Come To Think of It: Friday's Cubs Game Offers Rule Change Reminder

Bob Warja@@bobwarjaSenior Writer ISeptember 12, 2009

I don’t know about you, but I would like to see major league baseball alter the way in which it allocates wins to pitchers in a ballgame.

This is nothing new, but Friday’s Cubs game reminded me of how unfair the current rules are. After starter Rich Harden threw an astounding 103 pitches in only four innings of work (not a recipe for success by the way), Jeff Stevens was brought into the game.

Stevens proceeded to give up a three-run bomb to the Reds’ Jonny Gomes and—poof—the game was tied.

That was the only inning that Stevens pitched. He allowed three runs on three hits in one inning of “work”. Yet he was awarded with the win. Why? Well, for two reasons, of course. One, Harden failed to go the minimum five innings required to qualify for a win. And two, he was in the right place at the right time.

Yes, though his ERA for the game was an unsightly 27.00, Stevens happened to pitch in the top half of the inning when the Cubs took the lead, a lead they never relinquished.

Thanks to Geo Soto’s solo homer in the bottom of the fifth, Stevens emerged as the victor despite a performance unworthy of such a reward.

Now, while we are getting a lot smarter about what stats we use to base player’s performance on, and we all should recognize that wins and losses are definitely not a valid measure of a pitcher’s performance; let’s face it, win totals help pitchers at the salary table. And there are many old school baseball guys out there that are still impressed by a W-L record.

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So, it is a reward. And, in cases like this one, a reward that is very undeserving. So what should MLB do?

Well, I think they should enforce a rule that allows for discretion in determining who gets the win in cases where a pitcher throws only one inning and allows one or more runs. If they do, the next reliever to throw at least one inning of run-free ball should be awarded with the win.  

On Friday, the win would have gone to Aaron Heilman. Though I am not a fan of his, as anyone who has read my stuff knows (I don’t like any of the “Aarons” on this team), fair is fair.

Another possible solution would be to reduce the number of innings it takes for a starting pitcher to qualify for a win. After all, when the five inning rule was established, most pitchers pitched the entire game.

Now, the expectation for even a good starter is to go six or seven innings. Recognizing that, would it be so bad to reduce the requirement to four innings?

Now, personally, I prefer the first option. If the four inning rule was established, Harden still would not have qualified for the win due to Stevens giving up the lead. So the end result would have been the same. (Not that Harden deserved the win, mind you. Five walks in four innings? Ouch. Still, he only gave up one run on two hits).  

Does this make sense to you? It does to me.

In fact, it makes so much sense to me that it almost certainly won’t happen, come to think of it.