Friday, November 19, 2010

8 comments Murray Chass Talks Wins, Yet By Discussing Wins Intelligent Thinking Loses

Murray Chass had a bold prediction that he was right and wrong about on his non-blog. On his non-blog he said that Felix Hernandez would win the Cy Young Award, so he was right about that. He also wrote that Felix Hernandez doesn't deserve to win the Cy Young Award, so he was wrong about that. I don't mind for someone to disagree with an opinion, but at least do it using a differing, yet well-informed opposing opinion. That's all I ask. Murray Chass has consistently refused to do that when it comes to anything dealing with statistics or any other numerical-type device that wasn't created before the early 1930's.

The standard for wins by an American League pitcher was lowered to 16 last year. It is about to be lowered even further – to 13. That’s the number of games Felix Hernandez won this past season, and I expect he will be announced Thursday as the A.L. Cy Young award winner.

I'm already confused. So wins, pretty much the only category that Felix Hernandez trailed every other serious Cy Young candidate in as I have detailed in nearly every Joe Morgan chat, is the category that determines who should win the Cy Young award? Shouldn't some other basic statistics, like ERA, hold as much sway in the opinion of Murray Chass?

Ignoring relievers who have won the Cy Young award, like Mike Marshall, Bruce Sutter, Steve Bedrosian, Mark Davis, Eric Gagne, Sparky Lyle, Rollie Fingers, Willie Hernandez, and Dennis Eckersley...there have been starting pitchers that have won the Cy Young award with 16 wins or fewer. I won't even count those pitchers who were in a strike-shortened season because that isn't fair, but Rick Sutcliffe, Brandon Webb, and Tim Lincecum have all won the Cy Young award with 16 or fewer wins. Zack Greinke deserved the award last year and wins are not the only criteria where a player should be judged in regard to whether that person is worthy of the Cy Young award.

Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson have both won the Cy Young award with 17 wins. What's the difference, other than one win, in a pitcher who has won 16 games and a pitcher that has won 17 games?

The Seattle right-hander had the league’s lowest earned run average, 2.27; the lowest opposing batting average, .212; the most innings pitched, 249 1/3, and missed by two of having the most strikeouts (232)

And if he didn't play for the absolute worst team in MLB, and perhaps the entire the world including some worlds that haven't been discovered yet but currently have organized baseball, then he would have somewhere around 302 wins this year. His wins would be somewhere around that number. It doesn't take a genius or even someone who is borderline mentally competent to figure this out. Name a category for pitchers and Felix Hernandez was the best pitcher, except for...

What he didn’t have was wins. When he won his last start of the season, he finished above .500 at 13-12.

Yeah, that whole thing. I can't imagine if Hernandez had gone 21-2 with a 5.86 ERA and 52 strikeouts if anyone would vote for him as the Cy Young award winner, so why should it be the other way around where he has every category locked the hell down...but wins are still held out there as being the most important? If wins trumps every other category when determining the best pitcher then just name it the Most Wins Award and be done with it.

Just a few years ago a pitcher with a 13-12 record would never have been considered for the Cy Young award.

Just a few decades ago African Americans couldn't use the same water fountain as Murray Chass in certain areas of the country. It's called progress and even if you don't like it, it's happening, much like any future movies involving Tom Cruise.

But last year Zack Greinke won the A,L, award with 16 victories and Tim Lincecum won his second straight National League award with 15 wins.

Even though Lincecum's ERA was lower in 2009 than in 2008, those lack of wins (by three) just make the 2009 award completely unjustified, don't they?

The development, I believe, is directly related to the growing influence of the new-fangled statistics which readers of this site know I have no use for,

(Murray slams the keyboard in disgust which causes his V-8 juice and mustard and ham WHITE BREAD sandwich to go flying across the room on the shag carpeting.)

a fact that sends stats-freak denizens of the blogosphere into a stats-freak frenzy.

I just wet myself out of fury.

Murray holds on to the title for "least evolved baseball writer" and he holds onto that title proudly and tightly doesn't he? It's not the stats-freaks that go into a frenzy, it is mankind and those who represent and enjoy the use of common-sense. It's not a stats-freak frenzy, it is people wanting to point out the painfully obvious to a person who fails to move ahead with the modern times. It's frustrating to hear a person take a painfully outdated and ignorant point of view on anything.

Any smart stats-freak is perfectly willing to hear why Player X should be voted for the Cy Young award over Player Y. You just have to use a way of determining this that makes sense and is justifiable. That's all. If you fail to do this, then yes, people will eagerly try to explain why you are wrong. I know Murray misses the days when he didn't have direct contact with his readers and he wasn't held responsible in the form of immediate feedback for what he has written, but those days aren't coming back.

“Look out, he’s at it again” the cry will go out, as if a carrier of the black plague were loose in the land.

The guy who uses the term "stats-freaks" and calls any statistic not used before 1930 tries to call out others for not listening and over reacting to his point of view. Pot, meet the kettle.

And a flood of e-mail messages will pour in to my inbox calling me vile names (they are only the best educated and articulate of responders) and telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Probably because you are writing a column saying these people don't know what they are talking about. Perhaps that's the reason they say you are wrong, no?

But I do know one thing. I know that Roy Halladay, a fellow who knows something about pitching, agrees with me.

"Here is one person that is as ignorant about me about statistics. Together our opinion proves everyone else is wrong."

Besides his otherwise impressive statistics, the best argument Hernandez has going for him is his lack of run support. Elias Sports Bureau says the Mariners’ 3.06 runs per Hernandez start was the A.L.’s lowest. The Mariners say in Hernandez’s 12 losses, the team scored a total of seven runs while he was in the game.

I accept that those figures represent terrible run support and would make it difficult for any pitcher to win.

So we have come to an agreement then that you are wrong and the only category that Felix Hernandez doesn't rule, wins, doesn't really matter?

But not impossible.

No, it is quite nearly impossible. If a pitcher's team scores 7 runs over 12 games when he was in the game, it is nearly impossible to win more than seven of those games. So Murray's retort to the run support argument is that Felix Hernandez should have given up a total of six runs in his twelve losses, which I am pretty sure would make him as having one of the greatest seasons a pitcher has ever had, yet still would have stuck him with 6 losses. So Felix Hernandez would have to have an all-time great season pitching to win the Cy Young and still would have lost at least six games. Other pitchers up for the award just have to have a great year, but Felix Hernandez has to turn in an all-time classic year.

Even saying it is difficult for a pitcher to win when given that much run support, that also indirectly admits it is easier for a pitcher who receives double that amount of run support to win a game. Factoring this in, wouldn't this explain why Hernandez only had 13 wins? The point of the Cy Young is to have an even playing field to determine which pitcher was the best in each league. Knowing Hernandez has a disadvantage in run support would naturally factor into the discussion then. Murray doesn't seem to want to do this.

Steve Carlton compiled a 27-10 record in 1972 for a Phillies team that otherwise had a 32-87 record. Carlton led the league with a 1.97 e.r.a., 30 complete games, 310 strikeouts and 346 1/3 innings pitched.

Murry Dickson was a 20-game winner for one of the most inept teams in history, the 1951 Pirates, whose 64-90 record belied their level of talent. The only reason they didn’t finish last was Dickson’s 20 wins.

Both Carlton and Dickson had more run support than Hernandez, but both found ways to win in spite of the teams they played for.

So because two pitchers over the last 60 years found a way to win games on a team that wasn't very good, Felix Hernandez should have done the same. His failure to do this is what results in him not winning the Cy Young award, rather than CC Sabathia or David Price's failure to actually be as good of a pitcher in 2010 as Felix Hernandez should result in their failure to win the Cy Young award.

Murray is grasping at straws. He can paint it however he wants to and point out what Felix Hernandez didn't do, but what he did do was be the best pitcher in the American League for 2010. Murray can point out external causes for why Hernandez should be able to do what the two pitchers over the last 60 years were able to do, but what why doesn't he look at the actual pitching performance of Sabathia and other candidates to see why they shouldn't win the Cy Young award? Like for example, no one else in the American League pitched as well as Felix Hernandez. It sounds vague, but check out any comparison between Felix's numbers and another pitcher or check out where Felix ranks in pitching categories for the American League. So yes, maybe Felix should have thrown 12 more complete games or given up 6 runs in 12 games, but the other candidates should have pitched better than Hernandez did.

“It’s tough,” Halladay said. “Felix’s numbers are very, very impressive, but ultimately they look at how guys are able to win games. Sometimes the run support isn’t there, but you find ways to win games. Guys who are winning deserve a strong look no matter what Felix’s numbers are. When teams bring pitchers over, ultimately they want to win games.”

This isn't really a statement about Halladay believing a pitcher with the most wins should win the Cy Young award. It is about what the voters look for. Also, not-coincidentally Halladay had the most wins in the National League this year, so I can see why he thinks wins are important...or at least thinks that this year.

But in this new age of formulas for every action on a baseball field, acronyms have replaced wins. Mythical replacement players have become more important than wins and losses, unless the wins and losses are adjusted by other formulas.

Nothing has replaced anything. These acronyms and replacement players have supplemented the other statistics. It's clear Murray is afraid of any new ideas.

That mouthful – or eyeful – of a metric, according to Tyler Kepner of the Times, tries to calculate each player’s overall contribution on defense.

The Times has increasingly used statistically-based columns, often at the expense, I believe, of the kind of baseball coverage it used to emphasize. But Kepner’s use of “Total Zone Total Fielding” was the clincher, demonstrating that the Times has gone over to the dark side.

"The dark side." Star Wars reference! Nerds love Star Wars and nerds love numbers! Nerds use numbers to use advanced fielding metrics based on statistics, which means Murray Chass loves new-fangled statistics!

Kepner, the Times’ national baseball writer, used the statistic in reporting that metric men were critical of the selection of Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ shortstop, as the Gold Glove shortstop. The Total Zone formula, Kepner wrote, rates Jeter 59th, or last, among major league shortstops.

It's a metric that doesn't care about its conclusion. Tyler Kepner doesn't hate Derek Jeter. Murray Chass has a problem with a metric that doesn't have preferences among baseball players because it messes up his perception of how good a player is. So Murray doesn't want a metric to disprove his own bias of how good of a defensive shortstop Derek Jeter is. Can't he see the problem with this? How is his own opinion and recollection of how good of a fielder Derek Jeter more reliable than a metric that doesn't rely on human biases? I'm not saying use only these metrics, but at least acknowledge them and factor them into the comparison.

But to me, this is the wrong year for Hernandez, I think he’s the best pitcher in the league, and I think he should have won the award last year. But not this year, not with 13 wins, whatever his other statistics, whatever his run support.

So Murray believes Felix is the best pitcher in the American League, which is exactly what the Cy Young is supposed to determine, but he shouldn't win the award? It also just so happens that Felix had 19 wins in 2009, yet most of his other statistics were worse than in 2010...except for the wins category.

O’Connell said he thought wins started to become devalued in 2005 when Bartolo Colon won the award with 21 wins. “People complained that he won because of his wins,” O’Connell said.

Wins are a good category when discussing pitchers. It is also a very overvalued category at the same time. I wish I had time to do this, but I would imagine there are 10 pitchers who won the Cy Young award because of their total of wins, when there was really a pitcher that was a better candidate to have won.

“This could happen with Hernandez this year,” O’Connell said. “Sabathia and Price could split votes. I suspect as long as these stats are out there people are going to use them. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But wins do matter.”

Wins do matter. No one is arguing they don't. Every other statistic that points in the direction of Hernandez being the best pitcher in the American League also matters though. So yes, wins are great, but to deny Hernandez the Cy Young based on solely on his amount of wins is to essentially value wins dramatically over every other stat category. This is stupid.

The Yankees’ CC Sabathia won 21 games; no pitcher won 20 last year. Sabathia’s feat should count for something,

It means he had double the run support of Felix Hernandez.

but in the new age, the standard that stood for excellence for more than 100 years means nothing. It is ignored. It is not a factor. The stats capellers know better and have better standards.

That's because there is this thing called "progress" and we are making it baseball through the evaluation of players. Wins can stick around forever, they are a metric that will always be used to evaluate a pitcher and no one is asking that wins be ignored. They just should not be considered over every single other pitching category. This isn't a stats-freak argument, but an argument built on logic.

The fact wins have been around for 100 years doesn't mean anything. There have been plenty of ideas and social institutions that have been around a lot longer than that which are currently out of date in modern traveling by horse or camel over car or airplane.

But know these facts about Hernandez:

He had to win his last start of the season to finish with a winning record.

Doesn't matter. He was the best pitcher despite his amount of wins.

Seventeen pitchers in the American League won more games than he did, and seven others won as many.

How many other pitchers in the American League could match as a body of work for the 2010 season where Felix Hernandez ranked in nearly all pitching categories? Zero.

There's your answer as to why he won the AL Cy Young.


Martin said...

the worst part about Murray is that he defines why Felix should get the award without ever using new fangled stats. Best era, 2nd most strikeouts, most innings pitched, lowest batting average against, along with 30 quality starts in 34 games. Never has to touch WAR or any other sabremetric stat for the evidence right in front of him to prove that Felix deserves the award.

And I lost some respect for Halladay and his "find a way to win" comment. Really Roy? You played on the god damned Phillies who managed to bail you out a couple times and get you wins after having given up 4+ runs in a game. You were losing those games Roy, till the offense came along and scored more runs then you had given up, then you got the win! Damned Vulture.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin, that's very true. There's no crazy stats-freak criteria that has to be used. Just look at the old stats that everyone traditionally uses and Felix was a better pitcher than any other pitcher in the AL. 30 quality starts in 34 starts is pretty good, as are his other stats.

I think Halladay just made that comment because he had the most wins in the NL and some idiots would say he didn't deserve the NL Cy Young because he had 10 losses. He just wants to protect the integrity of him "winning" games or else he is probably afraid this could happen to him. Maybe not, but I wish he hadn't been quotes as saying that.

The point is to win the baseball game, but the only reason not to give the award to Felix Hernandez would have been stubbornness.

rich said...

The Seattle right-hander had the league’s lowest earned run average, 2.27; the lowest opposing batting average, .212; the most innings pitched, 249 1/3, and missed by two of having the most strikeouts (232).
What he didn’t have was wins. When he won his last start of the season, he finished above .500 at 13-12.

So he had awesome stats individual stats, except this one incredibly team dependent stat. Therefore he should not win the award for best pitcher!

Chass is a guy who will walk into a car dealer and find the car of his dreams for 500 bucks and not buy it because it was the wrong shade of red.

new-fangled statistics which readers of this site know I have no use for,

Didn't he just list all the stats that indicate why Hernandez was awesome? You know that aren't "new fangled"?

But I do know one thing. I know that Roy Halladay, a fellow who knows something about pitching, agrees with me.

Well no shit sherlock, what's Roy going to say "well I won a bunch of games, but damn did I suck in a lot of those"?

Both Carlton and Dickson had more run support than Hernandez, but both found ways to win in spite of the teams they played for.

So Hernandez should have found a way to win despite being in a worse situation than both of the given examples. Bravo.

Also, notice how in the entire history of baseball Chass came up with 2 examples. Both in the NL, both of whom had more impact on their teams' offenses because they get to bat. Hernandez has no impact once he steps off the mound.

Mythical replacement players have become more important than wins and losses, unless the wins and losses are adjusted by other formulas.

It absolutely amazes me that people don't see the value in adjusting things. What in the world is the problem in accounting for the variability is situations and eliminating them to get a more accurate representation of how one player performed?

of the kind of baseball coverage it used to emphasize.

The kind of coverage where you go to hear about how awesome shitty players are because they win...

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, that car thing made me laugh. It is true too. He picks one of the most team dependent stats to base his evaluation of a pitcher for the Cy Young award upon. It's insanity.

I like how he lists all the impressive statistics for Felix and then says, "well he wasn't great in this one category so he doesn't deserve the Cy Young."

He chose Roy Halladay and what was he going to say? I have a great offense and try to make it seem like he didn't deserve it? He did deserve it, but he won't argue against wins in this case.

The entire history of baseball, there are two examples and that is what Murray bases it all upon. It's sad really. Those two are the definition of outliers in this situation.

The mythical player evens the playing field. I don't see a problem with that either. It is a mythical player, but it is also a good way to compare players. That's fun to do...but Murray hates it because it seems overly stats-oriented for him.

Murray misses the days when he could just spout nonsense about a player, like that player was a hustler or gritty and no one questioned him.

Anonymous said...

Martin is right on the mark when he says that Murray doesn't even use advanced stats to display the case for Hernandez. The truth is that depending on what flavor of advanced stats you prefer for evaluating pitchers, you could make a very good case for many non-Felix pitchers such as Lee, Weaver, Liriano, and Lester. In other words, from the advanced stats perspective Felix is no slam dunk for this award. The fact that those other pitchers received such little support in the actual voting shows that the writers based their votes on Felix's dominance in the traditional stats - ERA, K's, IP. This had nothing to do with advanced stats such as WAR, FIP, xFIP, babip, SIERRA, etc.

The fact that Murray uses his pro-Wins stance to attack advanced stats is hilarious because he's really attacking traditional stats like ERA, K, and IP.

Even Jon Heyman can see how wrong this is, as he supported Felix for CY as well. If you know anything about Heyman, he is a guy who generally loves Wins for evaluating individual pitchers.

Murray Chass actually makes Jon Heyman seem up-to-date on current baseball analysis. That's very scary, because Heyman is still a couple of decades behind.

You're right, Murray's analysis is right out of the 1930's.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I 100% agree with you, obviously. Every old-school stat, except for wins, gives the Cy Young to Felix. It is just that he doesn't have enough wins. That's it. That's the basis for Murray's anger. What I don't get is if Felix had an ERA of 4.00 and won 21 games, would that mean he was the Cy Young winner? I doubt Murray would advocate that, so why does he count wins for so much?

Jon Heyman is still behind on his analysis. I read his Tweet a/b Jeter getting the Gold Glove for this year. He made some comment about him being a HoF player or something like that.

What I think is so great about this CYA for the AL is that you don't need advanced stats to show how good Felix was...what I don't get is why this was a win for advanced stats. Even normal stats say he should have won it.

Martin said...

I actually sent Murray a comment asking him what was the highest era Sabathia could have had and still won the award. "Is 21 wins and a 5.00 era better? 21 wins and a 3.90? Where do you draw the line Murray?"

He places an arbitrary value on a highly variable stat that the pitcher has only partial control over, while apparently placing a much lower arbitrary value on a half other dozen stats that the pitcher actually has high to complete control over.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin, I have his non-blog bookmarked so if he responds to that, which he won't, then we will know.

I would love to know where the line is drawn, if there is a line. At what point does a more pitcher controlled stat like ERA become more important than winning games? I think wins should be taken into account, but you just can't discount a pitcher because his total of wins is low if he is the best or near the best in nearly every other category.