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Pitcher wins still matter a bit. Just ask Jordan Wicks

Let’s talk about the new Cubs lefthander.

Jordan Wicks during his first Wrigley Field start on Wednesday
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Someone out there is already fired up with a screed about how random wins are relative to pitcher talent. They have already crafted 500 words in their mind about how I’ve let myself be blinded by my love of the Cubs and Justin Steele to try and bolster a Cy Young case that shouldn’t rely on capricious stats, yes, even when it’s your team and your guy. I’m going to need all of those people to calm down just a little bit because this post isn’t about the Cy Young Award, Justin Steele and pitcher wins. This post is about Jordan Wicks.

To be clear, I agree with everyone who has concerns about wins as a pitcher stat. They are a team stat, for sure. Monday afternoon was a perfect example of why wins should not matter as a pitcher’s stat. Logan Webb did nothing wrong on Monday at Wrigley Field — he merely got bested in a pitcher’s duel for the ages by Justin Steele and a red-hot Chicago Cubs team. All of that said, wins are one of the statistics that baseball aficionados have been tracking for decades. Every now and again we are rewarded for that diligence with a player who is the first to do a thing in a remarkable amount of time.

On Wednesday afternoon Jordan Wicks became the first Cubs pitcher since 1901 to win his first three career appearances as a Chicago Cub. It is rare indeed for any pitcher to be the first guy to do a thing in over 100 years and anytime we can talk about something that hasn’t happened since before Mordecai Brown was in the rotation, we should take a minute to reflect on that accomplishment. Yes, even if the stat in question isn’t quite as robust as fWAR.

Below is the list, according to Baseball Reference Stathead, of the longest Cubs pitcher win streaks to start a career dating back to 1901 (thanks to Al for helping with the search). The record was two... until Wednesday:

Rk Player Streak Streak Started Streak Ended W L GS ERA W-L% IP Dec H R ER HR BB SO
1 Jordan Wicks 3 2023-08-26 2023-09-06 3 0 3 2.16 1.000 16.2 3 16 4 4 1 4 13
2 Marc Pisciotta 2 1997-06-30 1997-08-08 2 0 0 3.00 1.000 3.0 2 1 1 1 0 3 4
3 Geremi González 2 1997-05-27 1997-06-01 2 0 2 2.61 1.000 10.1 2 9 3 3 1 7 13
4 Amaury Telemaco 2 1996-05-16 1996-05-21 2 0 2 1.20 1.000 15.0 2 7 2 2 1 5 8
5 King Cole 2 1909-10-06 (1) 1910-04-16 2 0 2 0.00 1.000 18.0 2 10 5 0 0 8 8
6 Buttons Briggs 2 1904-04-18 1904-05-03 2 0 2 1.000 18.0 2 14 9 0 8 8
Provided by View Stathead Tool Used
Generated 9/7/2023.

According to CubsHQ, there is at least one other pitcher who has a three-game win streak to start their career in games started. It’s a feat Larry Cheney accomplished during his second start in 1912 (when Mordecai Brown was starting games for the Cubs, for those keeping track at home). However, Cheney had two relief appearances in 1911 prior to becoming a starter and his three-game win streak was dashed when the Cubs were bested by the St. Louis Cardinals in a complete game, 10-8 loss on April 26, 1912.

And so it is that Wicks stands alone, for at least the last 123 seasons of Cubs baseball, as the only pitcher to start a career with three wins. Given modern baseball’s penchant for openers, innings management, relievers who throw 90 mile per hour sliders and other such wizardry it does seem a bit miraculous that a kid in 2023 would be the one to begin his career with three games where he was allowed to pitch through the fifth inning in a playoff race. That he’s done so to the tune of 16⅔ innings with a 2.16 ERA is exactly the type of statistical outlier that made me fall in love with the game of baseball in the first place, and we should celebrate it.

No, pitcher wins don’t usually matter from the standpoint of evaluating pitcher skill — but tracking them contributes to the magic and joy of baseball that can really only be experienced when a kid from Arkansas is the first Cubs pitcher to do something in more than a century.