On Opening Day, Cliff Lee got the win in an ugly 14-10 victory over the Rangers, despite giving up EIGHT earned runs in five innings. Obviously, he did not pitch well, and statheads like to point to results like these when criticizing the win as a statistic that accurately measures pitching performance. Some go even further, suggesting that baseball should do away with the win altogether. I think that’s too far. Everybody already knows that the number of wins a pitcher racks up is largely dependent on team performance and luck, so the win is already de-emphasized in most people’s minds. How else can you explain Felix Hernandez winning the 2010 Cy Young with a 13-12 record? But the win has its merits, particularly in a historical context. 300 wins has long been an automatic ticket to the Hall of Fame and it still should be; even if you think wins are a bit lucky, a high career win total is, at the very least, a testament to a starting pitcher’s longevity. There’s also the continuity argument: Denny McLain was the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season, back in 1968, and this was a big deal. Baseball, more than any other sport, is all about tradition and history. By eradicating the win, we’d basically be saying to future generations, “Grandson, there was this guy who won 30 games back in the day. Wait, what do you mean you don’t know what a win is?” And MLB is all about continuity, so they’ll never get rid of the win. People need to stop shouting at the rain. The win, flawed as it may be, will always be around. Deal with it.
Some hardcore fantasy baseball leagues, frustrated with the arbitrary nature of the win, have moved away from the ‘W’ as a scoring category, replacing it with quality starts or some other category. At the same time, however, more and more fantasy leagues are moving from traditional season-long scoring formats to weekly head-to-head formats. Head-to-head, by breaking up the season into discrete scoring blocks, keeps more people engaged throughout the season, but at the same time, also introduces a greater element of luck. You might have the best fantasy team in the league over the course of a season, but in any given week, any team can beat any other since the sample size is so much smaller. The best team very often doesn’t win, and it seems that more and more fantasy baseball managers are willing to sacrifice accuracy for fun. That’s why the win is still a perfect statistic for fantasy baseball; it’s the funnest stat out there (yes, I realize that “funnest” is not a word. But it just looks funner than “most fun”. And I’m all about fun). I mean, sure, we could only credit a starting pitcher for what he does during the game. But starters only go like six or seven innings these days. What’s the incentive to watch the rest of the game once they leave? That’s why the win is so great; even if your pitcher throws great and leaves with the lead, you can still enjoy the roller coaster ride of seeing if the bullpen can hold the lead. There’s no more agonizing feeling than seeing a closer blow a lead for your starting pitcher (even more so if you own the closer as well. Ouch). On the other side, it’s just as uplifting to see your pitcher leave the game in line for a loss, only to see the offense rally after he’s left the game to give him credit for a win. You get to root for or against everybody, not just the players on your roster, and that’s just fun. And isn’t that what fantasy baseball is about? Fun for the win.