Pitcher Wins and Armando Galarraga


I really thought we had gotten past this. In 2009, both Cy Young winners combined for all of 31 wins. Last season, Felix Hernandez won the award with only 13 victories. If we are comfortable looking beyond wins to determine which pitcher had the best year in the league, why can’t we do the same when debating the reasons that the Tigers chose Brad Penny over Armando Galarraga to be their number five starter this year?

Greg Eno is the author of Where Have You Gone Johnny Grubb? and the co-host of the Knee Jerks on Blog Talk Radio. Today, his piece centered on Galarraga and the events surrounding the pitcher’s departure from Detroit. Eno discussed Galarraga’s inconsistency, his perfect game, and his legacy, but he ultimately settled on a 21 start stretch after June 2 and through the end of the 2010 season where Galarraga won only two games as the “nail in the coffin.”

"I highly doubt you’d throw Penny out there for 21 starts and get two wins in return.Yeah, you can crab about run support and all that, but two wins in 21 starts is what it is. Somewhere in there a pitcher has to suck it up and pitch so good he can’t help but win the game."

I’m not about to suggest that pitcher wins be eliminated as a statistic; it’s far too ingrained into the baseball lexicon for that. But we really must move past viewing it as the be all and end all of stats for a starting pitcher. As I said in the open, I thought we already had. To suggest that a pitcher must “suck it up” and overcome his offense and defense to single-handedly will his club to not only win the game, but to make sure they do so in a manner that assures he is credited with said victory is ridiculous.

In fact, it’s akin to saying that it was Galarraga’s fault he wasn’t credited with a perfect game.

If he was good enough, he would have pitched so well that the batter was a step slower to first or that Jim Joyce wouldn’t have missed the call. You’re asking Galarraga to control something he has no (or at least very little) control over. All he can do is pitch to the best of his ability; he cannot bat, he cannot call balls and strikes or outs and safes. He can only pitch as well as he can and hope that his defense and his offense provide enough support of his efforts that his club wins the game. If he happens to be awarded a “win” for that, so be it, but the effectiveness of him as a pitcher can not be judged by the wins column. There are simply far too many other factors involved.

Take a look at those 21 starts if you will. In those starts, the Tigers won eight times, but Galarraga “won” only twice. But in those other six games, couldn’t you argue that Galarraga did his job? His team won; isn’t that what we should focus on? In those 21 starts, he made eight “quality starts,” defined as throwing at least six innings while allowing three earned runs or less. In those eight starts, Galarraga was 1-1 with six no-decisions. His team went just 3-5 in those games. In those quality starts, Galarraga threw a combined 55.2 innings or just under seven innings per start. He allowed just 45 hits, he walked only 10 batters and he struck out 33. His ERA was 2.59 but his record was 1-1 and his team went 3-5.

Clearly, Galarraga just didn’t suck it up enough to will his team to victory. Had Galarraga been stronger of will and mind, perhaps Magglio Ordonez‘s ankle would have magically healed or Brennan Boesch would have been able to make contact in the season’s second half. Obviously, that’s why Galarraga was dispatched to Arizona.

Or could it be that it wasn’t that Galarraga didn’t “know how to win?” Maybe we should look past those eight starts and I suspect we’ll find the real reason that Galarraga is no longer a Tiger. How about the other 13 starts, the ones not designated as quality?

In those starts, Galarraga worked 67.2 innings or just under 5.1 innings per start. He allowed 85 hits, walked 37 batters and fanned 31. His ERA in that stretch was 6.65. What these numbers indicate is the inconsistency that Eno mentioned in his piece. But what it also shows is that the Tigers went 5-8 in those games while Galarraga’s record in those 13 starts was 1-7.

When you look not only at his post perfect game 2010 season, but to his whole Tigers career, Galarraga made a habit of uneven performances. Everyone remembers fondly his rookie campaign, but no one talks about the 15 home runs he allowed in his final nine starts of that year, nine of which came in his last four starts.

Maybe that’s when it all began, this downward spiral of nibbling at the corners. Perhaps when you give up that many gopher balls in such a short span, you get a little gun shy. Maybe that explains why his 2009 walk rate spiked suddenly or that his strikeout rate has declined in each of the two season since 2008.

I’m not writing this post to bash Galarraga, or even to bash Eno or any of the other writers who still use wins as a defining statistic (to be fair, Eno is certainly not the only one doing this, even as it pertains to Galarraga). But the reasoning is flawed. Galarraga’s gone to the D-backs, but I’m guessing it had little to do with his inability to win games for the Tigers and much more to do with his inability to attack the strike zone on a consistent basis, causing such inconsistencies in his performances.

Number five starters don’t have to be great every time out, if they were they wouldn’t be number five starters. But they do have to give you a good idea of what to expect from them, with far fewer valleys than Galarraga gave the Tigers. He always had the potential to turn in outstanding efforts, but far, far too often he would turn in a poor performance. Ultimately it was the number of those bad outings, not his personal won-loss record that earned Galarraga his ticket out of town.

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