September 23, 2009

"Not Indicative"

Overheard in the top of the first inning during last night's NESN broadcast of the Red Sox/Royals game:
Don Orsillo: [Zack Greinke] has allowed just one earned run over his last four starts, 29 innings pitched, a 0.31 ERA. Over the last five starts, he has gone 3-0 with a 0.73 earned run average. And he's only gotten 30 runs in 16 combined starts of losses [and no decisions], so if he'd gotten a little bit more run support, you're lookin' a five, six more wins for this guy --

Sean Casey: Oh, he's runnin' away with the Cy Young, we're not even having a conversation about who the Cy Young award is if he was getting any run support. I mean, he's 14-8 right now, he could easily be 19-8, 20-8 ... 20-5, win some of those losses ...
NESN then showed a graphic:
1.6 Runs of Support in 8 Losses
This Season (13 Total Runs)
How many times can an announcer say a pitcher's win-loss record is "not really indicative" of his actual performance before it dawns on that announcer that maybe a won-loss record is not the greatest barometer for measuring a pitcher's success?

And how many times can he note that a pitcher threw seven innings of one-run ball and got a loss or allowed seven runs in six innings and got a win before he realizes, you know, W-L is stupid, why can't I use other acceptable ways to describe this pitcher's work?

The answer to those questions remains unknown, because even as announcers say "his record is not really indicative of how he has pitched" -- and Orsillo said those exact words last night about Greinke -- he still goes right back to using W-L as Exhibit A of a pitcher's worth.

I was talking back to the TV last night, trying to somehow nudge Orsillo and Casey along and get them to state a basic truth about W-L -- C'mon, take that next logical step, you can do it! Follow through! Say it! Say it! -- but they did not.

They had the same conversation two more times -- Casey again noting that Greinke would be "running away" with the award if his teammates had only scored more runs on the days he pitched -- when J.D. Drew batted in the second and when David Ortiz was up in the fourth.

Orsillo and Casey (and everyone else out there) are not saying "If he didn't have those four crappy starts, he'd be everyone's choice". In their discussion, Greinke's pitching performance for the entire year remains unchanged. So they are penalizing him -- saying his performance is not as good as it seems or perhaps not deserving of an award -- because of something he has absolutely no control over.

[Also posted at the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, of which I am a member.]

13 comments:

Zenslinger said...

People are attached to W-L. I can see your point here, but it's a fine one. After all, the announcers are acknowledging that a lot of factors underlie W-L, and that it's not a true benchmark of a pitcher's quality. Your issue is that they aren't calling for an abandonment of the stat?

There's something very emotional about assigning the win or loss to a pitcher. Shit, even though I don't follow football closely any more, I swear I hear people talking about quarterbacks' wins and losses now, too.

redsock said...

I'd love for it to be abolished, but that will never happen.

There are times when they seem sooooo close to saying "... and the W-L record is in many cases not as good a measure of success as ERA", but they don't even do that.

But after saying the W-L doesn't tell us the story of Pitcher X's year, in the very next inning, they tell us X's record against the Orioles -- which may includes start from 1999 and 2001 -- as though those have anything to do with the 2009 players/team.

I'm waiting for the emergence of a PBP guy that grew up with the Abstracts and understands that asking questions about baseball and re-thinking conventional wisdom is cool and fun.

***

NESN puts OBP on the screen with a batter's AVG-HR-RBI, but Orsillo NEVER reads it with the other three. But at least it's included for anyone to see. Some stations still do not include it (because getting on base, how important could that be ?).

Zenslinger said...

I notice ESPN likes to put, in a smaller font at the top, the hitter's BA with that count (i.e., he bats .185 on an 0-2 count). I'm not sure how useful that is.

Some writer in some book I'm reading says that W-L and Winning Pct. were still regularly published in papers as leaders' stats in 1918. If this writer can be believed (?!?!?), then it's over 100 years of living with these W-L stats. Hard habit to break.

As a boy, somewhat less than 100 years ago, I followed batting title races assiduously. It's just now sinking in that .240 and high OBP beats .310 of all singles and no walks.

tim said...

BURN IT AT THE STAKE!!!

Fuck W-L.

L-girl said...

then it's over 100 years of living with these W-L stats. Hard habit to break.

But remember that it's not each person's habit of more than 100 years. No one using W/L stats today was using it in 1918.

There were lots of "habits" in 1918 that we've broken with. "Whites only" comes to mind. "Men only" in voting booths.

We managed to break those, and I'd venture they were much more deeply ingrained than W/L record.

I'm being partially facetious, but my point is: things do change. It's not as if the sport of baseball has remained unchanged since the deadball era. The game has been constantly evolving.

We've gotten used to dozens of important changes and hundreds of smaller ones. "Habit" is not a good enough excuse for analysts and commentators to use blatantly meaningless statistics and penalize players on that basis.

There's something very emotional about assigning the win or loss to a pitcher.

Why?

I mean that. I don't share that emotion so I don't know what you mean.

Zenslinger said...

Well, I think the habit is enforced by the emotionality of it. "Oh, now he's on the hook for a loss" or "He pitched so well but his teammates couldn't score enough to give him the win" are not only time-honored ways of discussing a pitcher's performance as the game is going on, they also are convenient channels for a fan's frustration to run into. So I think part of the reason W-L is such a persistent trope is that it's something a fan thinks about as the action is unfolding, even though it's not a good stat for describing quality of performance after the fact.

Two denizens of the Bar are waiting to borrow Allan's book when I'm done with it.

L-girl said...

I think the habit is enforced by the emotionality of it.

I guess that part is lost on me. I've never understood pitcher W/L as having much importance, just as I've never understood RBI as a very meaningful statistic. (Why isn't it expressed as a percentage of chances? How can a batter be responsible for how many runners are on base when he comes to bat?)

So I don't understand people clinging to it on any level, including emotionally.

But no one asked me.

Zenslinger said...

Surely you can understand why an RBI is an emotional event during a game. I'm merely trying to distinguish the stats that are meaningful in an emotional way during the game, like RBI's or W-L, and those that do a good job of expressing an overall picture of the player's effectiveness vis a vis winning and losing games, like ERA/ERA+ or Wins Over Replacement Player.

Home runs, of course, are the ultimate emotional stat as well as showing great effectiveness, the best of both worlds.

L-girl said...

Surely you can understand why an RBI is an emotional event during a game. I'm merely trying to distinguish the stats that are meaningful in an emotional way during the game, like RBI's or W-L

At the risk of sounding overly contrary, I don't approach it that way.

I do distinguish between the emotional moment of a player getting the big hit that drives in the run, and the statistic of how many RBIs that player has.

But I don't relate my feeling - yay, he got a hit! a run scored! - to the statistic of an RBI.

So while I cheer for the pitcher to pitch brilliantly or with guts or with guile or some other emotional quality, I don't attach any feeling whatsoever - at any point during the game, ever - to whether or not the pitcher gets the W. Only to whether my team gets a W.

I hope you know I'm not trying to be difficult or contrary - this is truly the way I see it.

I actually saw it this way before I met Allan, but I assumed I was wrong - that I was missing some crucial piece of information to explain why everyone cared about something that seemed so incomplete or even ridiculous to me.

Zenslinger said...

That's fine. I think most people do, however. I'm just kind of thinking out loud here, trying to understand why it is that people cling to certain kinds of stats that are demonstrably ineffective ones, and I think it has to do with this emotional connection I'm trying to articulate.

I think this is also why people tend to complain about hitters padding their stats with HRs and/or RBIs late in games they're leading. A-Rod has been victim of this, and someone complained in the comments of the Extra Bases post about Ortiz's salvaged season that his contributions are "usually" in the vein of his 3-run HR last night when we were well ahead.

redsock said...

"Oh, now he's on the hook for a loss" or "He pitched so well but his teammates couldn't score enough to give him the win"

I never think this. I don't think I have ever thought this, unless maybe in late September when getting Pedro a win would help mediots see that giving him the award he deserved anyway would be a good idea.

If Lester goes 6 shutout innings and leaves two guys on in the 7th and whoever lets them in, I think that sucks for Lester's ERA, but that's about it.

As far as the second one, I would probably think, X pitched so well, the Sox should have won if we had had some timely hits. We "wasted" a good outing.

L-girl said...

Two denizens of the Bar are waiting to borrow Allan's book when I'm done with it.

This is good, but not as good as these denizens buying their own copies.

L-girl said...

That's fine. I think most people do, however. I'm just kind of thinking out loud here, trying to understand why it is that people cling to certain kinds of stats that are demonstrably ineffective ones, and I think it has to do with this emotional connection I'm trying to articulate.

I appreciate this - it's something I've never considered.