Pitcher Wins have been a big topic in recent years, with those that oppose the use of Pitcher Wins as a primary measure to evaluate pitchers feeling vindicated with the selections Zach Greinke and Felix Hernandez as the last two American League Cy Young winners. It hasn’t come without much proverbial gnashing of teeth and shots fired at the cracking foundations of many a mother’s basement.
I think I’ve figured out what the big problem is. It’s the name. I mean, how can you be against THE WIN. That’s like being against the Patriot Act. Being against the win is un-American and proves that you can’t get your head out of a book. Winning, that is the ultimate goal, right? Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. You play to win the game. A win, a win, my kingdom for a win. All of that.
I was reminded of this while watching Royals closer Joakim Soria give an interview after a game last week. It was after one of the Royals’ final at-bat victories, one in which Soria pitched in a tie game at home, then Kansas City scored in the bottom half. The interviewer asked Soria what he thought of getting the win instead of the save. A truly fascinating question, right? Well, Soria’s answer, and I’m sorry that I may be paraphrasing slightly here because I can’t find footage of the post-game show, was along the lines of “I don’t care about the win, as long as we got the win.”
Now, some variation of that answer has probably been uttered many times before, and you can insert any other act in place of that first win–home run, defensive play, single. With our crazy English language, we often use the same word to convey massively different meanings. Clearly, even though he’s using the same word, Soria meant two vastly different things. He didn’t care about the randomly assigned statistical category put by his name; he did care about having more runs than the opponent when the game concluded. The problem, though, is that people often merge the two, and think it blasphemous that people with their heads buried in calculators can’t appreciate this game is all about wins.
What if this statistic we refer to as the “win” was named something else, back before they were ever tinkering with Evers and Chance? What if The Win, the real one, the one that means a group of individuals has prevailed by the rules of the sport, successly obtained an injunction against this other sometimes convoluted statistic, so that its name could not be sullied? Imagine what the debates would be like if it were instead called the Snoodle.
You can get a Snoodle, you see, if you start a game and pitch 5 or more innings. Why 5 innings? In the last five years, teams who have the starting pitcher go exactly 5 innings win 41.2% of the time (and yes, that’s the real win there), so it’s not like this arbitrary number sets a team up for success. You can gain the Snoodle if your team was leading when you left the game, and never thereafter lost the lead (even momentarily). You would lose your Snoodle, though, if you left with the lead, the opponent managed to score to tie the game, even if your team won the game. Your teammate could take your Snoodle if he allowed that tying run, but was still in when the good guys scored again. The amount of runs allowed don’t affect your ability to get a Snoodle, so long as your team can score more. Any old lackey can allow 6 earned runs in 5 innings, and still get a Snoodle if his team can face Phil Hughes.
This is not to say that the Snoodle doesn’t have some relation to being a good pitcher. Some individuals will have bad Snoodle luck, but over time, the pitchers with more Snoodles will prove to be better than those with less, as a group. Individual Snoodle results, of course, may vary. Debates between sportswriters would be far more entertaining, as the Snoodle backers could wax poetic about the qualities of guys with oodles and oodles of Snoodles.
A rose by any other name may be just as sweet, but I’m not sure that a “pitcher win” would be. I think part of its mystique is the fact that it is called a “win”, even if the machinations behind the curtain can be quite confusing, reliant on teammate contributions, and things that occur after you relinquish control. As a result, we can have a pitcher who doesn’t really care about wins, even if he really, really cares about wins.
[photo via Getty]