Much ado has been made of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ starting rotation’s recent 24-game winless streak, which was snapped by right-hander Randall Delgado on Wednesday night at Citi Field.
But the following silver-lining argument requires something that American League Cy Young voters had in 2010: open-mindedness. Felix Hernandez won the award that year, despite winning just 13 games for the Seattle Mariners — eight less than the New York Yankees’ C.C. Sabathia.
In 2010, AL Cy Young voters forgot wins and losses and embraced the idea of a pitcher being effective without “getting the win.” After all, is it really the starting pitcher’s win to get?
Much more than half of every baseball game is out of the control of the starting pitcher, yet traditional benchmarks hold him accountable for whether or not his team either wins or loses. NL pitchers make up one-ninth of their team’s offense and defense and can’t contribute to their relief staff’s ability to hold a lead.
Earlier this season, on May 7, New York Mets ace Matt Harvey failed to get the win after holding the Chicago White Sox to just one hit, no runs, over 9.0 innings pitched. He struck out 12 opposing hitters in the game, which the Mets eventually won in extra innings, 1-0. Though his offense couldn’t crack opposing pitcher Hector Santiago and the rest of the White Sox pitching staff, Harvey’s magnificent performance wasn’t enough to earn a W.
A few nights later, on May 10 at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, New York Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes did what Harvey couldn’t, leading his team to an 11-6 win over the Royals. In the game, Hughes gave up six runs in 5.2 innings pitched, allowing nine men to reach base. Fortunately, though, the right-handed Hughes — who didn’t have an at-bat in the AL contest — had an offense that supported him with 11 runs and, thus, he got the win.
Makes perfect sense, right?
Measuring a starting pitcher’s value with a win-loss record isn’t much different than keeping the same record of a quarterback’s starts. The player can’t help his defense stop the other team from scoring. He can’t help his special teams unit to complete field goal attempts or return punts. And he can’t ensure that his receivers will run the right routes or that his linemen will protect him in the pocket. Does Drew Brees deserve the blame for the Saints’ inability to stop the run or for his receivers’ inability to catch a well-thrown pass? Surely not.
Just the same, in a lot of cases over the last 24 games, the Diamondbacks’ rotation shouldn’t take the fall for not getting the win.
During their winless stretch, Diamondbacks starters accrued 12 quality starts — a mark that is earned when a pitcher lasts at least six innings and gives up no more than three earned runs. And while their 50% quality start rate is average at best, it is probably a better reflection of the cumulative performance of the rotation over the last 24 games than their collective win-loss record.
Delgado, Wednesday’s winning pitcher, tallied three quality starts during the stretch, while Patrick Corbin had four, Wade Miley had three and Ian Kennedy had two.
With more than three runs of offense, or a more reliable bullpen, all of the above games could have — perhaps should have — resulted in a win for the starting pitcher. But the Diamondbacks rotation had no such luck in those games and they were either stuck with the loss or didn’t get an official decision as a result.
Prior to Delgado’s win on Wednesday, the Diamondbacks were on the verge of setting a major league record for the most consecutive wins credited to a reliever, as their previous eight wins were won by a member of the relief staff.
Back in Hernandez’s Cy Young year in 2010, the pitcher led all of baseball in quality starts, turning in 30 in his 34 total starts — good for a rate of 88% — and ERA, with a 2.27. In contrast, Hernandez also had the worst run support of any pitcher in the American League, thus his low win total. And while many pitchers have accomplished 13-12 seasons, an elite few made 88% of their starts quality starts.
Although the Diamondbacks’ starting pitching was subpar over the last 24 games, looking only at starters’ wins provides an incredibly foggy picture of their actual performance in that span.