As sports fans, you are aware that reading a basic box score does not tell you the entire story of the game. It merely tells you what inning or period a team has scored and how much. It also indicates top performers. In baseball, we see the pitchers of record, their personal season win-loss record and Earned Run Average (ERA).
But the box score is not an accurate description of the game. We cannot read the expression on Joey Votto’s face when Carlos Gomez makes a sensational grab robbing him of a home run. We cannot see the pie-covered faces after walk-offs. We cannot watch as Mike Trout hops around the outfield after he makes an impossible catch just by reading a box score. So we must divulge deeper into the box as fans to find the truth of the tale.
Most sabrmatricians have been fighting to “kill the win” but I disagree. Not with the idea that pitchers should not be rewarded with individual win-loss records, but who gets tabbed with the loss in games that there are multiple pitchers in a half inning with runners on base during pitching changes. Let’s look at three examples, two hypothetical and one actual, that explain what I mean. In the first two cases, the starting pitcher is robbed of a win. One is given a loss while the other walks away with a no decision. In the last situation, the starting pitcher leaves a tied game in a position to lose. Is this fair for the individual pitchers who work so hard to give their team the best chances to win?
Let us look at the first example. Red’s starter Mike Leake begins the seventh inning, gets the first batter to fly out, walks the second batter, hits the third batter, is relieved by Sam LeCure. Leake is responsible for the two runners on base. LeCure is responsible for the current batter. The Reds are up by one run. LeCure gives up a three-run home run. Leake receives a loss though he left the game ahead by one run and a chance to get out of the inning with no damage. LeCure allows two more runs before getting the final two outs of the seventh inning, leaving his team down by four.
Why is the official scorer not able to make the decision who is allotted the loss here? Mike Leake should not have received the loss in this situation. Sam LeCure put the game slightly out of reach for his team with just two or three innings to catch up. Now I did not mention if Leake was pitching poorly or well, so whether he could have gotten out of that situation or not would be up to the scorer’s judgment. But should MLB consider giving the scorer that power instead of having a specific rule stating how the pitchers of record are to be scored?
Let us look at another hypothetical situation. Starter Cole Hamels is pitching well against the Miami Marlins through eight and a third innings. He had not allowed a base-runner in seven innings, but gave up two hits in the first with no walks issued. Now he is in a bases-loaded jam and has struggled to find the strike zone going to full counts on the last three batters. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg decides to go to the bullpen for reliever Jake Diekman to face a left-handed batter. We know Hamels is responsible for the three runners he left on base, and at this point in the game there is no score by either team. Diekman throws one pitch and induces a double-play to ensure Hamels a no-decision.
The next half inning, Marlon Byrd hits a lead off double and Domonic Brown follows up with a long single to score Byrd giving the Phillies a 1-0 lead. Now Diekman is the pitcher of record after throwing just one pitch, meanwhile Hamels sits on the sidelines watching his gem go unnoticed in the record books. Should the Phillies hold their lead in this hypothetical situation, does the individual pitcher’s win seem fair?
Now let’s look at an actual game between the Oakland Athletics and the Boston Red Sox on May 4, 2014. Oakland starter Sonny Gray was pitching well through six innings. Boston’s John Lackey was also pitching well, giving up just one run in the first inning before being relieved by Andrew Miller in the seventh. Gray gave up a lead off home run to catcher A.J. Pierzynski before walking Xander Bogaerts and being relieved by Fernando Abad in the bottom of the seventh. The game would remain tied. In the bottom of the ninth, Jim Johnson would come on for Oakland to retire one batter. The story would continue to the top of the tenth where Oakland would score one run – the winning run. Johnson would remain in the game to pitch in the bottom half of the frame and earn the win, despite already being the pitcher of record.
Boston’s Chris Capuano was the losing pitcher of record since he was responsible for the runners on base. But he had already left the game when the run scored. Burke Badenhop was on the mound when Yoenis Cespedes hit a two-out infield single with the bases loaded. So does Capuano really deserve the loss for leaving the game and then the next batter getting lucky with a weak grounder to third base? What does the official scorer think?
There is an official scorer for every Major League and Minor League stadium. They make decisions on errors, passed balls, and wild pitches every day. Why not allow them the power to decide who deserves the win and the loss? It only seems like a reasonable discussion.
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