Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In Defense of Win Totals

In a recent issue of ESPN the Magazine, Steve Wulf wrote about the debate over pitchers’ win totals. He summarized that wins have far more value when used to evaluate careers than individual seasons.

The Sports Resource put this to the test by comparing pitchers wins – which many statistical experts despise – to Wins Above Replacement (WAR), perhaps the best individual metric for quantifying a starting pitcher’s contributions.

During the 2010 season, the top 10 pitchers in wins had a 3.14 ERA. The best 10 pitchers in WAR posted an outstanding 2.60 ERA. Obviously, the latter group was much stronger. Phil Hughes made the wins group with a 4.19 ERA. The highest ERA in the WAR group was Jered Weaver’s 3.01.

As the timeframe expands, something interesting happens: the gap begins to narrow considerably. After the 0.54 ERA difference in 2010, it drops to just 0.19 over five seasons (2006-10). In a 10-year stretch (2001-10), the gap falls to 0.11 (see chart). While wins never match WAR as an evaluation tool, they become much more valuable.

While run support, defense and bullpen support impact win totals tremendously in one season, those factors tend to even out over time. Rarely will a pitcher receive horrible run support over a 10-year timeframe. His support/luck will eventually improve. Or, if he pitches for a poor team with consistent offensive problems, he could sign as a free agent or get traded to a higher scoring club.

The takeaway message is that agents shouldn’t dismiss win totals completely. Career and multi-year win totals can demonstrate value for starting pitchers, especially in the later arbitration and free agency seasons.

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