Monday, June 19, 2006

When a Win is Not a "Win"

An element that makes Major League Baseball so interesting to follow is the seemingly unlimited number of recordable statistics. No other sport can match baseball’s statistical advantage. While I have enjoyed following baseball and these various statistics since I was a kid, there are a few things that have irked me in terms of how certain stats are achieved and/or recorded. Specifically, I can’t stand the requirements that go into a pitcher attaining a “win”. Here is the rule for a “win” as stated by the MLB rule book:

WINNING AND LOSING PITCHER 10.19(a) Credit the starting pitcher with a game won only if he has pitched at least five complete innings and his team not only is in the lead when he is replaced but remains in the lead the remainder of the game.(b)The “must pitch five complete innings” rule in respect to the starting pitcher shall be in effect for all games of six or more innings. In a five-inning game, credit the starting pitcher with a game won if he has pitched at least four complete innings and his team not only is in the lead when he is replaced but remains in the lead the remainder of the game.(c)When the starting pitcher cannot be credited with the victory because of the provisions of 10.19(a) or (b) and more than one relief pitcher is used, the victory shall be awarded on the following basis:(1) When, during the tenure of the starting pitcher, the winning team assumes the lead and maintains it to the finish of the game, credit the victory to the relief pitcher judged by the scorer to have been the most effective;(2) Whenever the score is tied the game becomes a new contest insofar as the winning and losing pitcher is concerned;(3) Once the opposing team assumes the lead all pitchers who have pitched up to that point are excluded from being credited with the victory except that if the pitcher against whose pitching the opposing team gained the lead continues to pitch until his team regains the lead, which it holds to the finish of the game, that pitcher shall be the winning pitcher;(4) The winning relief pitcher shall be the one who is the pitcher of record when his team assumes the lead and maintains it to the finish of the game. EXCEPTION: Do not credit a victory to a relief pitcher who is ineffective in a brief appearance, when a succeeding relief pitcher pitches effectively in helping his team maintain the lead. In such cases, credit the succeeding relief pitcher with the victory.(d) When a pitcher is removed for a substitute batter or substitute runner, all runs scored by his team during the inning in which he is removed shall be credited to his benefit in determining the pitcher of record when his team assumes the lead.(e) Regardless of how many innings the first pitcher has pitched, he shall be charged with the loss of the game if he is replaced when his team is behind in the score, or falls behind because of runs charged to him after he is replaced, and his team thereafter fails either to tie the score or gain the lead.(f) No pitcher shall be credited with pitching a shutout unless he pitches the complete game, or unless he enters the game with none out before the opposing team has scored in the first inning, puts out the side without a run scoring and pitches all the rest of the game. When two or more pitchers combine to pitch a shutout a notation to that effect should be included in the league’s official pitching records.(g) In some non-championship games (such as the Major League All- Star Game) it is provided in advance that each pitcher shall work a stated number of innings, usually two or three. In such games, it is customary to credit the victory to the pitcher of record, whether starter or reliever, when the winning team takes a lead which it maintains to the end of the game, unless such pitcher is knocked out after the winning team has a commanding lead, and the scorer believes a subsequent pitcher is entitled to credit for the victory.

If a pitcher throws nine scoreless innings, but his team doesn’t take the lead until the 10th after the pitcher has been taken out, that pitcher cannot get the win. Instead, the win goes to a guy who pitched one inning. How does that make sense?

MLB states that a win cannot be attained if the game is tied at the end of the inning when the starting pitcher leaves the game regardless of his performance. The logic behind the rule is lacking at best. If a pitcher leaves the game at 1-1, and his team eventually wins 2-1, isn’t the fact that the starter only gave up one run the reason why the team won the game? It certainly had more to do with the starter only giving up one run than it does a reliever pitching one scoreless inning.

Another bunk aspect of the rule for attaining a win is the fact that a pitcher cannot get a win if the game becomes tied AFTER he leaves the game. If the starting pitcher only gives up one earned run and has a 4-1 lead when he leaves the game, how does it make sense for that same pitcher to not get the win if his team wins? If the opposing team ties it up at 4-4, but still loses, the starter that gave up only one earned run won’t get the win. Essentially, a relief pitcher in this instance is “rewarded” with a win by not pitching well.

Statistics like home runs, hits, and wins garner a lot of interest from baseball fans. The All-Time list for wins by a pitcher isn’t likely to change much considering the way the game has evolved over the last three decades. With most teams using a five-man rotation, starting pitchers just don’t get the same number of starts as their predecessors. The result has been a dramatic drop-off in career wins by even the best pitchers. If MLB adjusted its current rule on wins, to something more reasonable, it would solve two problems at once. First, it would be correcting a rule that has unjustly cost pitchers wins for decades. Second, it would be increasing the number of wins that pitchers would achieve in a career which in turn would facilitate more interest on the fans’ part in a statistic that has lost some of its luster.

The likely retort from MLB on this issue would be that baseball has used the same rules for 100+ years and isn’t interested in changing them. However, I contend that a). the rule isn’t fair to begin with, and b). the game has evolved to a point that the rule is outdated. The average pitcher in the first half of the 20th century would pitch eight or nine innings per game. In that situation, the winning pitcher didn’t have to lose the win to a reliever. Since most starting pitchers in present day baseball only pitch 6-7 innings, that enables relievers an extra 1-2 innings to steal a win from the starting pitcher. The current rule likely did not “steal” many wins from pitchers back in the day. Today, relievers often pick up wins for pitching one inning or less.

The MLB rule on crediting a win to a pitcher skews win totals against present day pitchers. If MLB wants win totals to still have relevance in baseball, it should adjust the rule to reward pitchers who pitched well enough for their team to win. Pitchers already are at a disadvantage with less starts per year. They don’t need another disadvantage by losing out on wins to a pitcher who may pitch one inning. Every inning is as equally important as every other inning in baseball. Runs scored in the third count just the same as runs in the ninth. Therefore, a pitcher who pitches seven innings has seven times the effect as a pitcher who pitches one inning. It just doesn’t make sense to punish the starter by giving up the win to a reliever who didn’t have nearly the impact on the outcome.

The best possible rule would be one that rewards the starting pitcher with a win if he gives up less runs than his own team scores as long as the starter pitched at least five innings. Amendments could be made for extra inning games that involve a reliever pitching five or six innings. Relief pitchers only have to worry about pitching one inning, if that. They have no business picking up the majority of the wins they receive. If MLB wants to reward relief pitchers, it should increase the notoriety of the “hold” statistic.

Here is a recent real-life example of how ridiculous the current rule for wins can be:

A few games ago, Jeremy Bonderman pitched six innings and gave up two earned runs. When he left the game after the 6th inning, the Tigers were up 5-2. Joel Zumaya pitched a scoreless 7th inning so the Tigers were still up 5-2 going into the 8th inning. Fernando Rodney came on to pitch the 8th inning. Rodney gave up three earned runs and was taken out before finishing the inning. Todd Jones came in with the score tied 5-5. At that point, Jeremy Bonderman could no longer get the win. Why should Bonderman be punished because Rodney pitched so poorly? If the Tigers ended up winning the game, it would only be because Bonderman pitched so effectively for six innings. Imagine how things would’ve turned out if Rodney pitched the whole game? Also, if Rodney was not taken out of the game and finished the 8th inning without giving up any more runs (so the score is tied 5-5 entering the ninth) and then finished the ninth and the Tigers scored a run in the bottom of the ninth to win 6-5, Rodney would’ve gotten the win despite the following lines:

6 ip 2 er 5-2 lead

2 ip 3 er lost 5-2 lead

Here is a fictitious example that could occur under the current rules:

Jeremy Bonderman pitches seven innings and gives up zero earned runs leaving the game with a 10-0 lead.

Fernando Rodney pitches two innings and gives up 11 earned runs. The Tigers score two in the bottom of the ninth and Rodney gets the win.

The odds of this happening are remote at best. However, the fact that a starting pitcher can be penalized by a poor performance by his bullpen doesn’t make sense. MLB is very protective of its history and record books. It would likely unwelcome a significant change in the way wins are recorded because it eliminates the ability for fans to compare apples to apples (wins from the 50’s/60’s/70’s/80’s etc. to wins after the change) so to speak. A home run in 1940 is fairly consistent with a home run in 2006 (aside from the illegal drug use). An RBI from 1940 is fairly consistent with an RBI in 1940. If the way a win is recorded is changed in 2006, then a win in 1940 would no longer be the same as a win in 2006. At least that would be the argument you would get from some baseball people. However, I would argue that a win in 1940 is already different than a win in 2006. Bullpens in 1940 didn’t receive nearly the same work as they do today. Also, as I mentioned above, baseball teams used four-man rotations. A win in 1940 was easier to achieve than a win in 2006 and nothing has been done about it. Finally, baseball has a chance to recalibrate the present day value of a win to something more consistent with a 1940-win. While the sticking point on a potential rule change would likely be the fact that it clashes with what baseball has long used to determine a win, the most important aspect should be what’s fair. Is it fair for starting pitchers to be penalized by their own bullpen’s failures? Is it fair for starting pitchers to be penalized because his team scored the winning run in a 1-0 game after the pitcher was taken out?

The same injustice can be found in the rule for how a loss is awarded. In a Detroit-Tampa Bay game two weeks ago, Tyler Walker entered the game in the 8th inning with Tampa Bay leading by two, 3-1. He allowed two runs in the ninth inning allowing the Tigers to force the game into extra innings. After the ninth inning, Walker was replaced by Brian Meadows. Meadows ended up pitching two innings while giving up zero earned runs. A Detroit runner reached base on an error and was promptly driven in on a single. Walker entered the game with a two-run lead and blew it. Meadows entered the game with the scored tied and pitched effectively without giving up an earned run. Yet, Meadows was credited with the loss. Going off of MLB’s rules, Meadows earned the loss. Going off of any sense of fairness, Walker was clearly the guy that was responsible for Tampa Bay’s collapse.

I doubt these issues will ever be addressed. In fact, I doubt there will ever be enough talk on this subject for it to ever qualify as an “issue”. However, the rules need to be changed for the betterment of the game. It would give present-day starters a chance to compete with their predecessors in terms of career win totals. More importantly, it would give pitchers the credit that they rightfully deserve. In a sport ruled by statistics, the current way that wins are recorded is flawed. I would love to see this changed and I’m guessing I know five guys on the Tigers that would be on board as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"MLB states that a win cannot be attained if the game is tied at the end of the inning when the starting pitcher leaves the game regardless of his performance."

That's not exactly true. If a starting pitcher pitches the bottom of an inning, and in the top of the next inning his team scores to take the lead (including if he is replaced by a PH in that top of the inning), he'll get the win if his team never loses the lead thereafter.


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