With the World Series over and free agency still a few days away, there's not much going on in the baseball world. I figured I'd take this time to quickly go over the uselessness of wins for pitchers.
Proponents of wins insist that some pitchers "know how to win" and their records supersede their ERAs. Opponents, on the other hand, say that pitchers can't control their run support. Now it occurs to me that this is very easy to check.
Consider: two pitchers, one with 13 wins and a 3.50 ERA and the other with 18 wins and a 4.50 ERA. Who would you rather have next year?
Let's find out. I decided to take the top 20 pitchers in MLB in 2005 in wins and ERA, and see what they did in 2006. Due to ties, we end up with the top 23 in wins and top 24 in ERA. Here are the average results for each group:
Wins leaders: 17-9, 217 IP, 3.57 ERA, .645 Win%
ERA leaders: 15-9, 212 IP, 3.10 ERA, .629 Win%
Both groups were obviously very good, in large part because ten pitchers appear on both lists (Willis, Colon, Carpenter, Oswalt, Garland, Pettitte, Santana, Buehrle, Beckett, Martinez). So let's remove them:
Wins leaders: 16-10, 211 IP, 4.04 ERA, .617 Win%
ERA leaders: 12-9, 203 IP, 3.18 ERA, .581 Win%
That's more like it. Nearly a full run difference in ERA one way and a four-win difference in their records the other way. Present those two pitching lines to baseball fans and you'll find quite a divide in their responses.
Fast forward one year. This is what our two groups did in 2006:
Wins leaders: 11-11, 177 IP, 4.59 ERA, .509 Win%
ERA leaders: 12-10, 182 IP, 4.18 ERA, .554 Win%
How do you like that? Not only did the ERA group continue to post a better ERA the following year, it also had more wins, fewer losses and more innings. And that's despite Roger Clemens sitting out the first half of the season.
Bottom line: this year's ERA is actually a better predictor of next year's W-L record than this year's W-L record is. Which means judging a pitcher by his win total is silly.