Winners Can’t Win

With tremendous thanks to reader/commenter JGS, who helped compile the statistics.

Imagine you had a starting rotation of five pitchers.

Pitcher One: 75 IP 77 H, 30 ER, 17 BB, 60 K
Pitcher Two: 78.1 IP 66 H, 28 ER, 21 BB , 73 K
Pitcher Three: 79.2 IP 87 H, 38 ER, 21 BB, 63 K
Pitcher Four: 67.1 IP 58 H, 30 ER, 36 BB, 61 K
Pitcher Five: 62.1 IP 68 H, 34 ER, 18 BB, , 36 K

Imagine that they had a combined line of: 3.97 ERA, 1.293 WHIP, 8.83 H/9, 2.8 BB/9, 7.27 K/9, 2.59 K/BB.

That’s pretty good, right? I mean, that’s a starting rotation that allows less than a hit an inning, strikes out seven per nine, and has a 2.6 K/BB.

It might not be good enough to seriously compete in the AL East, but one would think those numbers could get you pretty far in some of the weaker divisions.

In fact, that combined ERA is, thus far, better than the ERAs of CC Sabathia, Mark Buehrle, Dan Haren, Johnny Cueto, John Lackey, Rick Porcello… (this may say more about how much Sabathia is struggling than anything else…)

The WHIP is better than Tommy Hanson, Yovani Gallardo, James Shields, Felix Hernandez and AJ Burnett.

8.83 H/9 is better than Zack Greinke, James Shields, Dan Haren, Mark Buehrle, and is the same as Francisco Liriano.

2.8 BB/9 is 38th in the Majors—equal to Josh Johnson, Phil Hughes, and CC Sabathia and better than Ubaldo Jimenez(!), Matt Cain, Justin Verlander, Mike Leake, Matt Garza, Felix Hernandez, Ricky Romero, Barry Zito, Tim Lincecum, Jon Lester, Yovani Gallardo, et al.

7.27 K/9 is 36th in the Majors and equal to Brian Matusz and John Danks and better than Matt Garza, CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, David Price, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Matt Cain, and Ben Sheets.

So, what pitchers make up this vaunted hypothetical rotation?

Pitcher one is Zack Greinke. He’s 1-7.
Pitcher two is Roy Oswalt. He’s 3-8.
Pitcher three is Kevin Millwood. He’s 0-6
Pitcher four is Felipe Paulino. He’s 1-7.
Pitcher five is Kenshin Kawakami. He’s 0-8.

That’s right, the rotation with a combined ERA under four and a WHIP similar to the career numbers of Andy Pettitte, is a combined 5-36.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably known for a very long time that pitcher won-loss is a stupid statistic because it doesn’t take into account that for the most part, the pitcher can’t actually be blamed if his team fails to score runs.

Of course, over the long run, bad pitchers will loose more and good pitchers will win more, but Greinke, Oswalt, Millwood and Paulino all have the misfortune of playing on some very bad teams. I mean, the Orioles-don’t-even-have-twenty-wins-yet bad.

Contrast that with Nick Blackburn, who has six runs already, and an ERA over 5.00…

Again, while ERA is not the world’s greatest pitching statistic, it at least focuses on just what the pitcher–as opposed to what his team’s offense–can do.

Wins, on the other hand, seem a statistic meant to evaluate the performance of an entire team, but unfairly burdened on one individual.

It’s like blaming the captain of the Titanic for the iceberg in the ocean… (bad simile, probably. Maybe you can think of a better one…)

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