No Wins, No Errors

My pal Brian Kenny is trying to start a movement to kill the pitcher win, and the general theme is something I heartily endorse. I don’t actually believe n KILLING the win -- it has a lot of history -- but I do believe that every time someone puts a little bit less stock in the win, an angel gets its wings.

See it isn’t that the win is meaningless. It’s not meaningless. Defective stats are not meaningless. RBIs are not meaningless. Hit by pitches are not meaningless. Checked-swing strikes are not meaningless. Infield singles are not meaningless. But there’s a huge canyon, a large canyon, a big canyon, a (what’s the word I’m looking for) mammoth canyon between “meaningless” and “meaningful.” If someone told me they like Bruce Springsteen, there’s probably a better chance that I would like them than if they told me they despised Bruce Springsteen. But I wouldn’t want to build my friendship base around that.

Yes: In the grand sense (there’s that word!), good pitchers get more wins than bad pitchers. If you are told you have to choose one of two pitchers and the only information you are given is how many wins each had, sure, you would always take the pitcher with the higher win total.

It’s just that if you were given almost any other piece of pitching information -- like runs per nine, home runs allowed, strikeout-to-walk, ERA+, some version of FIP, WAR, numerous other cool pitching stats -- you would have a better shot at picking the better pitcher.

Give you an example. Take two pitchers -- Pitcher A, Pitcher B.

PItcher A wins: 12

Pitcher B wins: 9

OK, obviously you know this is a trick and that Pitcher B is the better pitcher -- otherwise why would I bring it up? But I’m not asking you to pick one pitcher or another. I’m trying to make the point that wins (and losses) are pretty much the only statistics out there that do not show CLEARLY that Pitcher B is the better pitcher. Let’s look at those losses:

Pitcher A losses: 10

Pitcher B losses: 12

OK, so Pitcher A is 12-10, pitcher B is 9-12. If that’s the only information you have, you choose Pitcher A.

Then, let’s say, you ask for ERA.

Pitcher A: 4.27

Pitcher B: 3.09

OK, whoa, you chose poorly. It’s obvious now that Pitcher B is actually better. But is he? Maybe Pitcher A is pitching in Colorado and Pitcher B is in San Francisco? How about we look now at strikeouts to walks.

Pitcher A: 90-to-50

Pitcher B: 181-to-37

Yikes. Pitcher B is suddenly looking A LOT better than Pitcher A. How about home runs per nine?

Pitcher A: 1.4

Pitcher B: 0.9

Pitcher A is now looking like the booby prize on Let’s Make A Deal. What about that WAR statistic many people hate so much?

Pitcher A: 0.1

Pitcher B: 5.7

Oh boy. How would you like to get stuck with Pitcher A now? And simple FIP -- that is, their ERA as figured only by home runs allowed, strikeouts and walks?

Pitcher A: 4.93

Pitcher B: 3.14

Yeah, pitcher B is WAY, WAY, WAY, WAY better than Pitcher A. But you guessed that already. My point is that the ONLY statistics that don’t show this huge divide clearly is wins and losses. Pitcher A is Kansas City’s Jeremy Guthrie. Player B is Chicago’s Chris Sale. Pitcher A is a 34-year-old veteran pitching worse than league average who has won four games this year when giving up four-plus runs. Pitcher B is a 24-year-old superstar who has lost six games when he gave up two earned runs or fewer.

No, the win is not meaningless. It’s a piece of baseball Americana that has been a part of the game for more than a century. I don’t think the win should go away. I like it the win the same way I like that gas stations still have mini-stores. I NEVER go into one of those stores, unless I need to use the restroom or have to buy some windshield washer fluid or something. I always pay at the pump. But that’s OK, I still like those stores being there. And it’s kind of cool to see Max Scherzer is 19-1.

But as a statistic to assess a player’s value? Uh, no.

Anyway, the pitcher’s win have moved way behind on my “Man do I loathe that statistic” chart … as mentioned, the error is what drives me crazy these days. I have written at length about why I think the error is a moralistic judgmental statistic. Today’s point is different. Today’s point is that the error, as currently constructed, is so imbecilic, it makes no sense even if you LIKE errors

Sunday, the Washington Nationals and Kansas City Royals played, and it was a decent game, and it was tied 4-4 going into the bottom of the eighth inning. The Nationals then played an inning that should be placed in the Museum of Disastrous Defense. My sense is that Washington has played quite a few of those innings this year, which hasn’t helped in their wildly underachieving season.

Kansas City’s Alex Gordon led off the inning by flying out. Then Emilio Bonifacio drag bunted past the pitcher to second baseman Anthony Rendon, who for reasons unknown decided to glove and throw rather than barehand the ball. Replays showed his throw to be late -- and it looked late live too -- but the umpire called Bonifacio out. So Washington got bailed out on one curious defensive play. Anyway: Two outs.

Eric Hosmer walked on five pitches. That led to Billy Butler who hit a fairly routine ground ball to the right of first baseman Adam LaRoche. There is something you should know about Billy Butler: He is slow. He is not a typically slow Major League Baseball player -- he is cable repairman slow. He is couch delivery slow. He is new house construction slow. He is so slow I once invented a concept I called the “Billy Butler Cycle”* which is a single, a double and two home runs … because they guy ain’t gonna hit a triple (my suggestion was he stop at third on the second home run). He’s hit zero triples this year to go along with his zero stolen bases. If he holds on, this will be his third season with 0 triples and 0 stolen bases -- only nine players in baseball history have managed to do it three times. Paul Konerko is the all-time leader with five 0/0 seasons.

*In case you are wondering, five players have had four Billy Butler Cycles in their careers -- Bob Johnson, Vlad Guerrero, Ken Griffey, Juan Gonzalez and Moises Alou. Frank Robinson, Cal Ripken, Albert Pujols, Joe Morgan, Mickey Mantle, Barry Bonds and Carlos Beltran are among the 14 who have had three in their careers. Other interesting players include:

Babe Ruth: 2

Mike Schmidt: 2

Hank Aaron: 2

Lou Gehrig: 2

Andre Dawson: 2

Kirby Puckett: 1

Two people who never had a Billy Butler Cycle? Willie Mays and, yes, Billy Butler. It’s kind of a quirky thing -- Mays hit multiple homers SIXTY THREE times in his career, but only three times did he hit a double in the same game.

Anyway, Billy Butler: Slow. LaRoche had roughly 583 different ways of getting Butler out on the play once he picked up the ball. And best I can tell, there was only ONE possibility to NOT get Butler out. That way required:

  1. Pitcher Craig Stammen not covering first base.

  2. LaRoche being ABSOLUTELY SURE Stammen would cover first base.

  3. LaRoche turning to flip the ball to Stammen, only to see he wasn’t there.

  4. LaRoche being so baffled by Stammen not being there that he found himself too confused to run to first base and step on the bag before Butler arrived.

  5. Stammen finally running to first base to confuse matters even more.

All of these things happened, and Butler was on first base. And do you know what that was ruled? Right. A single. Two major league baseball players (at least -- I’m not even sure WHAT second baseman Rendon was doing on the play) played like they were unsure of the general rules of baseball, and it was ruled a single.

Stammen then walked Mike Moustakas on five pitches to load the bases. It wasn’t exactly a banner inning for Stammen.

So bases loaded, and up comes Salvador Perez. He hits a line drive that short-hopped shortstop Ian Desmond, who struggled with it but eventually picked it up. OK, you have probably played Little League Baseball -- what is it that every single Little League coach on our little planet yells when the bases are loaded and two outs. Right: “Force at any base!” Or: “Play at any base!” Or: “Out at any base.” The key part is that “at any base.” It’s the one good thing about having bases loaded. You can throw the ball to any base and get an out.

Well, Desmond picked up the ball and, somewhat alertly, prepared to throw the ball to third base. Why? Well, if you’ve been following along, you know: BILLY BUTLER WAS ON SECOND BASE. And we’ve been over this: Billy Butler is very slow. So all Desmond had to do was throw the ball a third baseman covering the bag and the inning would be over.

And it would have worked too except for one thing: Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman forgot to cover third base. The replays are actually somewhat comical -- he’s just standing there, apparently mesmerized by watching Ian Desmond try to pick up the baseball. You know, four or five years ago, Ryan Zimmerman was probably the best defensive third baseman in baseball. He was awesome out there, Now? It’s hard to watch. He had shoulder surgery, so his arm looks shot, he seems to have a phobia about throwing across the diamond, it seems to infect just about every part of his defensive game. Hard to watch.

Zimmerman tried to run back to the bag, and Desmond finally threw it to him, but it was too late. Billy Butler, for the second time in an inning, had beaten the defender to the bag. That, I can promise you, is a new Billy Butler record.

And, once more, it was not called an error. A mishandled grounder, a third baseman not covering the bag, and it’s not an error. The Royals scored a run on two of the worst defensive plays you will ever see -- it was an earned run with no errors on the books.

I love the line from Coach Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) about Premier League Soccer: “Ties and no playoffs … why even do this?”

If you are not going to give errors when team make embarrassing, gargantuan, almost impossible to believe Little League mistakes … why even have them?