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Zach Davies and the Irrelevant Pitcher Win

Jul. 17, 2017
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Photo Courtesy of Milwaukee Brewers

We’re finally reaching the point where large portions of baseball fans recognize that pitcher wins are not a relevant stat. For those that haven’t come around yet, perhaps Zach Davies can help serve as a teaching tool.

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On Friday night Davies was credited with a win despite allowing six runs (five earned) in just 5 1/3 innings and turning a game where his offense scored eight runs in the second inning into a save situation. The win was Davies’ 11th of the season and he leads the team in that category despite having been outperformed by Jimmy Nelson in virtually every conceivable way.

This is the 115th time in franchise history a Brewers pitcher has won 11 or more games in a season and the second consecutive year Davies has done it: He was the only Milwaukee pitcher to get there a year ago, when he posted a 3.97 ERA and held opposing batters to a .728 OPS. This year the results are a little different as opposing batters have knocked him around to the tune of 5.08 and .843 marks, respectively.

That combination of an ERA over five and 11 victories in a single season is rare, but not as rare as you might think. If Davies carries a 5+ ERA through the remainder of the season, he’ll be the ninth Brewers pitcher to do it in a season where he won 11 games or more. Here are the others:

Manny Parra, 2009, 6.36 ERA

The 2009 Brewers got a pretty nice season from Yovani Gallardo but the rest of the rotation was awful: Braden Looper (more on him later), Jeff Suppan, Dave Bush and Parra combined to make 112 starts and posted a 5.71 ERA as a group. Parra’s ERA was the worst of the group but luck could have been a factor: xFIP, a stat designed to remove some of the “luck” factor from pitching statistics, estimates he should have been somewhere around 4.58. FanGraphs even says his performance was worth slightly less than a full win above replacement.

Nonetheless, a significant number of Parra’s outings that season were tough to watch. His worst “win” came on August 13, when he allowed six earned runs on 13 hits in just 5 2/3 innings while throwing 104 pitches. The Brewers had taken a 9-0 lead before he started to struggle, though, so he was credited with the victory.

Jimmy Haynes, 2000, 5.33 ERA

A lot is made of the explosion of home runs and offensive numbers in 2017, but hitters would have to come a long way to approach the kind of environment pitchers were trying to overcome in 2000: The entire National League posted a 4.63 ERA in 2000, as compared to a 4.32 mark this season.

Haynes was the only pitcher to start more than 25 games for the Brewers that year, as they threw a ton of arms against the wall to see if any would stick (and nearly all of them didn’t).  At least partially due to his ability to eat nearly 200 innings, FanGraphs credits Haynes with a value of 1.4 wins above replacement despite his high ERA. His worst “victory” was a 5 2/3 inning, five run outing in his first game of the year.

Jaime Navarro, 1993, 5.33 ERA

The Brewers rode Navarro hard in 1991 and 1992, giving him the ball for 480 innings in his age 24 and 25 seasons. Given what we know now about the impact of heavy workloads for young pitchers, it’s probably not a surprise that his production dipped in 1993, when he still accumulated 214 1/3 innings but led all of baseball in earned runs allowed with 127.

Unlike Parra and Haynes, it’s actually a bit of a challenge to find a game where Navarro pitched poorly this season and his offense bailed him out. He posted a 2.22 ERA in the eleven games he won in 1993 but a 9.19 mark in his 12 losses.

Don August, 1989, 5.31 ERA

August was a Rookie of the Year candidate in 1988 but his sophomore season was a rough one: His ERA was almost a run and a half worse than the American League average (3.88). August threw just 142 1/3 innings that year but still finished second on the team in that category, nearly 100 innings behind workhorse and ace Chris Bosio (234 2/3 IP, 2.95 ERA). Replaced in the rotation for the stretch run, August picked up two of his last three wins of the year in relief.

Chris Bosio, 1987, 5.24 ERA

Before he was the Brewers’ ace in 1989, Bosio was a rookie swingman in 1987. He logged 170 innings that season despite starting just 19 games, a feat no pitcher has accomplished since 1990. Nine times that season he pitched multiple innings on zero or one day’s rest. Bosio was 24 at the time.

The first two of Bosio’s eleven wins in 1987 came in relief in games where he was also credited with a blown save. He also had this start on July 23, where he allowed five earned runs but the Brewers scored 12.

Braden Looper, 2009, 5.22 ERA

Looper’s tenure in Milwaukee lasted just one season but he found a way to make it memorable: His 39 home runs allowed were the most in franchise history, and he became just the third National League pitcher ever to reach that mark in under 200 innings pitched.

What Looper lacked in effectiveness, however, he made up for with timing and luck. The Brewers scored 5.81 runs per game on the days of his starts, compared to 4.59 for all other pitchers. Looper picked up wins that season in games where the Brewers scored 9 (twice), 10, 11 and 12 runs for him.

Dave Bush and Claudio Vargas, 2007, 5.12 and 5.09 ERA

The 2007 Brewers were the first Milwaukee team to win more games than they lost in 25 years, but they awarded a significant number of those wins to starting pitchers who weren’t very consistent. Vargas won five games that season where he failed to complete six innings, setting a franchise record that stood until Chase Anderson did it seven times in 2016. Bush pitched six or more innings 22 times that season but probably should have come out early more often: Opposing batters hit .338 with a .391 on-base percentage and .552 slugging when seeing him for the third time in a game.

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