"The stats geeks win" and other bits of Cy Young idiocy from ESPN's Rob Parker

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I’m sure some of you are tired of our seeming fixation on the commentary surrounding the AL Cy Young race, but when you see something as aggressively stupid and as hostile to rationality as the column ESPN New York’s Rob Parker posted in the wee hours this morning, you’ll understand why we go on like we do.

Indeed, the piece is so bad that I have no choice but to fisk the sucker. And it starts out with a bang:

The stats geeks will win.

Yay! Wins! That’s the most important thing, right? If we win, we’re better!  Parker proves that himself beyond the shadow of a doubt and with geometric logic! In your face, dude!

Matched up against Rays ace left-hander David Price,
Sabathia could have made it nearly impossible for the guys who value
stats over wins to deny him the league’s best pitcher award. Sabathia, however, picked the wrong time to be flat-out awful.

Last I checked, “wins” were a stat. One definition of the word “geek” is a person with a strong, near-fetishlike fandom of some narrow thing or another.  Parker obsesses on wins more than anyone at GenCon obsesses over Magic: The Gathering. How does that make him less of a stat geek than someone who looks at multiple metrics to analyze a pitcher’s value?

Over the past few weeks, some potential voters have been making a
statistical case for King Felix, who leads the AL with a stingy 2.31
ERA. He also has the most innings pitched and the most strikeouts. He
hasn’t won more often because his team has a woeful offense, one of the
worst in a long time. Still, Sabathia, who entered the game as the
AL’s only 20-game winner, had to be the favorite. Those other stats are
fine, but they should never be more important than winning.

See, if you simply say “wins are teh awsum!” I can at least forgive you because, hey, maybe you’re just ignorant and you don’t know any better. But if you actually acknowledge that win totals are at least in part a function of the run support a guy gets — and if you acknowledge innings pitched and strikeouts — yet you still make wins the determining factor in your analysis, it shows that you are simply unable to comprehend the game of baseball. Not just stats, mind you. It shows that you really do not understand what is going on on a baseball diamond. It’s the equivalent of watching Payton Manning go 40-44 with 500 yards passing, 6 touchdowns and no picks and then saying he sucks because the Colts lost the game 53-50 in overtime.

It would be one thing if Sabathia had 20 wins and a 5-plus ERA. By any
standards, that’s not a good ERA, and it would signal to you that that
he’s won games despite mediocre pitching. But that’s not the case.

No, it’s not. He’s pitched just fine, in fact. But the Cy Young isn’t about whether someone has merely pitched well or if he has avoided mediocrity. It’s about whether he has pitched better than every other pitcher in his league. To judge CC Sabathia’s actual performance against some hypothetical CC Sabathia performance is to totally miss the point. And why the hypothetical Sabathia’s ERA is more relevant to Parker than Felix Hernandez’s actual ERA is beyond me.

Plus, Sabathia is pitching in the toughest division in baseball with the Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays. 

Dan Levy pointed out this morning that the Yankees’ AL East opponents have an average of 78.25 wins while Seattle’s AL West opponents have an average of 78.7 wins.  Hernandez didn’t get to face the dreadful first-half Orioles. Sabathia never had to face the Yankees. There are many ways to slice this argument, but there’s no way to slice it that shows Sabathia facing significantly tougher competition than Hernandez over the course of the season.

He’s also on the biggest stage in the game.

Note: Henceforth every Yankees player automatically gets a three-length “big stage” head start in postseason awards voting.

And let’s not forget that
Sabathia has pitched in games that matter.

I would like for a writer to once — just once — ask a player from a losing team how he feels about playing in games “that don’t matter.”

And for all those geeks who believe Sabathia’s success is based on run
support by the mighty Yankees’ lineup, they couldn’t be more wrong. If
that were the case, A.J. Burnett would have 20 wins, too. But he hasn’t pitched well enough to win.

There is no American League starter with at least 140 innings pitched who has had worse run support than Felix Hernandez. There is no American League pitcher with at least 140 innings pitched who has had better run support than CC Sabathia. The difference is over three and a half runs per game. We can quibble about what it would take to get A.J. Burnett 20 wins (Radioactive spider bite? Tainted cold cuts in the opposing team’s pregame spread each time he starts?) but if Parker cannot grasp that the difference in run support accounts for Sabathia’s advantage in the one stat in which he bests Hernandez — wins — he’s either dangerously stupid or sickeningly dishonest.

If Sabathia, indeed, lost the Cy Young on this night, Price should
become the front runner. He has 18 victories, and he won the big game in
a big spot on the biggest stage. That’s what Cy Young winners do.

If wins are truly the measure of a pitcher, why doesn’t Parker acknowledge that Sabathia still has more wins than Price? Doesn’t that matter? Is this one game — last night’s game — more important to the Cy Young race than the 30+ starts each man had before it? I mean, applying a preposterous, willfully ignorant standard for the Cy Young Award is bad enough as it is. Applying that preposterous, willfully ignorant standard unevenly just compounds matters.

But despite all of the stuff above, my biggest beef with Parker’s piece is not its logical flaws. I don’t care if he’d vote for Sabathia if given the chance. I know Sabathia and Price will get votes, and that’s fine. People have different standards with this stuff, and everyone who is given a vote is entitled to vote the way they choose as long as they follow the rules set down by the BBWAA.  And even though it seems like it at times, I’m certainly not going to rip apart every writer with whom I disagree when it comes to awards voting.

No, what has me so angry with Parker’s piece is that he does the two things which sabermetically-oriented writers are constantly criticized for doing: (a) fixating on a single metric — here wins instead of WAR or VORP or whatever — and letting it almost totally dictate his choice; and (b) insulting those with whom he disagrees.

The premise of the piece — that Sabathia won’t win the Cy Young Award because of last night’s game — is a perfectly defensible one. I agree, it almost certainly cost him votes. The premise could have been supported, however, without the ill-informed and mean-spirited swipes at writers who look beyond wins in their assessments. Indeed, it could have been supported without reference to Felix Hernandez at all.  If Parker truly thinks it came down to Sabathia and Price, great, write a column about how Price bested Sabathia. It would have drawn no ire from me.

But he didn’t do that. He decided to go after people. I and many others have been taken to task by mainstream writers for such an approach countless times over the years. Will anyone besides the sabermetrics guys hit Parker for doing the same thing?

I’m not holding my breath.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Good morning. I hope your Memorial Day is safe and meaningful. Here are what sound like some good thoughts about all of that. In the meantime, here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

White Sox 7, Tigers 3: Miguel Gonzalez took a perfect game into the seventh inning as the Chisox take three of four from the Tigers. Many baseball experts think that Memorial Day is the point of the baseball season when the early season mirages begin to dissipate and the shape of the season truly begins to take form. I think the wild card and overall parity has altered that some, pushing the date of baseball reality well into the summer, but it’s worth noting that the White Sox are only two games worse than the Cubs right now and have a better pythagorean record.

Dodgers, 9, Cubs 4: Cody Bellinger and Kiké Hernandez each hit three-run homers as the Dodgers offense compensates for a rare bad Clayton Kershaw start (4.1 IP, 4 R, 11 H, 3 HR). He’s allowed to have a bad day, though, I suppose. Jon Lester‘s was worse (3.1 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 2 HR).

Brewers 9, Diamondbacks 5: That Chicago thing is weird, but how many of you had the Milwaukee Brewers in first place come Memorial Day? They are — 1.5 games up on both the Cards and Cubs. Here Domingo Santana hit his first career grand slam and Jimmy Nelson struck out ten over seven innings.

Yankees 9, Athletics 5: Aaron Judge hit a grand slam and now sits at .321/.422/.679 and is on pace for 55 homers. His minor league track record suggested he’d be good, but I don’t think many folks expected him to be this good this fast. Meanwhile, Michael Pineda picked up his sixth win. He had six wins in all of 2016.

Rangers 3, Blue Jays 1: The Rangers snap a five-game losing streak as Joey Gallo‘s 15th homer broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth. He’s on pace for 48 homers and is hitting .198. That’s not ideal, but I hope he keeps that pace up exactly, mostly because it’ll make people’s heads explode. And by “people,” I mean those color commentators of a certain age who retreat to their fainting couches when players don’t hit the ball the other way, make contact for contact’s sake and think homers kill rallies.

Indians 10, Royals 1: Josh Tomlin tossed a complete game, allowing only one run on six hits. He only struck out three batters too, which goes against everything baseball in the teens is supposed to be about. It was probably a lot of fun to watch. Jason Kipnis went 4-for-4 with a home run and two RBI. He walked too, reaching base in all five plate appearances

Marlins 9, Angels 2: Marlins starter Jose Urena walked six guys in five innings. Struck out seven and got the win too. “That’s more like it,” says teens baseball. Giancarlo Stanton had three hits and a homer and J.T. Riddle homered and drove in three. Meanwhile, Mike Trout sprained his left thumb while stealing second base. X-rays revealed no fracture, but he is set to have an MRI today. If he’s out for a significant amount of time Angels fans can turn their attention to other things for the rest of the summer.

Mariners 5, Red Sox 0: Christian Bergman tossed seven shutout innings, allowing only four hits, to help halt the Red Sox’ six-game winning streak. Not bad considering the the last time he pitched he gave up ten runs on 14 hits. The M’s turned four double plays behind him in the first four innings. Robinson Cano and Guillermo Heredia hit homers.

Padres 5, Nationals 3: On Friday and Saturday the Padres scored only one run and had only six hits while striking out 31 times in losses to Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg. Here they had five runs on fourteen hits. The lesson: it’s better to face Joe Ross than Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg. Probably worth noting that Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy and Matt Wieters were all out of the lineup for Washington.

Reds 8, Phillies 4Patrick Kivlehan hit two solo shots and Adam Duvall hit two two-run dongs. Scott Schebler hit only one homer. Slacker.

Rays 8, Twins 6: Fifteen innings of baseball lasting six hours and twenty-six minutes. Even Longoria and Logan Morrison ended the nonsense in the 15th with a pair of solo homers. Meanwhile, Joe Mauer did something special.

Astros 8, Orioles 4: Baltimore had a 3-0 lead at the end of an inning and a half, but it was all Houston after that. George Springer homered and Marwin Gonzalez and Yuli Gurriel each hit RBI doubles during the Astros’ six-run second inning. The O’s have lost seven straight.

Rockies 8, Cardinals 4Gerardo Parra had three hits, including a three-run homer as the Rockies win their fourth straight and their sixth in eight games. German Marquez got the win. The rookies went 4-1 in May. Overall, Rockies’ rookie starters finish 12-3 in May.

Giants 7, Braves 1: Johnny Cueto‘s blisters didn’t seen to be bothering him yesterday as he allowed one run on six hits and struck out eight over six innings. Brandon Crawford drove in three via a fielder’s choice and a two-run single.

Mets 7, Pirates 2: Matt Harvey allowed one run over six to win his second straight start. Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson each had three hits as the Mets rattled off 14 in all.

Report: Mets ownership backs Terry Collins

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The Mets entered Sunday night’s game against the Pirates with a disappointing 20-27 record. While the club has dealt with a litany of injuries, manager Terry Collins has also drawn criticism for in-game decision-making, particularly regarding his decision-making.

Owner Fred Wilpon is still Collins’ strongest supporter, however, Newsday’s Marc Carig reports. As a result, the team is unlikely to make a managerial change anytime soon. If the Mets continue to struggle, though, ownership may feel pressured to make a change.

Collins became the longest-tenured manager in Mets history last week. Collins managed the Mets to a 77-85 record in 2011 and has overall helped the club go 501-518, winning the NL Pennant in 2015. He is not signed to a contract beyond this season.