The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Paolo Espino is nearing unwanted (and somewhat irrelevant) history

Paolo Espino has been part of the Nationals' pitching staff for the past two seasons. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

ST. LOUIS — Paolo Espino is nearing the wrong kind of history in a stat he shouldn’t, and really doesn’t, care much about. But in all the years of major league baseball, only 10 pitchers have thrown 100 or more innings in a full season and not been credited with a win. Espino is less than a month away from potentially becoming the 11th.

If the season ended Wednesday, Espino would be at zero wins and 101 innings. It doesn’t matter that the Washington Nationals have actually won — you know, scored more runs than the other team — in six of his 16 starts. By the letter of the sport’s unjust law, Espino has needed to log five innings and exit with the Nationals ahead, then have his last-place team finish on top. That has not happened for the 35-year-old journeyman, who may lead the majors in friendly interviews after tough games. The reason is a combination of bad luck, Espino’s short leash as a long reliever-turned-starter and Washington’s ineptitude for most of this season, amounting to a majors-worst 48-88 record.

Here’s the list Espino could join, with the players sorted in order of innings pitched:

1. Terry Felton: Zero wins, 117⅓ innings (1982, Minnesota Twins)

2. Hulon Stamps: Zero wins, 115⅓ innings (1927, Memphis Red Sox)

3. George Weidman: Zero wins, 113⅔ innings (1880, Buffalo Bisons)

4. Diego Seguí: Zero wins, 110⅔ innings (1977, Seattle Mariners)

5. Russ Miller: Zero wins, 108 innings (1928, Philadelphia Phillies)

6. Steve Sparks: Zero wins, 107 innings (2003, Detroit Tigers/Oakland Athletics)

7. Bob Moorhead: Zero wins, 105⅓ innings (1962, New York Mets)

8. Bob Shirley: Zero wins, 105⅓ innings (1986, New York Yankees)

9. Steve Gerkin: Zero wins, 102 innings (1945, Philadelphia Athletics)

10. Paolo Espino: Zero wins, 101 innings (2022, Washington Nationals)

11. John Malarkey: Zero wins, 100⅔ innings (1895, Washington Senators)

Espino is not there yet. But if he remains in the rotation — a good bet with Cade Cavalli recovering from shoulder inflammation — he could pass Felton and set the record for innings pitched without a win. At the moment, he has the most starts (16) and the third-best ERA (4.28) among these pitchers. The best ERA belongs to Weidman, who pitched to a 3.40 as a 19-year-old rookie for Buffalo.

Everyone loves to talk about how Juan Soto debuted at 19. No one — absolutely no one — talks about how little run support Weidman got from the Bisons as a teenager.

“Wins and losses, I don’t think it’s a stat that you really need to follow, because you can’t really control it sometimes,” Espino said Tuesday, having spent a decade in the minors before debuting in 2017. “People throw nine shutout [innings] and they end up losing the game, or later on the team loses. For me, the number one key is to go out there and compete and try to give the team a chance to win.”

Espino is right: Wins and losses are outdated because of the shoddy way they are calculated. Sure, some pitchers, Max Scherzer among them, see a high win total as a sign of durability and consistency. That is fine and fair. But it is hard to place much value in a number when a starter can go 4⅔ scoreless innings, exit with the lead and then watch a reliever record one out and get the win — or, as Espino alluded to, when a pitcher can work nine scoreless innings and receive a no-decision when his team wins in extras.

In that scenario, the entire baseball world would agree that the starter did more than whoever entered from the bullpen. For Espino, all of his early-season relief appearances came with the Nationals leading or trailing by at least three runs. Half of his 16 starts have lasted at least five innings, including his loss to the Cardinals on Tuesday. But he only exited with the Nationals ahead in three of them.

The first time, against the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 25, he worked four innings and was not qualified for the win. The second time, against the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 9, he pitched five and was in line for the win until the Cubs erased a three-run deficit against relievers Erasmo Ramírez and Kyle Finnegan in the seventh. Finnegan yielded four hits and two earned runs but was credited with the win because Washington went back ahead in the next half. And the third time, against the San Diego Padres on Aug. 19, the Nationals won, 6-3, but Espino fell two outs short of the sacred five-inning mark.

Heading into the home stretch, his record is 0-7. If it’s any consolation, Felton, Stamps, Miller and Gerkin each finished with at least 12 losses, a number that feels unreachable for Espino despite how his year has gone.