"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: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mets 6, Nationals 1: Max Scherzer tossed six shutout innings and the pen blanked the Nats in the seventh, but Washington clung to only a 1-0 lead thanks to an almost-as-good start from Jacob deGrom. In the eighth, Dave Martinez called on Kyle Barraclough to hold things down. He got two out but also put two runners on, so Martinez called on Sean Doolittle to get a four-out save in a tight game. Tough order, but Doolittle’s good. Usually.

Doolittle hit the first batter he faced to load the bases, gave up a bases-clearing double to Juan Lagares, intentionally walked a guy and then gave up a three-run jack to Rajai Davis. The best part: Davis was just called up the Mets mere hours before. Hell, he had already taken batting practice for Syracuse, who was playing at Lehigh Valley. He took an Uber to New York, got there by the third inning, got lost and was finally suited up not long before entering the game as a pinch hitter.

As I wrote once upon a time, an essential part of living life is dealing with stuff when you’re basically unprepared. When you’re just thrown into a situation for which you didn’t have time or opportunity to gear up. Here’s a salute to Rajai Davis, who may not have been prepared to face a big league pitcher in a big league stadium when he woke up yesterday morning but who rose to the occasion because, really, what else can you do?

Cubs 8, Phillies 4: Cole Hamels took on the Phillies for the first time but, more importantly, he took on Cole Irvin in what I’m going to assume was a “Highlander” situation. Hamels didn’t pitch that well or get the win but he did a lot better than Irvin, so I assume Irvin’s head was cut off. There can only be one. Albert Almora Jr. hit a grand slam. Anthony Rizzo hit a three-run bomb to help the Cubs get out of an early hole. Let’s call it a Cole hole.

[Ed. — Let’s not]

White Sox 9, Astros 4: Not a great night for Coles. The White Sox beat up on Cole, Gerrit for six runs on seven hits. Eloy Jiménez hit two homers in this one and the Chisox even turned a triple play. A good one, too! Around-the-horn, bang-bang-bang, not one of those janky “baserunner screwed up and stood in the baseline as a guy caught a pop fly, stepped on the bag, and tagged out the confused runner” things. Watch:

Brewers 11, Reds 9: Zach Davies, with a 1.54 ERA, faced off against Luis Castillo, owner of a 1.90 ERA. So naturally 20 runs were scored. The Reds led 6-1 and blew it, then led 8-6 and blew it before the Brewers pulled away. The 8-6 lead went away when Yasmani Grandal hit a two-run homer to tie it. He also started a double play when, with the bases loaded, a strikeout pitch got past him but ricocheted right back to him. The guy on first took off but no one else did because they saw the ricochet. Grandal threw down to first to retire the struck out batter then the Brewers got the baserunner out in a rundown. Just how they drew it up.

Yankees 7, Orioles 5: The Bombers hit five more homers against an Orioles pitching staff that is going to do some ghastly things to the record books before this season is out. Thairo Estrada, D.J. LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres went deep in the first three innings go give New York a 5-0 lead. Gary Sánchez homered in the fourth to make it 6-1 and Torres homered again in the fifth to make it 7-2. Sánchez has homered in three straight games. Torres has 12 homers on the year. Ten of them have come against the Orioles.

Red Sox 6, Blue Jays 5: This thirteen-inning game ended twenty minutes before midnight. Today they get started at 12:37PM. Look for some super crisp play from the Sox and Jays today! Here Michael Chavis hit a tiebreaking homer in the 13th inning to give Boston the win. Rafael Devers homered earlier for his third blast in as many games. That gave Boston a lead that Marcus Walden could not hold thanks to a ninth inning rally from Toronto that made everyone stay up late. Meanwhile, Craig Kimbrel was, I imagine, tucked into bed back wherever he calls home and will be a fresh as a daisy this morning.

Athletics 7, Indians 2: Jefry Rodríguez didn’t fool A’s batters, who touched him for five runs in four innings while Frankie Montas blanked the tribe for six while striking out nine. Mark Canha homered and drove in three and Nick Hundley on a three-hit day as the A’s won their sixth game in a row and took their 10th of 14 overall.

Royals 8, Cardinals 2; Cardinals 10, Royals 3: New rule idea: when teams split a doubleheader the team which outscores the other in the aggregate gets some sort of bonus in the standings. So, here, since the Cards “beat” the Royals 12-11, each team gets one win and the Cards get, um, a point on top. Wait, that would require some sort of hockey-style points system too. OK, we can work with that. It might require some more changes. Like, when you lose a getaway day game in under two and a half hours, you lose a point as a “phoning it in tax.” There are all kinds of variations we can come up with here. Let’s blow this dang game up!

Oh, here: Brad Keller tossed two-hit, two-run baseball and the Royals — boosted by a Jorge Soler three-run homer — beat up on Michael Wacha in the first game. In the second game Homer Bailey got shelled, failing to make it out of the second inning, while Marcell Ozuna, Matt Carpenter, Dexter Fowler and Kolton Wong all went deep. Adam Wainwright was shaky but John GantAndrew MillerCarlos Martinez and John Brebbia combined for four innings of scoreless relief to disabuse Kansas City of any notions of a comeback.

Rockies 9, Pirates 3: For the second time in a couple of weeks Josh Bell hit a homer into the Allegheny River on the fly. That was nice but, at least until my points-system rules changes come into effect which would provide Bell a “cool factor” bonus, it was just a solo shot. Meanwhile, Rockies batters Daniel Murphy and Tony Wolters each hit three-run homers in the early going. Rockies starter Jon Gray allowed three runs and seven hits with seven strikeouts in seven innings. One of those strikeouts was of Bell, on three pitches no less, in his next plate appearance after the splash homer. That would take a half point away, by the way.

Rangers 2, Mariners 1: The sweep. And the seventh win in eight games for Texas. Hunter Pence homered. Seattle is now in last place where most people expected them to be. That opening series in Japan seems like a thousand years ago.

Padres 5, Diamondbacks 2: Eric Lauer allowed one run on four hits over seven frames Eric Hosmer drove in a couple. Kirby Yates got his 20th save of the year. That’s a 65-save pace for a team that’s just above .500.

Rays 8, Dodgers 1: A couple of solo homers had this one tied at one entering the bottom of the seventh, with Dylan Floro taking over for the Dodgers to start the inning. He hit guy, gave up two straight singles, then a homer and just like that L.A. was down 5-1. The homer — a three-run shot — came from Avisail García and chased Floro. Caleb Ferguson then came in, walked a guy, struck out two, then hit a guy and surrendered a three-run bomb to Kevin Kiermaier. Not what you want out of your bullpen.

Marlins 6, Tigers 3: The Marlins were down 3-0 entering the sixth before coming back. Brian Anderson hit a two-run shot for Miami, Neil Walker doubled in a couple and Garrett Cooper hit his first career homer to power the comeback. That’s five straight wins for the Fish. Eight straight losses for the Tigers, whose early season friskiness has long since passed.

Braves 9, Giants 2: Jeff Samardzija allowed six unearned runs but, as we said the other day, not all unearned runs are created equally. He put a couple of guys on and the would-be out number three of the inning was postponed due to an error, but before it was finally recorded he gave up a run on a wild pitch and coughed up homers to Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman. So, yeah, take that “unearned” stuff with a grain of salt. The Giants couldn’t do much against Max Fried, who allowed two over six, and nothing against the Atlanta pen which tossed two shutout innings.

Twins vs. Angels — POSTPONED:

Got on board a westbound seven forty-seven
Didn’t think before deciding what to do
Oh, that talk of opportunities, TV breaks and movies
Rang true, sure rang true
Seems it never rains in southern California
Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya?
It pours, man, it pours