Lucas Giolito winning games for losing team

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At the outset, allow me to offer the obvious caveat that wins are not anything close to the best measure of a starting pitcher. Let further note that, in most respects, using wins to measure a starting pitcher is not just useless, it’s actively misleading. I hope we don’t have to litigate that, as it’s been litigated into the ground over the years.

I also hope you appreciate that this article is not at all premised on wins making a pitcher good. Rather, it’s premised totally on the notion that win totals, whatever their utility, are kinda fun to look at sometimes. Especially in a day and age where the win totals of the best pitchers are lot lower than they ever have been, relatively speaking.

Are we cool with that? Good. Allow us to proceed.

As I mentioned in the recaps this morning, White Sox starter Lucas Giolito picked up his eighth win on the season yesterday after an impressive performance against the Indians. Only two pitchers in all of baseball have more wins than Giolito at the moment: Justin Verlander of the Astros and Domingo Germán of the Yankees, with nine each. Two others are tied with Giolito at eight: Jake Odorizzi of the Twins and Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers.

The thing is, though, that the Dodgers, Astros, Twins and Yankees are all really good teams. Indeed, they’re all in first place in their divisions and they are 1, 2, 3, and 4 in team wins, respectively, in all of baseball. Giolito’s White Sox, meanwhile, are 29-30, and stand 11.5 games out of first place. It’s a “good for the White Sox” season, but the White Sox are not a good team in an absolute sense. They’re on pace for a 79-win season. Meanwhile, Giolito is on pace for 22 wins. If that were to hold, it’d give him just a hair shy of 28% of all of the White Sox’ wins on the year.

That puts Giolito in some pretty exclusive company. Here are some of baseball’s most notable high-win pitchers on otherwise bad teams:

  • Steve Carlton (1972 Phillies): Lefty went 27-10 for a 59-97 Phillies team, which gave him 45.7% of the Phillies’ wins that year. It’s the gold standard for this odd little category of observation, obviously. A lot had to go right for Carlton that year apart from merely being one of the best pitchers ever, which he certainly was. For one thing he pitched a lot. He led the league with 41 starts, going on three-days rest like many of the early 1970s aces did. The outcome was usually completely in his hands too, as he had a mind-boggling 30 complete games. Hundreds of 19th century and deadball-era pitchers did that, but only a small handful of post-1920 pitchers managed as many CGs. Carlton also helped himself out at the plate that year, with a lot of key offense performances to help get himself wins. We’ve only seen one other 27-game winner since Carlton: Bob Welch for the 1990 A’s. That was a 103-win team, though. Seeing anyone do that at all going forward seems close to impossible. Seeing anyone do it for a losing team like Carlton did is unthinkable.
  • Bob Gibson (1970 Cardinals): Gibson’s best season is, without question, his 1.12 ERA campaign in 1968, which is actually underrated given how many people understandably discount 1968 pitching stats due to how depressed offense was. He was the best player on the defending World Series champs that year and he almost single-handedly helped them repeat as champs before the Tigers edged St. Louis in a classic seven-game World Series. Gibson was almost as good in 1969, putting up a year that would stand as the best for even a great many Hall of Fame pitchers, but Tom Seaver and Phil Niekro finished ahead of him in the Cy Young voting. Gibson’s 1970 season was probably just his third-best, but his 23 wins — 30.2% of the Cardinals’ 76 wins on the year — earned him his second Cy Young Award. I suppose it’s all about expectations.
  • R.A. Dickey (2012 Mets): Dickey’s story is a famous one: he was a prospect until the Texas Rangers discovered that he didn’t have an ulnar collateral ligament, put him in non-prospect, swingman limbo as he became one of the odder and harder-throwing knuckleballers around. He would not be a regular starter until the Mets acquired him at age 35. He would average 32 starts a year for the rest of his career — leading the league in starts each year from 2012-14 — making one wonder if having an ulnar collateral ligament was all that it was cracked up to be in the first place. 2012 was the season which made him a star. That year he won 20 games for a 74-win Mets game (27%) and took home the Cy Young Award.
  • Cliff Lee (2008 Indians): Cliff Lee had had good seasons before this — he won 18 games in 2005 — but he had a major coming out party in 2008. Maybe a coming-out-again party, as he was injured in 2007 and sent to the minors when he got healthy. That year Lee was one of only eight pitchers since 1920 to win 19 or more of his first 21 games and ended up going 22-3 in all for a .500 Indians team, giving him 27.1% of all of the Tribe’s wins. His winning percentage — .880 — was the twelfth best of all time.
  • Tim Lincecum (2008 Giants): Lincecum won two of his three World Series rings as a mostly ineffective odd man out for the 2012 and 2014 Giants, but his stellar pitching for some less-than-stellar Giants teams probably earned him the latitude to do it. No more so than in 2008 when Lincecum, then in his second year, became a national sensation because of his freaky delivery and dominant results. He led the league in strikeouts, FIP, ERA+ and was stingier than anyone in the NL in allowing homers. He also went 18-5 for a 72-win club (25% of team wins) that was still trying to put together the pieces it would need for its impending dynasty.

Sure, there are some pitchers with gaudy win totals and gaudy winning percentages on great teams — Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Pedro Martinez, Denny McClain and Ron Guidry all say hello — but seeing someone do it for a team that doesn’t stand to win more than 80 games would be quite the dang thing. Here’s hoping Giolito keeps it up.

UPDATE: A reader comes up with another one:

Olson blasts two HRs, Acuña has 4 hits as Strider, Braves overpower Phillies 11-4

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA – Given a seven-run lead in the first inning, Atlanta right-hander Spencer Strider could relax and keep adding to his majors-leading strikeout total.

“That game felt like it was over pretty quick,” Strider said.

Ronald Acuña Jr. drove in three runs with four hits, including a two-run single in Atlanta’s seven-run first inning, and the Braves beat the Philadelphia Phillies 11-4 on Sunday night to split the four-game series.

“Getting a lead first is big, especially when you get that big of a lead,” Strider said. “… When we’re putting up runs, my job isn’t to be perfect. My job is to get outs.”

Following the game, Braves manager Brian Snitker announced right-hander Michael Soroka will be recalled to make his first start since the 2020 season on Monday night at Oakland.

Matt Olson hit a pair of two-run homers for Atlanta, and Strider became the fastest pitcher in modern history to reach 100 strikeouts in a season.

“It’s incredible,” said Acuña through a translator of Strider. “Every time he goes out to pitch it seems like he’s going to strike everybody out.”

Acuña hit a run-scoring triple in the fifth before Olson’s second homer to center. Acuña had two singles in the first when the Braves sent 11 batters to the plate, collected seven hits and opened a 7-0 lead. Led by Acuña and Olson, who had three hits, the Braves set a season high with 20 hits.

Strider (5-2) struck out nine while pitching six innings of two-run ball. The right-hander fired a called third strike past Nick Castellanos for the first out of the fourth, giving him 100 strikeouts in 61 innings and topping Jacob deGrom‘s 61 2/3 innings in 2021 as the fastest to 100 in the modern era.

“It’s cool,” Strider said, adding “hopefully it’ll keep going.”

Olson followed Acuña’s leadoff single with a 464-foot homer to right-center. Austin Riley added another homer before Ozzie Albies and Acuña had two-run singles in the long first inning.

Phillies shortstop Trea Turner and left fielder Kyle Schwarber each committed an error on a grounder by Orlando Arcia, setting up two unearned runs in the inning.

Strider walked Kody Clemens to open the third. Brandon Marsh followed with a two-run homer for the Phillies’ first hit. Schwarber hit a two-run homer off Collin McHugh in the seventh.


Michael Harris II celebrated the one-year anniversary of his major league debut by robbing Schwarber of a homer with a leaping catch at the center-field wall in the second. As Harris shook his head to say “No!” after coming down with the ball on the warning track, Strider pumped his fist in approval on the mound – after realizing Harris had the ball.

“He put me through an emotional roller coaster for a moment,” Strider said.


Soroka was scratched from his scheduled start at Triple-A Gwinnett on Sunday, setting the stage for his final step in his comeback from two torn Achilles tendons.

“To get back is really a feather in that kid’s cap,” Snitker said.

Soroka will be making his first start in the majors since Aug. 3, 2020, against the New York Mets when he suffered a torn right Achilles tendon. Following a setback which required a follow-up surgery, he suffered another tear of the same Achilles tendon midway through the 2021 season.

Soroka suffered another complication in his comeback when a hamstring injury slowed his progress this spring.

Acuña said he was “super happy, super excited for him, super proud of him” and added “I’m just hoping for continued good health.”

Soroka looked like an emerging ace when he finished 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 2019 and placed second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting and sixth in the NL Cy Young voting.

The Braves are 0-3 in bullpen committee games as they attempt to overcome losing two key starters, Max Fried (strained left forearm) and Kyle Wright (right shoulder inflammation) to the injured list in early May. Each is expected to miss at least two months.

RHP Dereck Rodriguez, who gave up one hit in two scoreless innings, was optioned to Gwinnett after the game to clear a roster spot for Soroka.


Phillies right-hander Dylan Covey (0-1), claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 20, didn’t make it through the first inning. Covey allowed seven runs, five earned, and six hits, including the homers by Olson and Riley.


Phillies: 3B Alex Bohm was held out with hamstring tightness. … LHP José Alvarado (left elbow inflammation) threw the bullpen session originally scheduled for Saturday. Manager Rob Thomson said there was no report that Alvarado, who was placed on the injured list on May 10, had any difficulty.


Phillies: Following an off day, LHP Ranger Suárez (0-1, 9.82 ERA) is scheduled to face Mets RHP Kodai Senga (4-3, 3.94 ERA) in Tuesday night’s opener of a three-game series in New York.

Braves: Soroka was 1-2 with a 4.33 ERA in eight games with Triple-A Gwinnett. He allowed a combined four hits and two runs over 10 2/3 innings in his last two starts. RHP Paul Blackburn (7-6, 4.28 ERA in 2022) is scheduled to make his 2023 debut for Oakland as he returns from a finger injury.