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Let’s protect W, the last resort of the romantic side of baseball

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As stupid as a W can be, it is still an important letter embraced by many baseball fans. Our beloved game may have evolved and changed, but protecting one of the dearest traditions may not be the worst idea.

ERA can never explain this moment.
ERA can never explain this moment.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Before I start, I want to mention that this is a follow-up piece to Laura Holt's great article. I'm not trying to pick a fight or anything, but just presenting an opposing view to a very interesting point. If you haven't done so, please check out her writing as well.

You don't have to tell me how garbage "Win" statistic is. This year in my rotisserie league, I have already used up more innings than anybody by far, and despite my decent ERA and WHIP (5th and 3rd out of 12), I'm second from the bottom in Win. Even at this moment, my four starters are about to net out zero win when none of them gave up more than three runs today.

As much as I acknowledge that luck dominates the Win category, however, I don't believe that Win should be eliminated from Fantasy, just because they are random. In truth, every other category we use in Fantasy are pretty much useless in telling who the better pitcher is in reality.

ERA Top 15

WAR

Win Top 15

WAR

K/9 Top 15

WAR

WAR Top 15

WAR

Zack Greinke

5.9

Jake Arrieta

7.3

Chris Sale

6.2

Clayton Kershaw

8.6

Jake Arrieta

7.3

Dallas Keuchel

6.1

Clayton Kershaw

8.6

Jake Arrieta

7.3

Clayton Kershaw

8.6

Zack Greinke

5.9

Max Scherzer

6.4

David Price

6.4

David Price

6.4

Gerrit Cole

5.4

Chris Archer

5.3

Max Scherzer

6.4

Dallas Keuchel

6.1

Collin McHugh

3.9

Carlos Carrasco

4.8

Chris Sale

6.2

Jacob deGrom

5.2

David Price

6.4

Corey Kluber

5.5

Dallas Keuchel

6.1

Gerrit Cole

5.4

Madison Bumgarner

5.1

Francisco Liriano

3.6

Zack Greinke

5.9

Matt Harvey

4.4

Felix Hernandez

2.8

Tyson Ross

4.4

Corey Kluber

5.5

Sonny Gray

3.8

Colby Lewis

2.6

Jacob deGrom

5.2

Gerrit Cole

5.4

John Lackey

3.6

Michael Wacha

2.3

Madison Bumgarner

5.1

Chris Archer

5.3

Max Scherzer

6.4

Clayton Kershaw

8.6

James Shields

1.1

Jacob deGrom

5.2

Madison Bumgarner

5.1

Garrett Richards

2.5

Danny Salazar

3

Madison Bumgarner

5.1

Carlos Martinez

3.4

Mark Buehrle

2.1

Ian Kennedy

0.8

Jon Lester

5

Shelby Miller

3.4

Max Scherzer

6.4

Jake Arrieta

7.3

Jose Quintana

4.8

Lance Lynn

3.1

Jacob deGrom

5.2

Carlos Martinez

3.4

Carlos Carrasco

4.8

Total

78.1

Total

72.6

Total

70.7

Total

88

Top 15 pitchers in each category of 2015

WAR is by no means an absolute measure of a pitcher's skill, but it's probably the best thing out there as of now. If you look at the above list, you will see how the total WAR of top 15 pitchers of each category fell short to that of the actual top 15 WAR pitchers. Of those three categories I used, ERA certainly gives the highest total WAR, but I'm sure you are surprised to see how small the difference is between ERA and W. Moreover, according to the list, if there is any category doesn't correlate to pitcher's actual performance, it should be the K.

Also, ERA doesn't do much better in year to year consistency in truth. If you drafted guys like Miller, Harvey, or Gray just because they had amazing ERA last year, than they are certainly not really helping you out right now.

I'm not trying to claim that Win is a better indicator than ERA. I'm just trying to show you that ERA or any other traditional stat can be as misleading as Win can be. For example, people may blame luck when their pitcher pitches 7 inning shutout with no decision, but people don't tend to think that way when he gives up 5 runs because his defense wasn't capable to handle 7 straight ground balls. ERA may not tell who the best pitcher is, but you can't be the worst pitcher and lead the league in ERA, and same thing goes for Win.

If we want to get rid of some categories because they are random or unrelated to individual skills, all those categories like W, SV, ERA, R, and RBI have to be swapped for some fancy stuff like wOBA, wRC+, FIP, and WAR. Sure a Win seems like the most random one from a game to game, but it's because people tend to neglect the fact that each individual game's ER does depend upon luck a lot in the first place. When a pitcher gives up small ER in a game, he deserves to get low ERA, not both ERA and Win at the same time. Because baseball is a marathon, not a sprint, however, you do have small control over both categories in a long run. For example, if you pick up a pitcher who eats up more innings and plays for a better team, he has higher probability to end up with more Wins, just like a pitcher plays for a better defensive team in a pitcher friendly ballpark has higher probability to end up with lower ERA. If you believe picking up a good ERA pitcher is a skill but higher Win is a luck, I beg to differ (both are part skill, part luck).

That's why I don't see QS as a good alternative to Win. A pitcher who was unlucky with his ER (or pitched at the Coors) can still come up with a Win, but not so much with a QS. Win certainly benefits from low ER too, but those two are a lot less correlated than QS and ER are. I don't like to see the good luck in one thing influences multiple categories, and that's why I love using the traditional W-SV-K-ERA-WHIP. I have tried to alter it in many ways, but it's very difficult to find five categories that interfere each other less (for the same reasons I don't like OBP instead of AVG because OBP tends to be more correlated to power, which already benefits HR and RBI).

In the end, picking a category is a matter of personal preference. I'm not trying to convince anybody to keep Win in their leagues. Just to me, or to my league mates, having Win is one of the most entertaining part of the game. I am a former derivatives trader who just started a quant-driven baseball mutual fund. I embrace numbers more than anybody, and I dig sabermetrics for my living. I try to view baseball as cold-hearted as possible, but at the same time I'm afraid to see dumb stats like Win or Save disappear.

Are the Win or Save meaningless in player evaluation? Sure. But as a regular baseball fan, those two are the most romantic numbers that keep me involved with the game. We often see managers hesitating to take the pitcher out of game because he is only few outs away from being Win-eligible. We also see many starting pitchers' reactions in the dugout when the relievers either save or ruin his Win. These are all very stupid, but can you really blame the players? If you ever actually played baseball yourself, you probably understand the importance of W better. When Jake Arrieta threw his second No-Hitter, which is nothing more than a glorified symbol like Win and SV, we didn't see his teammates saying, "That was a luck. 6 K 4 BB in 9 IP is a bad FIP game." Instead, they just all went crazy because they loved it, and we all got mesmerized in the moment too.

Save is even dumber statistics then Win is. But I still fell in love with Jonathan Papelbon when he closed out the World Series against the Rockies in a dominant fashion. I still can't get over the moment of Sergio Romo jumping up and down in the rain after closing out the Championship Series against the Reds. It still gives me goosebumps whenever a manager points and says, "He is our closer." I don't believe the 9th inning is any more important than 7th in winning a baseball game, but I also don't want to live in the world where the word "the closer" doesn't exist in baseball.

In the movie Moneyball, as Billy Beane watches the film of Jeremy Brown's Home Run, he goes, "How can you not be romantic about baseball." I didn't like the movie, but I love the famous quote. I doubt real Billy Beane ever said anything like that, but when you see the father of number crunchers romanticizing the game like that, it reminds us the reason we started loving this game in the first place. Nowadays, more people view baseball in terms of sabermetrics (me as well), but I would love to keep some romantic sides of the baseball in our fake games.

Speical Thanks to JHS, who always supports my career in baseball