What the heck are "pressure starts?"

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I’m not going to re-re-re-rehash the AL Cy Young arguments here, but this thing from the Daily News’ Bill Madden — Spink Award-winning Bill Madden — begs to be highlighted:

The sabermetric guys are making the case for Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, who belies his 13-12 record with a league-leading 2.27 ERA, 249.2
innings, 30 quality starts and, in their jargon a plus-five in
“adjustable pitching wins.” If you simply asked who’s the best pitcher
in baseball? – it would have to be King Felix. But, for this award this
year, we would dare to inject another intangible – pressure starts –
which would then shift the focus to Tampa Bay’s David Price and the Yankees’ CC Sabathia, who can both make the case that every one of their starts was an important one.

I’ve not seen one sabermetric writer base the case for Hernandez on “adjustable pitching wins.” I’ve seen many make their case on oh-so-esoteric concepts like ERA, strikeouts and innings pitched. Run support is about as technical as it has gotten, and baseball fans have understood the concept of run support since, oh, the mid-19th century. To make this a thing about statheads and their “jargon” is ridiculous.

And it’s made even more ridiculous by the fact that Madden himself makes up a stat on the spot: “pressure starts.” What are those? No idea, because Madden doesn’t define them, even if he says that Hernandez is “the victim of having made zero” of them. I dare say that if the “sabermetric guys” just made up a stat like that and used to end the debate, QED, Madden would have a hissy fit. It’s OK when he does it, though.

But of course we know what he’s getting at here: Sabathia and Price play for teams that won a lot of games and they have a lot of wins themselves. Same old argument for wins, just dressed up with a different and — Madden probably hopes — less controversial title.  Which is fine. He’s the Hall of Fame-honored writer. Let him do what he wants in such matters.

I’d just feel better about it all if he could explain how Sabathia and Price’s starts were so pressure-filled, what with both of their teams being all but assured of spots in the playoffs for the past couple of months.

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the exception because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.

Report: Yankees sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal

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Update (12:02 AM EST): Rosenthal adds that Chapman’s contract includes an opt-out clause after three seasons, a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, and a limited no-trade clause for the final two years.

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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Mark Melancon recently set the record for a contract earned by a reliever at $62 million over four years. Chapman blew that out of the water and many are surprised he didn’t fetch more.

Chapman, 28, began the 2016 season with the Yankees but he was traded to the Cubs near the end of July in exchange for four prospects. The Cubs, of course, would go on to win the World Series in large part due to Chapman. The lefty finished the regular season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves, and a 90/18 K/BB ratio in 58 innings between the two teams.

Chapman was the best reliever on the free agent market and, because he was traded midseason, he didn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Yankees don’t seem to be deterred by Chapman’s domestic violence issue from last offseason, resulting in a 30-game suspension to begin the 2016 regular season.