Saturday, September 10, 2016

Pitching Wins Don't Matter ... Tell That to Bartolo Colón

It's been very difficult to cool down Bartolo Colón recently.  (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Decades ago, pitching victories were viewed as the standard by which to judge a pitcher's success.  If he won a lot of games, he was considered to be a good pitcher.  That was then, this is now.  And wins don't mean what they used to.  Just ask Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez, who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2010 despite finishing the season with a mediocre 13-12 won-loss record.

In the days of yore, the man known as King Felix wouldn't have been considered a candidate for the ultimate pitching honor with that record, but Hernandez led the American League during the 2010 campaign in innings pitched, ERA and fewest hits per nine innings, while also finishing high among the league leaders in the new stats of the day, like ERA+ (174; 2nd in A.L.), FIP (3.04; 4th in A.L.) and WAR for pitchers (7.1; 1st in A.L.).

Not only did Hernandez win the Cy Young over 19-game winner David Price and 21-game winner CC Sabathia, but the voting wasn't particularly close, as Hernandez earned 21 of the 28 first-place votes cast for the award in 2010.

Voters for regular season awards already know that there is more to determine the value of a pitcher than pitching wins.  But Mets pitcher Bartolo Colón doesn't have time for that talk.  He's too busy helping the Mets inch closer to an unlikely postseason berth by racking up win after win.  And in doing so, he finds himself just one victory away from joining an exclusive Mets pitching club.

Most of the time, when a player becomes "one of only so-and-so players to do something in club history", he's joined by a hodgepodge of players.  Some of these players are usually among the better players to suit up for the team, while others can sometimes be of the "what's he doing on this list?" variety.

For example, when you think of the top home run hitters in Mets history, your thoughts usually turn to guys like Darryl Strawberry, Mike Piazza and Dave Kingman - three guys who were known for their prodigious power.  But rounding out the top ten on the team's all-time home run list is Ed Kranepool, who never hit more than 16 home runs in any season and averaged a long ball every 50.8 plate appearances in his career.  Longevity had more to do with him appearing on this list than anything else.

Similarly, when one thinks of the top strikeout pitchers to put on the orange and blue, immediately visions of the Seavers, Koosmans and Goodens of the Mets universe come to mind.  No one would ever think of including a player like Jonathon Niese in the conversation, but there he is, sitting at No. 9 among the top strikeout pitchers in team history.  That's more a testament to how few great strikeout pitchers have managed to stick around with the Mets than it is of Niese's ability to throw strike three by an opposing batter.

That brings us back to Bartolo Colón, who currently sports a 13-7 won-loss record.  His excellent 2016 campaign comes on the heels of a 14-win season in 2015 and a 15-victory campaign in his inaugural season as a Met in 2014.  A win on Saturday against the Atlanta Braves would give him his third consecutive year with 14 or more victories and would put him on the short list of players who have accomplished that feat in a Mets uniform.  And believe me when I say that the players he'd be joining are not of the Ed Kranepool and Jonathon Niese ilk.

Steve Trachsel (Getty Images)
Entering 2016, a total of 27 pitchers (including Colón) had won 14 or more games for the Mets in a single season.  By accomplishing the feat in each of his first two seasons with the team, Colón had become one of ten Mets hurlers to post multiple seasons of 14+ victories.  However, one of the other nine was Steve Trachsel, which suggests that the company wasn't really that exclusive.  But should Colón win his 14th game of the season tonight or in any of his subsequent starts over the final three weeks of the season, he'd join pitchers like Jon Matlack, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Al Leiter as three-time 14-game winners.  It's a slightly more impressive list, but none of those guys would ever appear on the Mount Rushmore of Mets starting pitchers.

Matlack, Darling, Fernandez and Leiter all had varying degrees of success with the Mets, but none of them put together at least three consecutive seasons of 14 or more victories while they were on the team.  Only four pitchers have ever done that.  You may have heard of them.  Those players are:

  • Tom Seaver (1967-73)
  • Jerry Koosman (1973-76)
  • Dwight Gooden (1984-88)
  • David Cone (1988-91)

If you were going to sculpt a Mets-style Mount Rushmore using the top four starting pitchers in Mets history, the noggins of those four players would more than likely be permanently chiseled in granite.  Basically, any positive pitching records in team history will feature most, if not all of those pitchers.  Their constant success from year to year made them aces or co-aces of the staffs they pitched for and resulted in lots of wins for the team and themselves.

And to think, Bartolo Colón is just one victory away from joining them.

Over the years, the importance of the pitching victory has been lessened.  A leaky pen can cost a starting pitcher a well-deserved win just as easily as an explosive offense can help a starter earn an ugly "W".  But a win is a win is a win, and pitchers still love getting them.  (Just ask Rick Porcello.)

Bartolo Colón has been in baseball long enough that he remembers when pitching victories were still used to determine how valuable a pitcher was.  But you don't have to tell anyone in this day and age just how valuable Colón has been to the Mets.  And should he earn a victory tonight over the Braves, his value as a winning pitcher will elevate him into the pantheon that includes the best starting pitchers in the history of the franchise.

Yeah, wins for pitchers don't matter as much as they used to.  But I don't think anyone is complaining  that Bartolo Colón is still racking up that "meaningless stat" for the Mets.

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