Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver once said, “If you dwell on statistics, you get shortsighted. If you aim for consistency, the numbers will be there at the end.”
Seaver should have specified which pitching stats he was referring to because in some cases, that strategy will still not get a pitcher the numbers he strongly hopes for. A few of these records create a problem in baseball because they highly depend on not only a team’s pitcher, but also the potency of the defense behind that mound. In many cases there is a combination of a great pitcher and a team that struggles defensively. In situations like these, one cannot simply evaluate the pitcher from only three or four stats, but rather a dozen in order to correctly compare him to other pitchers.
One stat that is almost irrelevant when judging the quality of a pitcher is the number of wins and losses, which highly depend on not only the rest of the team’s defense, but also the strength of the bullpen. For example, the Kansas City Royals starting pitcher and winner of the 2009 AL Cy Young award, Zack Greinke, earned his first win of the 2010 MLB season after being marked with four losses and three no-decisions in his first seven starts.. Greinke, with an ERA (Earn Run Average) of 2.73 and a WHIP (Walk and Hits Per Inning) of 1.12 had been excelling, but the lack of run support and his place on an underperforming team whose win-loss percentage has been .396 for the previous six seasons, left him with a career W/L record of 51-57 and an ERA of only 3.67 at the time.
An important stat that is more reliable than just looking at wins, is a pitcher’s ERA, which is calculated by multiplying the number of earned runs by nine and then dividing that total by the number of innings pitched. Veteran southpaw Jamie Moyer of the Philadelphia Phillies was 5-2 in his first seven starts of the 2010 season, but with an ERA of 4.57 which means that even though he gives up a number of runs to the opposing team, the Phillies offense was able to put up a substantial amount of runs on the board in order for Moyer to be awarded the win.
Another significant pitching stat is WHIP. WHIP is calculated by adding the number of walks and hits per inning and then dividing the sum by the number of innings pitched. After his first nine starts in 2010, Tommy Hanson of the Atlanta Braves had a WHIP of only 1.12 and an impressive 56 strikeouts, but only three wins in eight games which signifies that even though he did not give up many runs, his team did not score enough to win the game. On the contrary, Nick Blackburn of the Minnesota Twins had an ERA of 4.63 and a high WHIP of 1.48, but only one loss after seven starts which means the Twins’ offense was able to put up more runs than Blackburn gave up, in order to win.
One of the most important pitching stats that distinguishes a bad starting pitcher from a good one is the strikeout-to-walk-ratio (K/BB), which is determined by the amount of strikeouts divided by bases on ball. This measures a pitcher’s ability to control his pitches. If a pitcher is able to strikeout more batters than he walks, this indicates that he has good command over his pitches, a very important factor when teams look to add new players to their rotations. Other important stats to look at are home runs per nine innings (HR/9), strikeouts per nine innings (K/9), and walks per nine innings (BB/9). These will help fans and fantasy baseball participants to get an idea of a pitcher in all aspects of his performance. In 2009, Roy Halladay’s career-high 208 strikeouts and only 35 walks for the entire season left him with a K/BB ratio of 5.94, the best in the AL. He had a K/9 of 7.8, a BB/9 of 1.3 (first in AL), and a H/9 of 8.8. These outstanding numbers made Doc a valuable ace for the Philadelphia Phillies, who acquired him through a three-way deal that involved Cliff Lee in the winter of 2009.
Looking at a pitcher’s ERA has a lot of value, but one has to be aware of the rest of the team’s offense and defense to utilize it, in some cases. To really determine the quality of a pitcher, there are numerous other stats that are found on certain websites that interpret and estimate a pitcher’s current, past, and future performance. One of these sites is Baseballprospectus.com, which provides the numbers for information like BABIP (Batting Average on Balls Put Into Play) and elaborate formulas like SIERA (Skill-Interactive Earned Run Average). The formula for SIERA? Let’s just say it’s as long as one of Mark McGwire’s home runs. And ultimately, these formulas prove to be equally dependable to wins, ERA, and WHIP.
“I like looking at strike percentage, velocity and shape from PitchFX, and in extreme cases BABIP,” says Will Carroll, a senior writer at Baseball Prospectus. “I don’t pay any attention to wins and ERA. And saves should just be outlawed.”
Ultimately, not many pitching stats can singularly define a pitcher. They have to be used in accordance with each other to conclude a pitcher’s strengths, weaknesses, and his overall performance.