Tonight Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Max Scherzer aims to get his second win in his big league career. It took Scherzer 14 starts and 23 games dating back to last year to notch his first victory last week against the Atlanta Braves in a 12-0 victory. He pitched six shut out innings, but he could have pitched a mediocre six innings of four-run ball. For a pitcher who boasts an impressive 147 ERA+ for his career along with good career rate stats of 9.5 strikeouts per 9 innings and 1.27 WHIP, the fact that it took him 93.2 career innings to notch his first victory shows the flaws in the win-loss stat.
Livan Hernandez was 13-11 last year with the Minnesota Twins and Colorado Rockies. Not bad. Certainly better than Scherzer's career record of 1-7. Look a little deeper and Hernandez had an ERA+ of 69, a WHIP of 1.667 and struck out 3.4 batters per 9 innings.
Looking at Scherzer's game logs this year, you can see why it took him so long to get the first victory. On May 5 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he pitched six innings and gave up 3 runs (2 earned) in a 3-1 loss. On April 30, he pitched six innings of shut out ball against the Milwaukee Brewers, but the Diamondbacks lost 4-1. On April 19 against the San Francisco Giants, he gave up 1 run in five innings in a 2-0 loss--a game where Randy Johnson gave up one hit in seven innings.
While I know and you know that Scherzer is a pretty good pitcher despite his 1-7 record, Cy Young voters still use the win-loss record as a criteria. While a great pitcher will most likely have a nice win-loss record, sometimes the lack of wins kills a pitcher's chance. Two recent examples come to mind when Chris Carpenter won in 2005 against Roger Clemens and in 2004 when Roger Clemens won against Randy Johnson. In 2005, Clemens had his best ERA+ of 226, a microscopic 1.008 WHIP and struck out 7.9 batters per 9 innings. Carpenter had a great season, but you know the voters gave him the Cy Young because his 21-5 record looked nicer than Clemens' 13-8 record. Perhaps it's justice because while Clemens had a great 2004 year, Randy Johnson was better. Johnson had a 16-14 record which is no indication of how dominating he was that year. He posted a league best .900 WHIP. Nobody was getting on base against him.
While a poor win-loss record may hurt a pitcher's candidacy, a great win-loss record will improve a pitcher's candidacy. Makes sense, right? Russ Ortiz won 21 games with the Atlanta Braves in 2003 to finish fourth in Cy Young voting. Impressive. Of course his ERA+ was 112. While he was above average, he was merely 12% above the average pitcher in earned run average. His league leading 102 walks did not help his cause. What happens when your ERA is only 7% above the average major league pitcher and you post a 1.532 WHIP? You finish 5th in Cy Young Voting. Aaron Sele threw up those horrendous numbers with the Texas Rangers in 1999 along with his impressive 18-9 record. To his credit, he did strike out 8.2 batters per 9 innings. Of course Arlington Stadium is a hitter's ballpark, but ERA+ is league adjusted.
Coming in fourth or fifth in Cy Young voting is nice, but it's not like they won the award. Bartolo Colon won the award in 2005 with the Los Angeles Anaheim California Angels. He had a very nice season. He threw 222.2 innings with two complete games and put up a 122 ERA+, a 1.159 WHIP and struck out 6.3 batters per 9 innings. He had a very good season, but we all know he won the award because of the 21-8 record. Mariano Rivera finished second despite striking out 9.2 batters per 9 innings and putting up a .868 WHIP. He had his usual dominating season. That said, the real travesty was Johan Santana not winning the award. Santana threw 231.2 innings with three complete games and two shutouts along with a 1.55 ERA+, a .971 WHIP and struck out 9.2 batters per 9 innings. He dominated Colon in every category. Of course the 16-7 record for Santana was totally his fault.
After I wrote this, I went to espn.com and noticed this little gem from Rob Neyer. He writes about the great Johan Santana, but this is the paragraph that emphasizes my point:
"But while Santana was not robbed of the award in 2008, he most certainly was in 2005 when -- finishing 16-7, just like last year -- he led the AL in strikeouts and finished second (by a hair) in ERA but finished third in the Cy Young balloting because voters are obsessed with wins and losses."
My post was about Max Scherzer finally getting that coveted first win, but I had a deeper theme about how good he is despite his poor win-loss record. Then I used some historical examples to prove my point. I will say that as a young kid, I was impressed with wins and losses. It was Neyer who showed me how meaningless records are in the big picture years ago.