Adam Wainwright pitched a decent game Monday night in Game 3 of the NLCS, throwing 7 innings and giving up 6 hits, no walks and striking out 5. He had a game score of 62, usually a sign of a well-pitched game, and he ended up with the loss because the Cardinals offense chose to take the night off. Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) of the MLB Network started a movement called KillTheWin, his quixotic effort to have the win eliminated as a baseball statistic. I wrote a couple posts at my blog Beyond The Scorecard because I thought it was an interesting idea and seemed like a fun issue to research and will include the links at the end of this post, but Wainwright’s game got me thinking–how often in the postseason is a pitcher not justly rewarded for a good effort?
As the use of starting pitchers has changed over time, the win has become a far less effective metric in judging pitcher effectiveness. I don’t remember how I stumbled across using a game score of 60 as my marker of effectiveness (probably at Kenny’s suggestion) and like any other single number it’s not the entire story of a pitching performance, but it grants the opportunity to separate pitching effectiveness from a lack of offensive production or bad defense. Including Monday’s game there have been 1,393 postseason games played since 1903, meaning there have been 2,786 starts in postseason history–this chart shows the breakdown of wins, losses and no-decisions for those starters in that time frame:
In the postseason, starting pitchers won almost 36% of their starts. This covers the entire spectrum of postseason play, from the games in the early 1900s when a pitcher typically finished what he started all the way to examples like Saturday where Anibal Sanchez was removed after 6 innings (and 116 pitches)…and throwing a no-hitter. Different times, to be sure. With this context, this chart shows how often a pitcher who had a game score of 60 or greater was credited with the win:
Definitely an improvement over the general trend, but still, a pitcher who pitches well enough to attain a game score of 60 or greater has done all he can–he’s given up few hits and walks and struck out a decent number of hitters. In short, he’s kept base runners off base, the primary job of a pitcher and almost 35% of the time has nothing to show for it, or even worse, is tagged with a loss. This chart shows these numbers since the playoffs were expanded in 1969:
The introduction of relievers definitely hurt the cause of these starting pitchers, with almost 40% of pitchers who threw very good games not receiving a win. On the flip side, it is gratifying to see that only around 9% of wins go to pitchers who were the beneficiaries of being on the right side of 13-12 scores or games along those lines–justice exists somewhere. This last chart shows the record by game score stratification:
Who was that unlucky pitcher with a game score greater than 90 who received the loss? Nolan Ryan in Game 5 of the 1986 NLCS.
The 10-15 regular readers of my blog hopefully are aware that I typically write with my tongue firmly lodged in my cheek, and the win is so entrenched in baseball lore that removing it as a point of discussion simply won’t happen, but it doesn’t mean that it has to receive the emphasis it does. When we have the wealth of data that sites like FanGraphs places at our fingertips, we don’t have to rely on a metric that was formed at the inception of organized baseball that is a relic today, particularly one that doesn’t give an accurate portrayal of pitching performance around 35% of the time. Kill The Win–maybe not, but we can certainly de-emphasize it.
#KillTheWin blog posts:
The first one, which lays out definitions and rationale
The second one, which expands it
A final one, an exercise in absurdity