I was looking at some discussion on the Cards' blog, vivaelbirdos.com, about this statement from ESPN's power rankings: "Astros. It's probably not a good thing when your closer leads the team in wins." Not surprisingly, that statement was viewed with some humor. And people seemed to agree that it is a very bad thing.
Since I don't pay a lot of attention to pitchers' wins and losses, I hadn't really given much thought about what it means if the closer has the most wins on the team. Some people think it reflects badly on the starting pitchers, but I am skeptical of that conclusion, since starters can be either lucky or unlucky with respect to W/L record. If the closer is getting wins because he is blowing saves, then that is a bad thing. And I'm not even going to get into the bad luck which has befallen Shawn Chacon, a guy who has pitched very well--- but can't buy a decision in his 7 starts...even with a 3.60 ERA.
What does Valverde's 4-1 record mean? Early in the season, Jose had problems, and 2 of his wins, in fact, did come after he blew a save. However, Valverde has been very good lately; he has pitched 11.2 consecutive innings without an earned run. Valverde got the win last night because Cecil Cooper brought him into a tie game, and the Astros won the game in the bottom of the ninth. Cooper has shown a willingness lately to bring Valverde into tie games or even some close games in which the team is behind. This is a nice tactic, so long as Valverde isn't overworked. I have never been a fan of strictly following the rule, "only use the closer in save situations." If Cooper keeps doing that, Valverde may get more wins, and that will be a good thing.
Oswalt's 3 wins, which leads the starters, is a meager number. But I would argue that one of the reasons that starters have been denied wins is due to bad middle relief work. Villareal, 0-3, and Borkowski, 0-2, have W/L records which support that idea. If you categorize Brocail and Valverde as "late relievers," and the remaining relievers as "middle relievers," then middle relievers have a 4-6 record compared to the starters' 8-9 record. Late relievers have a shiny 6-1 record. Oh, by the way, where would the Astros' middle relief corps be without Rule 5 draftee Wesley Wright and his 3-0 record?
In case you are interested, here is how the wins and losses are distributed among the types of pitchers. For comparison, I have put the comparable percentage from end of season 2007 in parentheses next to the current percentage.
Starters 45% (66 %)
Middle Relievers 22% (16%)
Late Relievers 33% (18%)
Starters 56% (76%)
Middle Relievers 38% (10%)
Late Relievers 6% (14%)
I can't say that this says a whole lot. The 2008 starters are getting a lower percentage of both wins and losses, compared to last year. In part, that reflects that the starters aren't getting decisions of any kind at the same rate as last year. Shawn Chacon's luck explains a big part of that effect. The late relievers are getting a larger share of the wins and they are involved in a lower share of the losses. That seems like a good sign, not a bad sign.
Now, back to the ESPN comment at the beginning of this article. I'm not buying it.