On Pitchers and Wins

Joe D. from Mets Merized Online recently wondered if Jon Niese could win 15 games this year. The simplest and most honest answer I can muster up is, “Who knows?” I don’t mean to be harsh on Joe D. (I’m a big fan of all the guys on Mets Merized), but this question really isn’t a good one.  

I think Joe’s asking “Will Jon Niese hae a good season in 2011?” If that’s the case, the problem here is that Joe’s original quesiton won’t have the answer he’s really looking for. 

When we see a pitcher had 15 wins in a season, we’re inclined to think that they must have pitched pretty well. That’s generally true – bad pitchers tend to lose games and good pitchers tend to win games. The harsh reality of baseball, though, is that pitchers don’t have nearly as much control over their Win-Loss record as one might think at first glance. As a result, we have to dig a little deeper into the stats to figure out how to better evaluate a pitcher’s season.  

The good news is that a noticable segment of the baseball community is heading towards this trend, the most recent example being Zack Greinke’s Cy Young award for his 2009 campaign despite only winning 16 games. The bad news is that the majority of the baseball community still tends to put an inordinate amount of attention pitcher’s Win-Loss record, as talking heads on ESPN will be quick to point out who was the first 10 game winner or lavishly praise those who reached the elusive 20-win mark in a season. Ubaldo Jimenez last season had people giddily wondering if he could win 30 games. Similarly, on MLB.com, when you go to look up stats, you’re greeted by this:  

  

Wins, front and center. From now on, Mets fans, whenever you see a pitcher’s Win-Loss record, I want you to see this image instead:  

Steve Trachsel

You remember Steve Trachsel, don’t you? The impossibly slow pitcher who could test the patience of even the most ardent Mets fans? Remember how sublimely average he was at pitching? Of course you do. What you may not remember is that Steve Trachsel had a 15-8 record in 2006 despite posting an ERA of 4.98, a FIP of 5.50, and only pitching 164.2 innings. His WAR that season was 0.1. For those of you unfamiliar with WAR (Wins Above Replacement), Steve Trachsel contributed 0.1 more wins to the Mets that season than anyone the Mets could have called up from AAA to fill his spot in the rotation. Steve Trachsel was the definition of replacable. The Mets offense was so good that year, however, that on days when Trachsel started, the Mets averaged 5.8 runs per game. In other words, Steve Trachsel could merely show up and not be completely awful every 5 days and still have a good shot at “earning” a win.  

I think Jon Niese is noticably more talented than Steve Trachsel ever was, but he’s only 24, so who knows how his career will turn out. I do know, however, that Niese is capable of striking out more batters and getting more grounders than Trachsel could – all while without taking an eternity between pitches! I’ll have a prediction for what I expect from Niese in 2011 tomorrow, and I expect pretty big things, but please, I’m begging you Mets fans, please stop looking at a pitcher’s Wins and Losses.

Topics: FIP, Jon Niese, Steve Trachsel, WAR, Wins

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