When Len Kasper first began calling Major League Baseball games, Hideo Nomo fronted the Milwaukee Brewers starting rotation and no starter on that 1999 team had an earned run average under 4.50.
Kasper’s next year saw Jimmy Haynes lead the Brewers in starts with 33, and he went 12-13 with a 5.33 ERA.
Sometimes, you can’t escape bad baseball. Sometimes, numbers don’t lie.
Kasper, a Marquette University alumnus, spent one more year doing fill-in play-by-play duties on television in 2001, and he saw the debut of 22-year-old Ben Sheets, who was the team’s All-Star representative.
By the end of the year, Sheets had gone a relatively unimpressive – on paper – 11-10 with a 4.76 ERA in 25 starts. In was a harbinger for the talented right-hander, who finished his eight-year Brewers career with a rather pedestrian 86-83 career record.
But over time, the understanding of the game has changed. A wide variety of sabermetrics have broken it down to unimaginable levels.
Nothing is immune to its depth – including "your father’s stats" of batting average, runs batted in and a starting pitcher’s win-loss record.
The latter is where, in some cases, the numbers can lie.
Baseball-reference.com developed the "cheap win" (Wchp) and "tough loss" (Ltuf) stats in the "More Stats" tab of a pitcher’s bio. According to the site, a cheap win is when a starter gets a victory in a non-quality start; a tough loss is when you do produce a quality start but come out on the short end.
When Kasper, now in his 10th season as the Chicago Cubs' television play-by-play man, discovered those stats, he realized there might be a better way to understand just how good – or how lucky – a starting pitcher actually has been.
After all, having called games in which current Cubs starters Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija racked up quality starts only to be saddled with losses, there had to be better way to determine a truer record.
So, he did the math, and on May 12 Kasper wrote a column for the suburban Chicago newspaper the Daily Herald, outlining his new stat – the Quality Win/Loss record, or QWL
"My thought was, what if we just kind of eliminated the outliers?" Kasper said from the road earlier this week. "I thought, well, one thing about the win is that it says nothing about how many runs you give up. It basically means that if you pitch, as a starter – this is not about relievers – if you pitch the requisite five innings and you have the lead when you leave, you can win. So even if you’re ahead, 10-8, you can still get a victory. To me, it felt a little ridiculous. Why would a pitcher who gives up eight runs deserve to get a win?
"Conversely, if you go eight innings and give up one run – and it might even be unearned – you could take a loss if your offense doesn’t give you any support. I think that’s kind of ridiculous too."
Which leads us back to Sheets.
He was often brilliant, and oft-injured, and while he officially had just three more wins than losses, he finished with a respectable 3.72 career ERA in Milwaukee. He led the league in losses in 2002 and had a 12-14 record in an All-Star year of 2004 when he had a 2.70 ERA.
So it may come as no surprise that during his time in Milwaukee, Sheets suffered an incredible 33 tough losses against 14 cheap wins – meaning Sheets posted a 72-50 QWL record.
"If you take away the crappy starts you win and the great starts you lose, throw those out, and what’s left, it’s not perfect, but I think it’s a better indicator of what a guy has done in his career," Kasper said.
The QWL also puts current Brewers starters in different light.
Thus far in 2014, Wily Peralta is 4-4 with a 2.12 ERA, but he’s got a 4-1 QWL. Marco Estrada has had tougher luck. In his three years as a starter in Milwaukee, his official record is 16-13 but he has a 3.79 ERA. His QWL is 15-9.
Yovani Gallardo has an impressive official record at 84-56, but the last three years has been a bit tougher on him with at 31-22. His QWL in that time is 28-16 however. For his career Gallardo has a 71-41 QWL.
Another good example is Matt Garza.
Garza has never won more than 15 games and only reached double-digit victories four times in his career for an official record of 69-71, but he’s suffered 24 tough losses against 12 cheap wins.
A QWL mark of 57-47 is more indicative of a player with a career 3.89 ERA and an American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player award.
Conversely, Kyle Lohse has an impressive 135-120 career mark, but his QWL is 102-92.
Kasper knows his QWL will only be a secondary stat, but it’s easy to calculate and helps an observer better understand what they’re seeing.
And, when it comes to starting pitching – it can illustrate just how good a player has been, even if the raw numbers imply he was nothing more than average.
"I think that most starters will tell you that yeah, I should go six innings and I give up five runs I don’t deserve to win," Kasper said. "So just because my team scored nine runs why do I get a win where my teammate went out and went seven innings and gave up two runs and took a loss? In my formula you take away a win from the guy who gave up all those runs and you don’t give a guy a loss if he pitched well enough to keep his team in the game.
"It’s kind of a fun one to chew on, I guess."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.