When it comes to winning something, there are few cases out there in which the victory was a solo effort. Take musician Nate Mendel, for example. He has won 11 Grammy Awards since 1994, but odds are his trophy case would still be bare if not for the efforts of his Foo Fighters bandmates Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins. After all, bass guitarists such as Mendel rarely get noticed on their own.
The same need for a "little help from my friends" holds true for major league pitchers. Too many factors go into whether or not a starter ultimately ends up with a "W" at the end of his pitching day, not the least of which is the run support of his lineup (i.e. whether or not it can score enough to make that starter's efforts bear fruit). For instance, is it really Wandy Rodriguez's fault he lost four games in 2012 in which he pitched at least seven innings while allowing three or fewer runs? No more than Yu Darvish should be praised for winning four games in which he failed to finish seven innings while allowing three or more runs.
Which pitcher would you rather have on the mound for one start? By way of answering that question, the fact Rodriguez more often left his team in a position to win should hold far more weight than the 160-point edge Darvish had in terms of winning percentage Which brings us to the new stat I've created in an attempt to figure out which pitcher did the most in terms of keeping his team in the game, relative to the average amount of run support he received.
I call it "Ownership," and it shows the percentage of a pitcher's win total we can estimate that each pitcher earned "on his own." In order to find this number, we've taken the run support that each starter received on the days he took the mound and subtracted the average number of earned runs he gave up per start. Then we've adjusted that number by a factor determined by the frequency of that pitcher's ability to produce a quality start.
That number gives us what I am calling a pitcher's "Win Help," or the numbers of wins that came as a result of the team's lineup and through nothing the pitcher himself could control. The "ownership" stat reflects the percentage of a pitcher's win total that would likely have remained if this extra help was taken away. In other words, the higher the ownership, the more often a pitcher "did enough to win."
Here is a list of the highest ownership numbers from 2012 among pitchers with at least 162 innings pitched. Most of the names should come as no shock, but there are a few surprises to be found:
You'll note the impact of the pitiful Miami Marlins and their microscopic run support. Josh Johnson did all he could, and still managed to get only eight wins. If his run support remains the same, that's the most we can likely expect from him in the future. And Anibal Sanchez won just five of his 19 starts while with the Fish before getting a late-July reprieve in the form of a trade to Detroit. Had his run support in Miami been the same as it was in Detroit, he could have been expected to win four more games in 2012.
Given a pitcher's consistent ownership level, a boost in run support is certainly something that can change a pitcher's fortune immediately. Evidence of that can be found in Ryan Dempster's transformation from a .500 pitcher with the Chicago Cubs to one with a .700 win percentage once he went to Texas, even though his personal ERA skyrocketed after the change of scenery. Wins are not often hard to come by when your lineup provides 7.17 runs per start.
Looking forward, we can also try and project Dan Haren's value following his move to the Washington Nationals. Giving him the same ownership level as he had last, but using the ESPN 2013 projections for him in all other categories, how many wins should we expect him to have if the Nationals produce runs at the same rate as they did last season?
The answer: 12 wins. That should not come as too much of a surprise, given that Haren was 12-13 in 2012 with an Angels lineup that scored more runs than Haren's new squad did last season. In other words, one shouldn't expect a big change in production from Haren without a whole lot of luck entering the equation. He'd need to get about 5.5 runs per game in order to reach 17 wins with his current projected underlying stats. While not impossible -- the Nationals did manage that for Gio Gonzalez last year -- one shouldn't depend on such good fortune.
Rounding out our brief overview of ownership, we'll provide you with a list of pitchers to be wary of for the upcoming season, especially if you believe that their lineups won't be able to provide them with the same amount of assistance this season. For example, trouble is definitely afoot for the New York Yankees staff if their aging lineup suffers any more setbacks. Plus, a new home for James Shields certainly might result in fewer victory celebrations in Kansas City than he had with Tampa Bay.
No pitcher is going to be able to succeed if his team gets blanked on a regular basis, but those who take the most "ownership" of their outings are certainly going to make the most of times like these. They'll be the ones who learn to win again.