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Diamondbacks overrated Joe Saunders by focusing on his inflated winning percentage

Jul 26, 2010, 11:46 AM EDT

Last night in my instant analysis of the Dan Haren trade I suggested that the Diamondbacks were overrating Joe Saunders by focusing on his win-loss record instead of his ERA, secondary numbers, and raw stuff.
Sure enough, interim general manager Jerry Dipoto basically confirmed that in his press conference announcing the deal:

We achieved by maintaining major league quality with a 2008 All-Star in Joe Saunders and a guy who quite frankly has been one of the winners in Major League Baseball. I think he trails only Roy Halladay among major leaguers in total wins. He’s won 63 percent of his games since coming to the major leagues, pitched in the postseason on two different occasions. He’s a quality, durable, steady major league starter. We feel like this club needs that, and a guy with a good deal of playoff experience.

Dipoto quoted his career winning percentage several other times and said stuff like “he goes out and he wins.”
In reality Saunders “went out and won” with the Angels because he got very good support from the lineup and bullpen, which enabled him to accumulate more victories than his 4.29 career ERA warranted on its own. To think that Saunders will automatically continue to win more games than his ERA warrants now that he’s in Arizona shows a lack of understanding about evaluating pitching performances.
Last season Saunders received the most run support of any starter in all of baseball, and so he went 16-7 despite a 4.60 ERA. This season his run support has been merely average, and so he’s just 6-10 despite a 4.62 ERA. He didn’t suddenly forget how to win, he suddenly stopped getting the runs necessary to make him look much better than he actually is.
Diamondbacks fans should hope that Dipoto is simply talking up Saunders’ victory totals and winning percentages as a way to spin the trade in the team’s favor, because if he truly believes those two things are crucial elements to evaluating a pitcher’s future value … well, things may be getting even uglier in the desert.

  1. pcrm - Jul 26, 2010 at 12:18 PM

    ‘I think he trails only Roy Halladay among major leaguers in total wins.’
    Ermm, what!!??
    Saunders has 54 career wins which ranks him 82nd among all active pitchers. Halladay is 5th with 159.
    Seriously, what??

  2. KarkoviceWasMyIdol - Jul 26, 2010 at 12:21 PM

    I seem to remember Doug Melvin saying similar things about Randy Wolf this past off season. Good luck, Jerry.

  3. Xpensive Wino - Jul 26, 2010 at 12:23 PM

    Haren is a shell of what he was even a year ago and he’s owed a ton of money. Just losing the contract was a win for Arizona. They can finish dead last without Dan Haren and his contract. No one knows sh** about the three young guys in this deal and even if one of the four pitchers they got turns out to be a solid major leaguer, it’s a decent trade.
    People also take liberties assuming there must have been 20 other way better offers the Diamondbacks must have gotten. Uhhhhhhhhh, why is that assumption made?
    A year ago, people said the Padres were out of their minds for trading Jake Peavy to the White Sox for pitchers that most people had never heard of. How’d that work out??????
    Is Haren better than Saunders straight up? His track record says so, but he’s nothing special at the moment. Is Haren better than what all four of them might be and/or could fetch in other deals? Who knows……

  4. ben s - Jul 26, 2010 at 12:40 PM

    I do know a lot about this stuff, and none of the other prospects are top 100 material, they project as a middle reliever, a back end starter, and a maybe #3 or #4 starter, and there’s a very good chance that one of these pitching prospects will get hurt. Remember the New York Mets supposed big three of pitching prospects? They all got hurt, with only Isringhausen salvaging part of his career. And the Diamondbacks sold low on Haren, if in fact they are just focusing on wins and winning percentage. Interim GM Dipoto is looking like an idiot.

  5. BC - Jul 26, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    Jerry Dipoto? This the same guy that pitched for Cleveland and the Mutts? Well, if there’s someone who can spot lousy pitching it should be him…

  6. Sam Lee - Jul 26, 2010 at 1:20 PM

    You may be right, but you’re likely wrong. I know its fun to imagine that you’re smarter, but like all MLB clubs they no doubt do fairly exhaustive analysis and track players from long before they’re drafted. Did you want him to say he’s not very good?

  7. walk - Jul 26, 2010 at 5:15 PM

    Pitchers moving from al to nl generally see their era drop. Remember he is going to be seeing a pitcher and not a position player every ninth batter now. If you are devaluing him because of his era just a counter point to consider here.

  8. scottp - Jul 26, 2010 at 6:06 PM

    I disagree that Saunders’ good W% in 2009 was a product of his league-leading run support. If you look at his 16 wins, you see only 2 that came in games in which he allowed more than 2 ER (only 1 when he allowed more than 3 ER). He pitched very well in the vast majority of his wins. In fact, of the 12 major league pitchers who won 16 games last year , Saunders had fewer wins with more than 2 ER allowed than anybody except Zack Greinke. (Verlander allowed more than 2 ER in 7 of his 19 wins, Sabathia in 6 of his 19, etc.)

  9. Bill@TDS - Jul 26, 2010 at 8:47 PM

    Haren is almost exactly the same pitcher he’s always been. If they allowed his bad-luck-inflated 2010 ERA to be any part at all of this trade, that’s almost as big a failure as focusing on Saunders’ winning percentage.

  10. nmc - Jul 26, 2010 at 9:09 PM

    Interesting the Saunders love out of the woodwork. Almost like these commentators are in the employ of the Dbacks.

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