Many baseball experts discuss the pitcher who has been unlucky, who just cannot seem to win no matter how well he pitches. Roy Oswalt is the main example being used this season, and his 8-13, 3.36 ERA season is indicative of a player whose win-loss record should be flipped.
Conversely, many players get really lucky breaks, whether it's due to a great offense or getting a lot of run support, and as a result they have a winning record despite a decent at best ERA. As such, I am listing the top 10 luckiest pitchers. Some are borderline cases, and I try to limit them to players with not so good ERAs, though some who end up on this list will have fairly good ERAs as well.
The San Diego Padres have a very solid pitching staff. Of course, when I say solid I mean amazing. In spite of this, they have a pitcher who's lucky not to have a losing record, especially considering the Padres are not known for their hitting. That man is Kevin Correia.
In 23 starts, Correia has a 4.63 ERA, a 10-7 record, and gets 5.79 runs of support a game. Compare that to Wade LeBlanc (7-10/3.46/3.88), Clayton Richard (10-5/3.80/4.27), and Jon Garland (12-8/3.25/4.03). The one that should have the losing record looks fairly obvious, and it's not LeBlanc.
Boston has both good pitchers and lucky pitchers in their rotation, which has helped keep them in the AL East chase. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are good (great this year) pitchers, and John Lackey is the lucky one.
In this case, both Lester and Lackey have similar records (13-7 vs. 10-7), run support (4.80 vs. 5.03), and starts (24 each). Somehow though, Lester's ERA is over a point lower (2.80 vs. 4.54) and his WHIP is way lower as well (1.130 vs. 1.519), not to mention a WAR difference of over three (4.5 vs. 1.3). As lucky as Lackey may be though, perhaps the argument could be made that Lester is even better than his 13-7 record, at least compared to his teammate.
Perhaps they could swap salaries to make up for it; Lester makes a fifth of what Lackey makes this year.
If you're in the Josh Johnson for Cy Young camp, you're hurting from seeing his mediocre 10 wins this late in the year. Some blame run support, but you can also blame Ricky Nolasco and his good luck.
While Johnson has a 10-5 record, a 2.27 ERA, and gets 4.61 runs of support a game, Nolasco has a 4.22 ERA and gets 4.48 runs of support. As such, you would expect Nolasco to have a .500 record, or something below Johnson's record. Instead, his record is 14-8.
How he has 14 wins and Johnson has 10 does not add up when looking at game logs or other stats. The team win-loss record when both pitch is nearly identical, so that does not answer any questions either.
The Twins are another team who have both good pitchers and lucky ones this year. In the good corner are Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano, and in the lucky corner is Kevin Slowey. Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn's ERAs belie their .500 records as well, but Slowey's luck goes further.
Liriano and Slowey have similar records. In fact, Slowey wins out here, with a 11-5 record vs. 11-7. Liriano's ERA is a point lower though, 3.26 to 4.22. Run support is not the culprit here though (both average over five runs a game), yet the number is a bit deceiving, as Liriano was the winning pitcher in a 19-1 blowout against the Royals, inflating that number a bit.
In Slowey's case, the luck comes from having three no-decisions where he allowed five earned runs or more. An 11-8 record would at least be more accurate for how he's performed for his team.
When you think of the Phillies this year, Roy Halladay comes to mind, as does the fact that he has more losses then he should. He has recovered from that though, and the story is now Cole Hamels and his unlucky streak. Where has his luck gone? Simple, Kyle Kendrick took it all.
While Hamels has a 7-9 record, a 3.33 ERA, and is only getting 3.64 runs of support a game, Kendrick has an 8-5 record, a 4.45 ERA, and 5.99 runs of support a game. Perhaps the two should swap places in the rotation; Hamels' record would bounce back quickly. Or at least Kendrick could take one of the four shutouts Hamels was on the receiving end of.
Freddy Garcia is Mr. Goodluck himself. In 2006, despite a 4.53 ERA he went 17-9. He's already topped that this year with his performance for the White Sox. He has the highest ERA of anyone in the starting rotation at 5.07, yet has a 10-5 record.
Part of the reason for this is, again, run support, as Garcia gets 5.48 runs a game. It could just be that his ERA is a bit overinflated as the result of him leaving games early; he has not finished the seventh inning since June, and as a result he keeps getting wins in spite of an ERA that probably will not go down this year.
Don't worry, I didn't forget the relievers. Win-loss records for relievers tend to be crapshoots anyway, but there are always a couple outliers that seem rather odd. Jeff Weaver is one of them. Jered's less successful brother, despite a 5.35 ERA, has a 5-1 record.
Allowing 22 runs and 17 walks in 37 innings of work doesn't create a 5-1 record, so one has to wonder which starters he took them from (To answer my own question, it was five different starters, so no hard luck on the rotation's end except for Hiroki Kuroda).
A 9.76 ERA + 22 appearances + a WHIP around 2.000 = a 3-0 record?
I found where your wins went, Zach Greinke.
Hughes is the only one on the list whose ERA is better than the league average. As such, his 14-5 record isn't unjustifiable, he should have a winning record with a 3.94. Is his pitching worthy of that though?
Whether one thinks his record's a fluke or not, there's no question that it's helped by his run support. His 6.95 runs of support a game is likely in the top ten of the past 20 years (only eight are over 7.00, including Curt Schilling in 2004), and needless to say, most of them have pretty inflated records, such as Shawn Estes and his 2000 campaign.
Most of the Yankees get a lot of run support though, so it's not a huge surprise that Hughes is lucky.
Narveson wins this year's luckiest pitcher award by a mile so far. How does the pitcher who ranks last in ERA (among ERA title qualifiers) have a winning record? A 9-7 record and a 5.61 ERA do not mix, even in the steroid era. If he doesn't fix the era next year, his record is going to suddenly be poor, and Brewers fans will be wondering what happened.