It’s AL Cy Young day: Let’s get ready to rumble

37 Comments

A lot of us went nutso with our Felix Hernandez vs. CC Sabathia vs. David Price Cy Young arguments back in September. Then the playoffs happened and we got distracted for a while. But today, at 2PM Eastern, the Baseball Writers Association of America is going to name the winner of the AL Cy Young Award, and the argument will be reinvigorated.

Viva chaos!

For those of you who are sane and didn’t obsess on all of this a couple of months ago, here’s the tale of the tape:

  • Felix Hernandez:  He led the league in ERA and innings pitched, held opponents to a league-low batting average, finished second with 232 strikeouts and third with six shutouts. Many more sophisticated pitching metrics also favor Hernandez over all other American League starters. Because the Mariners had the worst offense since the advent of the Designated Hitter, however, Hernandez had the worst run support in the American League and ended up winning only 13 games.
  • CC Sabathia: Finished behind Hernandez in every significant pitching category except one — wins — in which he led the league with 21. In contrast to Hernandez, Sabathia enjoyed more run support than nearly every other pitcher in the American League.
  • David Price: Like Sabathia, Price was inferior to Hernandez in every important statistical category other than wins. Price also had fewer innings and wins than Sabathia, but had a better ERA and a slightly better strikeout rate. He allowed virtually the same number of baserunners per inning as Sabathia. He too enjoyed far better run support than did Hernandez.

While the debate about which of these gentlemen should win the award has been protayed as a battle between stat geeks and traditionalists with all of the usual name-calling that entails, there haven’t been many people making complex statistical arguments in Hernandez’s favor.  That is, unless you consider ERA, strikeouts, innings pitched and run support to be complex statistics.  Which would be ridiculous, frankly, because those are statistics even the most crusty of old school writers are quite capable of understanding and using, and they do so often.

But not here. In this case, those who don’t support Felix Hernandez have abandoned even those measures they typically use to judge a pitcher’s merits, and have focused on a single metric: wins.  As in, CC Sabathia and David Price have more, ergo they’re the better pitchers. As in, even if we all agree that Felix Hernandez was the best pitcher this year, he only had 13 wins, and you can’t win a Cy Young with 13 wins, can you?  Such arguments, while highly annoying to me on the level of analysis, are quite amusing to me on another level: it’s usually the traditionalists who deride the sabermetric guys for focusing on a single statistic and claiming that it settles all arguments. Here they’re the ones doing it. How delicious.

But for all of the vitriol that has been exchanged in the run-up to this award — and will continue to be exchanged after the winner is announced — I have this gut feeling that the actual voting results won’t be terribly close or controversial.  The loudest and most idiotic voices in this debate are not actually voting on it.  And among those in the know, there is a sense that the real voters actually favor Hernandez.  I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he wins it relatively comfortably.

But no matter who wins, I predict a 99.3% likelihood of partisans on both sides of the debate saying ridiculous things afterward, and that will totally make it worth it.

The day Giancarlo Stanton became a “True Yankee”

Getty Images
6 Comments

Personally, I would’ve assumed that the day Giancarlo Stanton became a “True Yankee” was when the Yankees traded for him, thereby willingly incurring a legal obligation to pay him hundreds of millions of dollars and pencil him in the lineup until his knees fell off and, probably, for some time after. That, however, is not how things go with the New York Yankees.

The Yankees can trade for you, but that does not make you a “True Yankee.” They can sign you to a nine-figure deal in free agency, but your signature on the contract is not your “signature Yankee moment.” They can draft you, develop you for six years and play you for another three and you still may not have enough time and accomplishments under your belt to be anything other than, more or less, a probationary employee.

No, to be a “True Yankee” you have to be declared so by the media after doing something neat like hitting a big home run like Stanton did last night to lead the Yankees to victory over the Mariners. Until then — until you become the hero of a Wednesday night game in June, I guess — you’re suspect. After that, well . . .

And:


And:

Seeing these headlines and the many other stories and tweets with references to Stanton’s newfound “True Yankee”-dom makes me wonder when, say, Jonathan Villar, became a “True Brewer” or when Daniel Descalso will deliver his “Signature Diamondback Moment.” I’m sure someone will tell us.

Haha, just kidding. No other team does that. Probably because no other team likes to stoke its own mystique like the Yankees do. They have always done this to some degree — and given the franchise’s success, they are allowed a bit more leeway to boast than other ones are — but I blame George Steinbrenner for taking this to silly levels.

Big Stein was the first owner to really take advantage of free agency, but that also made him the first owner to stigmatize the players he signed as somehow owing the team more than any other player for their having accepted a big paycheck. For having to prove themselves in ways other players didn’t. He famously did this with Dave Winfield, contrasting him poorly with Reggie Jackson, who had proven himself in ways that made Steinbrenner happy. He never really did this with homegrown Yankees players. It was like a parent being partial to their natural child and cold to the adopted one.

Steinbrenner also built up the level of expectations for Yankees players — all of them — beyond reason. I think it was in the late 90s that he started up with that “anything less than a World Series title is failure” jazz. I question whether that was motivational to highly-trained and already motivated baseball players, but it was certainly good for building the Yankees brand. The idea that you’re not a “True Yankee” — which I seem to first remember being a sticking point with Jason Giambi — is a logical extension of that. While it may not be the best way to run an organization it is, as a matter of brand-building, pretty effective to portray your team as having higher expectations and something of an initiation period for its players. It’s a way of making fans feel like the club and the players they root for are a level above everyone else.

Of course, George Steinbrenner was George Steinbrenner, and being sorta crazy and sorta unfair and working overtime to build the Yankees brand was what made him The Boss. It was literally his job to do that kind of thing, so let’s not be too hard on him. I get why he did it that way.

I do wonder why, however, the media tasked with covering the Yankees has so eagerly taken up the job of Yankees brand-building like that. Wherever Big Stein is today, he’s likely beyond caring about things like money, but I bet he’s still probably pretty happy with all of the free P.R. work his team continues to get, long after he shuffled off this planet and became an immortal Yankee.

Wait. I’ve gotta talk to a trademark lawyer, stat.