Joe Posnanski presents a backhanded defense of the old-fashioned statistic of baseball pitchers' wins today. True, the "winning pitcher" depends on his teammates playing defense and scoring runs for him; yes, great pitchers in bad circumstances can produce feeble win totals, and bad pitchers for great teams can pile up near-meaningless wins. But wins, he writes, are still interesting historical reference points, and by paying attention to them, we can gain insight into the workings of the game:
I like referring to Steve Carlton as a 27-game winner in 1972. It's a common language in a time when common language is becoming rarer.
As a sabermetric skeptic of wins, though, Posnanski can't keep himself from chipping away at that 1972 performance, when Carlton got 27 wins for a Phillies team that only won 59 games overall. The uncritical fan, he writes, believes that "Carlton must have won those games more or less on his own":
But even in Carlton's extreme 1972 case … it isn't quite so simple. Yes, that year Carlton did win 1-0 twice that year …. but in 1972 so did Andy Messersmith and Bill Stoneman and Dave McNally and Dick Tidrow and Don Sutton and Jon Matlack and Nolan Ryan and Pat Dobson and Roger Nelson and Rudy May and Wilbur Wood.
Carlton's record when his team scored two runs was 7-2. That's pretty amazing. But that same year, Gaylord Perry also won seven games when his team scored two for him.
Even with all that, the Phillies still scored three or more in 18 of Carlton's 27 wins and four or more runs in 14 of 27 wins, this in a time when the league ERA was 3.45. Best I can tell, only once all year did an unearned run cost Carlton a victory (he gave up an unearned run in New York and lost 2-1).
Well, that's what one set of Carlton's game logs says. Before Posnanski writes off those 1972 heroics, though, he should look up a different set of statistics—namely, Carlton's batting numbers:
• April 19: Carlton went 2-3 off Bob Gibson as the Phillies beat the Cardinals, 1-0.
• April 25: Carlton went 1-4 and scored a run as the Phillies beat the Giants, 3-0.
• July 11: Carlton went 1-3 and scored a run as the Phillies beat the Dodgers, 4-1.
• July 23: Carlton went 1-3 and drove in both runs as the Phillies beat the Dodgers, 2-0.
• August 9: Carlton went 1-3 and hit a solo homer as the Phillies beat the Pirates, 2-0.
• August 26: Carlton went 1-4 with 1 RBI as the Phillies beat the Reds, 4-3.
• September 28: Carlton went 2-3 with 1 RBI as the Phillies beat the Pirates, 2-1.
If you prefer stats more advanced than RBI, on June 29, Carlton had a WPA of 0.203 in a 9-4 victory over the Mets. In other words, the game looked like a blowout because Carlton's hitting made it a blowout.
Carlton also twice batted 2 for 3 in losing efforts. And that 2-1 loss to the Mets, where he gave up an unearned run? That day, Carlton opened the eighth inning with a single off Tom Seaver, took second base on a one-out wild pitch, and was stranded there on a popup and a strikeout.
There are plenty of case studies showing the offense carrying a star pitcher. For the 1972 Phillies, though, the star pitcher was often the one carrying the offense.