There are only two 20-Game Winners in MLB late into the 2010 season. Two more have a chance to finish with 20 Wins. This has long been a touted milestone for a Starting Pitcher (SP) and with good reason; as a SP your job is to keep your team in the game by minimizing the opposing team’s offensive output. This gives the SP’s team the opportunity to put more runs on the board than the opposing team and earn the SP the Win. If you’ve done this 20 times out of an average of 32 starts per season, you’re a valuable asset to your team.
It’s often said that Pitching and Defense wins ball games, but the reality is that the team that scores the most runs wins! Many a SP has done a relatively poor job of keeping the opposing team’s offense in check, yet still comes away with a W as his team pounds out the runs. My argument is that while much is made of a pitcher’s W/L record, it’s a lousy measure of his performance.
Take a look at 2010′s ERA (Earned Run Average) Leader, Josh Johnson of the Florida Marlins. Johnson’s season ended early due to injury, but he finished with an 11-6 record in 28 starts. However, Johnson left the game in line for the Win 7 times over the course of the season to have the Marlins bullpen blow the lead, costing him the Win. He still pitched masterfully, but he won’t have the impressive 18-6 record in his stat book for 2010. Before you think Johnson’s season is an anomaly, let’s look at Felix Hernandez.
There are many statistics in baseball, and pitching is no exception. Before I delve into too many I’ll stick with the basics to continue making my point. There are few things the pitcher does alone, i.e. with no help from his defense. The Base on Balls or Walk, the Strike Out, and the Home Run. So if you were to attempt to isolate a pitcher’s performance, those three statistics are a good place to start. Of the 10 Strike Out leaders in the Majors, only one has 20 Wins. Of the 10 pitchers who have allowed the fewest Walks on the 2010 season, none have more than 14 Wins. Of the stingiest Home Run pitchers in the Big Leagues, only 2 have 14 Wins.
Two of my favorite pitching statistics, while not truly pitching independent because the defense assists, are WHIP and Opponents Batting Average. For the non-statistician among you, the WHIP is Walks + Hits per Innings Pitched. This number lets you know how many baserunners per inning this particular pitcher allows. The lower, the better. The Top 10 WHIP men for 2010 have one 20-Game winner in the group. If you’re curious who this 20-Game winner is that keeps appearing in my Top 10 lists, it’s Roy Halladay who is arguably one of the best active pitchers in the game. The list of pitchers whose opponents have the lowest successful batting average against them include two 19-game winners, but that’s it.
I believe that to properly evaluate a SP, one has to look well beyond Wins and Losses. Durability, best measured perhaps by average innings pitched per start, the 3 pitching independent statistics (BB’s, K’s and HR’s allowed) and WHIP along with Opponent’s Batting Average when combined, will paint a better picture of the quality of a Starting Pitcher’s performance.