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Pitching by the Numbers: Win, lose or draw

Wins are fantasy baseball's most craptastic statistic.

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The Mets aren't always supportive of Matt Harvey. (USAT)

Every year, owners get screwed more or less by the randomness of the Wins category. Some, even me on occasion, out of desperation/disgust mostly, have advocated for "quality starts" to replace wins. But the trouble is that a "quality start" as officially defined could be a 4.50 ERA and a god-knows-what WHIP. That's no solution. But finding some other benchmark isn't much better and seems downright arbitrary.

Wins defenders argue that the answer is to pick pitchers on good teams and, if you don't, that's your fault. It's a clever rationalization, but the correlation between the quality of the team and the degree to which a pitcher gets screwed out of wins is weak. Also weak is the degree to which we can reasonably assess which teams are going to be good in March. Are you going to blame Stephen Strasburg owners for his 16 non-win games (3.53 ERA)? Should they have expected the Nationals' offense to be so anemic? And let's be honest, if I told you just how many runs Matt Harvey was going to allow in the games where he hasn't gotten a win, without telling you anything else, you wouldn't have worried about the Mets' offense because any team can easily beat 2.77 runs/9 on average. There's also A.J. Burnett's 15 no decisions/losses for a Pirates team that may win 100 games. I know, Burnett lacks "the will to win." Sigh.

In the absence of any real solution, there is always kvetching. So let's see who has gotten screwed the most in wins, so at least the owners of these pitchers can feel that it's fate's cruel hand rather than any forecasting deficiency on their part that's killing them in the Wins category. Here are the pitchers with the lowest ERAs in at least six no decisions plus losses. But, of course, the number of starts is also a key here. You can plainly see, for example, that Harvey and Clayton Kershaw can easily have 10 more wins right now, with normal luck on how teammates hit the days that they pitch.

Thanks to the Baseball-Reference's indispensable play index for the stats.

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I cut the list off at an ERA of 4.00. I don't think it's reasonable to expect a win when your pitcher gives up runs at about a league-average rate. And remember, all the pitchers worst outings, assuming they came in non-wins, are lumped in here, too.

Looking from the bottom, Lohse, Ogando, Latos and Leake are just mildly impacted here. Santiago's number of non-wins is surprising given that he hasn't had that many starts. But the White Sox are truly terrible to a degree no one could reasonably foretell and a 3.77 ERA isn't THAT good.

Sale is deceptive. Another way to do this would be number of games giving up two runs or less and getting a non-win. Sale has done this seven time. Strasburg leads the majors with 11 such games, followed by Shields, Burnett and Erik Bedard with 10. Other notables that make the case that the wins category stinks – Jeremy Hefner (9), Cole Hamels (9), Gio Gonzalez (9) and Jose Fernandez (9). Francisco Liriano has two. I thought Liriano and Burnett pitched on the same team, wins-can-be-predicted crowd, but maybe I'm wrong.

Forget about the two runs. Harvey has a 1.08 ERA in eight starts giving up two runs or less, with 64 Ks and six walks in 58.1 innings. Superman couldn't have won those games for the Mets (a distinction without a difference when it comes to Harvey, I know).

I have no great solutions. Make ERA in non-wins a sixth pitching category? No, you can't double-dip in ERA like that. It's wins that are the problem. Some arbitrary cutoff in ERA that everyone can agree translates to "you were really screwed out of a win today"? How about at least seven innings with two runs or less?

That would have given this year an extra seven wins to Shields, Harvey and Corbin and an extra six to Sale, Kuroda, Hernandez, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Seven other pitchers (Strasburg, Ervin Santana, Mike Leake, Kershaw, Hamels, Gonzalez, Burnett) would have gotten five more wins. I know they're not "wins" technically but we can just make "wins" actual wins OR no decisions/losses when a pitcher gives up two runs or less in seven-plus innings, can't we.

Or maybe we just live with the bad luck that's pretty much inexorably tied to our game.
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