Down with the pitchers win, up with the Tango
So Tom Tango is over at his site doing the Lord’s work. He is doing his best to rid America and the world of the scourge that is pitcher victories (and losses). Now, I’ve written many, many, many, too many words bashing the logic of the pitcher’s victory as a statistic. Pitchers do not win games. Pitchers do not lose games. The pitcher’s win-loss statistic has done more to promote that dumb myth than Tim McCarver, Joe Morgan and all the Cy Young votes combined.
But let’s just concede: A lot of people like the pitcher’s victory as a statistic. It’s simple. It’s explicit. It’s unabashed. And it’s also true that while pitchers do not win or lose games, the starting pitcher generally has more to do with winning and losing than any other individual player. Pitching is the most important part of run prevention. And if a pitcher and defense can keep an opponent from scoring three runs, the team will win 85 or so percent of the time.
Here are those winning percentages since 1900, in case you are interested:
0 runs -- 1.000
1 run -- .889
2 runs -- .739
3 runs -- .600
4 runs -- .464
5 runs -- .359
6-plus runs -- .170
Two runs or fewer usually means victory.
Pitchers -- particularly starting pitchers -- have a lot to say about runs allowed. So, while the pitcher’s win-loss record is hopelessly flawed, it is not without value. I think that’s why Tango has moved beyond complaining about the pitcher’s win as a concept and on to a more noble pursuit: Trying to make pitchers’ wins make sense for the 21st Century.
Wait, am I saying it does not make sense? Do I have any proof? Well, you might not know this, but the official rule to determine the winning and losing pitcher -- Rule 10.17 in your rulebook -- is 711 words. That would be 711 words. Or, to be precise: SEVEN HUNDRED AND ELEVEN BLEEPING WORDS.
If you are scoring at home:
Al Michael’s famous 1980 Olympics hockey call: 6 words.
What Crash Davis believes in: 86 words
Freebird: 172 words.
I Got You (I Feel Good): 220 words
Gettysburg Address: 278 words (depending on version)
Stairway to Heaven: 341 words*
Hamlet’s Soliloquy: 341 words*
**Coincidence? I think not.*
Howard Beale’s “Mad as Hell” speech: 446 words
Entire creation story in bible: 655 words.
Bill of Rights (original form): 678 words
The rule to determine if a pitcher wins or loses: 711 words.
Coffee is for closers monologue: 782 words.
Rapper’s Delight: 2,879 words.
As you can see, nothing in the history of mankind has wasted more words than the pitcher win-loss rule. The rule made sense at one point -- and was barely needed at all -- because starters mostly pitched nine innings. But these days, starters almost never finish games. There are often three or four relievers pitching.
My simple response to this has been: Just credit the starting pitcher with a win or loss every single time. At least those numbers would make some sense. But I admit this is a pretty clumsy way of doing things.
Enter Tom Tango, who has come up with a simple “Assigned Wins and Losses” formula that I am now calling the Tango Won-Loss System. Is is easy and fun and mathematically sound and doesn’t require 711 words to explain. His formula is a points system.
Every pitcher on the winning team gets 1 point for every out recorded and loses 4 points for every run allowed. The pitcher with the most points gets the win.
On the losing team, each pitcher get 6 points per run allowed and you subtract 1 point for every out recorded. The pitcher with the most points gets the loss.
There will be ties and the tiebreakers are also easy -- the pitcher with the most outs gets the win, the pitcher with the fewest outs gets the loss. If there’s still a tie, then the Tango win/loss simply goes to the pitcher who entered the game earliest.
That is a total of 108 words, and I repeated some words unnecessarily. The Tango rule is quite simple.
Baseball Musings has put up a chart to show how assigned wins and losses are going. As you can see, the Tango wins and losses are similar to regular wins and losses most of the time. There can be some pretty severe differences, however.
Let’s take the case of Oakland’s Jesse Chavez. He’s currently 4-1 by the absurd seven-eleven rules of baseball (we call them seven-eleven rules because, as mentioned, it takes 711 words to explain them). Chavez’s Tango record is 7-0.
That’s a pretty significant difference. Which won-loss record makes more sense? Which one speaks to us?
Well, let’s look at Chavez game by game.
April 3: Chavez pitched six innings, gave up two runs (one of them earned) and Oakland won the game 3-2. But the game went to 12 innings, and the win was given to Drew Pomeranz, who pitched one scoreless inning.
Who contributed more to Oakland’s victory – Chavez or Pomeranz?
Baseball says Pomeranz.
Tango says Chavez.
I’m with Tango.
Tango Won-loss: 1-0
April 9: Chavez pitched seven innings and gave up 1 run in Oakland’s 7-4 victory over Minnesota. But, again, he did not get the victory. The Twins scored three runs in the eighth and ninth innings to tie the game. The winning pitcher was Dan Otero, who pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings but also gave up the sacrifice fly that tied the game. Tango gives the victory to Chavez.
Won Loss: 0-0
Tango W-L: 2-0
April 14: Chavez pitched seven innings again, gave up two runs (one earned) in a 3-2 victory over the Angels. And, yep, one more time he did not get the win. The A’s scored late to take the victory and the win went to Jim Johnson, who pitched one scoreless inning.
Tango, again, gave the victory to Chavez. Who deserved it.
Tango W-L: 3-0
April 20: Chavez pitched six innings, gave up one run, and in this case he got both the win and the Tango.
Won Loss: 1-0
Tango W-L: 4-0
April 25: Chavez did not pitch very well – five innings, five runs, four earned. But Oakland won the game 12-5 by scoring seven runs in the ninth inning against Houston. The win was randomly given to Luke Gregerson, who pitched one scoreless inning. In this case, the Tango W-L does not give the victory to Chavez either. In fact, the Tango struggles to find a winner here. This is one of those games, I think, where NO pitcher deserves a victory.
Chavez: 15 outs recorded, 5 runs scored, minus-5 points.
Dan Otero: 3 outs recorded, 3 points.
Sean Doolittle: 3 outs recorded, 3 points
Luke Gregerson: 3 outs recorded, 3 points.
Fernando Abed: 3 outs recorded, 3 points.
The Tango, if I understand it right, gives the victory to Otero since he was in the game earliest. That’s not a particularly fulfilling decision, but it’s better than giving the victory Gregerson, who just happened to be in the game at the right time. I personally would just want to give the victory to the starter, but there’s no ideal answer here.
April 30: Chavez pitched seven shutout innings in a 12-1 victory and got both the victory and the Tango.
Tango W-L: 5-0
May 6: Chavez pitched 5 2/3 innings and gave up four earned runs in an 8-3 loss to Seattle. He took the loss by seven-eleven rules, but does not take the Tango W-L. Why not? Because someone else pitched worse.
Chavez: 17 outs recorded, 4 runs allowed, minus-7 points (remember it’s six points per run when figuring losses)
Jim Johnson: 2 outs recorded, 4 runs allowed, minus-22 points.
Johnson pitched WAY worse than Chavez and escaped the loss only because his team happened to be down 4-3 when he entered the game. But if you think about it: That makes NO SENSE. His team had a chance to win the game before he came in. His team had almost no chance after he pitched. Tango says he deserves the loss more than Chavez, and I concur.
Won loss: 2-1
Tango W-L: 5-0
May 12: Chavez went eight innings and gave up two runs and got both victories.
Won loss: 3-1
Tango W-L: 6-0
May 18: Chavez went five innings, allowed two runs, and got both victories.
Tango W-L: 7-0
So, there you can see the difference. It seems very clear to me that the Tango W-L better represents the contribution that Jesse Chavez has made this year than the regular old won-loss stat.
This is a lot to take in, of course. People are so reluctant to change in baseball. More than that, people are reluctant to consider change. I read my good friend Bob Ryan’s piece on baseball statistics; it was, in a way, a homage to the flawed statistics of the past. We grew up with them. Feel comfortable with them. I have a friend who takes a route to work that is five-to-10 minutes longer than the best way. But he doesn’t KNOW the short way, doesn’t really want to know the best way, it uses new roads that weren’t around when he was growing up. He’s used to the long way. It’s comfortable for him.
So, OK, use the pitcher win. But, it seems obvious to me: The current win statistic simply does not work for the 21st Century. They could add another 711 words, and it still wouldn’t work. This new way is SO easy and it’s so much smarter. Let’s switch. It only takes two to tango.