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


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.

Blue Jays add Ryan Tepera to ALDS roster in place of injured Brett Cecil

Toronto Blue Jays' closer Brett Cecil, left, is helped off the field by trainer George Poulas after getting injured during the eighth inning in Game 2 of baseballs American League Division Series in Toronto on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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The Blue Jays removed reliever Brett Cecil from their ALDS roster on Saturday, one day after he suffered a “significant” tear of his left calf muscle. Ryan Tepera has been added to take his place in Toronto’s bullpen.

Cecil suffered the injury while tagging Mike Napoli in a rundown in Game 2 on Friday. Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports that the injury won’t require surgery, but he’s done for the remainder of the postseason.

Cecil hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last 37 appearances dating back to June, so this is a huge loss. His absence leaves Aaron Loup as the lone lefty in Toronto’s bullpen. Tepera had a solid 3.27 ERA and 22/6 K/BB ratio in 33 innings during the regular season. While it was a small sample, he actually had more success against left-handed batters than right-handed batters.

Cal Ripken, Jr. says he’d “answer the phone” if the Nationals come calling

Former Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken, Jr., acknowledges fans before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to mark the twentieth anniversary of his streak of 2,131 straight games before a baseball game between the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Hall of Famer and Orioles legend Cal Ripken, Jr. was a guest on “The Rich Eisen Show” on Friday and naturally he was asked about the managerial opening with the Nationals, a job he was connected to as recently as 2013. Per Chase Hughes of CSNMA.com, Ripken said he’d be interested if the opportunity presented itself.

“I’d answer the phone,” he said on ‘The Rich Eisen Show.’ “Everybody wants a phone call like that.”

Matt Williams was fired by the Nationals this week after two seasons on the job. While he won NL Manager of the Year honors in his first season at the helm, he reportedly lost the clubhouse this year en route to a disappointing 83-79 record.

Williams had no previous managerial experience prior to being hired. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said this week that he would prioritize experience during his search, a factor which could impact Ripken’s chances of getting the job. Ripken acknowledged that he sees how it could be perceived a “risk,” but he still thinks he can manage at the major league level:

“The baseball background that I have — you’re a student of the game — there’s a lot said about experience or lack of experience in managers coming through. To me, it’s all about your philosophy — how you handle things, what you’re going to do. And then it’s being able to apply it.

“I haven’t had a chance to apply that, so no one knows. So that would be a risk, I suppose. I’m in the business world now and all the time, it seems like I’m asking for experts to come around and tell me what to do because I don’t have that background to fall back on. But in baseball, I have that background to fall back on and I would know how to deal with whatever situations there because I’ve seen it.”

Ripken has a good relationship with Rizzo and he’s obviously an icon in the Mid-Atlantic area, so you can understand the appeal, but there’s going to be plenty of competition for this job. After all, on talent alone, it’s not hard to envision them vaulting back to the top of the National League East next season.

James Wagner of the Washington Post reports that former Padres manager Bud Black has a “strong case” to land the job. Meanwhile, the Nationals have requested an interview with Diamondbacks Triple-A manager Phil Nevin.

NLDS, Game 2: Cubs vs. Cardinals lineups

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jaime Garcia throws in the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Here are the Cubs and Cardinals lineups for Game 2 of the NLDS. First pitch is scheduled for 5:37 p.m. ET in St. Louis:

CF Dexter Fowler
RF Jorge Soler
3B Kris Bryant
1B Anthony Rizzo
2B Starlin Castro
LF Austin Jackson
C Miguel Montero
SP Kyle Hendricks
SS Addison Russell

Cubs manager Joe Maddon has made a number of changes with a left-hander on the mound for St. Louis. Jorge Soler will start in right field and bat second base while Kyle Schwarber is on the bench. Meanwhile, Austin Jackson will start over Chris Coghlan in left field. Miguel Montero is behind the plate after David Ross caught Jon Lester in Game 1 on Friday. Finally, Kyle Hendricks will bat eighth while Addison Russell will hit ninth, which he did often during the regular season.

3B Matt Carpenter
RF Stephen Piscotty
LF Matt Holliday
CF Jason Heyward
SS Jhonny Peralta
1B Brandon Moss
C Yadier Molina
2B Kolten Wong
SP Jaime Garcia

The Cardinals’ lineup isn’t much different from Game 1 against left-hander Jon Lester, but there is one notable change with a right-hander on the mound. Randal Grichuk is out while Brandon Moss is in. Stephen Piscotty played first base in Game 1, but he’ll be in right field this afternoon. This means that Moss will start at first base. Yadier Molina reported no issues with his thumb in Game 1 and is right back in there to catch Garcia.