In case you haven’t been watching a lot of ESPN lately, and I don’t blame you if you haven’t, Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer is 13-1, before the All Star Break, one of the best pre-break records in years.
Meanwhile in Queens, Matt Harvey is 7-2.
Harvey’s ERA is 2.35. Scherzer’s is 3.19.
Harvey’s FIP is 2.17. Scherzer’s is 2.68.
Their strikeout rates, walk rates, and opponent’s BABIP are all strikingly similar as well. Harvey’s superior GB% accounts for the difference in FIP and likely for the difference in ERA. Other than that, they are largely the same kind of pitcher and have seen similar results on the mound.
Yet someone who hasn’t seen either pitcher pitch yet this season may say that Scherzer has clearly been the better pitcher because he has won more games.
While it may seem laughable that someone could base their judgment on such archaic standards, it unfortunately does happen because the idea of a good pitcher gets a lot of wins is so deeply engrained in baseball culture.
Those who would make that argument also cite Steve Carlton’s 1972 season as if it was the rule rather than the exception.
What gets ignored is the fact of the matter: baseball is a team sport, and a single player cannot win a game by himself.
To prove my point, I’d like to direct everyone’s attention towards the game played between the Mets and White Sox on May 7th, 2013. Harvey’s line from that game: nine innings pitched, one hit, no runs, no walks, 12 strikeouts. He got a no decision.
If this was an isolated occurrence, it would not be a big deal, but in Harvey’s nine no decisions this season, he’s given up 17 runs. For comparison’s sake, over his last nine starts, Scherzer has given up 16 runs and is 8-0.
With a better offense behind him, there is no doubt that Harvey could have 15 wins by now, but obviously his performance wouldn’t be any better. He’d be the exact same pitcher whether he was 7-2 or 15-0. Imagine that.
The moral of the story is that it is time to outright ditch the win when it comes to evaluating a pitcher’s performance.
Whether or not a pitcher earns a win or loss is so dependent on run support that it is simply not fair to the pitcher to judge them based on their record.
While the tide is turning to a certain extent, even amongst traditionalists (see 2010 AL CY Young Award), not enough people recognize that a pitcher’s record isn’t always indicative of his true performance.