Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Please God tell me this isn't actually how we evaluate pitchers

First, let me say, Good luck Mr. Balester. I am rooting for you to fulfill your destiny as the #4 starter on the First Great Nationals Team.

Second, let me say I have no complaint with him coming up now. Seems like he's been pitching good, and why not?

However, I do have a complaint with the reason why JimBo is saying he's coming up: his W-L record.

I don't have to tell you that wins are a terrible stat for evaluating pitching performance. Lots of pitching stats are skewed by events on the field outside a pitcher's control. WHIP is skewed by the quality of defense. ERA is skewed by the performance of middle-relievers who inherit runners. There are lots of examples, but I would be hard-pressed to cite a stat that has LESS to do with a pitcher's actual performance than wins.

Especially in today's era with so much data available that isolates a pitcher's performance, the things actually within the pitcher's control (like BB and K%, line-drive and flyball %, fielding independent pitching), it is inexcusable for anyone in baseball to even think about looking at stats like wins. (If you want to read an article by someone who knows way more about baseball than me, check out this piece from USS Mariner.)

Which brings us to this terrifying article from MLB.com, which gives you the distinct impression that wins are the primary stat JimBo is using to evaluate his pitching prospects:
Jim Bowden was honest with Collin Balester in Spring Training when he told the Nationals' pitching prospect that he wanted to see wins, not just good pitching. Balester took it to heart, and on Tuesday night, he will for the first time in his life be called upon as a Major League pitcher.

Balester, the third-best prospect and top right-handed pitcher in the Nationals' system according to Baseball America, will join the team for their upcoming road trip, making his Major League debut Tuesday in Florida.

Entering 2008, Balester owned a modest 18-23 career Minor League record, and he'd recorded just one overall winning season. But the 22-year-old right hander has compiled an impressive 9-3 record this year in Triple-A Columbus, where he's spent the entire season, notching an even 4.00 ERA along the way.

Additionally, he's 9-1 since May 1 and 4-0 with a 2.82 ERA in the month of June.

Bowden said it was those numbers, and the fact that Balester has been able to add a consistently effective changeup to his repertoire, that led to the callup.

"He's gone 9-1 since May 1, what am I supposed to ask him?" Bowden said before Sunday's game. "He's 4-0 this month, he's throwing the changeup, he's won. He's done what we've asked him to do."
And then, as if to eliminate any doubt that this guy has no idea how to evaluate pitching, comes this breathtaking quote from the WaPo:

"'If you want to get to us,' he told Balester, 'you have to win. I don't want to see .500 down there with great stuff. What does that do for me?'"

Sweet Jesus. Fire. Jim. Bowden. Please.

  • Just an additional thought I had in the comments that I thought was worth repeating here: even if JimBo's not really relying on W-L record to evaluate pitchers in the way he says (in which case, I don't know why he's saying it), what does that do to a kid's head to be told, in essence, "your future as a major-leaguer is largely out of your hands. You can pitch great. Do everything right in your power, and if you don't get run support, or if the defense makes Es, or if the bullpen blows your leads... we will blame you." If you're Balester, I don't know how else you'd take it.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not a Bowden fan at all. But a baseball fan and a fan of pitching. I believe in what he said. With all the stats over the years we have gotten away from the simple fact, WIN the game. If a pitcher takes the mound and concentrates every 5th day on winning the game and is successful more times than not the other stuff takes care of itself. Winning is not the only way to evaluate pitches but it is a good start. When you have winners you have mentally tough individuals that give themselves and their teams the chance to have success at the next level. Get on the man for alot of things like putting together a club of gangsters but because probaly someone told him, winning is important. Its why we play the game.

Henry Mateo Fan Club said...

What do you expect him to say about a guy who has won 9 of 10 decisions?

Lost in your venom toward Bowden is a broader point he was making, that it's one thing to go .500 at AAA with good stuff but another thing to develop as a pitcher down there. The key part is not the W/L record but the comment about the improved changeup, as the organization obviously believes that's what drove the W/L record. Without refining that, Bowden's saying he'd be a .500 pitcher at AAA with good stuff.

Maybe he's right, maybe he's wrong, but you're wrong to reduce this down to W/L record purely.

Nationals Fan said...

@anon--I just couldn't disagree more. Wins don't belong anywhere in a GM's evaluation of a pitcher. Give me a pitcher like Matt Cain who has great peripherals over his career but a terrible winning percentage over a guy like Kyle Lohse who lucks into 10-2 any day of the week.

@henry--You're right he talked about the additional pitch. That's relevant. But he's very clear that if Balester had been pitching well, doing everything right in his control, but not getting wins that he wouldn't be here.

There's not ambiguity in this statement: "If you want to get to us," he told Balester, "you have to win. I don't want to see .500 down there with great stuff. What does that do for me?"

Separate from the idiotic rationale he's giving for the promotion, what does that do to a kid's head to be told, in essence, "your future as a major-leaguer is largely out of your hands. You can pitch great. Do everything right in your power, and if you don't get run support, or if the defense makes Es, or if the bullpen blows your leads... we will blame you."

Henry Mateo Fan Club said...

I can't believe we're debating a GM's fluff language, but ...

But he's very clear that if Balester had been pitching well, doing everything right in his control, but not getting wins that he wouldn't be here.

You've inverted the point Bowden was making. What Bowden was saying that if Balester hadn't been doing things right, he wouldn't be getting all the wins. Bowden exaggerates, of course, but any GM is going to laud a 9-1 stretch.

There's not ambiguity in this statement: "If you want to get to us," he told Balester, "you have to win. I don't want to see .500 down there with great stuff. What does that do for me?"

Actually, you're creating the ambiguity. He's saying that merely using Balester's great stuff -- without learning how to hit -- would result in a .500 record at Columbus. Hitters at AAA are sophisticated; you can't get by on your stuff alone. The changeup is obviously what they want to see and what they believe is driving the success.

Give the article a fresh read, without thinking that the GM is an idiot worthy of mockery in Baseball Prospectus 1998 or something, and you'll see that a little better.

Separate from the idiotic rationale he's giving for the promotion, what does that do to a kid's head to be told, in essence, "your future as a major-leaguer is largely out of your hands. You can pitch great. Do everything right in your power, and if you don't get run support, or if the defense makes Es, or if the bullpen blows your leads... we will blame you."

There's scant support for this tremendously loaded characterization, other than a superficial reading of the article.

Henry Mateo Fan Club said...

without learning how to hit

Without learning how to pitch -- though hitting would help too!

Nationals Fan said...

Henry, I gave it a fresh read, just as you asked. I really hoped that I'd find something different. Like in the title of my post, I really truly hope that this isn't how Bowden makes decisions.

You're saying that what he *meant* was, "you need to learn how to pitch, not just rely on your stuff." If he'd said that, then I'd be fine with it.

But he didn't say that. That's not how it was reported, and that's not what the direct quotes say.

But I hope for my sake as a Nationals fan that you are right.