Originally written on Baseball Prospectus  |  Last updated 7/28/12
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On Friday night, Ryan Cook entered the game for the A's in the eighth. He allowed two inherited runners to score and one of his own, blew the lead, and got the final out of the inning. The A's then took the lead back in the ninth. Jerry Blevins replaced him and protected the lead. As you know, Ryan Cook would be credited with the victory. But 

Cook was the rule-book victor, except the rule book has an exception. If a reliever is in line to get the win but is deemed to have pitched too ineffectively to get the win, the scorer can award it to somebody else. The rule: 

(c) The official scorer shall not credit as the winning pitcher a relief pitcher who is ineffective in a brief appearance, when at least one succeeding relief pitcher pitches effectively in helping his team maintain its lead. In such a case, the official scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher the succeeding relief pitcher who was most effective, in the judgment of the official scorer.
Rule 10.17(c) Comment: The official scorer generally should, but is not required to, consider the appearance of a relief pitcher to be ineffective and brief if such relief pitcher pitches less than one inning and allows two or more earned runs to score (even if such runs are charged to a previous pitcher). Rule 10.17(b) Comment provides guidance on choosing the winning pitcher from among several succeeding relief pitchers.

You could be forgiven for not knowing this exception existed (if you didn't know this exception existed). It's the first time I can remember it happening (though I don't follow pitcher wins decisions all that closely). Meanwhile, there are lots of times I can find of it not happening. In 1993, Heathcliff Slocumb allowed five runs to score in less than an inning but still earned the win. (The guy after him pitched two scoreless.) No fewer than 20 pitchers have earned wins in "ineffective and brief" outings since 2000, and just this year Chad Qualls and Kameron Loe did. Loe was followed by two relievers who threw scoreless innings, and Qualls was followed by one.

Of course, the pitcher who followed Qualls was Jonathan Papelbon, who earned the save, and that's actually probably what he preferred. Pitcher wins probably don't matter a whole lot to you, but pitcher wins for relievers don't matter a whole lot to anybody, up to and including the relievers. Trevor Hoffman had a career losing record, and so did Bruce Sutter, and so did Rollie Fingers, and nobody cares.

What's great about this rule is that, just as you think pitcher wins are deeply flawed, Rule 10.17(c) also thinks that pitcher wins are deeply flawed, and offers a correction to the flaw. What's not great about the rule is that it's just insane, in spirit and implementation. The scorer can only award the win to a reliever who pitched subsequently; he can't give it to, say, a starter who pitched well, even though the spirit of the rule is clearly to reward a strong performance instead of a weaker one. Despite it being a rule, in the rule book—"shall not credit"—it isn't anywhere near uniformly enforced, just because. As a rule, it generally runs against the standards of the larger pitcher-wins standards, which usually remove subjectivity from the decision. But perhaps the weirdest thing is that baseball's rule book still has all these words and clauses to govern the awarding of a thing that, so far as I can tell, doesn't matter to anybody. 

Jerry Blevins is now 4-0. Ryan Cook remains 4-2. 

H/T to James, who I'm pretty sure has Ryan Cook on his fantasy team. 

 

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