Player’s View: Kill the Win?

The MLB Network’s Brian Kenny wants to “Kill the Win.” As a FanGraphs reader, you’re certainly familiar with – and quite possibly supportive of – his stance. The stat is often misleading, and slowly but surely it’s becoming less of a barometer when assessing an individual pitcher’s performance. But should the win be “killed”? I recently posed that question to nine pitchers, two pitching coaches and a pitcher-turned-broadcaster. Here are their responses:

Chris Archer, Rays: “I don’t know if it should be killed. The emphasis behind it isn’t as great as people make it out to be. I think true baseball gurus, and players and management, know. It’s how a lot of fans may judge someone, but we know there’s not so much behind the importance of (an individual pitcher’s) win.”

Craig Breslow, Red Sox: “I don’t think it’s going anywhere. Unless we’re going to kill every single statistic, then we should spare the win. I don’t think you can make a good argument for killing a statistic for not telling the whole story. You just to have to explain it doesn’t give a comprehensive evaluation of the performance of a pitcher.”

Kevin Gausman, Orioles: “I don’t think you can just get rid of it. What if a starting pitcher has an unbelievable year and wins 25 or 30 games? He definitely had an effect on why his team won those games. That would probably be my biggest argument against getting rid of it.”

Miguel Gonzalez, Orioles: “You can’t control much about it, but I’m not sure I’d want to get rid of the stat. It’s just part of the game, and always has been.”

Mark Langston, Angels broadcaster: “A win maybe doesn’t equate to the performance, but it’s the history of the game and you’re not going to change the history of the game. It’s always been about wins, and that statistic has been attached. I believe in tradition. Statistical information is leaning against the weight of a win, but to me it’s still a factor. As a pitcher, getting the win is part of your motivation to be out there.”

Colby Lewis, Rangers: “It’s a lot different now, because starters don’t pitch as deep as they used to. It’s one of those things where sometimes your team scores for you, and you get the win. Sometimes you pitch well and your offense doesn’t show up, and you get a loss. Regardless of your wins and losses, when you look at your stats at the end of the year, you know if you pitched well, or not. But I’d still like to have it.”

Mike Maddux, Rangers pitching coach: “You’d have to amend a lot of numbers if we got rid of it. That’s the barometer we’re measured on. People get to the Hall of Fame by accumulated statistics. I don’t think anybody has gotten there because they said, ‘Hey, he was a good player.’ It’s because he did something statistically, and the win is the carrot on the end of the stick. In every box score there’s a W in front of one person’s name. To take that away from a pitcher would be take a brick out of the wall.”

Jake Odorizzi, Rays: “There are a lot of variables that go into a win, so it’s a stat you can’t really look too much into. Wins are nice – they’re the sexy stat – but peripheral stats show more than wins and losses. I wouldn’t get rid of it, though. They’ve been there since the start of baseball, and somebody has to win, and somebody has to lose.”

Jered Weaver, Angels: “It’s something that’s been around as long as baseball has been around. Why change it? All these numbers, and all these thoughts everybody has, is kind of getting out of control. (Wins and losses not matching performance) is just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.”

Carl Willis, Red Sox pitching coach: “I don’t think it needs to be killed. A pitcher is only in control of so much – you can throw a great game and lose 1-0 – but he’s still out there trying to get a win. There are some motivational aspects to it.”

C.J. Wilson, Angels: “You want to win as many games as you can, but you obviously can’t control wins as much as you can control other statistical things. I’ve won games giving up five runs. Unless a pitcher is routinely getting hosed by his offense, I don’t think he’s going to want to kill it. I can understand why, if you’re in a fantasy league, you don’t want wins to be a limiting factor to how your team does. But baseball is about real wins, so it’s a real stat. A win also doesn’t assume anything, unlike a sabermetric stat like xFIP. If you’re going to kill a classic stat, the classic guys should be able to kill one of the saber stats. It’s all about context.”

Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals: “Wins and losses for a pitcher don’t really matter. For me, it’s more about innings pitched, WHIP and ERA. You can go out there and and give up one run in seven innings and get the loss. Wins and losses aren’t a big deal for me. I wouldn’t get rid of them, though. Fans like it. Those are numbers they look for and want to see.”

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Dan
Guest
Dan

So almost every reason given comes down to tradition, popularity or motivation. None of those are very compelling or valid. Tradition is just a terrible reason for anything if it’s the only reason you have, and if there are good reasons not to do it. Popularity is fleeting and can be changed. Over time, if the stats changed, fans would come to accept it. Motivation is the same, but for players. Hopefully pitchers would come to be motivated by something better than a deeply flawed stat.

Rusty Priske
Guest
Rusty Priske

” None of those are very compelling or valid”

You misspelled ‘ALL’

Tradition is very important in baseball.

There is NOTHING wrong with the WIN statistic per se. The only problem is people assuming in means something different than it actually does.

Roger
Guest
Roger

This seems like a basic miscommunication about, or failure to make explicit, what the two of you are arguing. If you read “reasons” as “reasons **to use wins as an evaluative or predictive metric**” then it’s clear that the arguments are largely very bad. Whereas if you mean “reasons **to talk about pitchers’ wins at all**” then it’s arguable just as you say that tradition or whatever else are real, reasonable grounds for an argument.

Jake
Guest
Jake

The problem is it often means the exact opposite of what it’s tell you it means.

Paul G.
Guest
Paul G.

Ah, tradition. Tradition is typically formed through trial and error by the experiences of many, many generations. It forms because the tradition works, or at least it appears to work. It’s kinda like science except not as formal or rigorous. See problem, test problem, solve problem, note it down for next time.

This is not to say tradition is always correct. Sometimes what appeared to be the solution to some problem was not really the solution at all, getting the cause and effect wrong in some way. And sometimes traditions that were perfectly valid for their time and place no longer work in a different context. Traditions should be questioned.

That said to reject tradition out of hand is a poor reasoning. If you can put forth a reasoned argument that the tradition is wrong and needs to be rejected, then you may argue the point. However, if you do not really understand why the tradition exists and are simply rejecting it out of hand, then, frankly, you literally have no idea what you are talking about. No one should listen to you.

As for popularity, baseball is entertainment. Popularity is extremely important in entertainment. You have made a terrible error.

ReuschelCakes
Guest
ReuschelCakes

This argument always reminds me of the “can I” versus “may I”

The only people who give a s**t about it are the ones that are on their high horse assuming that THEY know more than everyone else and want to do something BOLD to demonstrate their beautiful, unique intellect…

The reality is that even most casual baseball fans have an appropriate context for a “win” in 2015. So even though the “may I” crowd will continue to try to abolish the win, everyone else will just continue to roll their eyes and understand that everyone knows what “can I” really means…

Ullu Ka Patta
Guest
Ullu Ka Patta

“The reality is that even most casual baseball fans have an appropriate context for a “win” in 2015. ”

Do you really think so? It seems that every year when the Cy Young voting rolls around, the “OMG my guy won 20 games!” crowd comes out of the woodwork.

Lukas
Guest
Lukas

I think even that crowd is more or less biased towards their own teams player rather than actually people who buy in to the “Wins are an extremely important stat” idea.

francis
Guest
francis

Of all of the comments above, I think Breslow has it most right when he says “I don’t think you can make a good argument for killing a statistic for not telling the whole story.”

For instance, you can say the same thing about OBP ( it’s not park adjusted, it doesn’t take into consideration the pitchers the batter was facing ).

Nearly every statistic has some component that results in deviation of that statistic from measuring true greatness. This isn’t the shotput.