Everyone knows that a pitcher’s win count is a terrible way to determine the skill of a pitcher. For example, you could have a pitcher on your team who pitches a complete game, strikeout 10, walked none, and give up one hit. But what if that one hit he allowed was a homerun? And what if your team has terrible offense, and didn’t score a single run in support of your pitcher? Well, then the pitcher gets the loss. Yup, even with his line of 9IP/0BB/10K/1H/1ER, he would still get the loss, because your team didn’t give him any run support. Likewise, you could have a pitcher who goes 5 innings, allows 10 hits, 5 walks, no strikeouts and, say, 10 earned runs. But as long as his team can score at least 11 runs, and the team’s bullpen holds on after his five inning outing, he will get the win. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? It really isn’t. Would you say the second pitcher is better just because he got the win? No, you wouldn’t, unless you are extremely stupid.
So, what’s the best way to determine the skill of a pitcher? Advanced ERA statistics such as FIP, xFIP, tERA, etc, seem to do a pretty good job. You can also check out a pitcher’s strikeout-to-walk ratio and opponent’s OBP. Another great stat is to use is WAR. If the pitcher has a WAR of roughly 5 or more for a season, chances are he had a good year. Likewise, if his season WAR is under 0, he was probably terrible, and his team would have been better using a pitcher from somewhere in their minor league system.
A real life example of using WAR to determine a pitcher’s skill is Nolan Ryan’s 1987 season against Jon Garland’s 2006 season, which is also further proof that pitcher wins are just terrible.
Nolan Ryan (1987): 8–16 win/loss; 2.76 ERA; 1.14 WHIP; 270 K; 87 BB; 5.5 WAR
Jon Garland (2006): 18–7 win/loss; 4.51 ERA; 1.36 WHIP; 112 K; 41 BB; 3.3 WAR
Looking at this, you can clearly see that Nolan Ryan was better, even though Jon Garland had a lot more wins and a lot more losses. But look at their WAR, Nolan Ryan was worth 5.5 wins above replacement (an All Star quality season), and Jon Garland was only worth 3.3 wins above replacement.
I’ll end this by saying there a truly a lot of ways to see how valuable a pitcher is, but please don’t use their win/loss record. It just isn’t fair. A pitcher can’t help if he’s on a team that can’t score runs. Leave a comment and tell me how you think the best way to determine a pitcher’s skill is. You can also find me on Twitter, @mitchell_jj. Thanks for reading.