which have come in games where he went only five innings and gave up four or more runs. Not exactly the kind of dominance one would usually associate with a win. Earlier I wrote about pitchers who had pitched far better than records would indicate; today I tackle the other end of the spectrum: pitchers who don’t deserve the wins they have.
5) Ivan Nova (10-4, Stats) – New York Yankees
Games he should have lost: April 15th vs. L.A. Angels: 6 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 8 K — W
April 27th vs. Detroit: 5.1 IP, 11 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 5 K — ND
May 14th at Baltimore: 5.1 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 4 K — ND
May 30th at L.A. Angels: 6.2 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 K — W
According to his record and W%, Nova is the same pitcher as Stephen Strasburg. Obviously this is not true, and a quick glance at Nova’s stats shows that his 10-4 probably shouldn’t be true either. A 4.18 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, and an average game score of just over 50 is more like a 7-7 pitcher than a 10-4 pitcher. But when you’ve got the Bronx Bombers batting for you, wins are a little easier to come by, and Nova has benefitted from that offense for his whole career.
4) Rick Porcello (6-5, Stats) – Detroit Tigers
Games he should have lost: June 8th at Cincinnati: 5 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K — ND
July 5th vs. Minnesota: 3.2 IP, 12 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 0 K — ND
July 16th vs. L.A. Angels: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 5 K — ND
A 4.66 ERA, 20th worst in the MLB, a 1.59 WHIP, 2nd worst, and the worst average game score in baseball this season (23.1) does not usually equate to a winning record. Yet somehow, some way, Porcello has managed to pull it off thus far in the season. Not much to say here other than the fact that Rick Porcello is currently a winning pitcher, but has done virtually nothing to deserve that label this season.
3) Max Scherzer (8-5, Stats) – Detroit Tigers
Games he should have lost: April 8th vs. Boston: 2.2 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 3 K — ND
May 15th at Chicago Sox: 4 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 3 K — ND
July 14th at Baltimore: 5 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K — ND
To be fair to Scherzer, he has also had his share of games that he could have won, but didn’t. On the season, most of his starts have been middle of the road; not necessarily certain losses, but also not starts that guarantee his team wins. Five times this year he has satisfied the minimum requirement for a quality start, pitching exactly 6 innings and giving up three earned runs. But the overall numbers do not support his 8-5 record. His ERA of 4.84 is 17th worst in the MLB among qualified starters and his 1.43 WHIP is 13th worst in that same group. He may not be terrible this year, but he is definitely not worthy of the 8-5 record he currently sports.
2) Mike Minor (5-6, Stats) – Atlanta Braves
Games he should have lost: May 5th at Colorado: 5 IP, 10 H, 8 ER, 4 BB, 4 K — ND
May 11th at St. Louis: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 0 BB, 7 K — ND
May 26th vs. Washington: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 K — ND
June 30th vs. Washington: 5 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 5 BB, 2 K — W
At 5-6, at first it doesn’t seem like Mike Minor has gotten that lucky this season; after all, he has a losing record. But when the games he hasn’t lost are examined, one sees a pitcher that really should be sitting closer to 5-10 than he is. As you can see above, Minor has been bailed out from terrible starts on several occasions, and once even picked up a win during a terrible start. He’s been good at times too, but on the season, Mike Minor should be evaluated based on his awful ERA of 5.97, not so-so record of 5-6.
Games he should have lost:
1) Clay Buchholz (8-3, Stats) – Boston Red Sox
Games he should have lost: April 8th at Detroit: 4 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 2 K — ND
April 25th at Minnesota: 5.1 IP, 10 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 K — W
May 6th vs. Baltimore: 3.2 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 4 K — ND
June 19th vs. Miami: 6 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K — W
I might have had Nick Blackburn as my example in the opening section, but there is no question that the most undeserving record in baseball this season belongs to Clay Buchholz. On the season, Buchholz has nearly twice as many wins (8) as quality starts (5). Three times, Buchholz has failed to record a game score above 30, going 1-0 in those three games with 2 no-decisions. Another five times, Buchholz has failed to top a game score of 40. He is 3-1 in those games. He has the 8th worst ERA in the MLB, the 9th worst WHIP, and the 5th worst QS%. He has been, in a word, awful; yet he has an 8-3 record. Clay Buchholz is this season’s poster child for why you can’t trust wins to determine how good a pitcher is.
Before I wrap this column up, I would like to cheat my “top five” list a little bit and say that Mat Latos (stats) also deserves to be on this list somewhere. He’s 7-2, but his ERA is 4.10 and he has had three starts where his game score ended up below 40 yet he was not tagged with a loss. Due to the high level of “competition,” there wasn’t space to detail him, but anyone reading this should know that he is doing his best to join this elite group of pitchers. Also, Nick Blackburn didn’t make the list because he has been demoted to Minnesota’s triple-A affiliate, and I wanted this to be a list of MLB players.
At this point it should be clear: wins and losses are for teams; pitchers just deal with preventing (or in some more unfortunate cases, allowing) runs. A team’s win-loss record determines who is going to the postseason. In the case of pitchers, it does almost nothing to inform fans of how good or bad that pitcher has been this season. So before you get excited about a pitcher’s “breakout year” of 15-5, or condemn a former ace to retirement after he goes 8-12, remember to look farther; not at what the record is, but how it got to be that way.