Sabtu, 04 Juni 2011

Defending the Win

By Steve Berthiaume
June 3, 2011

We shouldn't have to defend the win. When Felix Hernandez won the American League Cy Young Award last season with only 13 wins (and 12 losses), it was considered something of a landmark moment for the slide rule set; a validation of sabermetric analysis as a more definitive measuring set for quantifying pitching performance. BABIP, xFIP, and the quality start were hailed as long overdue counterbalances for inordinate run support or failed bullpens. All true; but let's not do a sabermetric sidestep around one simple fact: There is still only ONE stat that counts in the division standings and that's wins. And no major league pitcher has more wins than Pittsburgh's Kevin Correia.

The intriguing thing to me about Correia is he's not remotely intriguing to either the sabermetricians or the traditional wins and ERA crowd. Both schools seem equally unimpressed and both happily produce numbers to support their arguments. Correia has a 3.40 ERA, respectable certainly but hardly Bob Gibson. He has 34 strikeouts -- 121 major league pitchers have recorded more. His 1.20 WHIP would induce yawns at any sabermetric seminar, where his 4.12 xFIP and run support rate of 4.8 per game might even have some outraged. Yet, all the guy is doing is winning games. I'll say that again: HE -- WINS -- GAMES ... HELLO????

So how is a pitcher who has never won more than 12 games in a season and who found himself starting Opening Day for a Pirates team that hasn't had a winning season in 18 years, won more games than any pitcher in baseball? To begin with, Correia's 11.4 line drive percentage is the lowest among all major league starting pitchers. Considering that about 75 percent of line drives are base hits, Correia's success begins to make more sense. Correia has also rolled 135 groundballs, tied with Jeff Francis for seventh most in the majors. Correia's K/9 rate, which was 6.5 in 2009 and 7.1 last season, is down to 4.0 this year but his 2.0 BB/9 rate is the lowest of his career. He's not walking batters, he's throwing groundballs and not trying to strike everybody out. He's winning -- period.

Win No. 8 came Wednesday night at Citi Field, 9-3 over the Mets. Correia kept to his successful but not particularly sexy formula: He threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 24 batters he faced. He had only two walks and four strikeouts in his six innings of work with a groundball/fly ball count of 9-4. That's a pitching line that might be easily overlooked but it's effective and efficient. Any time a pitcher with a road record of 7-1, 2.42 gets called mediocre or misleading, we need to put down the charts and graphs and walk away for a bit. In fact, too much focus on things like O-Swing percentage may lead to overlooking Correia's solid work in his last three starts, all Pirates wins. He's pitched 20 innings and allowed just four runs and 17 hits for a 1.80 ERA.

The Elias Sports Bureau reports Correia is the first Pirates pitcher to lead the majors outright in wins through games of June 1 or later since Vern Law in 1960. Correia is just the fourth pitcher since 1975 to record seven road wins in his team's first 54 games and the first to do so since Pedro Martinez in 2000. Correia has had five starts this season in which he hasn't allowed a hit with runners in scoring position. I found plenty of numbers for Correia that aren't trendy or dynamic or next-level; they're just good.

Granted, wins are hardly a complete indicator of pitching performance and I know plenty of folks like to pretend that geologists found a wins column next to cave drawings of mastodons, but I'll stubbornly cling to terms like "clutch" or "winner" for as long as wins continue as the only stat that's counted in the standings. If that's antiquated, let's go antiquing.

Follow Steve Berthiaume on Twitter: @SBerthiaumeESPN.

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