The discussion on pitcher wins (and losses) isn’t a new one, but this 2020 season finally gives us a good excuse to re-work the archaic — and, frankly, stupid — stat. If not for holds, it might be the dumbest stat in all of sports. Let’s use Tuesday night’s Rangers-Mariners game to illustrate. 

Here were the Rangers’ pitchers: 

Now, if we’re actually assigning a “win” to an individual player, which one merited that W? In a meritocracy, shouldn’t it be the pitcher that contributed the most to the team winning? In that case, it’s Minor first and Rodriguez second, no? 

The Rangers had the lead with Minor in the game, too. The rest of the group was simply tasked with not losing the lead. Guess who got the win? Volquez! 

Ridiculous, right? The least effective pitcher of the group was Goody, but I think we’ve got to agree Volquez was second-least effective. And he ends up with the win. 

Here’s the official rule that so many old-school fans have been beholden to for years: 

9.17 Winning and Losing Pitcher 

(a) The Official Scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher that pitcher whose team assumes a lead while such pitcher is in the game, or during the inning on offense in which such pitcher is removed from the game, and does not relinquish such lead, unless (1) such pitcher is a starting pitcher and Rule 9.17(b) applies. (b) If the pitcher whose team assumes a lead while such pitcher is in the game, or during the inning on offense in which such pitcher is removed from the game, and does not relinquish such lead, is a starting pitcher who has not completed (1) five innings of a game that lasts six or more innings on defense, or (2) four innings of a game that lasts five innings on defense, then the Official Scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher the relief pitcher, if there is only one relief pitcher, or the relief pitcher who, in the Official Scorer’s judgment was the most effective, if there is more than one relief pitcher. (c) The Official Scorer shall not credit as the winning pitcher a relief pitcher who is ineffective in a brief appearance, when at least one succeeding relief pitcher pitches effectively in helping his team maintain its lead. In such a case, the Official Scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher the succeeding relief pitcher who was most effective, in the judgment of the Official Scorer. (d) A losing pitcher is a pitcher who is responsible for the run that gives the winning team a lead that the winning team does not relinquish.

One might wonder how Volquez got the win by getting just one out. Well, there’s a comment in the rules that clues us in. 

It is the intent of Rule 9.17(b) that a relief pitcher pitch at least one complete inning or pitch when a crucial out is made, within the context of the game (including the score), in order to be credited as the winning pitcher. If the first relief pitcher pitches effectively, the Official Scorer should not presumptively credit that pitcher with the win, because the rule requires that the win be credited to the pitcher who was the most effective, and a subsequent relief pitcher may have been most effective. The Official Scorer, in determining which relief pitcher was the most effective, should consider the number of runs, earned runs and base runners given up by each relief pitcher and the context of the game at the time of each relief pitcher’s appearance. If two or more relief pitchers were similarly effective, the Official Scorer should give the presumption to the earlier pitcher as the winning pitcher.  

Volquez entered the game with a two-run lead and a runner on first, so the tying run was at the plate. He got out of the inning. Apparently the official scorer deemed him worthy of the win based upon that comment and him not allowing the tying run to score. He gave up a single before getting one out, though. Allowing a .500 batting average against isn’t exactly a stellar outing. Out of the six Rangers who pitched, four were more effective, but Volquez got the win. 

This is just another in an excessively long line of examples of how amazingly dumb this stat is. It’s called a “win” for an individual player in a team sport and yet, the following could happen: 

  • Reliever A enters a game with a four-run lead and the bases loaded in the top of the ninth
  • Reliever A gives up a game-tying grand slam
  • Reliever A gives up another home run to lose the lead
  • Reliever A records the third out of the inning
  • Reliever A’s team wins in the bottom of the ninth
  • Reliever A gets the win

Now explain to me with a straight face that after seeing the Rangers example from Tuesday night and hypothetical I just laid out how you’d use W-L record as a primary indicator of how to judge pitchers. You simply can’t do it. 

And yet, people still look at W-L and judge pitchers off of it. Fortunately we’ve grown from back when that was the only stat considered in Cy Young voting, but we still aren’t home. Legions of players, fans and media still look at it as if it matters. 

The good news is 2020 should give us an impetus to change this ridiculous rule. The reason Minor didn’t get the win Tuesday night against the Mariners was because he didn’t work the minimum of five innings for a starter (why a starter has to go five but a reliever can go 1/3 of an inning and get the win is beyond me). This season, many starting pitchers haven’t been stretched out enough to get deep into the games and it’s due to the circumstances of how this season has been played out. Starters are averaging less than five innings per start, through Tuesday (4.73). Further, in the era of the opener and bullpen games, it’s possible the most effective pitcher threw the first three innings. 

The solution is pretty simple to me. If we’re going to continue to pretend a team stat is assigned to an individual pitcher, give the win to the pitcher who, in the discretion of the official scorer, did the most to contribute to the team victory. In nearly every case, it’s pretty clear. As with the above case of the Rangers Tuesday night win, it’s Minor. That’s pretty easy and obvious. If it’s not easy and obvious, that’s OK with me. They make tough judgement calls on errors vs. hits all the time. 

Or just lose it altogether. It’s a terrible stat. 

The bottom line is the win stat is absolutely hit or miss. Sometimes it’s assigned correctly. Far too often it’s given to someone who has no business getting it while the most deserving pitcher is snubbed simply because of circumstance. That’s not a stat that deserves being taken seriously, no matter how much one might revere history. 

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