NOTE: I started writing this several weeks ago, and while I have tried to update all the references to time, I may have missed one or two. So if something doesn’t flow right, that’s why.
In mid-June on Sunday Night Baseball, Joe Morgan said the following (paraphrased):
You know I think wins are the most important stat to judge a pitcher by. There’s a big difference between pitching just well enough to win and pitching just bad enough to lose.
Then in his June 26th chat on ESPN.com, he had these two gems:
Bob (Brooklyn): What’s more important to evaluate a pitcher: Wins or ERA?
Joe Morgan: I’ve always believed that an ERA is like a batting average. It’s a personal thing. For instance, a guy could hit .300, but not be as valuable as a guy that hits .270. A guy that makes 7 outs out of 10 with guys on base, he’s not that valuable. But if you’re clutch, but hit .275, you’re more valuable. That’s why I think wins are better. It’s just as tough to win a game 7-6 as it is 1-0. The only thing that matters at the end of the year is how many games did we win.
Kyle (Kansas): What is the most overated stat in baseball?
Joe Morgan: Batting average and earned run average and this OPS stuff they do. OPS doesn’t tell you anything except about the individual. The same as the other stats. It doesn’t tell you anything about the team. A .300 average doesn’t help you win games, run production does.
Joe Morgan: I’m not saying those numbers don’t mean anything, I’m saying they’re overglorified.
I knew there were people out there who actually believed these things (based on the results of postseason awards voting), but it still surprises me to actually see someone put it that way. I want to address a couple things:
There’s a big difference between pitching just well enough to win and pitching just bad enough to lose.
That’s absolutely true, Joe. Unfortunately, you don’t actually find out where that fine line is for a given game until the game is over. So in the case of non-clairvoyant pitchers, the fact that this “big difference” exists does absolutely no good and makes no difference. The bottom line is this: a guy who pitches a no-hitter but loses on three errors by his teammates pitched a better game than a guy who gave up eight runs in five innings and wins 14-13. Sure, the one guy pitched well enough to win, but only because his teammates scored 14 runs. Wins and losses are a team statistic, and they are a very poor standalone judge of a pitcher’s effectiveness.
It’s just as tough to win a game 7-6 as it is 1-0. The only thing that matters at the end of the year is how many games did we win.
Now, Joe, you just took your true-but-pointless statement from above and ran it into the ditch of flat-out stupidity. First of all, no two 7-6 games are alike, just as no two 1-0 games are alike. So to lump them all together like that is silly. But more to the point, this statement is just false. In a 7-6 game, a pitcher can give up six runs. He may have felt just as much pressure as he would have in a 1-0 game (depending on when the runs were scored, etc.), but the bottom line is that he didn’t pitch as well, and if his team didn’t come through with the seven runs, he would have lost.
Let’s look at a hypothetical situation for a minute. Let’s say Josh Beckett pitches a complete game three-hitter with a dozen strikeouts and one run allowed. That’s a great game, right? Let’s say he pitches that exact game two starts in a row: the first time, the Red Sox don’t score, and Beckett loses 1-0; in the second game, the Sox pull it out and win 2-1. Beckett pitched the exact same excellent game both times, but he gets one win and one loss. Without doing anything different! Joe Morgan would have us believe that Beckett actually pitched better in the second game, because he pitched “just well enough to win,” whereas in the first game, he pitched “just bad enough to lose.” Those of us with brains can see that this is a stupid, ridiculous argument.
As for his point that wins are all that matters at the end of the season, that’s absolutely true — for a team. And the best way a pitcher can be a good team player is by putting his team in position to win every time out — by allowing as few runs as possible.
When I asked Rob Neyer if he was allowed to admit that Joe Morgan is a moron, he said:
I certainly wouldn’t say that Joe is a moron. He’s wrong about this, though. And frankly, I don’t think he really believes it. Just like you or me, he’d take Santana over Haren every time.
I want to believe that’s true. I really do. But at this point, I see no reason to think that Joe Morgan doesn’t actually believe that the guy with the best win/loss record is the best pitcher in the league. I’m sure it baffles Neyer, just as it baffles me, that anyone could actually be so dumb, but the only alternative is that Joe Morgan is some genius who is perpetuation the myth of his own idiocy for some reason that we mortals can’t quite grasp. Occam’s Razor tells me which is true.