Domingo German and the slow death of the 20-win season

Who doesn’t like striking out Boston hitters? (MLB.tv)

Going into tonight’s start, Domingo German has 17 wins. Using some back-of-the-napkin calculations, that puts him three shy of 20 wins.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Pitcher wins don’t mean much as a statistic these days. I know that. You know that. For a starting pitcher, it’s a sign that you got through at least five innings, which is important, but it doesn’t say whether you were great, or you were saved by your bullpen and offense.

German has had a combination of all three. He pitches before baseball’s best high-leverage relievers and in front of one of the game’s best offenses. He gets an average of 6.76 runs of support per game. Even though he leads Yankee starters in ERA, his 17 wins don’t scream dominance.

But the 17 wins provide a window into German’s breakout season. In 23 starts, he’s pitched at least five innings all but twice. Of those 21 starts of 5+ innings, he’s held opponents to three or fewer runs 16 times. While he’s benefitted from who’s pitched after him and the hitting behind him, he’s driving a fair amount of the success.

He may not get the opportunity to reach the plateau. With September call-ups lengthening the bullpen, the team could afford to skip one of his starts or limit his innings, precluding him from that milestone victory.

But German has been exactly what the Yankees needed. Last season, Luis Severino won 19 games, the closest to 20 for a Yankee since CC Sabathia’s 21-win, near-Cy Young 2010. German was tasked with replacing the Yankees’ ace, the man who was New York’s best pitcher for the last two seasons.

As for 20 wins on the whole, there’s plenty of reasons why there are so few pitchers reaching that round number these days. Teams run through enough pitchers that many pitchers simply don’t get enough starts. The trend towards high bullpen usage and quick hooks don’t help. That’s why Sabathia’s 250-win milestone might as well be 300 in this era. Fewer pitchers can accumulate wins or actual meaningful Hall of Fame stats if they aren’t given the innings to do so.

The Yankees know this as well as anyone with no pitcher eclipsing 14 wins from 2013-17. Those teams won more than half their games through depth and a consistently great bullpen, not from starting pitching (Masahiro Tanaka was on his way to 20 wins in 2014 before his elbow injury).

In the other dugout this weekend, another 26-year-old starter comes into this series with 17 wins: Eduardo Rodriguez. Just like German, he’s been his team’s most consistent starter, both getting deep enough into games and doing so with a baseline amount of effectiveness. You don’t need the 17 wins to tell you, but he’s been one of the few bright spots for Boston’s pitching staff.

Baseball is better over 162 games when the starting pitchers factor in the final outcome. Openers and parades of bullpen arms make perfect strategic sense, but those factors alter the action for the worse and remove one of the chief drivers of narrative, the starter who wins or loses the game for his team.

I don’t pine for the days where pitcher wins were the be-all and end-all. We now know all the ways a pitcher can and cannot affect the outcomes of games, and we’re better for it. Twenty wins, without context, doesn’t tell you much. Still, it would be a cool achievement for German, considering what his season has meant to the Yankees and with so few 20-win seasons on the horizon.

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4 Comments

  1. Danny Ray Chapman

    Statisticians are ruining the game of baseball. The Cy Young Award has NEVER been about ERA. It is about VICTORIES. YES, victories are important. Teams don’t make it into the playoffs based on ERA. They make it based on VICTORIES. Talk about ridiculous stats…Velocity and Angle of elevation are just a couple of meaningless stats fans must now endure. Do teams get extra runs for a long high elevation homerun over a homerun that barely made it over the fence? Sports writers today don’t include valuable information that young fans look far. Sports writers covering baseball are the worst in the history of the sport. If fans are losing interest in baseball, it is due in large part to the pathetic coverage by the writers.

    • Ydoodle

      We are from the old school of baseball, when the game was pure and teachable to understand. When I see all those crazy stats and abbreviations in an article, I just skip over them because it’s to much work to figure out what they mean. RBIs were always #1 with me then runs scored. They never talk about them anymore.
      I love this game but do not like where it is heading.

    • ΣδυG 。・ 』

      I disagree. Launch Angle and Exit Velo’s are not meaningless stats in any shape or form, they’re good to know if a hitter is getting lucky, if it’s a fluke or if he’s for real (among countless other stats). Cy Young being about “Victories” is as dumb as it gets, i can’t believe people can keep saying that after seeing pitchers like last year’s DeGrom and Prime King Felix. Win record can be as useless as it gets, it’s not actually predictive/doesn’t tell the whole story of if a pitcher is actually good/great. By this logic German’s been better than Paxton in every way so he should be a contender for Cy Young right? Nope.

      Also i believe it’s actually offensive for you to say writers liking analytics, which btw are more predictive and show better how a batter and/pitcher is doing than traditional stats is bad. Sports writers covering baseball are by far definitely NOT the worst, they’re doing the best job possible for us fans, it amazes me how people can say that. The fact that you refuse to like and understand new metrics DOES NOT mean writers are the worst, what do you want, a writer that’s actually just not doing their job and just hopping on fake narratives? Hell no! We shouldbe thankful we got these people like the ones in this blog doing articles as good as these, FOR FREE! People like you should not be here complaining about things like that if you know the purpose of this site.

      They’re doing their job and btw they’re doing it perfectly FYI. Oh and no young fans aren’t “watching the game cause of new stats or bad writers”, many aren’t watching the game because people like you keep trashing the game for actually evolving [like it should be], if all people do is talk about how the game sucks now and it’s for “nerds” well then obviously new people won’t wanna see something that people trash so much right? I’m young and by all means i absolutely love the game even more now, the game keeps evolving, so does sabermetrics, stats and the fans. You’re entitled to your opinion of course, but right now you’re being a terrible fan by talking like that.

  2. RetroRob

    As a Bill James disciple going back to the early 80s, I’ve always known that starting pitcher wins were a bit of a junk stat. As a lifelong baseball fan, I still followed them, sometimes simply to be surprised by a great pitcher having only 13 wins, and a decent-but-not-great pitcher getting 20. I’m more interested in career wins, because compiling 250-300 wins is a sign of being good and having longevity. The biggest issue with the devaluing of a starting pitcher win is one of history (it was fun to compare across eras) and one of marketing. It’s an easy stat to grasp and for kids to debate about. It creates interest in the game. It is certainly to the advantage of MLB teams to devalue starting pitching wins while at the same time allowing it (but not advanced stats) into arbitration hearings. It helps keep salaries down. Is this all good for the game? Probably not, but it doesn’t change the fact that starting pitcher wins is mostly a junk stat, more so than ever with starters getting fewer starts and pitching fewer innings. They probably should eliminate the five-inning rule for starters to get a win. Why penalize the starter and reward a random bullpen arm?

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