MLB: Win-loss record misinterprets success of strong starting pitchers

Over recent years, the debate of the win-loss record has swarmed the baseball world and needless to say, it can be misleading.

While each game varies in length and score, at the end of the day, every starting pitching is award a win, loss or no-decision, but these stats provide an inaccurate interpretation of how an MLB pitcher is fairing.


Chris Sale is a prime example of how losses can mask a strong pitching performance and humble even the strongest of pitchers. Thus far, Sale is 4-2 and his losses came in spite of two quality starts. He held the Detroit Tigers to two runs through 7.2 innings and went on to kept the New York Yankees to three runs over eight innings.

Phenomenal starts? Yes. Well deserving of a win? You bet.

However, his strong efforts went unrewarded as the Boston Red Sox only came up with one run in those two starts.

Similarly, before Madison Bumgarner took a tumble off a dirt bike, he was winless through four starts. Although his record stood 0-3, Bumgarner pitched four quality starts and posted a 3.00 ERA.

Once again, great numbers overshadowed by a disastrous win-loss record.

It is clear that these starters are undeserving of the losses they received, but if they are pitching well, what is the problem? Within several variables in the game that are out of a starting pitcher’s control, none impacts the game more than run support.

“It’s really not a good way to evaluate a pitcher,” Max Scherzer said (per sportsonearth.com). “You can be on a good or bad team and that affects your win-loss record.”

Including the two homers he hit on Opening Day, Bumgarner received 1.75 runs of support per game before hitting the disabled list. Likewise, Sale’s 3.2 runs of support is tied for the 11th worst in the major leagues.

On the flip side, when one’s run support is strong, wins can mask a pitcher’s struggles. Although he is 4-3, Jake Arrieta’s 5.44 ERA is the second highest in the Chicago Cubs rotation, behind Brett Anderson (8.18). However, it is his seventh-best 7.1 runs of support that delivered Arrieta’s record-based success.

So what can be done to fix this problem? Simple records, such as win-loss, can give a casual fan a quick snapshot of how any given pitcher is fairing.

One possible solution could be changing the win-loss record to compare quality starts with total starts. According to mlb.com, a quality start comes when a starter “pitches at least six innings and allows three earned runs or fewer.”

If that were the case, Sale’s record would stand 7-1, Bumgarner would be win-full at 4-0 instead of 0-3 and Arrieta would be 3-5. As you can see, in this way a record becomes solely performance-based, rather than circumstantially-based and accurately reflects the success of a pitcher

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