Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why Wins are Stupid, Simplified

One of the main statistics that will hurt a Cy Young candidate (such as Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke) is wins. This despite the fact that the pitcher has zero control of whether or not he will win. Luckily, this year these two fine gentlemen were not bamboozled. We all know wins are probably the worst barometer for a pitchers skill, but nonetheless affected the Cy Young Vote and do year in, year out. Let’s take a look at Quality Starts in the NL for the top 3 Cy Young vote getters in 2009. I particularly would like to use Quality Starts because unlike FIP, BABIP, YMCA and STD (I’m kidding about the latter two) they are fairly simple concepts, at least comparatively. There are only two criteria to log a quality start. You must pitch 6 innings or more and you must not allow more than 3 ER (earned runs).

The Contenders were:
Tim Lincecum
Chris Carpenter
Adam Wainwright
Let’s see how they faired:

QS = Quality Start, W = Win, L = Loss, % = Percentage, ND = No Decision

What this shows is a few things. 1) If Lincecum pitched poorly, the best he could hope for was a no decision. He never was rewarded with a W for pitching poorly but rather got pinned with the L more often. On the other hand, Carpenter got 2 W and Wainwright an astonishing 5 W (more than half the time he pitched poorly). Also, you can see though Lincecum logged the most Quality Starts and the highest Quality Start percentage, he still ended up with the fewest wins. You can also see that when Lincecum pitched well he won roughly (slightly more often) as frequently as Wainwright and less often than Carpenter. In Wainwright’s defense he did take losses at a higher clip when he pitched well but the fact that he won over half of the games he pitched poorly is outrageous.

This is a fairly straightforward example to show just how unreliable the W is to compare pitchers. For reasons like this QS analysis and others, people like Keith Law considered Lincecum the top pitcher in the NL and called it a “No brainer.” Despite all the information available, however, Wainwright received 13 first place votes, a greater number than both Lincecum and Carpenter whom finished 1st and 2nd in voting, respectively. This despite being inferior to not only Lincecum and Carpenter, but at the very least 2-3 other NL pitchers. Luck is a factor, defense is a factor, and Giants fans well know offense is certainly a factor. I would never say the ’09 Cardinals’ offense was reminiscent of the ’27 Yankees, but they certainly weren’t the ’09 Giants either, were they?


  1. Really really great post. To be honest, I was a little bummed that Tim got the Cy Young...not just because I hate the Giants. I think him and Wainwright both had equal merit for the award. I think Lincecum got spotlighted more because of his previous reputation and I wouldn't completely agree that Wins are a useless stat for Cy Young. Just not the most important. Wainwright pitched really well but has a more under-the-radar style of pitching. He doesn't throw 98. He gets ground balls and is simply an effective pitcher...aka Roy Halladay. 25/34 quality starts vs 26/32 is virtually the same thing. Moreover, I don't think quality starts are that impressive of a feat because it's simply 6 IP, 3 ER, which is a 4.50 ERA. Pretty low bar for this caliber pitchers. I'd be interested in seeing someone create a "Dominant Start" statistic, 7 IP, 2 ER or better, and then seeing the numbers.

  2. K- I simply used Quality Starts to illustrate why Lincecum should have won the Cy Young in a very basic and easily understandable way. There are a plethora of reasons why Lincecum was a better and more dominant starter than Wainwright (or any other for that matter) in the NL in 2009. His opponents OPS was way more dominant, his WHIP lower, his FIP (fielding independent pitching, HR/ 9 IP, K/9 IP... basically across the board. That's why his WAR (Wins above replacement) was 8.2 to Adam's 5.7. He was worth 2.5 more wins than Wainwright, which is huge. While wins may not be COMPLETELY useless they are near it. As I've said, infinitely important to the team but worthless for evaluation the quality of a pitcher.