Pitcher wins were already an unpopular metric among the sabermetric set, but Jacob deGrom’s 2018 season may have officially put the final nail in their coffin, even for traditionalists still hanging on to their old-school stats.
DeGrom is currently leading the major leagues in ERA with a microscopic 1.81 mark in 159 innings. Yet, for all his trouble, he sports a meager 7-7 win-loss record, because his New York Mets cannot score (and are generally even more disgraceful than usual) when their ace takes the hill. Among qualified pitchers with a nonwinning record, deGrom has the second-best ERA1 in history. We can all agree, I think, that his record has told us basically nothing about his performance this year.
But the real test of how much power wins still hold over the baseball media will come after the season, when deGrom’s case for the Cy Young Award will be decided. And it’s anybody’s guess how he’ll do in that tally because he and the Mets are twisting all of the typical benchmarks for Cy Young voting. For instance, at ESPN’s Cy Young tracker — which uses a formula to turn a pitcher’s traditional stats into a score designed to match past Cy results — deGrom sits 10th in the National League despite being on pace for one of the top 50 or so best seasons by a pitcher in modern2 MLB history (according to wins above replacement).3
It’s not the Cy Young tracker’s fault per se: It was built looking backward, trying to replicate how Cy voters have traditionally behaved. But it does show how deGrom’s season has exposed a major rift between historical standards and modern measurements of pitching performance. If we look at the history of hurlers who led MLB in pitching WAR in a given season (deGrom is No. 1 this year), his 25th-place overall showing in the Cy Young tracker is the worst rank for any leader since at least 1969:4
No WAR leader’s stats have misled more than deGrom’s
MLB seasonal leaders in pitching wins above replacement (WAR) with the lowest ranking in ESPN’s Cy Young tracker metric during the same season
|Cy Young Tracker|
|Season||MLB WAR Leader||WAR||W-L||ERA||Score||Rank|
Historically speaking, a mediocre W-L record will kill your Cy Young chances, with Felix Hernandez’s 2010 victory (while boasting a 13-12 record) standing out as an extremely rare exception to the award’s overall rule.5 DeGrom’s candidacy could end up reinforcing that policy, since the Cy tracker’s leader, Max Scherzer, is running second in pitching WAR and has a more traditionally acceptable 15-5 record. The voters could tab him for the award as a (cop-out) way of straddling the line between new- and old-school evaluation methods.
But they could also give it to deGrom as the reward for 2018’s most outstanding pitching performance — which the award’s own language purports to honor. Whether that happens will be another signpost along the mainstream media’s path toward accepting newer statistics and casting aside old relics like wins.
Check out our latest MLB predictions.