First of all, the title of this article might trigger some folks. But, that’s what I’m here for. I follow my heart.
Let me first get this out of the way – The pitching stat(s) that we know as “wins and losses” do not currently matter the way the game is played. To reference a current pitcher’s wins and loss record in the year 2019 shows that you don’t have a grasp on baseball. They haven’t mattered for a long time. Peter Moylan had one “loss” last year and Chad Sobotka was credited with a “win.”
You’ve probably seen the, now infamous, cringe-worthy video of PTI’s Michael Wilbon ranting about how Jacob deGrom shouldn’t have won the 2018 Cy Young Award because of his wins and loss record. It was an embarrassing moment for Wilbon, but what’s even more embarrassing is the fact that Wilbon didn’t understand why it was embarrassing. Just to recap – deGrom’s “record” was 10-9 but he had a 1.70 ERA with a 0.912 WHIP and over 250 strikeouts. In other words – in 2019 Jacob deGrom did his job on a team that couldn’t make contact with the broad side of a barn. He was the first pitcher since 1913 to allow 3 or less runs in 25 straight starts.
In 1987 there were 29 guys who threw at least 220 innings. In 1990, there were 20. In the year 2000, there were 14. In 2004, there were 11. In 2014, there were 8. And, in 2018, there was 1 – Max Scherzer.
In 1988 Orel Hershiser threw 267 innings and had 15 complete games. The last time someone threw at least 267 innings in a season was in 1999 when Randy Johnson did it. The Big Unit pitched for 22 seasons and averaged 230 innings each season. To my knowledge, his arm never fell off and he made a lot of money.
Let’s go ahead and get the elephant out of the room – pitching injuries.
I don’t care about pitching injuries. It’s not my job to care about pitching injuries. I am a baseball fan and I want to be entertained. Let me explain.
I grew up watching John Smoltz. Smoltz and Terry Pendleton were my favorite Atlanta Braves. Before his bullpen days, when he was a starter, Smoltz would take the mound with every intention on finishing the game in question. You could tell by watching him. It was his mound. It was his game. Sometimes his nostrils would flare up (just slightly) and I would honestly feel bad (at least for a moment) for the batter and for the batter’s immediate family. More times than not, he wouldn’t finish the game that he started. But he would go deep. And, when Bobby would trot out to the mound to take the ball from John, and hand over the reigns to the bullpen, John was pissed. Real pissed. The expression on his face, each time he left the game, was always of someone who thought he knew better than his manager. John Smoltz just could not believe that someone would have audacity to take him out of a baseball game. He was fully confident that, whatever the jam was, he could get out of it better than any bullpen arm on Earth. It was beautiful. And, even though he completed 6 of his 35 games started in 1996, he still “won” 24 games that year. His offense sort of helped that year, too, granted.
Listen, wins have never been the best way to gauge a pitcher and complete games have never been the norm. Relief pitchers and bullpens have been around since the 1870s. I’m reading a book right now called The Pen Men, by Bob Cairns, about the history of the relief pitcher. Pitching changes is no new thing. But seven or eight pitching changes during a game certainly is new.
It’s also important to acknowledge that, even when wins mattered (or at least when they mattered more), a starting pitcher’s record was sometimes only as good as the offense on his respective team.
Look at 1976 Tom Seaver.
The Mets were okay at the plate that year, but nothing to write home about. Because the Mets were okay offensively that year, they were also okay at scoring runs, which gave Tom Seaver (former Atlanta Brave first-round pick) a record of 14-11. But Tom had a 2.54 ERA that year, which sounds and looks more bad ass than a 14-11 record. So, what do I say to that? Sometime’s life’s not fair and if sports were fair, they wouldn’t be sports.
So, as we can see in 1976 – wins, even in 1976, were not everything. They’ve never been everything. But they mattered a lot more. Why? Because Tom pitched 271 innings that year and completed 13 of his 35 games started. He had much more ownership in those games and because he had more ownership, the records meant more, and Tom was pissed each time he cashed in a stellar performance only to see his team suck. Getting pissed in sports is a beautiful thing.
This ancient ideology of wins and losses also put more ownership on the bullpen. The last thing you wanted to do, if you were Rollie Fingers or Lee Smith, was to blow the game, the game in which the starting pitcher believed was his to win or lose. It was beautiful.
So, why does any of this matter? Why should I care about innings pitched and wins and losses? Shouldn’t I just care if my favorite baseball team wins or loses the game? Perhaps. But, I care about wins and losses and innings pitched because I like to watch a competitor on live TV, and because I hate commercials.
It’s like my friend Jim Kaat acknowledges on Episode 78 of Knockahoma Nation – Sure, you could probably be effective with 27 pitching changes, but that’s not entertaining. One guy, with the weight on his shoulders, who’s been charged with finishing what he started, is entertaining. And guess what? Baseball players are entertainers and I want to be entertained. Too many Tommy John surgeries? That’s not my problem. Learn how to pitch.
So, what’s the fix? I think it starts with youth baseball. Two things – kids are playing year-round and they’re throwing too hard too early and too much (which has led to a historic rise in arm injuries). What we are seeing now at the minor league level (in general) are a bunch of guys who know how to use their arms but not their brains. Listen, I know we have 100 years of data showing us that pitchers are less effective the third time thru an order, but we’ve over-corrected and it’s annoying. Instead of teaching these kids how to use their brains and how to adjust, we’ve taken the easy way out. We now take them out after the 5th or 6th inning, instead of pushing them to out-think the opposition, and I’m left with way too many damn commercial breaks and by September I’m watching football.
The answer to this is way above my pay grade. I’m merely a replacement-level podcaster. But, in my perfect world kids would only play baseball in the summer months, and pitchers would only get taken out of the game if they were getting their ass handed to them. Let’s go back to the days when wins mattered more because those were the days when you watched one guy, with the weight on his shoulders, on live TV, try to finish what he started.
Commercials suck and Dave Roberts is an idiot.*
Editor’s Note: *Dave Roberts is reportedly an idiot because he pulled Rich Hill from a no hitter.