The St. Louis Cardinals’ Gant is a winner and yes, that matters
By Bill Dawson
A pitcher’s win totals don’t define him, but a 6-0 record for a St. Louis Cardinals hurler can’t be ignored especially when in high-leverage situations.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ John Gant has a 1.66 ERA, a 0.737 WHIP, and a 6-0 record. A lot of modern seamheads would say “wow!” to the ERA, “double-wow!” to the WHIP, and “doesn’t matter” to the won-loss record.
“Baseball pitcher wins are a meaningless statistic,” wrote a columnist for foxsports.com in 2010, expressing a now-common viewpoint. Baseball historian Bill James, on the other hand, has stated, “If a baseball statistic is meaningless to you, that is simply because you do not know what it means.”
In other words, pitching wins mean something. What they mean, and how much they mean, is up for debate. Pitching wins may be the worst of a dozen-plus metrics, from ERA to PPFp (Park Factor Customized for parks the pitcher threw in), but that doesn’t make W’s and L’s completely meaningless.
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In Gant’s case, the wins make sense. He’s pitched brilliantly all year but the Cardinals pitcher has seemed to be at his best in high-leverage situations. Maybe that’s just luck. Maybe it’s unsustainable. Still, Gant has contributed to at least six Cardinals wins that might have been losses with a different pitcher on the mound. That counts for something.
In the past, much was made —maybe too much — of pitchers who “just knew how to win.” That quality, if it exists, can’t be measured by existing metrics. But that doesn’t make it unreal. “The bottom line is that some starters simply know how to win,” baseball writer Tim Kurkjian told newsweek.com in 2016, making the Hall of Fame case for Jack Morris.
Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote in 2012 that Morris was a master of “pitching to the situation — when his team gave him more run support he pitched to contact, striking out and walking fewer batters, allowing more hits and more runs.”
Neither Kurkjian nor Souhan had stats to back their assertions. Maybe, sometimes, we have to take some things on faith — a statement sure to make sabermetricians cringe.
That said, de-emphasizing pitching wins as THE pitching statistic was long overdue. The Mets’ Jacob DeGrom, despite his paltry 10-9 record, absolutely deserved last year’s Cy Young Award due to a phenomenal 1.70 ERA and 269-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Michael Wilbon of “Pardon The Interruption” was way off base when he said analytics people had “hijacked baseball” by giving the award to DeGrom. “I value winning the damn game more than the ERA!” Wilbon ranted.
In the bad old days, everyone thought like Wilbon.
I recall the arguments in support of Baltimore’s Steve Stone winning the 1980 AL Cy Young Award (I know, this really dates me) over Oakland’s Mike Norris. Stone was 25-7 with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.297 WHIP; Norris was 22-9 with a 2.53 ERA and a 1.048 WHIP. Norris pitched 24 more innings than Stone, had 31 more strikeouts and 15 fewer walks. But trying to argue that Norris had the better year brought the same response every time: “Yeah, but … Stone won more games.”
Here’s hoping Gant wins more games for the Cardinals. And get credit for doing so.