Baseball Player Won-Loss Records
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Joe Borowski
Joe Borowski and the Value of Saves

This is an article that I originally wrote up in anticipation of Joe Borowski being eligible to appear on the 2014 Hall of Fame Ballot, having pitched at least ten years in the major leagues with his last game coming in 2008.

The first table below presents Joe Borowski's career as measured by Player won-lost records.

Joe Borowski
Basic Player Won-Lost Records
Value Decomposition
Season Team Age Games pWins pLosses pWin Pct. pWOPA pWORL eWins eLosses eWin Pct. eWOPA eWORL
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------
CAREER (reg. season)
------ ------ ------ ------ ------
PostSeason (career)
11 0.1
------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------ ------
23.322.70.507 2.7

In 2007, Joe Borowski had a 5.07 ERA in 65.2 IP (Baseball-Reference calls that an ERA+ of 89). In 2007, Joe Borowski led the American League in saves with 45 as the Cleveland Indians won 96 games and the American League Central division title.

An ERA over 5 translates into a context-neutral Player winning percentage below 0.500. A league-leading 45 saves (in 53 save situations) translates into a Player winning percentage of almost 0.600 in context. Which one is right? Is Joe Borowski's 2007 season the poster child for how over-rated the "save" statistic and/or "closer" role are, or is Joe Borowski's 2007 season a cautionary tale about the dangers of relying on cumulative year-end statistics instead of evaluating players (especially pitchers) game by game?

I think the latter: Joe Borowski's 2007 season is an excellent argument for looking at player (especially pitcher) performance game by game rather than by looking at cumulative year-end statistics - which, not coincidentally, is exactly what Player won-lost records do.

Here are the basics of Joe Borowski's 2007 performance (Borowski's 2007 game log is here).
Situation Games IP ER ERA W-L-Sv-BlSv
Save Situation 53 50.2 21 3.73 2-1-45-8
Tie Games 9 8.1 6 6.48 2-3-0-0
Non-Save, Non-Tie 7 6.2 10 13.50 0-1-0-0

Even the above table is still looking at aggregates, though. Let's dig a little deeper.

Situation Games IP ER ERA W-L-Sv-BlSv
Save 45 43 9 1.88 0-0-45-0
Blown Save 8 7.2 12 14.09 2-1-0-8
Tie Game Successes 6 6 0 0.00 2-0-0-0
Tie Game Failures 3 2.1 6 23.14 0-3-0-0
Other Losses 1 0.2 6 81.00 0-1-0-0
12-3 lead 1 1 2 18.00 0-0-0-0
trailing 7-2 1 1 2 18.00 0-0-0-0
Other Games 4 4 0 0.00 0-0-0-0

Joe Borowski appeared in 69 games in 2007. Of these, he recorded 45 saves and pitched shutout ball in 10 other games. That's at least 55 successful appearances out of 69 games (79.7%). The remaining 14 games include a game that Borowski entered when the Indians were leading 12-3 and finished off a 12-5 Indians victory. I'm not suggesting that he deserves a lot of credit for that outing, but he did his job; at worst, that appearance counts as a non-event. In another game, he gave up two runs in a game that the Indians were already losing 7-2. That's a "failure", but the Indians would have lost that game without him. Even in his 8 blown saves, he controlled the damage enough to pick up two pitching wins himself while the Indians came back to win two of his other blown saves.

If we set aside the 12-5 win and 9-2 loss, Borowski did his job in 55 of 67 performances where his performance mattered. That's a success rate of 82.1%.

Looking at tie games, Joe Borowski had an ERA of 6.48 and a traditional won-lost record of 2-3 in tie games. That looks like a record of failure. But that ERA is being destroyed by one game when Borowski allowed 4 runs in one-third of an inning (he actually gave up the 4 runs before recording an out). Obviously, that game was a huge failure and counts against Borowski, but it was only one game. And on the other side of the ledger, Borowski held the Indians' opponent scoreless in 6 of the 9 tie games in which he appeared.

One could turn around and say, "Well, Joe Borowski only pitched one more season after 2007 and he was legitimately terrible that season no matter how you measure it. The aggregate year-end 2007 stats were a better predictor of how Borowski was likely to pitch in the future." And maybe they'd be right - obviously, in this specific case, they would be right. But that doesn't change the reality of what happened in 2007. In 2007, Joe Borowski essentially succeeded in his assigned task 80% of the time and, I believe, his pWins record (8.2 - 5.5) better reflects his actual value to the Cleveland Indians than his "context-neutral" record (3.5 - 3.4).

All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.

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