Last night in my instant analysis of the Dan Haren trade I suggested that the Diamondbacks were overrating Joe Saunders by focusing on his win-loss record instead of his ERA, secondary numbers, and raw stuff.
Sure enough, interim general manager Jerry Dipoto basically confirmed that in his press conference announcing the deal:
We achieved by maintaining major league quality with a 2008 All-Star in Joe Saunders and a guy who quite frankly has been one of the winners in Major League Baseball. I think he trails only Roy Halladay among major leaguers in total wins. He’s won 63 percent of his games since coming to the major leagues, pitched in the postseason on two different occasions. He’s a quality, durable, steady major league starter. We feel like this club needs that, and a guy with a good deal of playoff experience.
Dipoto quoted his career winning percentage several other times and said stuff like “he goes out and he wins.”
In reality Saunders “went out and won” with the Angels because he got very good support from the lineup and bullpen, which enabled him to accumulate more victories than his 4.29 career ERA warranted on its own. To think that Saunders will automatically continue to win more games than his ERA warrants now that he’s in Arizona shows a lack of understanding about evaluating pitching performances.
Last season Saunders received the most run support of any starter in all of baseball, and so he went 16-7 despite a 4.60 ERA. This season his run support has been merely average, and so he’s just 6-10 despite a 4.62 ERA. He didn’t suddenly forget how to win, he suddenly stopped getting the runs necessary to make him look much better than he actually is.
Diamondbacks fans should hope that Dipoto is simply talking up Saunders’ victory totals and winning percentages as a way to spin the trade in the team’s favor, because if he truly believes those two things are crucial elements to evaluating a pitcher’s future value … well, things may be getting even uglier in the desert.