Attempting To Fix The Meaningless Pitcher Win-Loss Record

by Brendan Panikkar | Posted on Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
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MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Milwaukee Brewers

The pitcher Win-Loss record has been kept track of by the MLB since as early as the 1800’s when pitchers never had a pitch count to deal with. Back when baseball was starting and into the mid to semi-late 1900’s when pitch count wasn’t such an issue as it is in the modern baseball era, pitchers win-loss records actually had a bit of meaning. Pitchers who won games almost always threw a complete game or at least went seven innings or more. Pitchers who lost usually were still throwing seven, eight, and nine innings and either got shelled or pitched without any offense behind them.

The win-loss record since pitch counts have come into full force and now that advanced statistics have started to take over the traditional baseball stats, has been proven to be one of the worst ways to evaluate a pitcher and is an extremely flawed stat.

Let’s look at two real pitchers season statistics:

Ben Sheets: 12-14, 237.0 IP, 2.70 ERA, 264 K’s, 2.65 FIP, 10.03 K/9, 1.22 BB/9, 7.6 fWAR

Roy Oswalt: 20-10, 237.0 IP, 3.49 ERA, 206 K’s, 3.17 FIP, 7.82 K/9, 2.35 BB/9, 6.3 fWAR

The year was 2004. Sheets was pitching for the Milwaukee Brewers and Oswalt for the Houston Astros. The Brewers finished the season 67-94, scored a measly 634 runs (15th out of 16 NL teams) and as a team has a (wRC+) of 722. The Astros were 92-70 and went to the NLCS while scoring 803 runs (5th out of 16 NL teams) and as a team had a (wRC+) of 859.

When you look at the team factors, it is easy to see why Oswalt has more wins than Sheets in 2004. The Brewers offense didn’t support their pitchers while the Astros were able to, combined with good pitching. But, while Oswalt has 20 wins to 10 losses and Sheets had 12 wins to 14 losses, who actually pitched  better? The statistics favor Sheets and one could reasonably assume that if Sheets had received run support on a consistent basis, his win total might be near that of Roy Oswalt.

The example of the 2004 season between Sheets and Oswalt is one of many examples of the win being a flawed statistic. It is extremely dependent upon the team as whole and there are so many other factors that are taken into account during a baseball game that pegging a win or a loss on a pitcher is meaningless. A pitcher only does their part of holding the opposition to fewer runs than their opponent, they don’t actually score the runs or create the runs, the offense does that. If a pitcher holds a team to 1 run and loses, why is that the losing pitchers fault? The offense didn’t support their starter and he is tagged with a meaningless loss. Or if a pitcher allows 6 runs and wins, the offense bailed him out and he still gets credited for a win and he pitched terribly.

The win-loss record needs to be tweaked and I have a few ideas:

1. Relievers Shouldn’t Have A W-L Record But L’s Should Be Kept Track Of:

A reliever can come into a ball game and be credited with a win for throwing 1 inning. That win likely happens after the reliever throws their inning and their team scores a run to put them ahead in the next half inning. Why does that reliever get a win for that? He did his job of holding the opposition to no runs or perhaps he gave up a few runs and the offense bailed him out which took a win away from a starter and now is given to a reliever who blew it for the starter. It makes little sense, that is what the Hold statistic is for.

However, relievers should have Losses kept track of. They can come into a ball game and be the single cause of their team losing a game. If the reliever comes in a coughs up a lead and the team ends up losing, the loss should stay as it currently is with the reliever. But as stated before, if the reliever coughs up a lead and the team comes back the next half to reclaim the lead, no win should be rewarded to the reliever who last pitched.

2. Make Better Win Criteria

A pitcher win should not be as easy as throwing 5 innings, leaving with a lead and having your team end up winning the game. What about the relievers who pitched the other four innings? That’s a big chunk of ball game the starter is not making an impact for and many situations may arise where a reliever plays a more crucial role to securing the win for their team.

A win for a starting pitcher should be more like a quality start and should have criteria tougher than the standard 5 innings. My idea for a starting pitcher to obtain a win is to throw 7 innings and give up 3 runs or less. The pitchers ERA for that game would be 3.86, which is quite respectable and one would assume with even a half decent offense, the team should win.

If a criteria for a win is adopted more like this, quality start should be abandoned. The current quality start of 6 innings and 3 runs or less is not really a quality start. That pitchers ERA for the game is 4.50. That’s not quality. It’s borderline replacement level.

7 innings and 3 runs or less is quality stuff. I would take that any day from my starting pitchers. It would give a lot more meaning to the win statistic and would allow for us to better evaluate pitchers.

3. Loss Criteria

Starting pitchers should also have a loss criteria before having a loss thrown on to their record. If a pitcher throws any less than 7 innings and allows more than 3 runs, then a loss should be saddled to the starter if their team loses. As mentioned before, 3.86 ERA for 7 innings and 3 runs is good. Anything worse than that and that ERA is shooting up into the 4’s and 5’s, where no pitcher should be credited with a win.

If a starter throws 8 innings and allows 2 runs and his team loses 2-1, why is that the starters fault? Yes, he allowed more runs than his team scored but still, where was the offense? It is a little harsh to put a loss on a pitcher when they throw 7 innings or more while allows 3 earned runs or less. The offense wasn’t getting the job done while the starter was. There needs to be a loss criteria for a starting pitcher.

The reason I am still wanting to see a W-L record with starting pitchers in baseball is because they pride themselves on it and it would keep the traditional stat alive with more meaning. Starters pride themselves on their W-L record so tweaking the statistic could go a long way to keeping it in the game while having more meaning and the ability to evaluate a pitcher using it.

There are plenty more statistics in the game of baseball to evaluate a starting pitcher. But the W-L record is the first thing casual fans turn to when they first get into the sport of baseball when attempting to evaluate a pitcher. Tweaking it to the three suggestions I have made might help more people understand what quality starting pitching is and the win-loss record would gain a whole new meaning and relevance.

There are many more ways to tweak the stat so I welcome any other ways and suggestions and let’s see what we can come up with! This article was for fun and to show at the same time that the current W-L record doesn’t have much meaning to it.


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Brendan Panikkar
About the Author

Brendan Panikkar is a graduate of Brock University's Sport Management program. Currently, he is the Vice-President, Customer Service at North Aware. He loves all sports but baseball and football take precedent over hockey and basketball. Teams: Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Argonauts, San Francisco 49ers, Toronto Raptors

  • Dear Mr. Pannikar, A well agued and closely reasoned essay. I find myself in complete agreement on all of your points. My question—and forgive me for taking up your time—is whether this site or any other you know of can tell me how many of a team’s losses are directly attributable to its bullpen. Thanks for your thoughts and thanks again for the splendid article. Peace and glove, Michael Larrain.

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