Friday, April 08, 2011

As if We Needed Any More Evidence That Wins and Losses Are Flawed Statistics

The old school types were up in arms over the fact that Felix Hernandez, and his 13-12 won-loss record, won the American League Cy Young Award last year. One of them actually went so far as to use some ridiculous argument about the morale of a pitcher's teammates when he takes the mound, and that when players make great defensive plays behind one pitcher and not another, it is not an accident.

Think about this for a second. The pitcher whose ERA—a measure of the number of earned runs per nine innings he allows, in case the author of the aforementioned article needs some reminding—was a half run better than anybody else in the league apparently didn't instill enough confidence in his teammates for them to play to the fullest extent of their abilities. Honestly, if this was the case—that his teammates were only playing half-heartedly behind him—then Hernandez was even more deserving of the Cy Young Award.

But, that's not really my point.

My point is we don't need to look any further than this afternoon's contest between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to see one of the worst applications of won-loss credit there could possibly be.

John Lackey pitched five innings, allowing six earned runs on seven hits and two walks, while striking out just two, and "earned" the win. Bartolo Colon pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing one earned and one unearned run on two hits and one walk, while striking out five, and was tagged with the loss.

Lackey spotted the Yankees two runs in the top of the 1st inning, just what an 0-6 team needed as a morale boost. When Dustin Pedroia cut that deficit in half with a solo homer in the bottom of the inning, Lackey promptly gave one back.

But, Lackey's teammates' increased confidence from seeing him on the mound resulted in a five-run rally in the bottom of the 2nd, giving the Red Sox a nice 6-3 lead and knocking Yankees starter Phil Hughes—I'll get to him later—out of the game.

What did Lackey do with this newfound advantage? He proceeded to squander it, one run at a time over the next three innings.

But, of course, his teammates were bolstered by the confidence of having him on their side, and scored the go-ahead unearned run in the bottom of the 5th. That development is what resulted in Lackey being credited with the first win of the 2011 season for the Red Sox. Now, if you look up clutch pitching performances following six-game losing streaks to start the season in Merriam-Webster, I'm quite certain you'll see a photo of John Lackey right next to its definition.

Bartolo Colon came into a game that his team trailed 6-3 after two innings, and were looking at needing seven innings out of their bullpen to have a chance to win the game. He proceeded to pitch shutdown baseball for four innings—allowing only an unearned run—and giving his team exactly what they needed to claw back into the contest. If not for said unearned run, the score would have been tied following his fourth inning of work.

But, I suppose we could make the argument here that Colon's three-plus innings of shutout baseball up to the point of the defensive miscue just weren't enough of a morale boost to his team. So, essentially the error was, in fact, his fault.

Then, to begin his fifth inning, he gave up a bunt single to the Red Sox third-place hitter, Adrian Gonzalez, a tactic employed by such a dangerous hitter due to the Yankees' use of an extreme shift to the right side of the field. When Colon was subsequently pulled from the game, with a runner on first and one out, that runner eventually came around to score, resulting in the only earned run Colon was charged with.

But, Colon gave up the run that put the Red Sox in the lead for good, and everyone knows that's the most important run of the game. Everyone also knows that great pitchers find ways to avoid giving up those runs, something that Phil Hughes did masterfully on this day.

Yes, that's right, Hughes earned the right not to be charged with the loss by strategically giving up a bunch of runs early and getting the heck out of there before a decision could be rendered. Hughes gave up six earned runs in two innings, and Colon gave up one earned run—one that easily could have been stranded by the pitcher who relieved him—in 4 1/3 innings, yet Colon is considered the losing pitcher.

But, of course, wins and losses are the true measures of a pitcher's effectiveness.


  1. Good post. Figaro's article needed to be addressed directly. Well done.

  2. Thanks guys. I was a bit more sarcastic here than usual. We'll blame it on the fact that I wrote this on a Friday evening...if you know what I mean.