15 October 2010

The Scurvy Mob of Wannabe Sabr Rattlers and The Pother They Hath Wrought

Are we really on the cusp of bestowing the Cy Young Award to a pitcher who didnt lead his league in ERA+ and who finished eighteenth in wins?

Felix Hernandez is outstanding and I wont belittle his thirteen victories for a wretched Mariners squad, but is this what the award named for baseball's All-Time winningest pitcher has come to? An achievement-based recognition granted from "peripherals" to the effective exclusion of the most obvious measure of competitive accomplishment and success itself?

Sabermetric rubes are so eager...

... to expose the historical overvaluation of pitcher wins that many have severely undervalued them in response. It seems the only way one can opt for the 13-12 Hernandez is to decide that his peripherals advantage outweighs a rather gaudy win deficit. Which is a troubling calculus considering the particular task at hand. We're not ranking neutralized ability (at least not with a straight face) or projecting future performance. The Cy Young Award rewards past accomplishment and competitive success within a humbling and often mysterious team environment.
How else to explain elevating Felix over other indisputably fine pitchers who contributed more wins to their teams? Actual wins, as opposed to theoretical, extrapolated "wins". The competition has marvelous peripherals too. It's not like Felix is pitted against Lamarr Hoyt or Pete Vukovich here.
[ Full disclosure: I voted for Greinke last year, despite the fact his Royals only went 17-16 in his starts. He was personally 16-8, and more importantly, led the AL in ERA+ by a wide margin over 229 innings. Nobody was within 2 WAR of that freak. The 2009 Mariners went 25-9 when Felix started, and in most years I'd vote for him. In a sense, that was really his bad luck season, foiled by Greinke's absurd career year.]
So wins are hardly the sole consideration - otherwise just Fedex the award to Sabathia. Nor are wins necessarily paramount, as few of 2010's army of starters with more wins than Felix are more CYA deserving. Contrary accounting would inflate pitcher Wins beyond their reasonable value in a team sport. But some of these "winners" are numerically outstanding, quite apart from anciently revered win totals.
Sabathia didnt just win 21 games; his 3.18 ERA anchored in an AL East bandbox is highly competitive. The Tigers went 21-12 in Justin Verlander's starts and his WAR is comparable to Fernandez. Clay Buchholz (17-7) sported a league high ERA+ from an AL East bandbox (although his 173 IP may exclude him from serious CY consideration.)
My Cy Young vote, however, goes to David Price.
-- 208 innings.

-- 2.72 ERA in the AL East
-- The Rays were a league best 23-8 in his starts. (By contrast, the M's were 17-17 when Felix pitched.)
Should we deny Price based on Hernandez' real but relatively thin superiority in neutralized, park adjusted "peripherals"? Denton True Young would be turning over in his grave. Hernandez was the best aggregate run preventer in the league. There's not much question about that. But that doesnt make him a sabermetric colossus striding over the competition some would have, the way Zack Greinke was last year. Greinke earned 9 WAR. Hernandez has 6 WAR this season and trails Cliff Lee and Verlander on the Fangraphs version.
He chucks for a wretched team in a superb pitcher's park against a mediocre division. And he does it very, very well. But David Price, pitching for an excellent team in a good (but deceptively less than superb) pitchers park, against better lineups, was equally impressive. In 31 starts, he yielded more than three runs just three times. ( In 34 starts, Hernandez did so four times.)
We've become so engrossed, and frankly, enamored with our disconnected fantasy world of underlying, homogenized "rate" stats, that we've corrupted them to fashion false edges, while eroding connection to the finite nine inning contests that define success and failure in actual games. We've misappropriated largely predictive tools of GMs and player agents to emptily redefine success.
Winning matters.

There. I said it.

It's still the most compelling measure of current success for a starting pitcher.

This avalanche of misplaced win disdain is apparently based on the earth shattering 'discovery' that Wins arent exclusively under the control of the starting pitcher. Well, duh. We've known this for a long time. The notion's appropriately gained some traction as relievers tackle more innings, but a starter is still positionally integral to a game's outcome, similar to a quarterback in football or a goaltender in hockey. Not exclusively, or even mainly, responsible in many cases, but over the course of a season, he's more responsible than any position player for the team's record in his starts.

We should look at but beyond pureed WAR and examine game logs and opponents faced to see that Felix, fine as he was, isnt the default champion here. Maybe if he yielded four earned runs less often than Price, instead of more often, he'd have a better case. What has our definition of pitcher success been twisted into? Has it devolved into a starter's run prevention per inning measures, sliced six ways, or his free market value, all based on peripherals? Is that all there is? Have we really become that vapid?

In the end, this case isnt against Felix Hernandez. It's simply a call to rebalance evaluative priorities, and to reestablish real time success as something that occurs on a spread of grass rather than on a spreadsheet.


Jeff said...

I'm with ya... until I see that the M's gave Felix 14 runs of support in his 12 losses.

That's what makes me give it to Felix, despite the lack of wins.

Diamondhacks said...


Fourteen runs in a dozen losses is measly, but do you know Felix' ERA in those games? It's 4.54. Which isnt bad for losses only, but it's not like FH lost a dozen games 2-1 either.

In Price's six losses, the Rays scored eleven runs - and five of those were in one game. Price also had a lower ERA than Felix in their respective no decisions (2.63 v 2.95).

I think Felix got inferior support, but it's just not that different. Not enough to elevate a 13-12 ledger over 19-6 imo.

Oh, and move Cody Ross off the plate a bit.

The Writer Formerly Known as Jeff (Now Roy) said...

Hmm... I didn't realize the ERA in the losses was that high.

You make an excellent point.

I retract my statement and vote for Pedro.

Russell said...

I love stats as much as the next man (assuming that the next man is somebody who hates stats) so I'm totally with you that these awards shouldn't be based solely on the numbers.

ps i'm guessing that your first reply was to a hidden comment from Roy Halladay (a regular reader I know).

Diamondhacks said...

The only thing more deceptive than Halladay's pitches is this flamboyant online persona he made such an effort to fabricate.

Charasmatic stand up comic, Fulbright scholar (whatever the heck that is!)...yada, yada, yada.

Pictures dont lie.

The REAL Roy Halladay said...

Boom! Look at that slick dome!