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Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Bill James: How Reliable are Won-Lost Records, Part I

  Somebody replied to this “With all of the pitcher’s stats available, why did you choose to show won-lost records?”  I blocked him immediately.

        Why would you block somebody for that? I can hear people asking.  It was a rude question…..

        The answer I gave him was, “The won-lost record is the easiest way to describe the shape and size or a starting pitcher’s career. You don’t RELY on it; you don’t assume it is an accurate reflection of his value, although it is probably 80% accurate over the course of a career.”

        The first part of that answer (the won-lost record is the easiest way to describe the shape and size and shape of a starting pitcher’s career”. . . .I think that is clearly and obviously true.  A won-lost record is a two-syllable, seven-letter word; OK, seven digits, including the hyphen.  A seven-letter, two-syllable word like “answers”, “believe”, “merchant”, “raining”, “snowing”,“replied”, or “basemen”.  There is no WORD you can use that tells you as much about a starting pitcher’s career as his won-lost record does, and there is no other statistic you can substitute in there which accomplishes as much, or anything like as much.  There is no other way to come remotely close to conveying the same amount of information with two syllables.

        But the second half of my response, I got to wondering about that later.  Is it reasonable to say that career won-lost records are 80% accurate?  How would you determine that?

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 20, 2022 at 12:12 PM | 20 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: pitcher wins

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: September 20, 2022 at 05:50 PM (#6097142)
What a cranky response. It's not "wrong" but innings pitched and ERA+ (or ERA) is 7 digits of information that tells you even more than W-L. WAR is only 4 digits if we count the decimal point and (rather pointlessly) report the decinal; I suppose win shares pushes that out to 3 digits because, for no good reason, we multiply wins by 3 to get win shares. WAR and WAA together can provide a sense of quantity and quality. But I've got something like 8 TB of storage space in a couple of drives that (combined) are smaller than a sandwich sitting on the table next to me as I type, I don't think saving a handful of bytes on the internet is sufficient reason to present just the one (really two) stat that does an adequate job.

But sure, if you tell me a guy was 220-130 then I know he threw a large number of innings and he was at least good enough to hang around for 15+ years. It doesn't though help me compare that guy to a guy (if such exists) that went 190-160 because all I know about him was that he threw a lot of innings and was at least good enough to hang around for 15+ years. It also doesn't tell me if the first guy was as good (in quality or value) as the guy with the 190-80 record (if such a guy exists).


What question do these answer? Are these answers all the same? Which are the three best? Which are the three worst? Again, what question are we trying to answer?

And if you dare even give a hint of a suggestion of an implication that I don't know what I'm talking about, I'll block you! (Admittedly, I sometimes am overly touchy but I don't block people.)
   2. Walt Davis Posted: September 20, 2022 at 05:51 PM (#6097144)
On the other hand, it really is long past time folks got off Bill's lawn.
   3. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: September 20, 2022 at 06:01 PM (#6097149)
What a cranky response.

On his site, I posted, "Look, Bill, if I wanted to see an angry grandpa rant, I'll watch Joe Biden."
   4. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: September 20, 2022 at 06:38 PM (#6097158)

Each guy won more then 100 games then they lost, so pretty darn good.

Pitcher #1 was pretty durable, played for good teams and lasted longer
Pitcher #2 was otherworldly for a 7 year period and had what is considered one of the greatest peak periods of pitching ever.

I assume without even looking this up, most of the guys here can name these 2 recently retired hurlers.

“With all of the pitcher’s stats available, why did you choose to show won-lost records?” I blocked him immediately.

That is really is just a super douchy response.
   5. Baldrick Posted: September 20, 2022 at 06:54 PM (#6097160)
Among the many other issues here, any W/L record that's 7 digits is...not two syllables.
   6. SoSH U at work Posted: September 20, 2022 at 07:00 PM (#6097161)
He's saying "won" "loss" is two syllables. Why, I'm not exactly sure.
   7. HBO disappeared Oscar Posted: September 20, 2022 at 08:02 PM (#6097171)
Whatever I think of his methods I appreciate the old dude putting himself out there. Sure maybe he's a cranky old ####. I give old people a lot of latitude. Not knowing if you are going to wake up tomorrow. Aching all the time. Probably taking anywhere from 1-10 meds several times a day. And then someone is going to give you #### because you shared your work? #### that

Koufax who gets made out to be overrated comes out looking like he really was amazing. Dave Stieb, holy ####.

   8. bookbook Posted: September 20, 2022 at 08:06 PM (#6097173)
Bill James has been a cranky old fart since he was 29
   9. Ron J Posted: September 20, 2022 at 09:16 PM (#6097181)
#8 In his Breaking the Wand essay he talks about the Dear Jackass letters he used to write. And as I recall said that he wasn't happy that he was writing more of them. That this played into the decision to stop writing the Abstract.
   10. Moeball Posted: September 20, 2022 at 11:22 PM (#6097213)
#7 - bringing up Koufax reminds me of a study I did some years back that illustrated, for better or worse, why Sandy had the reputation he did per the writers. Of course, anecdotally, when you pitch the clincher against the Yanks in 1963 and win, 2-1, and when you follow that up 2 years later with an even more impressive G7 win against the Twins, 2-0, on only 2 days rest, the writers will say you're just about the greatest clutch pitcher ever. It isn't just that Koufax pitched brilliantly with the season on the line, it's that he did so in games with a bit of additional pressure because he didn't get much in the way of run support. That got me to thinking - Sandy pitched in the 1960s, a pitching dominant era, in a home park that was also friendly to pitchers, and with his reputation you often heard people say, hey, there's your run, Koufax, make it stand up! Could he really do that? So I looked at his 5 year peak from 1962-1966 and decided to see just how he did in games with poor run support. Was his reputation earned? Or was it just an illusion? (Images of Jack Morris coming to mind).

I defined poor run support as any game in which the Dodgers scored 2 runs or fewer through 9 innings. Yes Sandy pitched a lot of complete games, but there are some shorter outings as well. For that matter there are some starts where he took it into extra innings, too. The team is tied 1-1 through 9 but scores 4 in the 10th? Still counts as poor run support for Sandy. If he only goes 7 innings and left the game behind 1-0, but the team scored 6 in the 8th, that does not count as a poor run support start. I know it's harsh, as they actually scored 0 runs while he was in there, but I was trying to look at 2 things to measure - 1) which pitchers get bailed out by their teams as opposed to which pitchers really get screwed on their W-L record, but also 2) in the early days of baseball, you know, Cy Young and such, we may not have complete box scores of some games but we do know what the final scores were and who the pitchers of record were and, in most cases, almost all the starts were complete games. So if Young has a game he lost 3-2, I can pretty much guarantee his team scored 2 or less runs through 9. So I thought it made it easier to compare pitchers across eras this way.

At any rate, back to Sandy. From 1962-1966 in the starts that met the poor run support criteria, Koufax had a record of 27-24. I thought, ok, that's actually pretty impressive to have a winning record over a 5 year period when getting poor run support. I had no idea at the time just how impressive that was. So I looked at all the big name starting pitchers in MLB history (as I said, I did this some years ago so no Negro League pitcher data was part of the study)and I was shocked to find that Koufax was apparently the only pitcher in history able to accomplish this! It's really hard to win when your team doesn't score runs! I looked at Cy Young, I looked at both Johnsons, Walter and Randy, I looked at Christy and Lefty and Whitey and all the other big names throughout history. And to my surprise Koufax was the ONLY one to post a winning record over a 5 year peak when given poor run support. So maybe he really lived up to the reputation!

If you want to see more details of the study, I can do that one one of these days if you're interested. I will say one thing that didn't surprise me was that some of the seasons we think of as historically among the greatest pitching seasons ever, such as 1913 Walter Johnson or 1933 Carl Hubbell or 1968 Bob Gibson do hold up pretty well under the poor run support scrutiny.
   11. SoSH U at work Posted: September 20, 2022 at 11:29 PM (#6097215)
Interesting, Moe. That's akin to the Jackson-Terrell study James did back in one of the old Abstracts, back when he was worth reading.
   12. The Duke Posted: September 20, 2022 at 11:53 PM (#6097221)
I would think Gibson does well in 1968. Seemed like he won a bunch of games when the Cards scored 0,1,2 runs through 9
   13. Rough Carrigan Posted: September 21, 2022 at 12:47 AM (#6097234)
Two runs in support of Koufax in 1966 or Gibson in 1968 in that low scoring environment is a team just slightly held down more than average by the opposing pitcher.

Two runs in support of Dazzy Vance in 1930 means half the team's hungover or the opposing pitcher's got hellacious stuff.

This will naturally favor pitchers who worked in low scoring environments like Koufax and hurt guys like Dazzy Vance who pitched almost exclusively in very high scoring environments.
   14. Perry Posted: September 21, 2022 at 07:43 PM (#6097414)
Bill James did a similar study in the first HA, in the Drysdale evaluation. He only looked at 1963-64, and found that Drysdale won when he got run support but was 8-27 when he got 3 runs or less. When Koufax got 3 runs or less, he was 18-4.
   15. It's regretful that PASTE was able to get out Posted: September 21, 2022 at 10:53 PM (#6097441)
I actually like Bill's Twitter strategy of immediately blocking anyone who insults you--anyone who insults anyone, really--to avoid wasting too much of your limited time dealing with angry people.

My very favorite strategy, granted, is to not use Twitter at all. But if you absolutely must use the damn thing, that's the way to go about it.

More than any one thing, Bill James' central, defining personality trait is contrarianism. When he got started, declaring that a pitcher's Won-Lost record isn't a very useful indicator of his performance was almost universally considered the loony ravings of a crackpot. Through decades of hard work, he and a small handful of others successfully persuaded the world that, in fact, a pitcher's Won-Lost record isn't a very useful indicator of his performance. Once it became the universal dogma and saying otherwise became the loony ravings of a crackpot, of course Bill James began to argue that a pitcher's Won-Lost record is a useful indicator of his performance after all.
   16. Baldrick Posted: September 21, 2022 at 11:12 PM (#6097447)
I actually like Bill's Twitter strategy of immediately blocking anyone who insults you--anyone who insults anyone, really--to avoid wasting too much of your limited time dealing with angry people.

It's a good policy, which I employ! When I'm not employing the better policy of just not logging in.

Not sure it serves the purpose, though, if you supplement with an additional policy of blocking people and then bragging about it in print.
   17. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: September 21, 2022 at 11:40 PM (#6097449)
I actually like Bill's Twitter strategy of immediately blocking anyone who insults you
If I were to respond to this by asking “Why do you like that?” would you consider it to be an “insult”?
   18. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: September 22, 2022 at 07:53 AM (#6097465)
On his site, I posted, "Look, Bill, if I wanted to see an angry grandpa rant, I'll watch Joe Biden."

Donald Trump works just as well for that comment.
   19. John Northey Posted: September 22, 2022 at 09:33 PM (#6097573)
176-137 vs 254-186
122 ERA+ 2895 IP vs 105 ERA+ 3824 IP
56.4 WAR vs 43.5 WAR
30.7 WAA vs 9.4 WAA

Two pitchers from the 80's. I suspect many know who these 2 are, one in the HOF, the other a 1 and done for voting. One in the Hall of Merit, the other has no shot (reverse of the HOF).

For the kids here I'll give the names - Dave Stieb and Jack Morris respectively. Stieb won an ERA title in 1985 (171 ERA+) but his team just couldn't score for him so he was 14-13. Morris had an ERA+ of 101 one year but was 21-6 that year.

So much for W-L as an indicator of quality over any other measure IMO.
   20. sunday silence (again) Posted: September 22, 2022 at 10:08 PM (#6097580)
But to be fair, James is not saying its an indicator of quality (or value) per se. He's saying its an indication of the "shape and size" of a pitcher's career. Whatever those terms mean. But we can sort of define them as having to do with longevity and perhaps how sucessful his team was and how much he was part of that. Maybe.

Of course its one thing to talk about famous, long career pitchers. Everyone associates 511 wins with Cy Young, 373 w/ Mathewson, etc. So there's perhaps a bit of bias in that we know certain pitchers w/l records by heart, or we have an idea of their record. A better criticism might be to look at pitchers who arent hall of famers I wonder what if anything their w/l record says. YOu could probably find tons of guys who went 44-44 or 55-70 and some of them might have been really good at one pt.; some of them might have labored in obscurity for years; some of them might have been had stretches where they were on one level and other stretches where they werent recognizable of their former selves.

Still I guess its better than win shares.

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