Keys to become a Successful Baseball Pitcher

People argue all the time over which players are better than others, and with baseball, pitchers are the most difficult to determine. What makes a pitcher good? A 100+ MPH fastball like Joel Zumaya? A knee-buckling curve like Ben Sheets? Amazing control like Greg Maddux? With batters, most everyone knows about batting average, home run counts, and RBIs, but with pitchers, what can you use to determine a player’s ability?

Just to let everyone know, I put very little faith into Win/Loss records. I think they’re more indicative of a team’s offense than a pitcher’s ability. Sure, you need to keep yourself and your team in the game long enough to win, but you can miss out on a lot of wins due to poor offense and/or poor relief pitching.

The best recent case has been Roger Clemens:
2005: 13-8, 1.87 ERA, 185 K (in 32 starts)
2006: 7-6, 2.30 ERA, 102 K (in 19 starts)

In both cases, Clemens got credit for 2/3 of his starts. I’m going to focus on 2005 because it was a full season for him. First off, his team went 15-17 in games that he pitched, and he was 13-8 with 11 no decisions (ND). In those 11 ND games, the Astros went 2-9 and were shut out five times. In fact, they had five games they lost 1-0 where Clemens pitched. Clemens walked a total of 8 people in those five games, struck out 37, and gave up 15 hits in 35 innings. His worst game out of those was a 7 inning, 4 hit, 4 B, 6 K performance at St. Louis, which isn’t bad against St. Louis. Really, Houston should have won at least 3 of those games, if not all of them, yet they went 0-5. In fact, Houston was shut out in 11 of Clemens’ starts, which again is about a third.

Once in a while, they did score some runs, but usually not too many. Humorously enough, Clemens’ worst outing of the 11 ND games (7 IP, 8 H, 2ER, BB, 4K) they won 3-2. Through all 11 games, Clemens’ gave up at most two earned runs, and this only occurred in three of the games.

The point out of all of this is that in 2005, Roger Clemens should have won at least 18 games, if not more (That’s if you just count the 1-0 losses for the team), and he should have won the Cy Young award. But no, instead he’s 13-8 and third in the balloting due to anemic offensive play and a shaky bullpen. He had a better ERA and WHIP than either Chris Carpenter or Dontrelle Willis (The #1 and #2 finishers, respectively) and more strikeouts than Willis in significantly less innings. But why did they finish ahead of Clemens when he was so much better? They had more wins. Carpenter had 21, Willis had 22, while Clemens had 13. I’m a Cub and Brewer fan, so it’s not like I’m rooting on my favorite team here (Though as a Cub fan it’s tough watching Willis do so well when he used to be in your farm system). He had a better season overall on a weaker team, and therefore he loses on an individual award.

This brings us to 2006, where we have the flip side of this example; a player being overrated because of a big win total. The best example is Chien-Ming Wang from the New York Yankees. Though I have a strong dislike for the Yankees, that’s not my issue here. In fact, I don’t have anything against Wang himself; I think he’s a solid pitcher who keeps his team in games. However, I do not like people making him out to be this huge stud pitcher. I’ve heard a couple of arguments on why he is so good:

The most logical comment I got was this:”Yeah I’m preety sure Chien Ming Wang was 19-6 tied with Johan Santana by the way. He also has very good stamina and has a sinker ball that drops like a bowling ball. He had an ERA around 3.30 so I would say he is preety good”

Even though I don’t agree with the W/L argument, the ERA is solid. However, it goes downhill from there:

“Chien Ming Wang is amazing. I dont want to hear it that he can’t strike people out. He doesnt need to, he is that good”

“Ok yeah so Chien Ming Wang is not good because what he can’t strike people out. Well if he is such a bad pitcher then why did he come in 2nd place for the CY young. He is a groundball pitcher what can’t you retards understand about that. Even batters have said he has got just about the best sinker in baseball.”

Hrm, I always heard that the best sinker in baseball belongs to Brandon Webb. And to me, it seems like the argument just is either random declarations or the Cy Young voting. And I really hope people don’t think Wang is anywhere in the same echelon as Johan Santana, because it’s not even close. I feel like strikeouts are not the most important stat for a pitcher, but you need to have a good balance. Remember what happened a while back to Dan Kolb? He got away with no strikeouts for a while, but then he started getting hit a ton. What happens to Wang if A-Rod gets hurt and the defense goes way south? All of a sudden Wang’s ERA is over 4, most likely, and he’s sitting with 12 wins or so.

Really, the issue here goes back to basing a pitcher on more than just one category, which in this case is wins. It seems like too many people do that, including the voters for the Cy Young.