W-L not real important, but Miller’s bad luck is real ridiculous

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Shelby Miller ranks among NL leaders in ERA and opponents' batting average, yet he's 0-7 in his past 14 starts due primarily to terrible run support and some shaky bullpen outings. (Getty Images)

 

It’s become the most predictable call-and-response in baseball: Someone points out the won-lost record of this pitcher or that one, and a particular cadre of followers on Twitter feels compelled to jump to attention and point out that “won-lost records are worthless,” or “wins and losses are entirely useless,” or, “Why do you even mention his won-lost record when it means nothing?”.

Shelby Miller ranks among NL leaders in ERA and opponents' batting average, yet he's 0-7 in his past 14 starts due primarily to terrible run support and some shaky bullpen outings. (Getty Images)

Shelby Miller ranks among NL leaders in ERA and opponents’ batting average, yet he’s 0-7 in his past 14 starts due primarily to terrible run support and some shaky bullpen outings. (Getty Images)

Which would be a reasonable response, if the person using the won-lost record were actually using it as some sort of primary indicator of how well a pitcher has performed. But here’s the thing: Almost no one on Twitter is actually doing that. Find me a baseball writer who, in the past three years, has used won-lost record as a primary indicator of how well a pitcher has performed, without citing other statistics. We’ll wait.

In almost every instance, the writer is actually using the won-lost record as merely one of multiple statistics in a pitcher’s body of work, or – and this is what makes this ongoing call-and-response cycle a joke – the writer or broadcaster or whoever is actually using the won-lost record precisely to show how remarkably out of whack it is with how well the pitcher has performed.

Yet that group of folks, the ones who just can’t stop themselves from responding with one of the above replies or a slight variation, either doesn’t exactly read closely enough to realize this, or to process this. Their only response is built-in, automated, they just have to spit it out, like they signed some agreement with the other “pitcher wins are meaningless” crowd, and they have to provide the same response even if that response is completely, utterly unwarranted in the specific case in which they’re providing it.

To wit: Today I posted that Shelby Miller has a 1.97 ERA at home — that’s the seventh-best home ERA in the NL, by the way – yet only a 2-4 record to show for it. I cited this to offer another example, another measure, of just how ridiculous his bad luck and poor support have been this season. I cited it to show just how well he’s pitched despite the record, to show that the record is in no way an indication of how he has performed.

And yet, somehow The Group still felt compelled to respond. To note that “won-lost records are entirely meaningless,” as one said. And that “there are many metric stats that are far better” to illustrate a pitcher’s performance. Another responded with, “Haven’t we all agreed that won-lost records are meaningless?”

I mean, seriously, this is crazy. You folks need to read carefully and think about Tweets before responding. They are only 140 characters, there aren’t a lot of subtleties buried within. You can surely grasp that, in this case and so many others, we are using the won-lost record to point out precisely how crazy it is that this particular pitcher has not been rewarded with more wins. And if Miller was, say 8-6, it wouldn’t even be worth noting. But he’s not.

This is a very extreme case of one pitcher having the worst run-support in the majors, the worst among all qualified starters at 2.64 runs per nine innings pitched. And the reason this is worth noting is because among most of us who’ve followed the game a long time, and those who’ve played or managed a long time, we’ve never seen a pitcher have quite this degree of buzzard’s luck.

(Update: When I picked up the Braves game notes just now, there was this statistic, courtesy of Elias: Miller is just the second pitcher of the live-ball era, since 1920, to have a winless streak of 14 starts with an ERA as low as Miller’s during that stretch. The other was the Mets’ Craig Swan in 1978, the year he won the National League ERA title.)

Usually this stuff starts to balance out over the course of a season, or the pitcher himself has several bad outings and his ERA rises a bit and it no longer looks so ridiculous that he has more losses than wins. But not in the case of Shelby Miller. This is remarkable, how well he’s pitched and how many times the Braves have lost those games. That’s why we’re pointing out the won-lost record and the fact he’s gone 14 starts without getting a win. Is it really that hard to understand why this is worth noting? To understand that we’re not making any statements about the value of won-lost records when we cite his?

Or is this crowd simply unable to discern the difference in how the won-lost record is used? Is everything black or white with you folks? There’s no human element in sports, no clutch hitting, no pressure that a pitcher or batter feels when a game is on the line and the crowd is roaring, etc. – we all get that most of you in The Crowd feel that way, and we’ll agree to disagree. No worries. Maybe you’re right. (You’re not, but maybe.) But in the case of this won-lost thing, can you really not read a little closer to understand that most of us – at least in my case – am not putting any more value on a won-lost record, not making any statement about the worth of the ‘W’, when I use it to cite how bad Shelby Miller’s luck has been by noting that he’s gone 14 starts without getting a win, that the Braves have scored zero or one run while he’s been in 10 of those starts, that they’ve lost 11 of his past 12 starts, etc.?

Miller was 5-1 with a 1.33 ERA in his first eight starts, and the Braves scored 4.5 runs per nine innings he pitched in that span. He’s 0-7 with a 3.14 ERA in his past 14 starts, and the Braves have scored just under 1.50 runs per nine innings he’s pitched in that span. They’ve lost 12 of his past 13 starts including each of the past nine. That’s extreme. That’s why it’s notable.

So, really, there is no need for the Pavolovian response when one of us cites a won-lost record in a case such as Miller’s. We’re with you: Won-lost records are not at all an accurate measure of a pitcher’s performance, and are, for the most part, not important during the course of a single season (I still firmly believe that won-lost records over a pitcher’s entire career are important, as things such as run support, the defense played behind him, ballpark factors, etc., tend to even out over 10-20 years, and a pitcher can’t get by on gaudy run support or string together 15 wins a season with smoke and mirrors over a career. But within a single season? No, the W-L record is not a reliable indicator of performance.)

Anyway, just one more thing: For those of you who keep saying the won-lost record is unimportant, that it’s meaningless, useless. Most who say this the  loudest sure aren’t pitchers, because starting pitchers want to get W’s. Never getting them, or rarely getting them, makes it difficult to feel good about one’s work. If you don’t believe me, just ask one of them. Or even ask a position player.

Most players have become quite sophisticated when it comes to stats. Maybe not the most esoteric of metrics, but plenty of advanced stats, they keep up with. But unlike many in The Crowd, players aren’t so cavalier as to utterly dismiss the won-lost record and its importance to pitchers. (And by the way, if you don’t think it comes up anymore in contract negotiations and arbitration hearings, think again.)

Chris Johnson said after Tuesday’s game, when Miller gave up four hits and two runs and seven innings and came away with no decision in another Braves loss, that the hitters are thinking about it when Miller pitches now, that they might even be trying too hard, because it’s important to them that he start to get some wins.

“Absolutely,” Johnson said. “Because he’s a teammate, we care about him, and he’s been pitching great. For him to pitch as well as he has and not be able to come up with wins – cause that’s what a lot of pitchers on our team care about, is winning the game. A lot of people say ‘Oh, his ERA is good, so who cares?’ But that’s not the way he thinks. He wants to win ballgames, and we’re just not giving him the opportunity.”

• Let’s close with this live version of a beauty from Ryan Bingham.

“HARD TIMES” by Ryan Bingham

Ryan Bingham

Ryan Bingham

When I was young my daddy said, Son
Never be ashamed of where your from
There’s nothin wrong with your last name
Don’t be lookin for people to blameCause hard times they come and they go
Most of the time they’re in the middle of the road
It’s the same pain in different ways
Don’t your know, Son, when it pours it rainsHard times
In the middle of your road
Hard times
Creepin up on the good folks you know
Hard times
You daddy wakes up and you lit the stove
Hard times
From the California hills to the Coverdale Road

You got yours and I have mine
Mostly good folks have tried and tried
To make a livin on your minimum wage
Your coming up short nearly every day

And what’s enough and what’s the cost
You can’t stand up cause all is lost
You roll us up and your doors are locked
There’s a poor boy livin on every block

Hard times
In the middle of your road
Hard times
Creepin up on the good folks you know
Hard times
You’re livin down the rest of you knows
Hard times
From the California hills to the Coverdale Road

When I was young my daddy said, Son
Never be ashamed of where your from
There’s nothin wrong with your last name
So don’t be lookin for people to blame

Cause hard times they come and they go
And most of the time they’re in the middle of your road
It’s the same pain, different way
Don’t your know when it pours it rains

And it’ll always be around
Followin you from town to town
But you can get up when it puts you down
Cause everybody’s got ’em if you look around

Hard times
In the middle of your road
Hard times
Creepin up on the good folks you know
Hard times
Huddled around a wood burnin stove
Hard times

 


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