On the American League Cy Young Award debate and open-mindedness…

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“Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.”

Mark Twain wrote that. And now I’m stealing it to head up a blog post about
baseball stats. That’s either really cliche or really stupid. Or
both. Yeah, it’s both.


My name is Drew Silva. I contribute here on Hardball Talk during the
weekends and on a couple of weekday nights. This piece is not about me,
nor is it about my way of thinking. It’s a call for open-mindedness
toward new advancements in the understanding of baseball and new
technologies that help in the evaluation of baseball players.


Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has covered the Indians beat for
over 20 years. He’s seen hundreds of blown saves and plenty of anemic
batting lineups, as has any other beat writer. But on September 11 of
this season he published a column on the Plain Dealer‘s website
that stated:

In pitching, the only thing that really matters is wins.

Hoynes wasn’t taking about team victories. Everybody knows that a team must collect wins in order to reach the playoffs, and then must win in the postseason in order to be awarded the World Series title. That’s obvious. It’s what everybody plays for. But Hoynes wasn’t talking about those kind of wins.

Hoynes was talking about the kind of victories that show up in a pitcher’s win-loss record and he was making reference to this year’s debate about the American League Cy Young Award. Hoynes believes that Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia should be given the highly-coveted hardware because he is a 20-game winner and that Mariners ace Felix Hernandez should be denied the award because he stands 13-12. Hoynes came to this conclusion because he is under the belief that a win, as he writes, is “the most important stat” a pitcher can accumulate.

Hoynes is … well … wrong.

He’s not wrong about Sabathia being deserving of an award — CC is great, and would take the Cy most years with the numbers he’s put up — but Hoynes is wrong about using a win-loss record as a barometer for pitching success. Those “wins” rely too heavily on outside factors.

Hernandez is the ace on a team with a historically pitiful offense. Sabathia pitches on a club with a $200 million payroll and a lineup built to mash. There should be no bias either way. The Cy Young Award, after all, is meant to be given to baseball’s best pitcher. Not the most fortunate.

This all got me thinking — and, whether right or wrong outlet, I tweeted my thoughts:

If the BBWAA’s awards are to be taken seriously, there should be a
requirement that all members understand baseball’s advanced statistics.

Relying on win-loss records as a means for player evaluation is foolish and beyond outdated. A win-loss record might have indicated something about a pitcher back in the 1920s, when starters finished games, but the stat is essentially useless in this modern era of seven-man bullpens and six-inning starts.

My tweet caused a small stir in a pocket of the online baseball writing community. C. Trent Rosecrans of CBSSports.com suggested that I was demanding that all writers think like me. Will Carroll of SI.com and Baseball Prospectus said I was doing myself a “disservice” with my “jihad” on the baseball establishment.

There is no jihad, and I couldn’t care less about hurting my reputation in the eyes of national baseball writers who still rely on win-loss records for a means of handing out Cy Young Awards. I’ve never written for the pursuit of fame and I didn’t start following baseball as a toddler with an eye on turning it into a career path. I started following baseball because my Dad taught me to revere Cal Ripken Jr. And because I thought Ken Griffey Jr. had the sweetest swing. And because, as a St. Louisan, Albert Pujols shaped my summers. Then Matthew Pouliot, Gregg Rosenthal and Aaron Gleeman asked me to write about baseball for Rotoworld and Tim Dierkes asked me to contribute at MLB Trade Rumors.

So I dug in. I gathered all possible knowledge — all possible data — on the game of baseball and will continue to do so until someone decides that I’m not cut out for it.

But, again, this is not about me or my way of thinking. In fact, it has nothing to do with who I am or what I’m about. This is a request that writers, who are paid to cover baseball, begin to embrace advancements in the understanding of their sport. Especially when it comes to evaluating players for the purpose of handing out awards. What I’m asking for is open-mindedness and a couple of hours of reading, really.

Want a stat that tells you more about a pitcher than a win-loss record? ERA, WHIP and K/BB ratio are a fine starting point and can all be computed in about a second. But why stop there? Why not bring in all possible data? FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is an ERA estimator that aims to keep pitchers from being punished by bad defense. Even better is xFIP, which takes into account the size of different ballparks and normalizes home run rates. WAR (Wins Above Replacement) spits out a simple number that expresses a player’s value in terms of wins. King Felix has a 6.4 WAR this season, meaning he’s meant 6.4 more wins to the Mariners than a run-of-the-mill starter. He ranks third among all major league pitchers in WAR, behind only the Phillies’ Roy Halladay and the Rangers’ Cliff Lee.

The formulas behind those more advanced stats involve some fairly complicated math, but nobody is asking for elaborate computations on the part of writers. That’s what a site like FanGraphs is for. Or Baseball-Reference. These numbers are readily available to the masses and yet some baseball writers and award-voters are choosing to ignore
them. Which brings me to my next tweet
:

It’s hard to understand why developing a better understanding of new
technology, new ideas would be seen as a negative. In any field. Ever.

Writers that prefer to avoid advanced baseball statistics often revert to calling those that do “statheads,” or “nerds,” or “geeks.” ESPN.com’s Rob Parker did it last week. Will Carroll did the same. While hardly offensive, name-calling stunts civil discourse. And last I checked, nerdy is rarely a bad thing once a person steps outside the halls of high school.

Why are a number of national and local baseball writers opting to ignore tools that aid in the evaluation of players? Some have suggested that it’s about a fear of math. Some think it’s intellectual laziness. Others have suggested that embracing new data would be seen as a form of selling-out by the old guard in the world of baseball journalism.

To me, this debate has become far too polarized. There’s no need to term this a clashing of belief systems and no need for politics to play a role because new data and new technologies need only to be seen as a positive. A dose of open-mindedness toward advanced baseball statistics and a willingness for progress is what this industry needs badly.

Then we have the issue of fan involvement, or, as Will Carroll calls it, “marketability.”

Carroll, who I respect and read often, suggested in a post on Press Coverage last week that stats like OPS and WAR bear little merit because they aren’t properly designed for mass consumption. 99% of baseball fans, as he says, don’t care about such metrics.

But here’s my question: why should they? Fans are allowed to view the game and follow the game as they please, because it’s not their job. Nobody is relying on Joe Cubs Fan to determine baseball’s Most Valuable Player or baseball’s top pitcher.

All of my friends are baseball fans, big baseball fans. But I don’t think any of them care enough about the sport to read up on WAR or Ultimate Zone Rating or something like xFIP. And that’s their prerogative, because they are not paid to write about baseball and are not asked to hand out awards that often mean big-money bonuses to the winners and shape the legacy of the game.

One last thing. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus suggested during this debate that we should all “stop caring about the awards so much” because the system is flawed and because the “concept of value or best is subjective.” He’s right about that second part.  Voting is always going to be left up to a select group of people and they have their own biases. But why is it so appalling to ask those voters to consider new data? Better data. Then the system might not be so flawed and then we might see votes that aren’t based on win-loss records.

As for the “stop caring” part, I heartily say NO. I won’t stop caring. Baseball fans and baseball writers shouldn’t have to. Because this industry can do better.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

White Sox 8, Red Sox 7: Sox win! Chicago led by three in the seventh, blew that by the bottom of the eighth, but José Abreu hit a two-run jack in the top of the ninth to bring the White Sox back. The foundation of the win was the White Sox pouncing on Chris Sale for five runs in the first three innings. He struck out ten and only walked one, but when he wasn’t missing bats he wasn’t missing bats. Sale is still one of the best pitchers in the game but he hasn’t won at home in almost a year. “For some reason, I suck here,” he said after the game. Relatable. To any number of situations in basically of our lives.

Yankees 8, Blue Jays 7: The Jays jumped out to a 5-0 lead but there really isn’t any safe lead against the Yankees this year. Didi Gregorius homered in the second, Aaron Judge singled in a couple in the second as well and D.J. LeMahieu hit a two-run homer to tie things up at five in the fourth. It was tied up at seven by the bottom of the ninth and Gleyber Torres hit a walkoff single to win it for the Bombers. Lourdes Gurriel Jr hit two homers and a double in a losing cause.

The Yankees and Red Sox now head off to London. Blimey, cor, wot’s all this, then, etc.

Indians 5, Royals 3: Trevor Bauer finally had a great day after a couple of months of struggling, striking out 12 while allowing one run into the seventh. He didn’t even allow a hit until the fifth. Jake Bauers and Tyler Naquin homered in support. Francisco Lindor was 3-for-4 and Jason KipnisOscar Mercado and Jordan Luplow each drove in a run. Hunter Dozier hit a ninth inning grand slam on Tuesday. He struck out four times in four at bats here. Baseball is just the worst, you guys, right?

Padres 10, Orioles 5: Franmil Reyes hit two homers. The Padres hit five in all, with Eric Hosmer, Greg Garcia, and Hunter Renfroe going deep as well. This was the tenth time this year the Orioles have allowed five homers in a game. They’ve now allowed 165 homers on the year in 80 games. The 1970 Orioles allowed 125 all year long. Just sayin’.

Diamondbacks 8, Dodgers 2: Arizona was facing off against Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin, who was making his big league debut and jumped out to a 4-0 lead, so, yeah. A three-run homer from Eduardo Escobar paced things in the first and the Snakes would never trail. Jarrod Dyson had three hits, knocked in a run and stole two bases. Russell Martin pitched in this one. Tossed a scoreless eighth, actually, and struck a dude out.

Rockies 6, Giants 3: The Giants jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first but David Dahl hit a grand slam in the third and drove in five in all. Man of the match, right? Is that a thing we have in baseball? We should have that.

Rangers 4, Tigers 1: Mike Minor tossed a complete game allowing on run on five hits and needed only 108 pitches to do the job. Homers from Willie Calhoun, Danny Santana and Jeff Mathis backed him up. The game only took two hours and nineteen minutes. I’d say the Tigers had a plane to catch or something but they’re just playing the Rangers again today. Maybe they all had early reservations at Sammy Sofferin’s Wonder Bar and Indian Room. I hear that Latin troupe extraordinaire, the La Playa Dancers, led by the exotically beautiful Grace Conrad often play on Wednesday nights. Get there early, get a seat by the stage, fill up on Shrimp a la Powhatan and you’re living, buddy.

Phillies 5, Mets 4: Jason Vargas pitched great, giving up only one run to the Phillies for the first six innings, but he ran into trouble in the seventh. That’s when he gave up a second run and left, having struck out ten. Seth Lugo came on in relief and gave up a two more runs, and bing-bang-boom, tied at four, which is how it’d end in regulation. Stephen Nogosek came on to handle the 10th inning but couldn’t record an out, giving up a walk, a single and then a walkoff double to Jay Bruce to end the game. If you wanna feel bad for Vargas for having such a great start blown by his pen, know that a few days later he’s still trying to justify threatening a reporter with violence. Here’s what he said after last night’s game:

“I don’t think all the information is really out there. I don’t think this is a time to get into that. But I think that anybody that knows me, anybody that has played with me, there’s never been a situation like that. So to think it happened out of the blue, it’s foolish . . . “It’s over. Our organization made a statement. We put an end to it. But I think it’s pretty obvious all the info isn’t out there.”

Whatever, my man.

The Mets have lost four in a row. Philly’s seven-game losing streak is now way back in the rear-view mirror, with three straight wins over the Mets.

Angels 5, Reds 1: Yasiel Puig and Justin Bour exchanged solo sots to make it a 1-1 game until the eighth inning. The the Halos scored one more before Bour homered again, this time a three-run blast to give him a four-RBI night and to give the Angels a win. Bour has four homers in five games since being recalled from Salt Lake. You might say he’s really enjoyed the spotlight since being recalled:

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Nationals 7, Marlins 5: It was close until the sixth when Matt Adams hit a three-run blast to make it 4-1. The Nats added three more in the ninth, with runs coming on a wild pitch, a passed ball and a sac fly. They all count. And two of those runs were needed as the Marlins made it interesting with a four-run ninth inning rally of their own, with Bryan Holaday singling in a run and Curtis Granderson tripling with the bases loaded. The old man is still an artist with a Thompson.

Athletics 2, Cardinals 0: Daniel Mengden and his old-timey delivery stymied the Cards for six innings and three relievers finished the five-hit shutout. Beau Taylor and Matt Chapman went deep for Oakland. St. Louis has been shut out six times this season. Three of them have come in the last 14 games.

Mariners 4, Brewers 2: J.P. Crawford drove in three of the M’s four runs and scored the fourth, notching two RBI doubles and an RBI triple. Wade LeBlanc allowed two runs after coming in following an opener and the opener and two other relievers shut Milwaukee out. That’s three straight wins for Seattle.

Braves 5, Cubs 3: Atlanta took a 4-0 lead off of Yu Darvish early thanks to a wild pitch, a Brian McCann solo shot and a Nick Markakis three-run homer. Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant homered for Chicago and they’d add a third run on a Jason Heyward ground out, but otherwise Dallas Keuchel was solid — more solid before a 48 minute rain delay in the fourth than he was upon resuming the game after — and picked up his first win of 2019.

Pirates 14, Astros 2: It was 8-2 heading into the ninth when A.J. Hinch sent first baseman Tyler White to the mound. Sometimes those position players pitching do an OK job mopping up. White did not, allowing six runs on four hits — two of ’em dingers — while walking four. Every team has eleventeen relief pitchers but they’re all drag racers instead of horses and so none of ’em can go more than an inning, leading to silliness like this. Great game we got going right now, eh? Anyway, Josh Bell, Jung-Ho Kang, José Osuna and Kevin Newman homered and Corey Dickerson had four hits and three RBI. 

Twins 6, Rays 4: Minnesota jumped out to a 3-0 lead, had blown it by the seventh to trail 4-3 but then Nelson Cruz hit a go-ahead, three-run, two-out double in the seventh to give the Twins the win. The Rays have lost seven of nine.