Kill the win? Nah, let’s just reduce its importance

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So I’m reading the latest Jon Heyman column and I’m finding myself agreeing with him more than I am with people coming at the issue he’s discussing from a sabermetric point of view. And I wasn’t even hit on the head this morning or anything.

The topic: the Kill The Win campaign Brian Kenny has been waging at MLB Network and on his NBC Sports Radio show. You’ve probably seen or heard some of it. Basically Kenny is crusading to kill pitcher wins as a stat. Now, I’m not sure that he really wants to eliminate the pitcher win. I suspect this is more about conscious rhetorical overstatement in order to shock people into looking at the issue more thoughtfully. Like, Kenny is at 11 in order to get people up to a 5. It makes sense, as do Kenny’s underlying arguments about why the win stat is misleading and way less useful than people tend to think. We’ve been talking about that for years here, of course.

But to the extent this is actually about killing the win — or to the extent people take the baton from Kenny and make extreme arguments about wins being utterly meaningless — I’m more on Heyman’s side of things. Heyman, you may not realize, is actually pretty sensible about pitcher wins. He voted for Felix Hernandez for the Cy Young a few years ago despite the low win totals. He understands that strikeouts and baserunners and stuff matter more than wins. This thinking somehow disappears when he starts talking about Jack Morris and the Hall of Fame but he’s no Hawk Harrellson or Harold Reynolds about these things.

I don’t value wins too much in pitcher analysis, but I don’t think they’re utterly meaningless. For me they’re attention-getters more than anything. When I’m looking through stats from past decades and I see pitchers with big win totals I tend to want to look more deeply at their stat lines to see what kind of season they really had. If I see pitchers who I know (or heard) were good, I notice low win totals and look at their teammates and strikeouts and unearned run totals and things.  I use wins as a signpost, and I’m glad they’re there for those purposes. Growing up in the 70s and 80s wins were much talked about and no matter how much my thinking has advanced, I still key on them some. Having them around is like having the common phrases page in the back of your guidebook while traveling in a foreign country.

Also: wins are fun to talk about outside of analysis. As are bunts and batting average. I like having them around for that kind of fun and I like talking about them as long as people don’t mistake the fun talk for meaningful analytical talk. It’d be a real bummer if those stats disappeared simply because we don’t use them the way we used to.

Ultimately all of this may turn on how you feel about revolutions in general. I’m kind of a cautious guy with small-c conservative tendencies. I’m pro-change and advancement and think science and math and change and the future are wonderful things that we should embrace and not fear.  But I am wary of rhetorical extremes and ideas which posit that the past is crap and must be abandoned if we are to advance.

Kill the win? Nah. Just reduce it’s significance. And keep it around like we keep around record players and manual typewriters and stuff. They’re neat.

Nationals activate Stephen Strasburg off the disabled list

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The Nationals officially activated Stephen Strasburg off the 10-day disabled list, the team announced Saturday. They’ll pencil him into the starting lineup for their second set against the Padres on Saturday night. Strasburg is expected to assume Max Scherzer‘s roster spot after Scherzer landed on the disabled list with neck inflammation prior to Friday’s series opener. No other roster moves appear to be necessary for the time being.

Strasburg, 28, is finally looking stable after serving a 26-day stint on the DL with a right elbow nerve impingement. It’s the first serious injury he’s sustained since last August, when he missed 20 days with inflammation in his right elbow, and one the Nationals are taking seriously as they juggle multiple stints for their elite starters. He’ll enter Saturday’s competition with a 10-3 record in 20 starts, supplemented by a 3.25 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 10.4 SO/9 through 121 2/3 innings.

Elbow issues are nothing to be played around with, but Strasburg’s performance in his lone rehab outing relieved any residual apprehension the Nats might have had about his activation this weekend. He tossed 66 pitches for High-A Potomac, hitting 95 MPH with his heater and logging three hits, one run, one walk and five strikeouts over five innings. Club manager Dusty Baker is hoping for a similarly dominant start against the Padres, and told reporters that he’ll hold Strasburg to a performance count as the righty works his way back to a full-time gig.

MLB umpires will wear white wristbands to protest “escalating verbal attacks”

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The World Umpires Association is dissatisfied with the punishment meted out to Tigers’ second baseman Ian Kinsler following his lengthy criticism of MLB umpire Angel Hernandez on Tuesday. Kinsler’s comments were sparked by a confrontation on Monday night, when the infielder was ejected after arguing balls and strikes with Hernandez in the fifth inning.

“It has to do with changing the game. He’s changing the game. He needs to find another job, he really does,” Kinsler told reporters. “Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore. No one in this game wants you behind the plate any more, none of the players.”

Kinsler was fined an undisclosed amount for the remarks, but did not receive a suspension. Hernandez, meanwhile, returned to cover second base the next day and appeared to resolve the conflict with a brief conversation and a handshake.

Whether or not the comments speak to underlying truths about Major League Baseball’s flawed umpiring system, they clearly got under the skin of the World Umpires Association. The union released a statement Saturday condemning Major League Baseball for choosing to overlook the “escalating attacks” on the men in blue:

This week, a player publicly and harshly impugned the character and integrity of Angel Hernandez – a veteran umpire who has dedicated his career to baseball and the community. The verbal attack on Angel denigrated the entire MLB umpiring staff and is unacceptable.

The Office of the Commissioner has failed to address this and other escalating attacks on umpires. The player who denigrated Hernandez publicly said he thought he would be suspended. Instead got far more lenient treatment – a fine. He shrugged that off and told reporters he has ‘no regrets’ about his offensive statements calling for an end to Hernandez’s career.

The Office of the Commissioner’s lenient treatment to abusive player behavior sends the wrong message to players and managers. It’s ‘open season’ on umpires, and that’s bad for the game.

We are held accountable for our performance at every game. Our most important duty is to protect the integrity of the game, and we will continue to do that job every day. But the Office of the Commissioner must protect our integrity when we are unfairly attacked simply for doing our jobs.

Starting Saturday, umpires will don white wristbands in protest of the Commissioner’s lack of support, and will continue to do so until their concerns are addressed.

Kinsler’s comments may have been in poor taste, but given the established in-game ramifications for challenging an umpire’s decisions, it’s difficult to tell where the union wants MLB to start drawing the line. If players already face ejections for questioning the parameters of a strike zone (often immediate ones, without any room for a productive or non-confrontational discussion), it seems unfair to hit them with suspensions for venting their frustrations after the game. Until Major League Baseball finds a way to start automating calls, however, the “human element” of the game will continue to pose problems for players and umpires alike.