In team sports, wins and losses are usually the most important statistic. However, using wins and losses to measure the success of one individual on a team of many doesn’t make much sense.
A very good pitcher with a low ERA but little run support from his team can face many no-decisions, or undeserved losses. At the same time, an average pitcher with a decent ERA on a team that scores a lot of runs can win a lot of games.
Last season, Arkansas pitcher Ryne Stanek posted a 2.82 ERA in 17 starts. In one more start than Stanek, UCLA pitcher Nick Vander Tuig posted an ERA of 4.43.
Each of the pitchers recorded four losses, but Vander Tuig earned 10 wins, while Stanek only earned eight, despite posting a significantly lower ERA.
A major factor in this is the offense provided by their respective teams. The Razorbacks posted a team batting average of .271 for the season, while the Bruins hit .304.
The eventual College World Series champion Arizona Wildcats had two starting pitchers that won at least 70 percent of their decisions even though they posted ERAs barely under 4.00.
The Wildcat pitching staff was aided by a lineup that hit .329 throughout the season.
Last season, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets each started 33 games. They posted very similar ERAs, Dickey’s a 2.73 and Kershaw’s a 2.53.
However, Dickey won six more games and took three fewer losses than Kershaw
The complexity of the rules used to determine who takes the win or the loss makes it even more difficult to gain any useful information by looking at a pitcher’s win-loss record.
Sometimes, a starting pitcher gets a no-decision, and a reliever takes the win or the loss. A starting pitcher can have a fantastic game, and can receive nothing more than a dash in the win-loss column even if his team goes on to win the game.
According to MLB, the winning pitcher is the one “whose team assumes a lead while such pitcher is in the game.”
In 2010, the Seattle Mariners’ Felix Hernandez started 34 games, posted a Major League Baseball best 2.27 ERA and won only 13 games. He took losses in 12, meaning in a little over a quarter of his games, he received a no-decision.
In one particular game in 2010, Hernandez pitched eight innings, struck out eight batters and allowed only two hits and no runs, but did not get credited with a win.
He got 24 batters out without allowing a run. Neither team was able to score until the 11th inning, so a pitcher that only recorded six outs while giving up one run received the victory.
Haley Markle is the assistant sports editor for the Arkansas Traveler. Her column appears every Monday. Follow the sports section on Twitter @UATravSports.