Short Answer: 1970 and then again officially by a larger percentage of human beings in 2010.
Long Answer: Major League Baseball still credits people that throw from a dirt mound 60’6″ over a plate shaped like a house with things like “wins” and “losses.” While it may be true that pitchers today certainly do “lose” games much more often than they “win” games, the awards are still given. Why? Because we need someone to point the blame at and put on a pedestal — it’s human nature!
Thank goodness for Baseball Reference. Really, because I started trying to add up and calculate CG% and stuff from FanGraphs until I stumbled on it on BR by accident. Saved me a lot of work. I probably would’ve given up after a while, anyway. Figured I could write a book about it.
A “Win,” while we know it to be had as long as the SP goes 5 and has the lead as he leaves. After watching the Giants pitching staff this year, we already know how a SP doesn’t necessarily get the win — leaves down 1-0 despite 10 K’s and 7 IP. Or he throws 6 IP of hard fought ball with the score at 2-2 and won’t get credit for jack squat.
For me, the “Win,” if it’s going to be awarded to pitchers, Complete Games (CG) really need to be considered. Whether it’s 9 innings or 15 innings, the pitcher did his due diligence and with some skill and luck stayed on the bump the whole game. The blame for what he did (negatively) can be put on him in great loads. Hard to say a pitcher’s performance on the mound should warrant him the “W,” but the CG is an impressive feat while this is an imperfect way to help solve an argument, I feel it helps and from there someone else will probably take charge with their better knowledge and resources. Only 3.56% of the games this year, 2011, were CGs. Investigating the CG more in years past (as well as the sometimes not so useful SV%… but it did give a sign of the times):
1871-1890: CG% Never fell below 89% Not 8.9. 89%.
1891-1903: CG% was between 81%-87%. Number of games that had a save in it was never above 2%.
1904-1907: CG% by year: 88, 80, 76, 74. This may be the signal for the beginning of the end in terms of pitchers going the full game. The number of pitchers appearing in ML Games also increasing. SV% goes from 2-4% in latter years.
1908-1914: CG% dips from the 60s to the 50s and as the SV% starts to climb from 4 to 7%, it appears “the reliever” is becoming an idea that’s here to stay.
1915-1945: CG% goes from 55%-42% at its lowest while SV% begins to hover around 9-10%. This time period, specifically beginning in the Great Depression, could be when that “W” starts waving the red flag in its camp. Unfortunately, not many probably noticed. This is not to say pitchers did not go 7-8 innings a lot. I bet they did. But I like to think I have high standards. Maybe dumb standards, but whatevs.
1946-1959: CG% posts its last back-to-back 30% and the SV% is hovering at 15-16% around this time.
1960-1969: Steady consistent decline of CG% and incline of SV%. 1965 is the first year that less than 25% of games have had a CG in them.
1970: CG% 22, SV% 23. In my opinion, this tells me how important relievers have become and in this year 363 pitchers had action in the Show. In 1960, 238 pitched. This spike in pitchers used was the 2nd consecutive year that 360+ pitchers were used. I wasn’t alive in 1970. I don’t know if the talking point was brought up of the mark of the “W.” This is the year I think the “Win” lost its luster.
1971-1979: Shouldn’t I be done? I made you read all this, you should be done, gosh darnit! However, the spike in CG% back to the high 20s (and then comes back down to the low 20s) and the SV% being pushed down but ultimately coming back up. Number of pitchers also lower make me wonder what the heck was going on? Rule changes? Labor unrest? Looks like I need to brush up on my baseball history.
1980 was the first year that would begin an ongoing streak of SV% outdoing CG%.
1985 saw for the first time more than 400 pitchers being used
1988 began an era of 25% or more games ending with a save (’94, ’00, ’08 excluded with a weak, measly 24%).
1993 was the 2nd year CG% was in the single digits (1991, 9%) at 8% and the first year over 500 pitchers had been used.
2000, over 600 pitchers. 2001, 591. 2002 and beyond, over 600 again. CG% is at and dips below 5%. At this time, people are thinking to themselves “I can’t believe Barry Bonds just hit that ball 500 feet,” more than “I don’t know about this whole ‘pitcher wins’ thing.”
In 2010 Felix Hernandez wins the AL Cy Young with a laughable (in the 19th century) 13-12, 2.27 ERA, 249.2 IP, 232 K’s, 1.057 WHIP. This was the second coming of the realization but probably the first major one to the general public, both baseball and sports fans, of maybe pitcher wins aren’t as important as we give them credit for.
This is not to say the “W” never meant anything, just that it’s not what it used to be. It will be interesting to see when there will be statistical reform to the “win” — but I can’t even say I expect to see something happen within my own lifetime.