Wood's record illustrates 'Tough Losses' stat
Pitcher wins (and losses) have long been the source of controversy and debate in our game -- mainly because they are often misleading.
There are lots of examples, but just a couple are Kevin Millwood's 2005 season with Cleveland, during which he led the American League with a 2.86 ERA yet finished the season with a 9-11 record. Felix Hernandez's 2010 season also stood out because, despite a pedestrian 13-12 record, he put up a 2.27 ERA and beat out a 19-6 David Price and a 21-7 CC Sabathia in the AL Cy Young Award balloting in what was seen as a victory for the stat-heads.
Relief wins create even more eye-rolling among the new school contingent. You can make one pitch (or no pitches if you pick off a runner) and grab a win. You can even blow a save and still put up a "W" if your offense comes back and bails you out.
Oh, and a starter can pitch a complete game, give up one lousy unearned run and suffer a loss.
I realize pitcher wins and losses will always be around, whether we snooty numbers geeks like it or not. But maybe there is a way to reach across the aisle to those who still believe in individual wins and losses by creating a better (and simple) version of these stats.
Travis Wood's career spurred this thought.
Wood has been rather unlucky as a Cub, putting up lots of quality starts with very little to show for them in terms of wins. Wood's career record (including his time in Cincinnati) as a starter is 27-39, even though his 3.92 starter ERA has been a little better than MLB average.
So, how do we balance out these two things that don't seem to match up?
Baseball-Reference.com has a couple of stats that help us find out if a starting pitcher has been lucky or unlucky in his career or during a particular season. They list "Cheap Wins" (Wchp) and "Tough Losses" (Ltuf) on each pitcher's "More Stats" page. Cheap Wins come in non-quality starts (a quality start means at least six innings and no more than three earned runs allowed). Tough Losses, conversely, are losses in quality starts.
Interestingly, Wood has one Cheap Win in his career and a whopping 14 tough losses.
So, if we were to make starting pitchers "earn" their wins by having to put up a quality start in order to qualify for them, we could create a new stat called the Quality Win. And let's make starters "earn" their losses too by only hanging a defeat on their record if they don't pitch a quality start. We can call this the Quality Loss.
What I am doing here is trying to take as much bad luck and good fortune out of a starter's record as I can without involving complicated math. By eliminating the outliers, we are getting a little closer to a pitcher's "true" record.
So, to find Wood's "Quality W/L Record" (QWL), we simply subtract his Cheap Wins (one) and Tough Losses (14) from his 27-39 record. The resulting QWL record is 26-25.
With his ERA, a 26-25 record feels about right--at least better than 27-39 does. Same goes for Jeff Samardzija by the way -- he's 19-32 as a starter, but his QWL of 17-19 (subtracting 2 Cheap Wins and 13 Tough Losses) gets us closer to his career value as a starting pitcher.
Again, this is not a perfect stat, but I believe it gets us closer to a starter's true value than simple W/L record.
So, in summary, for QWL, a starting pitcher can win in a quality start but he can't lose and he can lose in a non-quality start, but he can't win. Simple and clean.
• Len Kasper is the TV play-by-play broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter@LenKasper and check out his baseball-blog/ with Jim Deshaies at wgntv.com.