Friday, June 3, 2011

Steve Berthiaume Loses a Game for the Wins Crowd

By The Common Man

The Common Man actually likes Steve Berthiaume, who he has mocked mercilessly for his decision to pick the Astros to win the NL Central. Which, by the way, is still hilarious.

That said, Bert has a good sense of humor about himself, is from Wisconsin, and has gone out of his way to embrace SweetSpot Network bloggers like The Common Man. Which is why TCM is so sad that he has to say this: Steve, you are so terribly, horribly wrong about this that it is…God, just painful.

Berthiaume lays out the argument today that we should respect Kevin Correia’s win total for the Pittsburgh Pirates, saying “let's not do a sabermetric sidestep around one simple fact: There is still only ONE stat that counts in the division standings and that's wins. And no major league pitcher has more wins than Pittsburgh's Kevin Correia.” Which, while true, ignores the fact that pitcher wins and team wins are not the same thing. In fact they are completely different definitions. All Correia has to do to get a “win” is escape the 5th inning with a lead that his bullpen doesn’t relinquish. Teams have to be ahead at the end of 9 innings. So while Correia’s team has won in 8 of his 12 starts, Roy Halladay has started 9 games that his team has won, even though he’s only credited with 7 “wins.” Ditto with Cole Hamels. Isn’t that more impressive?

But that’s not even the real point.

In actuality, pitching wins is a terrible way to judge pitcher performance, because so much of a pitcher’s record is determined by his team’s offensive performance. Indeed, Correia has gotten good results in 2011. His walk rate is excellent and his ERA is a low 3.40 (112 ERA+). And he’s allowing just 0.8 homers per nine innings while posting the highest GB/FB ratio of his career (1.02). Correia has been far better than expected for the Pirates, especially considering a strikeout rate (4.0 per nine innings) that would be the lowest of his career. But the reason for his 8 wins is not that he’s been such a tremendous pitcher. It’s that in his eight wins, the Pirates have scored 47 runs, or just a shade under 6 runs per game. This in an offensive environment where teams have scored just 4.15 runs per game in the National League, and the Pirates themselves are scoring just 3.93.

Indeed, his teammate Paul Maholm, who has gotten similar results in 12 starts, allowing the exact same number of runs on the season as Correia in just one-third of an inning less, has a record of just 2-7. Is that because Maholm “doesn’t know how to win?” Of course not. We can look at the fact that the Pirates have scored just 18 runs in his seven losses, and just 8 runs in the first six that he was charged with the L.
Is that Maholm’s fault? Is Correia just that much better at rallying the troops and encouraging his offense? Does he play this video before every game?

No, of course not. It’s luck that his offense has had his back, while they’ve been almost entirely absent in Maholm’s starts. Not some magical ability to “win games.” Sorry Steve, this may be worse than the Astros pick.  The Common Man still loves ya, though.


Chip said...

Great piece TCM. I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt compelled to write a response about his latest piece. I like Berthiaume, and he's written several quality articles. His latest on "wins" was just dead wrong. While I agree that wins and losses are the most important stat, they're a team stat--not an individual stat. Again, great piece.

Bryan said...

This whole mess could have been avoided if the pitcher win, when the statistic was invented, was named "leads created" or something that more accurately describes what the pitcher really "accomplishes".

I think this is more of a psychology issue than a baseball issue or a sabermetric issue. People are so resistant to change when they're comfortable with something. We're told that wins are the only thing that matters and we name a statistic "wins" and when people start telling us that pitchers don't win games, our instinct is to resist.

It's similar to the idea of run producers and lineup protection. We're taught all these things when we play the game and when they're proven to be close to worthless, even reasonably sophisticated analysts like Steve have a hard time accepting that there are better ways to measure a player's value or success.

The Common Man said...

But the pitcher doesn't create the lead, Bryan. He keeps the other team from scoring as much as possible. It's his team's offense that has to create a lead. The point is that we need to get away from giving players credit for things over which they have no control. Run creation and run prevention are the only things that ultimately matter, and what lead to wins.

Bryan said...

TCM, I'm not arguing for a stat called "wins created" (and I understand that the pitcher doesn't create the win). I'm just assuming that, even if the pitcher win wasn't invented when it was, it would have come around in some form anyway, and if it had a less misleading name, it might not be on baseball cards and in newspapers and at the tip of the tongue of everyone who thinks Kevin Correia is having a better season than Cliff Lee.

And while we're talking semantics, the offense can't create the lead either. The defense is equally involved.