Here at New English D we are on the front lines of the #KillTheWin movement. If you’re new to the site and are open-minded, please check out our 5 part series on why wins aren’t useful:
- You Can Pitch Great and Not Win
- You Can Pitch Poorly and Win
- Wins Don’t Even Out Over Long Careers
- Wins Mislead You When Comparing Players
- Assorted Facts About Wins from 2013
All of those links make a singular case. Wins are not useful when evaluating individual pitchers. The goal of baseball fans and analysts is to properly understand the game we love. Wins don’t cause poverty, but wins are detrimental to our understanding of baseball because so many people use them as a measure of value, which they are not.
Today, Jon Heyman wrote about Max Scherzer (currently leading the league in wins by a lot) and couldn’t resist fighting back against the #KillTheWin movement. He makes several points. First, he argues that Scherzer should narrowly beat Felix for the AL Cy. Hey, we agree on that! Second, he says those of us trying to kill the win are wasting our time. That’s silly because we enjoy killing the win and baseball is about having fun, but I’m not going to engage in pettiness when the real issues are much more important.
Next, Heyman says:
Wins do matter (though clearly not nearly as much as we once thought — and I give the stat guys credit for pointing this out.) No starter gets to 19-1 only because they are lucky, or because they “happened” to be “standing on the mound” when his team scored a ton of runs, as some would have you believe.
So here we see Heyman acknowledge that he places less stock in wins today that he used to. Meaning that he was wrong before and therefore could be wrong again. Furthermore, Heyman says no one goes 19-1 because of luck/happenstance/standing on the mound. Actually, Jon, they do. Scherzer is an excellent starting pitcher, but he is not meaningfully better than Felix. Certainly not better than Kershaw or Harvey. Yet he has many more wins than they do and many fewer losses. The difference is that the Tigers score crazy amount of runs for Scherzer because they are really good at scoring runs. Additionally, he gets more runs than his other rotation-mates. Scherzer gets 7.32 runs per 9. Felix gets 4.73. Chris Sale gets 3.03.
Even if you want to dramatically oversimplify baseball and assume a pitcher controls everything that happens when he is on the mound (he doesn’t), he still has no control over what his offense does. In order to get a win, you have to be in the game when your team takes the lead for the final time. If you team doesn’t score, or scores AT THE WRONG TIME, you do not get a win regardless of how you pitched.
It’s obvious that Heyman knows this based on his comments throughout the piece:
There are a lot better numbers to illustrate a pitcher’s performance over a season than wins and losses.
But does that mean a pitcher’s record is now totally worthless?
Heyman argues that wins are not the most important thing, but that they are not worthless. Which poses the important question at which I will now arrive. What do wins tell us that we can’t see in other stats?
What is the value of seeing a W/L record beyond seeing things like ERA, K%, BB%, GB%, FIP, xFIP, WAR, RE24, SwStr%, IP, etc? What do wins and losses add to the discussion?
Nothing. Not one thing. Heyman says consistency, but that isn’t the case. Check out the link about about “misleading” and you’ll see that argument doesn’t hold water. Good, consistent pitchers can win less often than bad and inconsistent ones. Heyman says wins aren’t about being in the right place at the right time, but they clearly are. The Tigers score a disproportionate number of runs for Scherzer than they do for his teammates. Scherzer is both good and lucky. They aren’t mutually exclusive, but that doesn’t mean he should get credit for something he had nothing to do with.
Scherzer is great. He has an excellent W/L record. Those two things are related, but not highly related. Good pitchers, on average, win more often than bad ones because they have some control over the number of runs they allow but that doesn’t mean judging a player by wins and losses is useful. It adds nothing to our understanding and does more harm than good. Heyman cites Tillman making the ASG as case and point.
Wins influence people’s thinking, whether it’s Tillman in the ASG or it’s Dusty Baker leaving Bailey on the mound when he was losing it so he could “have a chance to get a win.”
My argument here is that wins provide us with no meaningful information and at best are trivial and at worst are negatively impacting games. Heyman concludes:
The goal, ultimately, is to win games when a pitcher takes the mound, and Scherzer has done that better than anybody. Yes, there is a lot of luck involved in getting pitcher wins. But in Scherzer’s case, he has pitched great, too, and no one should claim he hasn’t.
Which is interesting, because the Scherzer is getting a lot of luck as far as wins go. Sale isn’t pitching as well as Scherzer, but he’s not pitching 9-12 to 19-1 worse. Also, Heyman is using a strawman argument in his closing. No one, not one single person, thinks Scherzer hasn’t been great. He’s been amazing. Fantastic. Cy Young or very close to it, brilliant. That’s not what this is about at all. He’s 19-1 and Chris Sale is 9-12. He’s not “10 wins” better than Sale. Not under any real definition of pitching ability or performance. This is a statistic that doesn’t reflect performance at all. It adds nothing to the conversation you can’t get elsewhere. That’s why we want to kill it.
I would like to point out the broader issue. Heyman is actually one of the more evolutionary members of the old guard. He clearly sees the fault in wins, but still wants to defend them. Read his defense. Think about it for yourself, it’s like he wants to hold onto wins because he’s used to them. And that’s not a good reason. “How we’ve always done things” is not a good way to make decisions.
I don’t understand the purpose of Heyman’s argument. Why does he want to save them? What utility do they bring to the conversation? This is not a personal assault on Heyman, but he put his views out there in writing, so they are open to criticism. I’m an academic and a baseball writer, so I know about critical feedback. You’re welcome to criticize my reasoning as well. I can take it, don’t worry. I offered Heyman a chance to clarify his message on Twitter and he has yet to do so. If he writes back, I’ll be glad to amend this post.
There is no value in looking at wins and losses for a starting pitcher. That’s not about Scherzer or Felix, it’s about analysts and fans. In fact, Heyman and his fellow BBWAA members should use their access to go ask Scherzer about wins, or even Google his quotes on the issue. He gets it and he’s the person who benefits most from looking at wins. If he doesn’t care about them, it’s time to let them go.
A nice easy sweep.
Tigers 11, Mets 3
The Tigers slugged their way to a sweep of the Mets on Sunday thanks to a pair of two run homeruns from Miguel Cabrera and Andy Dirks who backed a 7 inning, 3 run affair from Rick Porcello (24 GS, 142.1 IP, 4.49 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 2.5 WAR) who continues to be baseball’s best number five starter. He handed out some free passes, but the only real blemish was a two run homerun to d’Arnaud. Porcello retired the last seven he faced and added four strikeouts to set a new career high. While the Tigers were in position to win entering the 9th inning, they decided to really make sure as they put up 7 insurance runs on a 10 batter hit parade. The win moves the Tigers to 77-53 and sets them up to take on Oakland for four at Comerica Park with Anibal Sanchez (22 GS, 139.2 IP, 2,45 ERA, 2.34 FIP, 4.8 WAR) getting game one.
The Moment: Cabrera launches a monster homer in the first.
You’ll recall earlier this year we introduced our very own reliever rankings called SOEFA, which you can read about in detail here. For a brief refresher, it combines inherited runner strand rate, expected OBP against, ERA-, and FIP- into a deviation from league average. This is a measure of performance, not necessarily ability, and seeks to provide a single number to judge relievers that balances context neutral and context dependent numbers. Certain pitchers, such as Craig Kimbrel, cannot be credited for stranding runners because they are never put into those situations. They are not penalized either, however. Zero is average, and will generally range between -2.5 to 2.5 with -1 to 1 being most common. This includes all pitchers who have thrown at least 20 IP in relief as of this morning, so the average score on this list is closer to 0.12 and the inherited runner threshold has been increased from 5 to 8. Should you wish to know the SOEFA for any other reliever, or on a day that isn’t Sunday, hit us on Twitter or in the comments section.
|5||Koji Uehara||Red Sox||0.85|
|8||Jesse Crain||White Sox||0.78|
|36||Juan Perez||Blue Jays||0.50|
|40||Brett Cecil||Blue Jays||0.48|
|41||Junichi Tazawa||Red Sox||0.48|
|43||Andrew Miller||Red Sox||0.47|
|54||Joe Thatcher||– – –||0.42|
|56||Addison Reed||White Sox||0.41|
|65||Casey Janssen||Blue Jays||0.38|
|70||Francisco Rodriguez||– – –||0.35|
|76||Scott Downs||– – –||0.33|
|82||Neil Wagner||Blue Jays||0.29|
|84||Steve Delabar||Blue Jays||0.28|
|86||Nate Jones||White Sox||0.27|
|87||Craig Breslow||Red Sox||0.26|
|100||Jose Veras||– – –||0.20|
|104||Aaron Loup||Blue Jays||0.17|
|108||J.C. Gutierrez||– – –||0.16|
|113||Matt Thornton||– – –||0.15|
|124||Luis Ayala||– – –||0.11|
|127||Andrew Bailey||Red Sox||0.09|
|136||Matt Lindstrom||White Sox||0.06|
|147||Matt Guerrier||– – –||0.01|
|151||Dane de la Rosa||Angels||-0.01|
|166||Darren Oliver||Blue Jays||-0.06|
|175||Esmil Rogers||Blue Jays||-0.12|
|187||Ramon Troncoso||White Sox||-0.20|
|188||Justin De Fratus||Phillies||-0.21|
|199||Wesley Wright||– – –||-0.28|
|201||Brad Lincoln||Blue Jays||-0.30|
|205||Pedro Strop||– – –||-0.31|
|213||Clayton Mortensen||Red Sox||-0.41|
|214||Donnie Veal||White Sox||-0.41|
|216||Alex Wilson||Red Sox||-0.44|
|223||Carlos Marmol||– – –||-0.59|
|229||Henry Rodriguez||– – –||-0.71|
All about Max.
Tigers 3, Mets 0
Max Scherzer (26 GS, 178.1 IP, 2.73 ERA, 2.62 FIP, 5.6 WAR) turned in a strong performance against the Mets, twirling 6 scoreless innings featuring 11 K and a nice two-step around a bases-loaded jam in the 6th. But if you ask Max, the big story was his RBI double off the great Matt Harvey who doesn’t allow many extra base hits (.073 opponents ISO) and had allowed just one extra base hit to a pitcher in his career entering the day. The Tigers grabbed another run in that inning and would hold the line the rest of the way despite a couple of poor coaching choices at third base and a bad call at 2B during a threat in the 7th. The win pushes the Tigers 23 games over .500 and gives them the series victory. They’ll send Rick Porcello (23 GS, 135.1 IP, 4.52 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 2.5 WAR) to the mound Sunday looking to sweep.
The Moment: Scherzer doubles in a run off Harvey in the 2nd.
That’s a long headline but a simple topic. Which pitchers have increased their average time between pitches the most this year? Below I will present the The Nine pitchers with the largest increases from 2012 to 2013 among those who have thrown 100 innings in both seasons. I will also provide some descriptive stats about the entire sample because for whatever reason, I find “Pace” to be very interesting. Pace is housed over at FanGraphs and here is a link to the current rankings. For 2013, the slowest qualifying starter is Jeremy Hellickson who takes 25.7 seconds between pitches. RA Dickey is the quickest at 17.8, with league average at 22.6.
You can see that Pace is pretty consistent and that last year’s pace is a pretty good predictor of this year’s pace with an r squared of .72, meaning that about 72% of the variation in 2013 Pace can be explained by 2012 pace. Below are the players who most buck that trend.
|Rank||Name||Pace Diff||K/9 d||BB/9 d||ERA d||FIP d|
Positive numbers indicated an increase in 2013 over 2012. For example, Anibal Sanchez’s K/9 is up 2.1 and his FIP is down 1.19. What’s interesting is some pitchers who have slowed down have improved and some have gotten worse. Some have added Ks and BBs, some have cut both, and some have gone in opposite directions. Pretty much, this doesn’t seem very useful in predicting performance.
It’s interesting, though, that on this list we have some elite pitchers and some back end guys. I’m not sure if there is a clear take away from this other than that Pace probably doesn’t correlate that much with anything that has to do with performance on a broad scale and that it matters a lot to each pitcher but it matters in different ways. Let’s just take a quick look at FIP- up against Pace for 2013 qualifiers to illustrate that point:
Oh well, I’m still going to pretend it matters. It matters to fans, at least.
A good start to the trip.
Tigers 6, Mets 1
It shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to anyone that the Tigers unloaded on Dice-K in his Mets debut, jumping out to a 5-1 lead early thanks to a bomb by Hunter and another one by Cabrera. It was never really in doubt and Jackson added an extra run for good measure, but once they got a lead, Doug Fister (26 GS, 167.2 IP, 3.54 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 3.7 WAR) had it all figured out. It’s not terribly impressive to silence the Mets’ bats, but Fister held them to 1 run over 6.1 innings and handed it over to the bullpen to polish off the rest. The Tigers got one to open the series and will look to get another against Matt Harvey with fellow ASG starter Max Scherzer (25 GS, 172.1 IP, 2.82 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 5.3 WAR) getting the ball on Saturday
The Moment: Cabrera crushes a 3 run HR to put this one away early.
With a three game series beginning tonight against the Mets in New York, the Tigers pitchers will be asked to bat for just the third time all season (they’ll get one more shot in the season’s final series). Through some amazing quirk of scheduling, Fister and Sanchez pitched in the two game stints in Washington and Pittsburgh, so we’ve only see them at the dish this year. We know, through science, that Justin Verlander is likely the worst hitter currently in the major leagues and he won’t get a shot to redeem himself this time around, but we will get a look at Scherzer and Porcello in addition to Fister. The question that you’re likely asking, along with the Mets’ pitchers (especially Harvey) is clear. How in the world can we pitch to these guys?
Let’s start with some basic offensive numbers for these pitchers in their careers. For what it’s worth to you, I’ll include Fister’s 2013 numbers separately as well:
Scherzer’s numbers aren’t good, but he’s the only one of the group to take a walk and he limits the strikeouts compared to the group as well. He’s definitely the Tigers pitcher who works counts the best and he does have a BABIP that’s a good deal below average (.231). I’m not saying he’s going to break out, but he hits a lot of ground balls and doesn’t chase bad pitches too often. Some of those hits should start to fall in.
You can see that he works the middle of the field nicely and doesn’t get pull happy:
The real key to getting Scherzer out is to avoid his hot spots up and out over the plate. If you put one there, he’s likely to smack it to right for a hit. You need to come middle in or low and away to get him to roll over one to the SS.
Porcello burst onto the scene in his rookie year, but has really gone down hill at the dish since then. He doesn’t take his walks and he strikes out too much to have a ton of value at the plate. Just check out his year to year wOBA so far:
Porcello has shown the ability to use the whole field, but he doesn’t make enough contact for the bat control to play up.
Really the key to Porcello is to pitch him inside. You don’t want to miss away because he will make you pay.
Fister is a much different story. Fister can really hit, even if he doesn’t have a patient approach, and he seems to be getting better with age. In 2011 he had a wRC+ of 133 and this year it’s 286. He’s made the leap from top 30 hitter to all-time great. He’s Babe Ruth and then some!
To get Fister out, you have to make him put the ball on the ground because if he gets it in the air, he’s going to get on base.
And you really don’t want to miss low and over the plate, because that is where Fister eats.
You have to make sure you go up and in or get the ball away from him. Remember, Fister bats left-handed. In fact, Fister seems to have some really nice opposite field gap power based on that spray chart. Take a look at this great swing from 2011. Hey, look who’s pitching!
Fister got an 0-2 fastball down and away from Anibal Sanchez and drove up the gap. Here’s an approximate shot of the ball splitting the fielders.
Fister has become more of a singles hitter as he’s aged, but he’s shown this type of power in the past so you have to be careful.
Scherzer and Porcello are pitchable, but you have to be careful with the big slugging lefty. If you miss to Fister, he’ll make you pay. For a pitcher who is 9 feet tall, this is pretty good form. Notice how he has his head on the ball and isn’t off balance at the point of contact:
Followed by an important discussion:
Next came an interview with Fister about why he bats left-handed. “I’m kind of screwed up in a lot of ways,” is the direct quote.
Then Sanchez gave up a hit to Ichiro and Brendan Ryan to score Fister. Fister had a better day than Sanchez, but we’re getting off track. This isn’t a Marlins and Marines game recap.
The key here is that Fister is the Cabrera of the Tigers pitchers and is the one to watch for. Matt Harvey is probably really happy he won’t have to face him on Saturday because Fister has shown the ability to hit the best arms in the game.
Not quite long enough.
Twins 7, Tigers 6
Justin Verlander (27 GS, 173.2 IP, 3.68 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 3.7 WAR) was better than the stat line, really only making one very costly mistake to Doumit. He went 7 and allowed 6, but 3 came on one swing with two outs. He wasn’t vintage Verlander, but had some strong stretches and if he hadn’t hung one to Doumit would have been looking at a 7 IP, 3 ER start. Bryan Holaday got the Tigers scoring going with a solo shot, but the key offensive attack came in the 6th when Infante reached on an infield hit, Iglesias doubled, Holaday beat out an infield hit, and then Jackson sent one to the seats to tie it. Unfortunately, the Tigers gave one back in the 8th on a fly ball that really spun away from Jackson allowing a runner to score. The Tigers put two on in the 9th, but Martinez bounced into the game ending double play. The Tigers will hop a plane to the Big Apple and the pitchers will get ready to swing the bat against the Mets. Doug Fister (25 GS, 161.1 IP, 3.63 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 3.5 WAR) will take the ball for game one.
The Moment: Bryan Holaday slugs his first big league homerun, gets the silent treatment.
In case you missed it, in April we launched our Dynamic Standings Projection feature on New English D. A full explanation of the methodology can be found here or by clicking the tab at the top of the page. This project seeks to provide a reasoned and cautious approach to updating our beliefs about the baseball future. You can find a summarization of the original projections here. You’ll notice a column on the far right that indicates the difference in projected wins from the preseason prediction. Positive numbers mean teams are now projected to win more games and negative numbers mean a team is now projected to win fewer games. You’ll notice a series of graphs below the standings section that track how the projections have evolved over the course of the year.
This Dynamic Standings Projection is updated through the August 21 games. Note that DSP posts have been moved to Thursday accommodate something that won’t interest you.
The bats came late, but were worth the wait.
Tigers 7, Twins 1
Anibal Sanchez (22 GS, 139.2 IP, 2.45 ERA, 2.34 FIP, 4.8 WAR) did his job with the usual magnificence as he gave the Tigers 6.2 innings of 1 run baseball featuring 8 strikeouts and 2 walks. He pitched in a bit of traffic early but escaped with ease and then got rolling in the middle innings before handing it off to the capable hands of Drew Smyly. Trailing 1-0 entering the bottom of the 7th, the Tigers bats got rolling and chased Correia after scoring two runs and placing two more on base. Then, of course, Fielder swung and missed at strike three but got to first on the passed ball while Hunter scored. Get all that? Martinez doubled to add another and then the Tigers piled on in the 8th when Cabrera cleared the bases. The Tigers will do their best to take the series Thursday afternoon with the resurgent Justin Verlander (26 GS, 166.2 IP, 3.51 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 3.6 WAR) on the hill.
The Moment: Hunter puts one up the gap to drive in the tying and go-ahead run.