Friday, April 29, 2005

Overrated baseball statistics

--> Does Joe Morgan really think I'm stupid? In a recent chat session on, Morgan responded to a question about the sick lack of run support that Houston starter Roger Clemens has received so far (the Astros haven't scored a single run in any of Clemens' last three starts - all 1-0 losses and Clemens no-decisions). Here is what ESPN's main baseball game analyst had to say:
Obviously Roger has pitched well ... but obviously, whoever he was pitching against each time, THAT guy pitched better than him or just as well or else Roger would have more wins. Sure, some pitchers get more run support, but still, the object is to shut them down and win the game. If you are losing games, somebody else, the other pitcher is throwing just as well if not better if he is the one walking away with the win. If you look at last year, Roger got great run support to win those games. I guess the question is, would you rather be Roger Clemens at this point, or Jon Garland who is 4-0. I wouldn't trade Clemens for Garland, but the point remains -- he's winning right now. ... All that said, I think Clemens will get plenty of wins before the season's over.
Now, Morgan has been around a lot longer than I have, and I'm not here to say that I know more about baseball or anything like that. But let's be serious for a moment. Roger Clemens has started four games. He's pitched 28 innings, allowed 16 hits, one run (a solo home run in his first start), walked six batters, and struck out 32. How could any rational human being argue that Clemens' 1-0 record and the Astros' 1-3 record in his starts is at all Clemens' fault? Clemens can't control how well the other guy pitches, and he can't control his team's ability to hit that particular pitcher.

It's the crux of my argument as to why win/loss record is one of the most overrated stats in baseball. Clemens won the Cy Young Award last year because he went 18-4. That's a great record, but there were two pitchers (Randy Johnson and Ben Sheets) who statistically outperformed Clemens and didn't get fair consideration for the award because they were a combined 28-28. Johnson and Sheets had better ERAs than Clemens, better WHIPs than Clemens, and they allowed fewer walks combined (76) than Clemens did by himself (79), even though Clemens pitched fewer innings than both of them. The choice made me wonder what exactly the purpose of the award is. After all, I always thought that the Cy Young Award went to the best pitcher in each league. That clearly didn't happen last year, and unless Clemens either trails off or gets some run support, it won't happen this year, either. The writers will give it to the sexy 20-game winner with inferior numbers to Clemens.

For Morgan to fall into that trap is inexcusable. He's seen enough baseball to know better than to do this, but he's unknowingly become part of the problem. Win/loss record is as meaningless to me in baseball as a team's ranking in the polls is to me in college basketball. Good pitchers don't win every game they pitch in, because even the best pitchers have no control over the run support they are given. As Clemens and Sheets, who have a combined total of two wins in eight starts so far, have proven, you can pitch an incredible game and not get the "W". The fact that Jon Garland has gotten an average of seven runs of offensive support per start doesn't put a damper on his hot start, but it does explain how Garland could be 4-0 despite having inferior numbers to the 1-0 Clemens.

Sheets, meanwhile, hasn't pitched as well as he did in 2003 (30 hits allowed in 27 IP, 3.95 ERA). However, it probably wouldn't matter much if Sheets was posting Clemens-like numbers. In four starts, the Brewers have scored a total of ten runs. Nine of those came on Opening Day, when Sheets got what is still his only win of the season.

Luckily, Joe Morgan isn't reading this Blog. If he was, he's post a comment about how Sheets had a poor season in 2003, when he went 12-14 (and was statistically better than Roger Clemens). At some point, even the biggest hardheads have to realize that the old standards of win/loss for pitchers and batting average for hitters have to be set aside. I'm not a Moneyball guy by any stretch, but it's become blatantly obvious to me that there are better ways to break down players than overrated stats like win/loss record or batting average.


Jon M said...

Bruce - You can feel free to say that you know baseball better than Joe Morgan. Go ahead, say it, it's actually very freeing:

"I know baseball better than Joe Morgan."

See? Feel the freedom! Feel the idiotic assumptions slipping away, like the one that a guy who has an ERA of 1.50 could possibly be better measured by his win-loss record!


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