BLOG: Why The ‘Win’ Stat For Pitchers?

I’m on a personal crusade to eliminate the practice of crediting starting pitchers with wins and losses- or at least bringing awareness to its misleading and misrepresentative nature as an accurate measure of success.  It’s a practice rooted in the game’s beginnings in the 1800s (when starters routinely pitched complete games and relief was rare) and the statistic has far outlived any meaningful or practical purpose.  The events of the past week continue to illustrate the circumstantial nature of wins and loss credit.  Orioles starter Zach Britton threw 9 shutout innings against Seattle but while he sat on the bench between his brilliant innings, the Orioles hitters managed zero runs against Seattle starter Justin Vargas.  Pitching in relief, Jim Johnson allowed a run but was credited with a “win” because the Orioles scored while he was the pitcher of record.  Jim Johnson:  winner!  Zach Britton:  thanks for playing.  That occurrence was strictly circumstantial and misrepresentative of the participants’ performances.  The following night, Jeremy Guthrie throws 9 innings and allows 3 runs to Tampa Bay.  But, because he received zero run support (a factor out of his control) Guthrie is given the “loss.” 

Manager Buck Showalter said of Guthrie’s fate:  “Timing is everything.”  That phrase is further confirmation of the circumstantial (and misleading, misrepresentative and incomplete) nature of assigning wins and losses to individuals in a team sport.  Jeremy Hellickson pitched opposite Guthrie and the Rays rookie threw a complete game shutout and got the “win.”  While one can argue that he sure deserves it,  I could counter- why doesn’t Matt Joyce get the “win” for his 2-run homer?  As we saw in Britton’s case, no runs scored mean no “win” and since Joyce provided the runs- how about giving him a “win?”  Why limit the credit to pitchers?  It’s a TEAM game and while pitchers are critical to the outcome of the game why should win-loss credit be based on such uncontrollable circumstances like timing and run support (or lack thereof)?  The practice of considering win-loss records significant leads to inane comments like “Guthrie sure deserved the win” and “we wanted to get him the win.”  TEAMS win and lose, not individuals (unless it’s tennis, golf, figure skating or the 100 meter dash).  Wins and losses for pitchers?  It’s one of those stats that’s always been there and we don’t think about it.  Think about it.  And when you really think about it you’re likely to quote the great Ron Burgundy in Anchorman:  “That’s just dumb!”


One Comment

  1. MikeC says:

    Granted, Britton pitched a great 3-hit, 9 innings, but how come no mention of the strategically well pitched game by Vargas? Or was it just that The Orioles, collectively, were just terrible batters for 11 innings?

    I gave some thought to the win-loss problem before, but then think about those terrible Phillies of the 1970’s and the incredible pitching of Steve Carlton in 1972 when Charlton was 27-10 and the Phillies were 59-97. You can’t take that record away from pitchers. They are too important to the game.

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