Some pretty startling stuff from Joe Posnanski today, who was snooping around in the stats, looking at what percentage of games teams win when they have ninth inning leads. He figured — as I would have — that due to bullpen specialization and the advent of the fireballing closer, teams held on to such leads far more often now than they used to. Nope:
The truth is that all the bullpen advances have had ABSOLUTELY ZERO EFFECT on how much more often teams win games they’re leading in the ninth inning. Zero. Nada. Zilch. The ol’ bagel.
Teams won 95.5% of their ninth-inning leads in 2010. Teams won 95.5% of their ninth-inning leads in 1952.
Pretty astonishing. That stat has rarely changed. What’s more, Posnanski finds that even having Marinao Rivera or Dennis Eckersley doesn’t change the equation that much.
Which isn’t to say that a team could just chuck their closers right now and be done with it. The entire pitching staff has been bent over time in order to make room for one inning specialists. Teams couldn’t simply go back to 1952-style pitcher usage, because they don’t have 1952-style pitchers. And it’s possible — though I’m not sure how one would research it — that the change in pitcher usage has led to fewer pitcher injuries because more guys are carrying the load. I’m not sure that’s even knowable, actually, because of the way we classified injuries 40 and 50 years ago compared to the way we do today. Guys who just pitched poorly back then may be on the DL today because we realize, hey, torn labrum.
But this data certainly suggests that closers have accomplished basically one thing since their creation: they’ve managed to get teams to pay closers a lot of money.
In 2016, Red Sox starter Rick Porcello narrowly and controversially eked ahead of then-Tigers starter Justin Verlander in Cy Young Award balloting, winning on points 137 to 132. Verlander was not included at all in the top-five of two ballots, both coincidentally belonging to writers from the Tampa Bay chapter, MLB.com’s Bill Chastain and Fred Goodall of the Associated Press. Verlander had more first-place votes than Porcello, but being left out of the top-five on two ballots was the difference maker.
In the aftermath, Verlander’s then-fiancée Kate Upton fired off some angry tweets, as did Justin’s brother Ben.
Verlander was again in the running for the 2018 AL Cy Young Award. He again finished in second place, this time behind Blake Snell of the Rays. Snell had 17 first-place votes and 169 total points to Verlander’s 13 and 154. There weren’t any ballots that made a big difference like in 2016, but there were two odd ballots from the Tampa Bay chapter again.
If a chapter doesn’t have enough eligible voters, a voter from another chapter is chosen to represent that city. This year, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News was a replacement voter along with Mark Didtler, a freelancer for the Associated Press. Both writers voted for Snell in first place, reasonably. But neither writer put Verlander second, less reasonably, putting Corey Kluber there instead. Madden actually had Verlander fourth behind Athletics reliever Blake Treinen. Didtler had Treinen in fifth place. Two other writers had Verlander in third place: George A. King III of the New York Post and Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. The other 26 had Verlander in first or second place.
Voting Kluber ahead of Verlander doesn’t make any sense, especially we finally live in a world where a pitcher’s win-loss record isn’t valued highly. Kluber had 20 wins to Verlander’s 16 and pitched one more inning. In every other area, Verlander was better. ERA? Verlander led 2.52 to 2.89. Strikeouts? Verlander led 290 to 222. Strikeout rate? Verlander led 34.8% to 26.4%. Opponent batting average? Verlander led .198 to .222. FIP and xFIP? Verlander led both 2.78 and 3.03 to 3.12 and 3.08, respectively. And while Treinen had an excellent year, Verlander pitched 134 more innings, which is significant.
Upton had another tweet for the occasion: