Thursday, July 6, 2017

Santana Falls Victim To Useless Stat

Ervin Santana has been the talk of baseball in the first half of the 2017 Major League season. He has bucked his career trends and been among the games best starters. While there has been some slipping of late, against the Los Angeles Angels, Santana recorded his 4th complete game of the season. Unfortunately he ends up on the wrong side of the decision, only to highlight the uselessness of the pitcher win.

For the past few years, there's been any number of talking heads that have pointed out baseball's dated numbers. From statistics such as Wins to saves, and ERA to batting average, we're at a place in the game where we can more accurately understand it. In the tilt between the Twins and the Angels on July 5th, we saw more than a few of those useless statistics in play.

First and foremost, Santana's complete game comes into focus. It was his fourth of the 2017 season, meaning he's already thrown more as an individual, than any other team in baseball. Across the 9.0 innings he worked, Angels hitters tallied 7 hits and 2 runs while walking twice and striking out five times. Throwing 80 of his 117 pitches for strikes, Santana was economical, and largely sharp on the evening. When the dust settled though, the win went to Angels rookie Parker Bridwell. Bridwell was fantastic in his own right, but threw three less innings before handing the game over to his relievers.

Then there's the double whammy of how Santana lost his opportunity, and it hurt his line as well. With Cameron Maybin at 3rd base and Kole Calhoun at 1st, the Angels made Minnesota look like an aloof bunch of high schoolers. Calhoun broke for second, and Minnesota Catcher Jason Castro fired all the way through to second. Neither Brian Dozier nor Eduardo Escobar acted as if there was a steal play on to cut the ball off and throw home. Maybin has plenty of speed, and he made it home easily as the Twins essentially gave him the run. All of this took place while Santana stood on the mound and watched, being credited with an earned run.

Looking back at that series of events as a whole, it couldn't be more clear why surface stats have been now aided by a further dive into what takes place on the diamond. ERA is hardly the be-all-end-all for a pitcher. Given the discretion of an official scorer, a pitcher is at the mercy of interpretation. In this instance, that run was much more Castro, Dozier, and probably even Paul Molitor's fault than it was the pitcher's. In allowing that runner to cross the plate Minnesota's run in the bottom of the 7th just drew Santana closer, but didn't lead to him having an opportunity to get the win.

Baseball Prospectus' Aaron Gleeman tweeted out after last night's game that Bert Blyleven owns the most complete game losses in Twins history with 45. While that seems like a staggering number (and it is), what's worse is how good he was in those games. he went on to highlight that while Bert went 0-45 in those games, he posted an ERA of 2.99. So, Blyleven was exactly as good as Santana has been all of 2017 as a whole (his ERA currently sits at 2.99) and gave his Minnesota teams 9 innings, just to be tagged with a loss each time.

I can understand why needing to pin the win or loss on a pitcher is a necessary practice. With that being said, there should absolutely be the caveat that the weight it carries is minimal at best, and rarely indicative of the game's actual flow.

When pitchers are being decided upon for awards at the end of the season, the win stat is one often pointed to. Last year's AL Cy Young winner was 22-game winner Rick Porcello. Given the landscape of options in 2016, he was far from an egregious choice, but it was likely that win total that tipped the scales for him over the equally (or maybe more) deserving Justin Verlander.

At the end of the day, Ervin Santana twirled a gem for no less than the fourth time in 2017. He wasn't credited with a statistic saying as much and his overall numbers suffered due to a gaffe he had nothing to do with. All baseball statistics aren't created equal, and the more we challenge the validity of each, the better understanding we will have.