When a Win was Really a Win

In a recent post, Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski suggested, in passing, that it might be time to revamp the win stat. The idea strikes me as reasonable, but I don’t want to weigh in on it any detail right here. I would like to note briefly that changing the definition of stats is not unheard of, and then I would like to talk about my favorite historic pitching staff.

First, stat definitions change over time. To give two prominent examples, the stolen base changed in 1898. Before that year, you were credited with advancing from first to third on a single with a stolen base, and the same thing was true going second to home. Now, of course, stolen bases can only occur in the absence of a hit. Second, the modern home run dates to 1931. Prior to that, home runs could be credited on a ball that bounced over the outfield fence; now that is a double. Stats change, and the win stat could be one of those.

Now to turn to the point of the post, the 1904 Boston Americans (Red Sox). A standard criticism of contemporary wins is the effect of the bullpen. When a pitcher only goes 6 innings, the players who pitch the final 3 innings have extraordinary impact on wins, both for the team and for the pitcher. This is undoubtedly true now, but it was not always the case. Note the Red Sox:

Pitcher G GS CG
Cy Young 43 41 40
Bill Dinneen 37 37 37
Jesse Tannehill 33 31 30
Norwood Gibson 33 32 29
George Winter 20 16 12

I don’t think the bullpen cost this team any wins. Above are the only five players to throw a pitch for the team that season. They completed an astonishing 148 of the 154 full games that year. (They started 157, but 3 of those games were suspended.) We don’t know how this staff would have performed in the postseason, though they were the defending champs of the first World Series. The 1904 Giants ducked them, refusing to play the Series. The matchup of this staff versus the Giants 1-2 punch of Iron Man McGinnity (35-8, 170 ERA+) and Christy Mathewson (33-12, 134 ERA+) could have been epic. Now we can only speculate. (Kevin Graham of DMB World Series Replay gives the mythical series to the Giants, 4-3.)

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