Monday, June 12, 2006

When Wins And Losses are Meaningless Stats

by Doug Silversten

“Lies. Damned Lies. And Statistics.” I am sure you’ve heard that expression countless times. And for those who are ignorant of the power of statistics, it is often their mantra. While statistics can often mislead if interpreted incorrectly, they also have the power to reveal objective truths that the “gut feels” and “scouting reports” never can. Overall, I’m definitely in the “Moneyball” camp. However, having said that, there are a certain statistics that really are meaningless. And this column is about one of the most meaningless ones.

Wins and Losses.

What? Wins and Losses? Isn’t that the most important statistic? Well, yes, from a team standpoint. It is the ultimate stat. A team’s record is all that matters. All that other stuff on how they got there can be interesting and revealing, but at the end of the day, wins and losses are all that matters. As Bill Parcells put it, “You are what your record says you are.”

And nothing could be further from the truth for starting pitchers.

When a pitcher takes the mound to start a game, his mission is to give up as few of runs as possible. He doesn’t know if the game will be a 1-0 nail-biter, a 10-0 laugher, or somewhere in between. Yes, there is something to be said that a possible indication is the quality of the other starter. However, I feel that more affects the offense and how a game is managed than the pitcher’s approach. His job is simple: don’t let the other team score. Once the game progresses, sure, things may change. But, in general, it is tough to argue with the fact that a pitcher cannot control how many runs his team scores, only what the opponent does. Nor can he control what his bullpen does after he departs. So, having said that, let’s play a little game:

Pitcher A: 7-5.
Pitcher B: 6-2.

Who is having the better year? Tough to tell? I agree.

Pitcher A: 80.0 IP, 1.41 WHIP, 5.63 ERA, 63 Ks
Pitcher B: 85.2 IP, 0.89 WHIP, 2.94 ERA, 97 Ks

Who is having the better year? If you didn’t answer pitcher B, you are on the wrong site. Click here for something more your speed. The point is, all those other stats supplied information that provided evidence (strange word, I know, for many anti-Moneyballers) of performance. What additional information does the Wins and Losses provide? Does the fact that A went 7-5 and B 6-2 add any additional support for evaluating performance? Sure, it gives you a hint about run support. But performance? None, unless you really believe in the whole “pitch to the score.” And if the stat provides no support of anything of any kind, doesn’t that mean, by definition, it is meaningless?

Of course, if you watched both pitchers the entire year, you don’t need stats to tell you that Pedro Martinez (Pitcher B) is having another amazing year and Randy Johnson (Pitcher A), well, sort of sucks. But no one can follow every player on every team, and while I am all for scouts, occasionally you may want to evaluate talent on statistics. And for the love of common sense, ignore the letters “W” and “L” when judging a starter’s performance.

One more piece of that strange “evidence” word again:

Pedro in the month of May: 6 starts, 6 innings or more in each start. 42 IP. 55/6 K/BB ratio. 25 Hits. 10 ER.

Pedro’s record in May: 0-1.


Doug Silversten's column, "The Big Picture", appears alternate Mondays


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"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine