Baseball is considered by many to simply be a game of numbers. Every pitch, every swing, every hit and every run are all kept track of. It’s through these statistics and numbers that fans try to determine which players are superior to the others. Baseball writers also analyze data similarly to determine which players earn individual awards at the end of each season, such as MVP and Cy Young Awards. In the last twenty years or so, there’s a change in figuring out not only what the numbers mean, but also in determining how relevant they are.
Take for instance the game Matt Harvey pitched tonight for the New York Mets. Harvey was completely dominant for nine innings, only allowing one batter to reach base (an infield single with two outs in the 7th inning) while striking out 12 White Sox batters. How does his performance show up in the box score? He’s credited with a no-decision, while Bobby Parnell was given the win. This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s part of a bigger problem.
For people who fall in love with statistics, they’ll often find themselves quick to point out a pitcher’s win-loss record, but that often is one of the worst statistical references to how well a pitcher performed during the course of a season. As was the case with Harvey, if your team doesn’t score any runs, you’ll never be given a win. It seems ironic that the award for best pitcher is named after Cy Young who won 511 games during the course of his career, more than any pitcher in baseball history. What is often forgotten is that he also lost 316 games during his career, which just so happens to also be a record.
It’s very much a debate between the old school versus the new school thought process. In fact, the MLB Network has a show which discusses topics such as this. Watch as Harold Reynolds (ex-Major League Baseball player) debates Brian Kenny (MLB Network host) about whether or not wins are an important statistic.
So what’s the correct way to determine how good or bad a pitcher actually is? There’s plenty of data and statistics which give a better look at how effective a pitcher is. For instance WHIP is an often overlooked statistic (although it is used more now than it ever has before) which shows on average how many walks and hits a pitcher allows per inning pitched. While an average Major League pitcher has a WHIP of just over 1.20, an elite pitcher will find have a WHIP of 1.00 or below. In 2012, Clayton Kershaw of the L.A. Dodgers led all pitchers in MLB with a WHIP of 1.02.
Although there is nothing wrong with looking at statistics, one has to remember that they’re only providing a limited amount of information. Just because a pitcher strikes out a lot of hitters, it doesn’t mean they’re a better pitcher than someone who doesn’t. Similarly, a pitcher’s win-loss record is not indicative of how good a pitcher is either.