Nathan Eovaldi’s 6-game no-decision streak would be a 6-game win streak if wins were awarded in this way

Nathan Eovaldi of the Boston Red Sox is having a great year. He leads American League pitchers in fWAR, and his name has been mentioned as a Cy Young Award candidate.

But an odd streak is hurting his Cy Young chances right now. And that is that every one of his last 6 starts is a “no decision”. That means his record over those starts is 0-0.

If baseball used the “merit” method of awarding wins, however, he would be 6-0 over that span.

6 wins over 6 starts, instead of no wins. That’s a huge difference.

But should he have earned wins for those starts? Was he deserving of any wins in that stretch? And what is this “merit” method, anyway?

The merit method of awarding wins is one I first publicly proposed in 2018 to fix all the flaws in the way wins are currently awarded in baseball. Some of those flaws are severe. I spell out some of these flaws in my original post, “Fixing how wins are awarded in baseball“.

The method focuses on the number of runs scored by each team, just like the current one does, but awards a winner based on which pitcher did the most to help his team win that game. The current method awards it rather randomly to whoever happened to be the pitcher at the time his team took its last lead of the game. This often awards the win to the least deserving pitcher, and can reward relief pitchers for pitching worse. The merit method does away with those problems, and a host of other problems with the current method.

To explain it, a little background helps. There are a ton of pitching statistics in baseball, but for a pitcher, only two matter in determining the outcome of a game: outs recorded, which he wants to maximize, and runs allowed, which he wants to minimize. A merit-based method of awarding wins would do best to incorporate these two numbers, and just these two numbers.

After all, allowing 1 run over 7 innings is a better contribution than allowing 1 run over 1 inning, just like allowing 1 run over 1 inning is a better contribution than allowing 7 runs over 1 inning.

But what if one pitcher allows 3 runs over 7 innings, and another allows 1 run over 1 inning? Which of these pitchers does more to help his team win? We need a way to be able to attach a value to innings pitched, that allows us to compare it to runs allowed, and come up with a single number that determines how much that pitcher did to help his team win.

The merit method does this by crediting the pitcher with a number of runs per inning pitched, adding these up over all the innings pitched, and then subtracting from this the number of runs that pitcher allowed. The resulting number of runs is called that pitcher’s “Runs Ahead”. The win is awarded to the pitcher on the winning team with the greatest number of Runs Ahead for that game. (Likewise, we can award the loss to the pitcher on the losing team with the lowest number of Runs Ahead for that game.)

As for the number of runs per inning to credit that pitcher with in the first part of that calculation? That’s just the average number of runs his own team scored per inning played in that same game.

One nice thing about calculating things in this way is that the winner always has a positive number for Runs Ahead, and the loser always has a negative number of Runs Ahead.

Let’s see how this works in each of the games in Nathan Eovaldi’s 6-game no-decision streak.

The first game of the streak came on August 23, at home against the Texas Rangers. In that game, Eovaldi’s Red Sox scored 8 runs over 10 innings, for a run credit per inning of 8 / 10 = 0.8. In the table below, this rate is used to convert Innings Pitched (IP) into a number of credited runs, for each player who pitched for the Red Sox in that game. From this run credit, we then subtract the number of runs that pitcher allowed, to get that pitcher’s Runs Ahead for that game.

PitcherInnings pitched (IP)Run credit per IPRuns credited (RCr)Runs allowed (R)Runs ahead (RA)Result
Nathan Eovaldi70.87 ✕ 0.8 = 5.6 15.6 – 1 = 4.6No dec (ND)
Adam Ottavino10.81 ✕ 0.8 = 0.800.8 – 0 = 0.8Hold (H)
Matt Barnes0.8⅓ ✕ 0.8 = 0.2720.27 – 2 = -1.73Blown save (BS)
Garrett Whitlock2 ⅔0.82 ⅔ ✕ 0.8 = 2.1312.13 – 1 = 1.13Win (W)

As you can see, the merit method of awarding wins gives the win to Nathan Eovaldi by a wide margin.

Now let’s look at the second game of Eovaldi’s ND streak. On August 28 the Red Sox played in Cleveland against the Indians.

August 28, 2021 – Boston Red Sox at Cleveland Indians

  • Runs scored by offense: 5
  • Innings played by offense: 10
  • Run credit per inning: 0.5
PitcherIPRCr/IPRCrRRAResult
Nathan Eovaldi5⅓0.502.6720.67No decision
Josh Taylor0.500.3300.33
Hirokazu Sawamura10.500.5000.50
Austin Davis0.500.3300.33
Garrett Richards0.500.1700.17
Garrett Whitlock10.500.5000.50Win
Martin Perez0.500.171-0.83Hold
Adam Ottavino0.500.3300.33Save

This was an extra innings game in which the Red Sox took the lead for good in the top of the tenth inning. The pitcher who pitched in the ninth inning got credit for the win.

The next three games in the streak are similar to this one, in that the runs Eovaldi needed from his team’s offense didn’t show up until it was too late for him to get credit for the win. However, the last game, on September 19, as we’ll see, is different …

September 3, 2021 – Cleveland Indians at Boston Red Sox

  • Runs scored by offense: 8
  • Innings played by offense: 8
  • Run credit per inning: 1
PitcherIPRCr/IPRCrRRAResult
Nathan Eovaldi6⅓1.006.3333.33No decision
Adam Ottavino1.000.6700.67Win
Ryan Brasier1.000.671-0.33
Garrett Whitlock1⅓1.001.3310.33Save

September 8, 2021 – Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox

  • Runs scored by offense: 2
  • Innings played by offense: 8
  • Run credit per inning: 0.25
PitcherIPRCr/IPRCrRRAResult
Nathan Eovaldi70.251.7501.75No decision
Josh Taylor0.250.171-0.83
Garrett Richards0.250.0800.08Win
Hansel Robles10.250.2500.25Save

September 14, 2021 – Boston Red Sox at Seattle Mariners

  • Runs scored by offense: 8
  • Innings played by offense: 9
  • Run credit per inning: 0.89
PitcherIPRCr/IPRCrRRAResult
Nathan Eovaldi50.894.4522.45No decision
Darwinzon Hernandez1⅔0.891.4801.48
Adam Ottavino0.890.3000.30Win
Michael Feliz10.890.8900.89
Hirokazu Sawamura0.890.302-1.70
Austin Davis0.890.5900.59

September 19, 2021 – Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox

  • Runs scored by offense: 8
  • Innings played by offense: 8
  • Run credit per inning: 1
PitcherIPRCr/IPRCrRRAResult
Nathan Eovaldi51.005.0032.00No decision
Garrett Whitlock11.001.0010.00Hold
Hirokazu Sawamura11.001.002-1.00Blown save, Win
Hansel Robles11.001.0001.00Hold
Garrett Richards11.001.0001.00Save

Eovaldi left the game after 5 innings with 5 to 3 lead. If the relievers had held that lead through the rest of the game, Eovaldi would have gotten the win. But the reliever Hirokazu Sawamura allowed the other team to score their 5th and 6th runs, and the lead was given up. For this, Sawamura was credited with a “blown save” – not a good thing. But, he was also awarded the win. Why? Because his team took back the lead in the bottom of the same inning by scoring 3 more runs.

Had Sawamura given up 0 runs instead of 2, and everything else being the same, Eovaldi would have been credited with the win. But because Sawamura pitched worse than that, he was rewarded with the win.

This is often referred to as a “Vulture Win”. It makes no sense to allow Vulture Wins to even be possible. I think the merit method of awarding wins is the best way of eliminating them.

All data used in this post was collected from Baseball-Reference.com.

4 thoughts on “Nathan Eovaldi’s 6-game no-decision streak would be a 6-game win streak if wins were awarded in this way

  1. SeeCauseAndEffect October 5, 2021 / 1:05 pm

    This should be the way wins are awarded to pitchers. It should replace the current stat.
    Let’s make this happen.
    First step is to get it used, and for that, we’ll need to calculate and publish the stat for all pitchers.
    It might need a slightly different name, since people will get confused if “Win” means two things (likewise with “Loss”).

    “Run value win”? “Value win”? Can’t be too long.

    • tomisphere October 5, 2021 / 2:03 pm

      I’ve always just used “Merit win” and “Merit loss”.
      Thank you for the support!
      I think to get these changed, we’d have to convince the leagues, as Wins has been an official league stat for over 100 years. There used to be an AL version, and a different NL version, back in those days! I suppose now it’s gonna be just MLB.

    • tomisphere October 5, 2021 / 2:04 pm

      Oh, and calculating and publishing it has been a goal of mine for over 10 years now. I just don’t seem to be able to get it done.

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