A little over a week ago, I went on a little statistical rant regarding how silly it is to use the 100 RBI mark as a benchmark of a good season.
Today I'll do more if the similar, this time attacking the theme a pitcher's win-loss record is the best way to evaluate his performance over a given year.
How many times have you listened to someone rave about how this pitcher deserves to win the Cy Young Award simply because he's won the most games in the league? Or how that pitcher just always finds a way to win?
Most casual fans have come to realize a pitcher shouldn't be evaluated on wins and losses alone. Measures such as ERA and the amount of innings a pitcher accumulates in a season are certainly factors fans take into consideration when evaluating a pitcher while publications such as Baseball Prospectus and The Hardball Times feature metrics such as ERA+, FIP, VORP and Support Neutral Statistics.
Even with such advancements in baseball's statistical world, I can't help but believe at pitcher's win-loss record is still something fans overrate.
To play the devil's advocate, let's take a look at the best sub-.500 pitcher seasons over the last ten full years.
The VORP figures of these pitchers such be lower than the figures of our sub-100 RBI men; even with factors such as poor run support or just plain bad luck, a pitcher should win more games than he loses in a given season if he pitches well.
It's still something worth checking out however. Just how good can a pitcher be even when he loses more games than he wins? Let's take a look:
*Note: Each pitcher to make the list must have pitched at least 150 innings that season.
1. 2004: Ben Sheets (12-14 record, 70.7 VORP):
Despite the fact his record was two games under .500, Ben Sheets was easily one of the best National League starters in 2004. His VORP of 70.7 runs was the third best mark in all of baseball (second in the NL), and his FIP-ERA of 2.53 was the second lowest mark in the game. His WARP3 that season of 9.4 wins is far and away his current career high.
2. 1996: Roger Clemens (10-13 record, 64.6 VORP):
Not the best season of Clemens' career, but still a darn good one. His VORP of 64.6 runs was good for 11th in baseball and his ERA+ of 142 was good for fourth in the AL. His WARP3 that season was 10.2 wins.
3. 2000: Mike Mussina (11-15 record, 63.9 VORP):
In his final season with the Orioles, Mussina left Baltimore with a bang. Despite the 11-15 record, Moose was the 8th best pitcher in baseball according to VORP at 63.9 runs and his WARP3 of 9.0 runs is the fourth highest mark of his career.
4. 2000: Curt Schilling (11-12 record, 61.9 VORP):
Schilling was just a game under .500 in 2000, but BP's expected wins system says he should have won closer to 15 games (combined between Philadelphia and Arizona). His VORP of 61.9 runs was the tenth best mark in baseball that season.
5. 2004: Livan Hernandez (11-15 record, 61.7 VORP):
Hernandez was a full FOUR games under .500 thanks to an Expos team that give him an average of 3.95 runs of support every time he took the mound. His VORP of 61.7 runs that year was the ninth best mark in baseball and his WARP3 of 9.5 wins is a current career high.
6. 1997: Kevin Appier (9-13 record, 60.8 VORP):
Like Hernandez, Appier was a full four games under .500 in 1997, but that doesn't mean he wasn't a productive pitcher. His WARP3 of 8.0 wins was the fourth highest mark of his career and his VORP of 60.8 runs was good for 13th in baseball.
7. 1999: Brad Radke (12-14 record, 60.0 VORP):
Back when Brad Radke wasn't pitching with an injured shoulder, he was putting together some pretty productive years; his high point coming in 1999. His VORP 60.0 runs was good for 8th in baseball and his WARP3 of 8.9 wins is a career high.
8. 1996: Curt Schilling (9-10 record, 59.7 VORP):
Curt Schilling pops up on the list for the second time with his 1996 season. Schilling only won 9 games in 1996, but BP's expected wins system says he should have won closer to 13. Schilling's VORP of 59.7 runs was good for 18th in baseball that year.
9. 1997: Ismael Valdez (10-11 record, 58.8 VORP):
Hey, remember this guy? Valdez had a nice season in 1997 posting a career high in ERA+ at 146 and a WARP3 of 6.1 wins; the second highest mark of his career. His VORP of 58.8 runs was good for 18th in baseball.
10. 1998: Francisco Cordova (13-14 record, 55.6 VORP):
Cordova's career was short-lived, but his 1998 season was a pretty good one. His VORP of 55.6 runs was good for 13th in baseball and his WARP3 of 6.5 wins is his single season high he accumulated throughout his five year career.
As expected the VORP marks were a bit lower than that of our sub-100 RBI men, but these seasons were still quite good.
None of the VORP mark dipped below 55.0 runs. To give you a perspective of that figure think of Chien-Ming Wang in 2006. Not bad huh?
Once again, a pitcher's win-loss record isn't completely useless, but this is just more evidence that you don't need gaudy win totals to have a good season. Heck, you can even have a sub-.500 season and still have a productive year.