Baseball differences: Wins, quality starts and pitcher evaluation

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There are so many baseball differences to make this game stand apart from other team sports. For example, we know that the defense has the ball, and there isn’t any game clock like there is in football, basketball and hockey. “Running out the clock” is not an option in baseball. That either appeals to a fan or it doesn’t. I like it, but not everybody else does.

The after-effect of wins and losses in baseball
The after-effect of wins and losses in baseball.

Today, I realized still another important aspect of the baseball differences, which is the category of Wins and Losses.

When a team wins a game, it helps in the standings. Certainly, someone is also credited with a win and it’s always a pitcher. Conversely, a loss has to be assigned to one of the losing team’s pitcher.

Football doesn’t do it that way. Peyton Manning can throw for 500 yards and six touchdowns in a game, but he’ll never get a win for that. The guy who throws the ball out of bounds late in the fourth quarter of a basketball game is awarded a turnover, but he doesn’t also have to take a Loss. Only baseball puts the matter of a win and a loss on a player’s stat line.

Some apparently don’t like this development.

They have developed statistics like a Quality Start (QS), to suggest that a pitcher has to throw six innings and give up three runs or fewer to help his team. It’s an inning longer than the five innings needed for a win and sets a limit on how many runs the pitcher can allow. But in the end, it isn’t worth the red yarn that gets used in stitching up a baseball.

If you play fantasy baseball, as I’m sure many people coming to this web page do, QS are sometimes used either as a statistic or part of a statistic, when added to the number of wins. So if you’re into fantasy, you understand and maybe even prefer this statistic to wins itself.

But that doesn’t apply to me.

I’m a team guy first, and a fantasy guy second — or even not at all. I can’t recall ever getting excited that a pitcher went six innings and gave up the required number of runs. Better to see a pitcher get shelled, still go five innings and get the win because he got some run support from his offense. They run up a white-win flag from the Wrigley Field scoreboard after the Cubs win, but the next QS start flag they run up will also be the first one.

On May 25,  Travis Wood’s streak of nine straight Quality Starts was in jeopardy against Cincinnati. The Cubs were clinging to a 2-1 lead, and Wood had put runners on at first and second with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning. Wood was at 98 pitches, which is in line with most of his starts this season. With a double play situation on the bases, there is a case to be made that if Wood could just get a ground ball at someone, he could get the double play and exit with his string intact. Instead, over the next seventeen pitches, Wood gave up the lead and eventually lost the game.

Had Dale Sveum gone to his bullpen, the inning could have been contained better than it was. I understand full well that going to the bullpen–particularly with the Cubs’ bullpen–isn’t a guaranteed strategy. But leaving him in the game and stretching him out to 115 pitches, which is the most he threw in a single outing all year, didn’t pay off, either. And the Cubs lost the game, as the result of leaving Wood in for a couple batters too many.

I got into it on Twitter yesterday, with some supposed fans who were telling me that a pitcher’s wins don’t really matter as a statistic. To a fantasy player, perhaps not. But the goal of any pitcher taking the mound is to win that game. That some huge baseball differences. Collecting a win for themselves would be nice, but the pitcher–or even the fan–who pays attention to Quality Starts on the same level as wins doesn’t have his head in the game, if you ask me.

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