For a number of years MLB Network’s Brian Kenny has been on a campaign to kill the Win. And he’s been joined by pretty much everyone who understands the game. I’m guessing Harold Reynolds is a holdout, and I have to guess because I don’t watch too much of the MLB Network these days. Anyway, it might not surprise you to know that I’ve been with Kenny and others from the start. But I’m beginning to have second thoughts. Let me explain.
We can only judge whether a statistic is good or bad in relation to other stats, right? In fact, we can only judge whether anything – a movie, restaurant, or science fair project – is good or bad when we compare it to others of its ilk.
We’re against the win because pitchers can get them when they pitch awfully, and they can fail to earn them when they twirl gems. But we’re talking about something that happens on the individual game level. Why is it that we make a big deal, or any deal at all, about something that happens in individual games?
Nobody is particularly impressed if a pitcher posts a 1.35 ERA or a hitter drives in three runs in a particular game. We understand that those things happen with great frequency, so they’re generally non-issues. We also don’t freak out if a pitcher gives up three bloop hits and a double off the wall. And it’s not the end of the world if a hitter comes up twice in a game with men on second and third only to be robbed by two great defensive plays by outfielders. Luck and random variation both happen.
Yet, we’re somehow fixated on the Win.
I’m here to tell you that Wins have value as a statistic, at least on a career level. And we shouldn’t kill it if it’s no worse than other mainstream statistics. In this pithy analysis, I’m going to look at all-time leaders in some mainstream statistical categories to see what kind of HoME membership is contained therein.
It’s possible that we can look at the Win a little differently than Kenny does. It’s possible that Wins aren’t so bad a stat relative to other mainstream measures we respect or at least stomach.
Each of the top 19 guys on the all-time Wins list is in the Hall of Miller and Eric. It’s not until #20 where we reach 307 game winner, Mickey Welch, that we find a hurler not in the HoME. Then things get a little dicey. Bobby Mathews clocks in at #25, Tommy John is #26, and Tony Mullane is tied for #29. Jim Kaat is #31, Burleigh Grimes is tied for #33, Jamie Moyer is #35, Eppa Rixey is #37, and Jim McCormick is #39. Then there’s Gus Weyhing at #40, Jack Morris tied for #43, Al Spalding at #46, and Jack Quinn at #49.
Whoa! Maybe I’m making a mistake. By my count, that’s 13 of the top 50 on the all-time wins chart who aren’t in the HoME. But let’s see how this list compares to others before we, like many, just dismiss the Win.
Mickey Lolich is #18 on the list. Then there’s Frank Tanana at #21, Jerry Koosman at #29, Javier Vazquez at #30, A.J. Burnett at #31, as well as Jack Morris, Mark Langston, Jim Kaat, Sam McDowell, Andy Pettitte, and Jamie Moyer at #34-39. Bartolo Colon is #44, Charlie Hough is #45, and Dwight Gooden is #50. Let’s not count Pettitte since he has a shot at HoME induction.
So we’re looking at 13 out of 50. Exactly the same as our Wins guys. Maybe we should kill the Strikeout?
I’m just including this category to be a pain in the ass. Trevor Hoffman, the #2 guy on the list, isn’t in the HoME. Neither are 46 others. The only guys who are in or going are Marino Rivera at #1, Dennis Eckersley at #7, and Rich Gossage at #23. That means 47 of the top 50 are out of the HoME. But we all know Saves are a terrible statistic already, much worse than the Win. Maybe we should try the Goose Egg?
And we’d have to agree if we could keep just one statistic, it would be the Win rather than the Save.
Much of this all-time list is outside the HoME, including #4, Lefty O’Doul. In fact, 21 of the top-50 Batting Average leaders are outside the HoME. However, we really should look at a more recent sample of players to learn if this is a bad statistic. Batting averages were different over 120 years ago, so I’m just going to look at the World Series era.
O’Doul is now #3 on the list. And we’re down to just 13 of 50. Of course, it’s not like 13 is so far 13 on the Wins list. I’m no math expert, but I think 13 is exactly the same.
We see the same problem on the all-time Home Runs list that we see on others. Relatively early on the list there’s a guy who’s not in the HoME. In this case it’s #12, Harmon Killebrew. David Ortiz at #21, sadly, isn’t going either. Same with Fred McGriff at #28, Willie Stargell at #30, Carlos Delgado at #32, Adam Dunn at #35, Jose Canseco at #36, Dave Kingman at #42, Jason Giambi at #43, Paul Konerko at #44, and Juan Gonzalez at #47. Additionally, I think it could be some time before #39, Vladimir Guerrero, gets in. That all depends on what Hall voters do, particularly those on the Era Committees.
All told we have 11 or 12 of 50 not in the HoME. Again, that’s not far from the 13 on the Wins list.
Runs Batted In
It’s not as vociferous a crowd who wants to dump the RBI, but we have to admit that opportunity is the driving force behind driving in runs. And the all-time list suggests to me that teams do a decent job of finding the right guys to give those RBI opportunities. It’s not until #21 where we find David Ortiz, deeper than any list thus far. Tony Perez is #28, Harold Baines is #30, Harmon Killebrew is #36, Fred McGriff is #42, Willie Stargell is #45, and Carlos Delgado is #50. That’s only seven guys in the top 50 who aren’t in the HoME. And the truth is that a few of them would be in if they did anything other than hit well. Hooray for Runs Batted In!
Johnny Damon clocks in at #25, and he’s never going to be a HoMEr. Lou Brock is #36. And that’s it! The other 48 guys on the list are all in the Hall of Miller and Eric. Forget ribbies, hooray for Runs!
Lou Brock is #23 on this list, Omar Vizquel is #36, Harold Baines is #39, Johnny Damon is #48, and Vada Pinson is #50. So compared to Hits and Runs, at least by this measure, Wins is a pretty bad statistical measure.
Dave Orr is #14, Charlie Keller is tied at #31, Gavvy Cravath is tied at #33, and Charley Jones is tied at #35. Elmer Flick, Benny Kauff, and Ralph Kiner are tied at +37. Sam Thompson is tied at #42, and of the eight guys tied at #49, only one is a HoMEr. Active players on the list include Mike Trout, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Paul Goldschmidt. Most of those guys are fine, but Goldschmidt still has work to do. And Votto is older than some think at 33. Should he fall off the map in the next year or two, he likely won’t make it. That’s a minimum of nine guys. It’s ten if you count two of the tie for #49, and it’s 11 if you count one of Votto and Goldschmidt. I certainly believed OPS+ would be considerably more telling than Wins, but at 11 compared to 13, it isn’t.
This list is littered with olde tyme dudes and relief pitchers. There are two dozen who aren’t in and aren’t going.
If we’re looking as WAR by position players, every single guy is either in the HoME or going. Except maybe Chase Utley. I have him #22, a place where we might or might not support him. I believe Eric likes him more than I do, so he’s going to go.
Well, we have Jim McCormick at #27, Mickey Welch at #44, Tommy John and Dazzy Vance tied at #47, and Bobby Mathews at #49. That’s five guys, more than as on the Runs list and as many as on the Hits list.
Shortcomings and Conclusions
Clearly a shortcoming of this study is that the HoME is a WAR-based institution. We start with a bias toward WAR as a strong statistic. On the other hand, it’s not like the list of pitcher WAR is even as good as the list of Hits or Runs.
My conclusion is this – the Win shouldn’t die. At least not as long as we still use other mediocre measures to help us interpret performance. Omnibus stats like WAR are great, but even WAR needs context. Should we timeline? Should we adjust for shorter schedules? How should we weigh peak and prime versus career?
There’s no easy answer, and that’s why just ignoring a statistic, any statistic, probably isn’t the best idea. Long live the Win! Maybe.