Kill the win? Nah, let’s just reduce its importance

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So I’m reading the latest Jon Heyman column and I’m finding myself agreeing with him more than I am with people coming at the issue he’s discussing from a sabermetric point of view. And I wasn’t even hit on the head this morning or anything.

The topic: the Kill The Win campaign Brian Kenny has been waging at MLB Network and on his NBC Sports Radio show. You’ve probably seen or heard some of it. Basically Kenny is crusading to kill pitcher wins as a stat. Now, I’m not sure that he really wants to eliminate the pitcher win. I suspect this is more about conscious rhetorical overstatement in order to shock people into looking at the issue more thoughtfully. Like, Kenny is at 11 in order to get people up to a 5. It makes sense, as do Kenny’s underlying arguments about why the win stat is misleading and way less useful than people tend to think. We’ve been talking about that for years here, of course.

But to the extent this is actually about killing the win — or to the extent people take the baton from Kenny and make extreme arguments about wins being utterly meaningless — I’m more on Heyman’s side of things. Heyman, you may not realize, is actually pretty sensible about pitcher wins. He voted for Felix Hernandez for the Cy Young a few years ago despite the low win totals. He understands that strikeouts and baserunners and stuff matter more than wins. This thinking somehow disappears when he starts talking about Jack Morris and the Hall of Fame but he’s no Hawk Harrellson or Harold Reynolds about these things.

I don’t value wins too much in pitcher analysis, but I don’t think they’re utterly meaningless. For me they’re attention-getters more than anything. When I’m looking through stats from past decades and I see pitchers with big win totals I tend to want to look more deeply at their stat lines to see what kind of season they really had. If I see pitchers who I know (or heard) were good, I notice low win totals and look at their teammates and strikeouts and unearned run totals and things.  I use wins as a signpost, and I’m glad they’re there for those purposes. Growing up in the 70s and 80s wins were much talked about and no matter how much my thinking has advanced, I still key on them some. Having them around is like having the common phrases page in the back of your guidebook while traveling in a foreign country.

Also: wins are fun to talk about outside of analysis. As are bunts and batting average. I like having them around for that kind of fun and I like talking about them as long as people don’t mistake the fun talk for meaningful analytical talk. It’d be a real bummer if those stats disappeared simply because we don’t use them the way we used to.

Ultimately all of this may turn on how you feel about revolutions in general. I’m kind of a cautious guy with small-c conservative tendencies. I’m pro-change and advancement and think science and math and change and the future are wonderful things that we should embrace and not fear.  But I am wary of rhetorical extremes and ideas which posit that the past is crap and must be abandoned if we are to advance.

Kill the win? Nah. Just reduce it’s significance. And keep it around like we keep around record players and manual typewriters and stuff. They’re neat.

Mets to move Matt Harvey to the bullpen

Matt Harvey
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Mets right-hander Matt Harvey is heading to the bullpen, according to comments made by club manager Mickey Callaway on Saturday. As predicted, Harvey doesn’t appear to be taking the news particularly well, going so far as to tell Callaway that the decision has him “at a 10 with being pissed off” and that he’s motivated to prove himself as a starter.

It’s been rough going for Harvey this spring. After missing significant time to a shoulder injury last season, the 29-year-old righty returned to the mound with a lot left to prove. He pitched to an 0-2 record in four starts, issuing 14 runs, four home runs and 17 strikeouts in 21 innings. It’s been a while since the Mets have seen anything better out of their starter — he hasn’t turned in a sub-4.00 ERA since 2015 and hasn’t pitched well enough to earn an All-Star berth since 2013 — and now it appears they’re at the end of their rope.

At this point, the Mets insist that the shift is a temporary one. While Callaway has helped successfully convert several starters to the bullpen, including Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco, that’s not the plan for this veteran right-hander. Instead, both the team and Harvey seem to view the change as a way to clear up any mental blocks Harvey may be encountering on the mound. “We know he’s healthy,” assistant GM John Ricco told reporters. “He’s feeling good. Then you get to, is this a little bit of a mental thing, a confidence thing? One of the things we talk about is getting him into the ‘pen, where he can have success in short spurts, get that confidence back and really let it go and get back to being a guy who can dominate the way he’s shown in the past.”

Harvey will be eligible to pitch out of the bullpen on Tuesday, when the Mets are scheduled to kick off their next road series against the Cardinals. As for his replacement, left-hander Jason Vargas will resume his role in the rotation when he comes off the disabled list next Saturday.