Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bad Wins and Good Losses

As someone who uses statistics often in my sports discussions, there are certain stats that I just can not stand. In baseball, my favorite to rag against is wins and losses. It's unfortunate that the concept of winning and losing is so central to sports, because there is almost no stat in baseball that is more useless than wins and losses. I'd much rather know a pitcher's WHIP, ERA, K/BB ratio, strike percentage, Wins above Replacement (WAR), and a number of other statistics before I even approached the wins and losses. However, the part of me that is a closed-minded baseball fan understands the need for wins and losses--if a pitcher has a great game, there should be some sort of "award" given, and that award is usually a win. If a pitcher goes out and can't find the strike zone except to serve up easy home runs for the opponent, then he deserves a mark of shame--also known as a loss. However, sometimes that doesn't happen--close leads are blown, and high-scoring games happen. So, I decided we're going to keep a new list: Good Losses, and Bad Wins. I know this isn't a new concept, but as the season goes on and the lists go longer we'll see if certain teams are more likely to screw their starters over...or rescue them from an L in the box score. To see the results so far, hit the jump!

In 1985, Philadelphia Inquirer writer John Lowe came up with the idea of a "quality start;" that is, any pitcher who goes 6+ innings and gives up three or fewer earned runs. While a good idea, the quality start fails in that a pitcher who throws six innings and gives up three runs has a quality start with an ERA of 4.50, while one that throws nine innings and gives up four runs has a non-quality start despite a 4.00 ERA. Now, we use the much-preferred "GameScore" system, which gives each start a score of 50 and then uses a formula to add points (for innings completed and strikeouts) and subtract them (for walks, hits, and runs allowed). What this gives us is a much better system for ranking starts--is eight innings of two-hit, one-strikeout baseball better than eight innings of six hits, one run, and 12 strikeouts? Now, looking at the numbers, about 12% of all starts are above a gamescore of 70, while another 12% are below a gamescore of 30, so we'll set those as our standards for "should-wins" and "should-losses." If you pitch between 50-69, then yes you pitched a "quality start," but were not dominant enough that you really earned a win. Same thing with scores between 31-49: while not great, they could be the result of some bad defense, a small strike zone, or just one of those poor BABIP days. These guys, however, deserved losses (but got away without one, and sometimes even got a win):

Yes, three starts this year have resulted in game scores over 30 or under and had the pitcher come up with the win--though John Lackey's win on the 8th happened to be against fellow "Bad Winner" Phil Hughes. It's still early to see any trends emerging; the Yankees, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, and Angels have two each, but by different pitchers each time. So far there have been quite a few more "Good Losses" than there have been "Bad Wins," but that's easily understandable. It's much easier to blow a 1-0 lead in the 8th or 9th inning than it is to come back from down seven or eight runs early, which is precisely why the great starting pitchers hate giving up the ball. They know that once they leave, the win they might be in line for disappointment as the relievers give up the tying runs. Similar to the bad losses, there were three pitchers with gamescores of 70 or higher who still managed to take the loss--one each by the Tigers (expected), Athletics (expected), and Yankees (unexpected).

So there's the first installment of our "Bad Wins, Good Losses." We'll take another look in a few weeks and see if we can find any trends with certain teams, but for now it's just too soon. Either way, in just one month we're already seeing discrepancies in terms of "expected win-loss" to actual win-loss, which could hurt (or help) those pitcher's salaries in the long run.

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