Jeremy Guthrie "Doesn't Know How to Win"

I'm kind of obsessed with Jeremy Guthrie lately. He seems like such a strange, nice guy (based on his social media interactions) and he's such a bizarre pitcher from a statistical point of view. And, well, I just really like his stuff and the way he carries himself in baseball games.

I'm sorry and frustrated that I endorse trading him away. While watching his latest performance on Saturday, I saw the Sun's Peter Schmuck wrote a column that I thought agreed with my opinion. Boy was I wrong:

The veteran cornerstone of the starting rotation is 2-8 and — by all accounts — much better than that dismal won-loss record. [...] It never occurred to you that Guthrie just might need a change of scenery to get out of this strange sub-.500 funk that largely is no fault of his own?

[...]

Guthrie isn't totally blameless, of course. If you want to trot out the Orioles' .419 winning percentage over the course of his career (through Friday), you have to ask how Guthrie's winning percentage over that same period is only .417, despite finishing only one season with an ERA above 4.00.

He can be his own worst enemy at times, but it's fair to wonder if he simply suffers from the baseball version of the Stockholm Syndrome and has psychologically adopted his team's losing identity.

If you ask an old pitching coach, he'll probably tell you that winning pitchers find ways to win, which is pretty much what Mark Connor said when he was sizing up Guthrie at the end of spring training.

"Jeremy is at a certain point in his career where it's time to become a winning pitcher,'' Connor told Dan Connolly of The Sun. "Pitchers really can't control wins so much, but I've been on some teams that were pretty bad that had a couple of guys that won more than they lost. He's pitched in the big leagues, he's been in the rotation three or four full years … it's time for him to be the guy and set an example."

[...]

Good pitching is hard to find and Guthrie is a good veteran starting pitcher. It's just getting harder and harder to imagine him reaching his full potential in an Orioles uniform.

I don't understand how so many people - a professional pitching coach amongst them - can all suffer from the same mind-breaking logical fallacies.

That's not fair. I understand exactly what this is. This is older gentlemen who have been living and breathing baseball for decades having a hard time keeping up with the newer, younger understanding of how baseball works. For literally decades it was understood that pitchers won and lost games, and that sort of incorrect but ingrained thinking is hard to unlearn.

But goodness, how can you say - rightly - that pitchers can't control wins and losses entirely and then literally one second later berate a guy for not getting enough wins? I mean, really?

In the games this season in which Guthrie has gotten a loss, the Orioles offense is averaging 1.75 runs per game. Using baseball-reference to find the all-time career ERA leaders brings me to Hall of Famer Ed Walsh, who pitched around the turn of the century in the "deadball era" for Chicago and Boston. Ed Walsh had a 1.82 ERA, which isn't quite good enough to win these baseball games.

Guthrie's ERA, by the way, is 3.77 which ranks in the top 60 starters in all of baseball, and notably ahead of 8 game winners Yovani Gallardo and Jon Lester. But yes, he has probably adopted the "losing culture of the Baltimore Orioles". Or some other equally vague, meaningless dreck to explain why he doesn't have a sub-2 ERA. I mean, really.

But let me turn an inward eye here, too. I certainly still think of things in terms of the pitcher getting the "win" or not. On Saturday night against Tampa Bay, Guthrie left the game with the lead. But when that lead was squandered an inning later, I thought "Oh, poor Guthrie! He just can't win!", but I can't think of a weirder or less logical thing to think. I didn't think "Poor Orioles, they can't seem to find ways to win!" even though a) obviously the Orioles winning is the actual important thing going on, b) Guthrie doesn't "win" or "lose" the game by his lonesome, and c) whether or not Robert Andino makes a critical error an inning after Guthrie exits the game has absolutely no bearing on how great Guthrie's night was.

As the hip internet generation of baseball fans, we've almost entirely wiped away the idea of the pitcher "win" as a meaningful barometer. But even with us pitcher "wins" are still just as ingrained into our psyches as it is in the Mark Connors and Peter Schmucks of the world. We still think of a pitcher who threw six innings with only three runs surrendered as a "tough luck pitcher" if the bullpen blows the game. We know that pitcher "wins" are not the same thing as actual wins and that pitcher "wins" aren't important at all, but we perpetuate the idea that they are when we act and think like they are.

But they aren't. Jeremy Guthrie is 2-8 in 2011, leading baseball in "losses". This is an arbitrary designation that means less than nothing in regard to the question "How good is Jeremy Guthrie?", even if the long ingrained history of baseball statistics want you to think otherwise.

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