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Down with the pitchers win, up with the Tango

May 19, 2014, 4:21 PM EDT


So Tom Tango is over at his site doing the Lord’s work. He is doing his best to rid America and the world of the scourge that is pitcher victories (and losses). Now, I’ve written many, many, many, too many words bashing the logic of the pitcher’s victory as a statistic. Pitchers do not win games. Pitchers do not lose games. The pitcher’s win-loss statistic has done more to promote that dumb myth than Tim McCarver, Joe Morgan and all the Cy Young votes combined.

But let’s just concede: A lot of people like the pitcher’s victory as a statistic. It’s simple. It’s explicit. It’s unabashed. And it’s also true that while pitchers do not win or lose games, the starting pitcher generally has more to do with winning and losing than any other individual player. Pitching is the most important part of run prevention. And if a pitcher and defense can keep an opponent from scoring three runs, the team will win 85 or so percent of the time.

Here are those winning percentages since 1900, in case you are interested:

Runs allowed:

0 runs — 1.000
1 run — .889
2 runs — .739
3 runs — .600
4 runs — .464
5 runs — .359
6-plus runs — .170

Two runs or fewer usually means victory.

Pitchers — particularly starting pitchers — have a lot to say about runs allowed. So, while the pitcher’s win-loss record is hopelessly flawed, it is not without value. I think that’s why Tango has moved beyond complaining about the pitcher’s win as a concept and on to a more noble pursuit: Trying to make pitchers’ wins make sense for the 21st Century.

Wait, am I saying it does not make sense? Do I have any proof? Well, you might not know this, but the official rule to determine the winning and losing pitcher — Rule 10.17 in your rulebook — is 711 words. That would be 711 words. Or, to be precise: SEVEN HUNDRED AND ELEVEN BLEEPING WORDS.

If you are scoring at home:

Al Michael’s famous 1980 Olympics hockey call: 6 words.

What Crash Davis believes in: 86 words

Freebird: 172 words.

I Got You (I Feel Good): 220 words

Gettysburg Address: 278 words (depending on version)

Stairway to Heaven: 341 words*

Hamlet’s Soliloquy: 341 words*

**Coincidence? I think not.*

Howard Beale’s “Mad as Hell” speech: 446 words

Entire creation story in bible: 655 words.

Bill of Rights (original form): 678 words

The rule to determine if a pitcher wins or loses: 711 words.

Coffee is for closers monologue: 782 words.

Rapper’s Delight: 2,879 words.

As you can see, nothing in the history of mankind has wasted more words than the pitcher win-loss rule. The rule made sense at one point — and was barely needed at all — because starters mostly pitched nine innings. But these days, starters almost never finish games. There are often three or four relievers pitching.

My simple response to this has been: Just credit the starting pitcher with a win or loss every single time. At least those numbers would make some sense. But I admit this is a pretty clumsy way of doing things.

Enter Tom Tango, who has come up with a simple “Assigned Wins and Losses” formula that I am now calling the Tango Won-Loss System. Is is easy and fun and mathematically sound and doesn’t require 711 words to explain. His formula is a points system.

Every pitcher on the winning team gets 1 point for every out recorded and loses 4 points for every run allowed. The pitcher with the most points gets the win.

On the losing team, each pitcher get 6 points per run allowed and you subtract 1 point for every out recorded. The pitcher with the most points gets the loss.

There will be ties and the tiebreakers are also easy — the pitcher with the most outs gets the win, the pitcher with the fewest outs gets the loss. If there’s still a tie, then the Tango win/loss simply goes to the pitcher who entered the game earliest.

That is a total of 108 words, and I repeated some words unnecessarily. The Tango rule is quite simple.

Baseball Musings has put up a chart to show how assigned wins and losses are going. As you can see, the Tango wins and losses are similar to regular wins and losses most of the time. There can be some pretty severe differences, however.

Let’s take the case of Oakland’s Jesse Chavez. He’s currently 4-1 by the absurd seven-eleven rules of baseball (we call them seven-eleven rules because, as mentioned, it takes 711 words to explain them). Chavez’s Tango record is 7-0.

That’s a pretty significant difference. Which won-loss record makes more sense? Which one speaks to us?

Well, let’s look at Chavez game by game.

April 3: Chavez pitched six innings, gave up two runs (one of them earned) and Oakland won the game 3-2. But the game went to 12 innings, and the win was given to Drew Pomeranz, who pitched one scoreless inning.

Who contributed more to Oakland’s victory – Chavez or Pomeranz?

Baseball says Pomeranz.

Tango says Chavez.

I’m with Tango.

Won-loss: 0-0
Tango Won-loss: 1-0

April 9: Chavez pitched seven innings and gave up 1 run in Oakland’s 7-4 victory over Minnesota. But, again, he did not get the victory. The Twins scored three runs in the eighth and ninth innings to tie the game. The winning pitcher was Dan Otero, who pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings but also gave up the sacrifice fly that tied the game. Tango gives the victory to Chavez.

Won Loss: 0-0
Tango W-L: 2-0

April 14: Chavez pitched seven innings again, gave up two runs (one earned) in a 3-2 victory over the Angels. And, yep, one more time he did not get the win. The A’s scored late to take the victory and the win went to Jim Johnson, who pitched one scoreless inning.

Tango, again, gave the victory to Chavez. Who deserved it.

Won-Loss: 0-0
Tango W-L: 3-0

April 20: Chavez pitched six innings, gave up one run, and in this case he got both the win and the Tango.

Won Loss: 1-0
Tango W-L: 4-0

April 25: Chavez did not pitch very well – five innings, five runs, four earned. But Oakland won the game 12-5 by scoring seven runs in the ninth inning against Houston. The win was randomly given to Luke Gregerson, who pitched one scoreless inning. In this case, the Tango W-L does not give the victory to Chavez either. In fact, the Tango struggles to find a winner here. This is one of those games, I think, where NO pitcher deserves a victory.

Chavez: 15 outs recorded, 5 runs scored, minus-5 points.
Dan Otero: 3 outs recorded, 3 points.
Sean Doolittle: 3 outs recorded, 3 points
Luke Gregerson: 3 outs recorded, 3 points.
Fernando Abed: 3 outs recorded, 3 points.

The Tango, if I understand it right, gives the victory to Otero since he was in the game earliest. That’s not a particularly fulfilling decision, but it’s better than giving the victory Gregerson, who just happened to be in the game at the right time. I personally would just want to give the victory to the starter, but there’s no ideal answer here.

April 30: Chavez pitched seven shutout innings in a 12-1 victory and got both the victory and the Tango.

Won-loss: 2-0
Tango W-L: 5-0

May 6: Chavez pitched 5 2/3 innings and gave up four earned runs in an 8-3 loss to Seattle. He took the loss by seven-eleven rules, but does not take the Tango W-L. Why not? Because someone else pitched worse.

Chavez: 17 outs recorded, 4 runs allowed, minus-7 points (remember it’s six points per run when figuring losses)
Jim Johnson: 2 outs recorded, 4 runs allowed, minus-22 points.

Johnson pitched WAY worse than Chavez and escaped the loss only because his team happened to be down 4-3 when he entered the game. But if you think about it: That makes NO SENSE. His team had a chance to win the game before he came in. His team had almost no chance after he pitched. Tango says he deserves the loss more than Chavez, and I concur.

Won loss: 2-1
Tango W-L: 5-0

May 12: Chavez went eight innings and gave up two runs and got both victories.

Won loss: 3-1
Tango W-L: 6-0

May 18: Chavez went five innings, allowed two runs, and got both victories.

Won-loss: 4-1
Tango W-L: 7-0

So, there you can see the difference. It seems very clear to me that the Tango W-L better represents the contribution that Jesse Chavez has made this year than the regular old won-loss stat.

This is a lot to take in, of course. People are so reluctant to change in baseball. More than that, people are reluctant to consider change. I read my good friend Bob Ryan’s piece on baseball statistics; it was, in a way, a homage to the flawed statistics of the past. We grew up with them. Feel comfortable with them. I have a friend who takes a route to work that is five-to-10 minutes longer than the best way. But he doesn’t KNOW the short way, doesn’t really want to know the best way, it uses new roads that weren’t around when he was growing up. He’s used to the long way. It’s comfortable for him.

So, OK, use the pitcher win. But, it seems obvious to me: The current win statistic simply does not work for the 21st Century. They could add another 711 words, and it still wouldn’t work. This new way is SO easy and it’s so much smarter. Let’s switch. It only takes two to tango.

  1. bringbackkosar - May 19, 2014 at 4:33 PM

    I like it! Maybe MLB will form an exploratory committee on the matter and we’ll have some meaningful change in, oh around 100 years

  2. chadjones27 - May 19, 2014 at 4:36 PM

    Why do I have a feeling he wrote that ENTIRE article just to end it with, “it only takes two to tango.”

    • chadjones27 - May 19, 2014 at 4:37 PM

      All 1,617 words of it

  3. chip56 - May 19, 2014 at 4:55 PM

    How about just eliminate pitcher wins, losses and saves entirely? Seriously.

    Henrik Lundqvist was asked after Game 7 in Pittsburgh about his record in Game 7 matchups and his response was, “people always ask me that and it’s funny because it’s a goalie’s record but it takes the team to win.”

    Pitchers are the same, just like goalies they have more to do with the outcome than any single other player but in the end the outcome is totally team dependent. So just eliminate any sort of record from pitchers. Leave in games started and games finished, and let the pitchers be judged by their other metrics.

  4. dowhatifeellike - May 19, 2014 at 5:03 PM

    This is better than the current system, but the real solution lies in grading the pitcher independently of their team’s offensive output. When you can pitch poorly and get the win or pitch well and get the loss, something still isn’t right.

    • umrguy42 - May 19, 2014 at 5:36 PM

      To me, that’s what this system would actually do more towards (independently grading, I mean). Take for example the May 6th game. Yes, Jim Johnson “helped” put it a comeback out of reach for his team – but they didn’t score anything else, so if you’re sticking by the idea that the pitcher gets scored based on outs recorded vs runs allowed (as TWLS does), then in this case, doesn’t matter – all the damage that mattered was done while Chavez was pitching.

      Of course, what would help in grading is some sort of analysis of which is the worse thing: say Pitcher A leaves the game having allowed 2 men to get on base, then Pitcher B comes in and gives up a 2-run double. Is Pitcher A worse for putting the first two guys there, or is it Pitcher B for not doing his “job” in getting the batter(s) out and preventing those guys from scoring? Etc and so forth. (Maybe this is where FIP, or whichever of those stats that is, comes in?)

  5. bh192012 - May 19, 2014 at 5:04 PM

    Winning and losing is a team effort. If the 8 other guys just stand there, almost every ball in play is a basses clearing home run. And I highly doubt the pitcher will generate enough of his own offense to win (assuming NL)

    If anything starting pitchers should be judged by “Quality Starts” while relief pitchers should be judged by S&M (Shutdowns & Meltdowns.)

    • kehnn13 - May 20, 2014 at 11:05 AM

      I like wins and losses because they do tell a story. I am thinking of Steve Carlton’s 1972 season as I write this (when he accounted for 46 percent of the Phillies’ wins). I do agree that it is generally (and more so these days) a flawed statistic: Dave Stewart’s 20 win seasons come to mind.
      That said, I think I like this solution.

  6. albanate - May 19, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    One problem I have with this plan is, let’s say you’re the manager and your starting pitcher, who’s going for the record for the most Tangos without a loss, stinks up the joint. All the manager has to do to avoid having his star get the dreaded Tango loss is to put in a position player who can’t pitch to give up a few runs.

    I’m not a big fan pf the W or the L, but there’s something to be said for giving up the run that puts the other team ahead for keeps.

    • skipperxc - May 19, 2014 at 5:36 PM

      Any manager who deliberately puts the team in a worse position to win by sending out a reliever to get intentionally shelled should be fired before he gets back to the dugout.

    • dluxxx - May 19, 2014 at 5:38 PM

      Any manager who did that wouldn’t be a manager for long. You never put someone in with the intention of giving up runs. This is a classic straw man argument.

  7. sergioxjacques - May 19, 2014 at 6:26 PM

    I came here expecting a video or pictures of baseball players dancing… And was severely disappointed. Coupled with statements like this: “This new way is SO easy and it’s so much smarter. Let’s switch. It only takes two to tango.”

    This is easily the worst thing I read today, and as someone else pointed out, much longer than 711 words.

  8. wjarvis - May 19, 2014 at 6:29 PM

    So for the following game (link to box score below) that Jeff Samardzija started he’d score a (-9), Russell (-2), and Grimm (-4). So in this case Russell, who didn’t allow a run would be given a loss?

    • wjarvis - May 19, 2014 at 6:33 PM

      Well I got the scoring system wrong, I thought for losses that you added 6 for a run and then subtracted outs. Still it’s the same conclusion, Samardzija (9), Russell (2), Grimm (4). So Russell would still be on the hook for the loss.

    • wjarvis - May 19, 2014 at 6:38 PM

      “On the losing team, each pitcher get 6 points per run allowed and you subtract 1 point for every out recorded. The pitcher with the most points gets the loss.”

      “Chavez: 17 outs recorded, 4 runs allowed, minus-7 points (remember it’s six points per run when figuring losses)
      Jim Johnson: 2 outs recorded, 4 runs allowed, minus-22 points.”

      Now I’m not sure which way was actually right, as the definition and how he calculates later in the article are different.

      • clydeserra - May 19, 2014 at 6:48 PM

        it should be noted that the 4 runs were unearned. as they were preceded by an error. Of course it was Jim Johnson’s error where hi picked up a routine sac bunt and threw the ball about 5 feet from the Sogard (2b covering first) as sogard was dashing to cover.

      • tolbuck - May 19, 2014 at 6:57 PM

        I think the statement was a typo. Johnson should be at +22 points, not -22 points. Thus, he has more points than Chavez, and should take the loss.

      • tolbuck - May 19, 2014 at 7:03 PM

        wjarvis, I clicked the report comment button in error. Please ignore it.

      • wjarvis - May 19, 2014 at 7:03 PM

        yes that’s what I initially though, that the scores should be a positive 7 and positive 22 for that example, making the -9, -2, and -4 scores correct for the Cubs pitchers.

    • Bar None - May 19, 2014 at 6:47 PM

      The term “bigger” may be wrong because -2 is technically bigger than -9. But if Samardzija had -9 and Russel had -2 and Grimm had -4, Sam is on the hook because 9 is bigger than 2 or 4.

    • tolbuck - May 19, 2014 at 6:53 PM

      I thought you stumbled onto something here, but then I clicked the link and read the rules. Pos left out an important exception-if a pitcher doesn’t give up any runs he is exempt from a loss. In your example, Samardzija is the only pitcher who gave up a run, so he is the only pitcher eligible for a loss.

      • wjarvis - May 19, 2014 at 7:05 PM

        Thanks for that info, it is a pretty important exception and makes sense. Though it still sucks for pitchers who play for teams with a horrible offense.

  9. Bar None - May 19, 2014 at 6:48 PM

    I would like someone other than myself to lay out Samardzija’s starts for the year out on the Tango system. Might be interesting because people keep saying he has been getting robbed. Maybe the team is just killing him no matter how you slice it.

    • wjarvis - May 19, 2014 at 7:21 PM

      Not sure if you are supposed to use runs or just earned runs, so I’m going to use earned runs, displayed as team result, final score, his tango score, whether he was credited with the win, loss or no decision.

      L 1-0, -21 (ND) T-no decision
      L 2-0, -9 (L) Tango-loss
      W 6-3, 17 (ND) Tango – Win
      L 4-1, -15 (L) 2 unearned runs Tango – Loss
      L 7-5, -10 (ND) Tango – ND
      L 3-2, 1 (L) Tango – Loss
      L 3-1, -27 (ND) – Tango ND
      L 2-0, -18 (ND) – Tango ND
      L 4-3, -3 (L) 2 unearned runs Tango- Loss

      So he’s 0-4 now, he’d be a tango 1-4. Pretty sure it’s the Cub’s offense not how to determine wins or losses that are screwing him over

      • wjarvis - May 19, 2014 at 7:28 PM

        Due to the confusion that I noted above, I should clarify that the tango scores were calculated by adding 6 for a run and subtracting 1 for each out, so the -21 was, 6*(0 runs) – 21 outs, and the -9 was 6*(2 runs)- 21 outs. So in a loss having a negative number is good.

      • wjarvis - May 19, 2014 at 7:40 PM

        Actually he’d be a tango 1-3, I guess he would get a ND for the 4-1 loss to the reds, where he gave up 3 runs (1 ER) in 7 innings, because Grimm gave up 1 run in 1 inning of work.

    • tolbuck - May 19, 2014 at 7:41 PM

      I had nothing better to do. Here you go.

      March 31, a 1-0 loss-no decision on both methods. Villanueva was the only Cub to give up a run, so he gets the loss in both instances. 0-0 traditional, 0-0 Tango.

      April 5, a 2-0 loss-Samardzija was the only Cub to give up a run in a loss, so he gets the loss with both methods. 0-1 traditional, 0-1 Tango.

      April 11, a 6-3 win-Samardzija got 21 outs and gave up 1 run for a score of 17. He left with the lead, one Jose Veras coughed up, so he got a no decision. The most any other Cub scored was 3, including the winner Justin Grimm, so Samardzija gets a Tango win here. 0-1 traditional, 1-1 Tango.

      April 18. a 4-1 loss-Samardzija got 21 outs and gave up 2 runs for a score of -9. Justin Grimm got 3 outs and gave up 1 run for a score of 3. Samardzija got the loss the traditional way, but Grimm would get the loss with the Tango way. 0-2 traditional, 1-1 Tango.

      April 23, a 7-5 loss-Samardzija got 22 out and gave up 2 runs for a score of -10. He got a no decision. Strop gets credit for the loss in both methods, giving up 4 runs at the expense of 2 outs. 0-2 traditional, 1-1 Tango.

      April 29, a 3-2 loss-Samardzija is the only Cub to give up a run, so he gets the loss with both methods. 0-3 traditional, 1-2 Tango.

      May 5, a 3-2 loss-Samardzija got 27 outs at the expense of 1 run for a score of -21. He got no decision. Grimm gave up 2 runs at the expense of 2 outs for the loss with both methods. 0-3 traditional, 1-2 Tango.

      May 10, a 2-0 loss-Samardzija got 18 outs and gave up no runs for a score of -18. He left with the score tied. Schlitter gave up 2 runs at the expense of 2 outs for a score of 10 and gets the loss with both methods. 0-3 traditional, 1-2 Tango.

      May 16, a 4-3 loss-Samardzija is the only Cub to give up a run. He gets the loss with both methods.

      Samardzija is 0-4 with the traditional win/loss method and 1-3 with the Tango method. The bullpen only cost him one win. His biggest enemy is the Cubs offense. He gives up 2.36 runs per 9 innings (the 5 unearned runs he’s given up are factored here).

  10. tangotiger - May 19, 2014 at 8:15 PM

    Thanks to Poz for highlighting the stat.

    It’s still a work in progress, so rules are still subject to change. For those interested, you can follow the development here. Fixing the Assigned W/L record

    While I have very little use for a W/L system assigned to pitchers in a binary format, I realize that many people do like it. To the extent that we have to live with it, we may as well do our best to come up with something reasonable. Making Tyler Clippard the “pitcher of record” because he comes into tie games (or worse, gives up the lead) while pitching one inning, and being the beneficiary because his team happens to score the go-ahead run, doesn’t seem to be a system that we need to adhere to, just because it was created 100 years ago. Even the Constitution changes.

  11. musketmaniac - May 19, 2014 at 10:13 PM

    I just waisted nine words am I the winner

  12. musketmaniac - May 19, 2014 at 10:17 PM

    dam you chadjones seven. revision needed

  13. musketmaniac - May 19, 2014 at 10:18 PM

    waisted five words, I win

  14. wjarvis - May 19, 2014 at 10:19 PM

    To me if you are going to change how wins are calculated, I figure you might as well go all out and make more dramatic changes. The idea is to be more descriptive in why the team won or lost, and that pitchers only get a win if they actually pitch well, or a loss if they actually pitch poorly. I don’t have definite system in place but some of the general trends I’d incorporate are:

    Determining a win
    -A win can be given to the starting pitcher, the bullpen as a group, the offense, or any pitcher that pitches at least 3 innings. (wins and losses are primarily for starters anyways, nobody looks at a relievers record to determine how good of a year they are having so unless you’re in a long relief stint the decision would go to the bullpen as a group).

    -Allow a win to be given to the offense of a team instead of a pitcher, if the team wins but allows more than 5 runs to be scored. (if your team gives up 5 runs, it should be a loss, but your offense bailed the team out, they should get credit)

    -A pitcher (or bullpen as group) cannot earn a win, if they have an ERA over 4.5 for the game. (essentially you need to achieve the ERA for a quality start or better to have a chance for a win, if the starter and bullpen both have an ERA over 4.5 then your team had to score more than 5 runs in order to win so offense would get win.)

    -The pitcher (or bullpen as group) with the lower ERA will be given the win, if they are equal, then the starter gets the win.

    Determining a loss
    -A loss can be given to the offense, starting pitcher, individual reliever, or bullpen as a group (but a pitcher must give up more than 1 run in order to be given the loss as an individual).

    -A loss can be given to the offense of a team instead of a pitcher, if the opposing team wins the game with 3 or fewer runs.

    -A pitcher (or bullpen as group) with an ERA under 3 for the game cannot be given a loss.

    -The loss will be given to the either the starter or bullpen based on which has the higher ERA for the game, if they are equal it will be given to the starter.

    -An individual member of the bullpen will be given the loss if they give up more than 1 run, and account for at least 2/3 of runs the bullpen gives up.

    I realize a system like this would be even more complicated than the current system, but at least it you could tell a little more about the pitcher based on their win loss record, and would have a record for how many games an offense or bullpen were primarily responsible for the outcome.

    • tangotiger - May 19, 2014 at 10:47 PM

      I like the idea of giving out W and L for SP, Offense or Bullpen. Great thought!

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