One of the oldest stats in baseball history is the pitching win. As of late, it seems that people have stopped judging players solely based off of wins. But do wins really matter?
I took every single qualified pitcher's W, L, ERA, and FIP from 2010-2019 and put it into a spreadsheet. (Everyone that is signed up to my mailing list will gain access) I then put the wins and ERA into 11 different charts (10 individual year and 1 2010-2019) and I looked at my results.
Let's start in 2010. 2010 was famous for the Cy Young debate of whether Felix Hernandez, David Price, or CC Sabathia should win the Cy Young. Hernandez had only gotten 13 wins on a struggling Mariners team, but David Price had gotten 19 wins on a Rays team that made the playoffs. A then dominant Sabathia had led the MLB in wins with 21 on a Yankees team that also made the playoffs -- although he had a 3.18 ERA. Hernandez ended up winning the Cy Young award because of his 2.27 ERA compared to Price's 2.72 ERA and his 3.42 FIP.
In general the players who had a better ERA had more wins, although there were quite a number of exceptions. Out of the bottom 30 of the 93 qualified pitchers, 6 had equal or more wins than the AL Cy Young winner. In fact, out of every pitcher with at least a 3.75 ERA (47 of them), 15 had 13 or more wins in 2010.
This one year led me to believe that it's not about the pitcher's ERA but rather their team's wins. It makes sense -- a better team can provide more runs for a pitcher causing them to have a surplus of runs that they can allow. But conclusions on stats can change when given more data -- especially in a small sample size like one year -- so this conclusion may change once we see more data.
2011 was the year of Verlander and Kershaw -- two phenomenal pitchers on two above average teams. This resulted in both pitchers having greater than 20 wins and two of the top three ERAs in the league. But we don't have to look far to find 3 pitchers that got surprisingly low win totals despite their ERA.
Those pitchers were 3 pitchers in the Top 12 of ERA -- Tim Lineceum, Matt Cain, and Doug Fister. Linceum went 13-14 on a Giants team that finished 13-14, although they didn't provide much run support. Matt Cain was also on that same giants team, and he finished 12-11 with a 2.88 ERA. Doug Fister split his 31 GS between two teams who were polar opposites. Fister had started with the Mariners, a team that finished 67-95, and the Tigers. And I think that it's fair to say that Fister at least got a little unlucky with a 3-12 record and a 3.33 ERA with the Tigers, although he went 8-1 with the Tigers.
The Fister example just shows that even though he was an above average pitcher, he can still go 3-12, but the second that he gets traded to a good team he goes 8-1. That's the thing about wins -- the better the team, the more wins.
And Ian Kennedy -- who had the same ERA as Cain -- had about twice more wins than Cain. And I know that I'm cherry picking here, but it was just astonishing how many more wins that a pitcher gets based off of their team's success. And even though the pitcher plays a small role in their team's success, they only pitch once in every 5 days.
The worst pitcher in 2011 was Brad Penny -- who went 11-11 with a 5.30 ERA. And again, I'm not trying to cherry pick, but he had the same number of wins as the tenth best pitcher, Fister.
And another thing to point out would be that R.A. Dickey was tied for the 4th worst wins in the MLB -- although he had a 3.28 ERA.
Even though our results had still been the same, I decided that I was going to still look further into the matter. Spoiler: I cover 2010-2019.
In 2012 Clayton Kershaw had a 14 win season with a 2.53 ERA. That gave him the title of best pitcher in baseball simply because of his ERA. On the other hand, the 64th best pitcher had 16 wins, which was better than Kershaw. Another example of wins being a bad stat in 2012 was Cliff Lee, who only had 6 wins despite having the 15th best ERA.
Lee had 30 starts in 2012, which was enough to qualify him. He was playing on a Phillies team that would finish 81-81 while not scoring too much. And Lee -- the 15th best pitcher in the major leagues out of 89 pitchers -- had the fewest wins among qualified pitchers. And I find that sad, that wins prefer a Ricky Romero who had a 5.77 ERA over Lee.
The 16th pitcher in baseball, Matt Harrison, had 3 times more wins than the pitcher ahead of him, Lee. That doesn't show luck, but rather a broken stat.
And it's sad that 25 different pitchers had more wins than the league's best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw. Wins put a pitcher like Phil Hughes and a pitcher like Clayton Kershaw in the same discussion. And that's not the saddest part. Ian Kennedy -- the 56th best pitcher in baseball -- had more wins than Kershaw despite Kershaw's team being better than Kennedy's team by 5 wins.
When you look at the 2012 graph, it just looks so random. Sure, there are the top 10 pitchers who are generally past 15 wins (2 exceptions), but the rest is chaos going up and down with little to no pattern. I'll attach a picture just to show you below:
As you can see, there is little to no pattern. 2012 was a year of chaos in the pitching wins world.
If 2012 was chaos then I don't know what 2013 was. Madness? Anyway, 2013 was Jose Fernandez's (rest in peace) rookie year. Fernandez had quite a rookie year (2.19 ERA) but just didn't have the wins to show for it (12). And the third best pitcher in the league, Matt Harvey, only had 9 wins! He tied with Edinson Volquez, the worst pitcher in the league, with the same number of wins.
Volquez had spent most of his year with the Padres, and despite his 6.01 ERA with the team, finished with 9 wins. And it wasn't like the Padres were good either, as they went 76-86. Meanwhile, Matt Harvey had 9 wins with the Mets who went 74-88. The Padres and the Mets were two very alike teams. So the similarities between Harvey and Volquez's run support was no existent. Despite both Harvey and Volquez having the same number of wins, there was a 3.50 ERA gap between the two.
Again, you might look at this as cherry picking, but I want to keep the article size down at least a little bit. Again, the graph was crazy. If you want to see the 2013 graph, sign up to my mailing list and a code will be sent out tonight to access the graph.
2014 was the year of Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw had 21 wins and a 1.77 ERA. Just 2 spots down from him at the number 3 spot was young phenom Chris Sale was playing on a White Sox team that just couldn't get any better. And at the number 9 spot was Cole Hamels, a 9 wins pitcher who had a 2.46 ERA.
Pitchers were good in 2014, although there were still 3 5.00 ERA pitchers. Among them was Colby Lewis, the second worst pitcher in the game. Lewis had 10 wins, putting him past Hamels. And John Danks, the 5th worst pitcher who was teammates with Sale had 1 less win than Sale. And Justin Verlander went 15-12 that year with a 4.54 ERA, putting him tied with or past 8 top 15 pitchers. The 82nd best pitcher had the same or more wins than 8 of the top 15 pitchers. That shows a broken stat.
Again on the graph wins were going up and own regardless of the player's ERA. 2014 was like 2012 and 2013.
2015 was the year of Zack Greinke and Jake Arrieta. Both were deserving of the Cy Young in the NL, but Arrieta ended up winning. Why? Wins. I know this because Greinke had a better ERA. And Arrieta had 3 more wins.
In the top 10 again was Matt Harvey, who this time had 13 wins. He was tied with the worst pitcher in the league, Alfredo Simon, with 13 wins. And consider that Colby Lewis, who had 17 wins, had the same or more wins than 8 of the top 15. The 9th worst pitcher had the same or more wins than 8 of the top 15. Again.
There's also another player I want to bring up, Shelby Miller. Could he have gotten more unlucky? He was the 14th best pitcher in the MLB. But he was tied for the least wins in the MLB among qualified players, and he led the MLB in losses. The 14th best player had a 6-17 record with a 3.02 ERA. Does that make any sense at all?
2015 was such a random year for wins that there are so many more examples, but again I want to cut down on the article.
So we jump to 2016. 2016 was a year where less of this crazy stuff happened with wins, but there are still some crazy instances. For example, the 3rd best pitcher (Noah Syndergaard) and the 68th best pitcher (out of 75) had the same win total. And the 18th best pitcher, Julio Teheran, was tied for the 2nd least wins in the MLB. And Wade Miley, the 2nd worst pitcher, had more wins and a better win percentage than Teheran.
"What other notable things happened in 2016?" You ask. Well, the Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.
In 2017, the 9th best pitcher (Marcus Stroman) and the 6th worst pitcher (Martin Perez) had the same win total. And so did CC Sabathia, and Tanner Roark, and Jon Lester (all below average pitchers) and on and on and on.
If you guys have read my blog before, you may know that I like to bring up the Giolito-deGrom case in 2018. Jacob deGrom was the best pitcher in 2018. With a 1.70 ERA, deGrom easily won the NL Cy Young and he was the best pitcher in the MLB. On the other hand, there was Lucas Giolito who had a 6.14 ERA. Giolito was the worst pitcher in the MLB. And they both had the same number of wins at 10.
That's my favorite example, but Jon Gray (3rd worst pitcher) also had more wins. And so did Zack Godley (5th worst pitcher) and Mike Leake. Luis Severino had a 3.39 ERA and 19 wins. So while deGrom had a twice better ERA, Severino had twice more wins. And the 5th worst pitcher (Godley) had the same or more wins than, you guessed it, 8 top 15 pitchers.
Wins in 2018 were so random that, well, you'll see when you sign up to the newsletter.
So that brings us to 2019 where again the worst pitcher (Rick Porcello) and the best pitcher (Hyun-Jin Ryu) had the same number of wins at 14. In fact, Porcello (the worst pitcher in the MLB) had the same or more wins than 9 of the top 15 pitchers. And the 5th worst pitcher (German Marquez) had more wins that Jack Flaherty, Mike Soroka, and Max Scherzer.
And the 2nd worst pitcher (Reynaldo Lopez) had the same number of wins as the 12th best pitcher (Marcus Stroman). And I could go on and on with pitchers like Jose Quintana and Homer Baily and Jon Lester and so on.
So now that we've gone through every year from 2010-2019, what can we take away? And what is the answer to our main question?
First of all, wins don't matter. There are so many examples every year of horrible pitchers having the same or more wins than elite pitchers. Why? Simply because their team is better. Pitching wins aren't a way of measuring of how good a pitcher is, but rather how good a team is with a little bit credited to the pitcher.
The pitcher contributes in only about 25% of the game, so why should they get 100% credit? And don't even get me started about relievers getting wins. In other words, a pitcher cannot be properly judged by wins.