Sunday, February 27, 2011

7 comments Oh Murray, Can't We Just Agree I'm Right?

I have started a Yahoo Bottom of the Barrel fantasy baseball league for anyone who wants to join up. The league id is "36835" and the password is "eckstein." It is open to anyone who wants to join, as long as you are an active manager and keep up with your team. I don't want anyone to quit halfway through they year and not keep up with their team.

There is a massive void in the Bottom of the Barrel world with Joe Morgan and his chats no longer with ESPN. I enjoyed doing chats, so I am submitting this question to you all. Do you know of any sportswriter/sports figure that writes poorly or does chats every week which happen to be a real adventure? I'm having chat withdrawal and would love to find someone as equally as inept as Joe Morgan to cover during the baseball season. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments or email me. I can only cover so much of the bad sportswriting that is out there, sometimes I need a point in the right direction. I would love to find another baseball-related chat to cover this summer.

Before I get to Murray Chass, I wanted to draw you in to a couple of lines of idiocy from an article Dan Shaughnessy wrote about John Lackey and his struggles last year. This topic was covered much more effectively here by Jeremy Lundblad. Lundblad uses data and actual evidence to show where Lackey's struggles were last year? Why would you do that when you could just speculate and take cheap shots at bloggers? That's Dan Shaughnessey's opinion.

Reading Shaughnessy's take on Lackey and then reading Lundblad makes you realize watching Dan Shaughnessy get to any discussion that has some sense of depth to it is like watching a kitten fight a grizzly bear. It's just sad to see. He should stick to human interest pieces. Shaughnessy can only muster up reasoning for Lackey's potential improvement this year being because he has a better defense behind him (yet we will see Shaughnessy doesn't get how this is directly related to wins being overrated) and he lost 11 pounds (but he looks like he lost so much more!).

Let me just give you a sample of the article Shaughnessy wrote on Lackey.

In 33 starts, Lackey went 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA. He led the Sox with 215 innings and struck out 156. Only 14 American League pitchers won more games than Lackey. So how come Lackey gets the Way Back Wasdin treatment everywhere he goes?

Why does Dan write a question in a column and then immediately give an answer to that question? The answer: To kill space. Writing 500 words (without quotes) four times a week is hard!

Probably because of the five-year, $82.5 million contract he signed before the start of last season.

Yeah. Could be. Normally a $82.5 million contract doesn't involve so much pressure, but those hyper-demanding fans of the Red Sox with their super high expectations because they are the best fan base in the history of sports put pressure on Lackey he wouldn't have felt anywhere else.

"Why doesn't everyone see Alex Rodriguez as the greatest bargain in the history of sports. He gives the Yankees so much production! It could be because he makes nearly $30 million per year. Maybe. We're not sure yet. It's too early to tell."

He put a ton of guys on base and got a lot of wins because the Sox offense gave him plenty of support when he pitched.

Which is why wins are fairly overrated by writers like Dan. Right, Dan?

Oh, and let’s not forget that sun-starved stat geeks insist wins are overrated.

Guess not. At this point calling stat geeks "sun-starved" says more about the person writing the sentence than the stat geek the sentence is referring to. It tells the reader the writer is unable to process that stat geeks have been hired by nearly every reputable major sports news/entertainment organization. It has happened, so accept it and move on. I am not sure how Dan Shaughnessy, he of the white person jheri curl and complete lack of dark pigmentation in his skin, should be talking about any other person being "sun-starved."

He’s moving forward with a new body, a new defense, and even more offensive support.

Yet knowing this, sun-starved stat geeks still are wrong to think wins are somewhat overrated? Even when Shaughnessy admits three of the things that helps Lackey move forward in the upcoming year are completely out of his control? Wouldn't this make a person think the idea of solely judging Lackey on his wins may not be the best thing to do? Evidently not.

This of course transitions into my post for today involving Murray Chass. We all know he hates not judging a player entirely on his wins and this column is more proof of this.

Let's look at another sport, the NFL, as further proof wins are overrated. I know a team winning in football and a pitcher winning in baseball isn't the same thing. They are similar in some ways though. One unit (the defense/offense/special teams for football, pitching/hitting/defense for baseball) is lumped in with the end result of what the other units have done in the category of a "win."

We know the Panthers were the worst team in the NFL this year and they won 2 games. Pathetic. The Patriots were the best team in the NFL this year and won 14 games. Awesome. Looking at the Panthers defensive unit and saying they didn't do enough to win more than 2 games would make sense to Murray Chass and looking at the Patriots defense he would say they did enough to win 14 games would make sense to him as well. At its core, I guess this makes some sense. It is a very overly-simplistic way of looking at it, but it makes some sort of sense.

The problem lies in that you can't judge an individual unit in baseball or football based on a team achievement like wins. I don't think any idiot would do this in football because the special teams/offense/defense are seen as separate entities from each other. A great example of this are the San Diego Chargers who were good on offense and defense in 2010, but didn't make he playoffs. Many football analysts were able to isolate the problem with special teams that lost them a couple of games, rather than just saying "X player didn't do enough to get a win for the Chargers." It is hard to base a team win/loss on the effect of one player/unit. This is true in baseball where hitting and fielding play a huge role in whether a team wins or loses (especially in baseball where 2-3 players can have an awful night hitting and the team still can win) and then people like Murray Chass lumps them all into the "win" category and evaluates pitchers based solely on that.

So Carolina won 2 games and New England won 14. Therefore Murray would say Carolina's defense was terrible and New England's was great. This is true. But there wasn't as huge of a gap in the defenses as you would think.

Carolina's defense was 18th in the NFL in total yards given up, 26th in points given up, 11th in passing yards given up, and 23rd in rushing yards given up. Not great at all. The rushing yards were probably skewed a bit because opposing teams didn't have to throw the ball because they were ahead.

New England's defense was 25th in yards given up, 8th in points given up, 30th in passing yards given up, and 11th in rushing yards given up. That's not bad and it is obvious teams passed well on New England because opposing teams were trying to catch up. Still, the defense in these two defenses doesn't appear to be a 12 game difference. So what was the difference?

The offense of each team. Carolina was 32nd in yards gained, while New England was 8th. Carolina was 32nd in points per game and New England was 1st. Carolina was 32nd in passing yards and New England was 8th. Carolina was 13th in rushing yards and New England was 11th. That's the difference. What's interesting to me is people can recognize this and judge each team accordingly based on how each unit played in football, but in baseball Murray Chass can't do this. If Seattle is last in MLB in offense, he still bitches that Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young award. Somehow the performance of each individual unit affecting the overall performance of the team eludes him when it comes to baseball.

The standard started dropping in 2009 when Zack Greinke won the American League Cy Young award with 16 wins and Tim Lincecum won the National League award with 15 wins. It fell even lower last year when Felix Hernandez won the A.L. award with 13 victories.

I don't hate wins, they serve their purpose, but to say "the standard" started dropping because one measly statistic isn't as overrated right now as it Murray wants it to is a bit stupid. The fact wins aren't the primary statistic used to determine the Cy Young Award appears to be Murray's biggest problem. As I showed repeatedly during the baseball season, the only stat Felix Hernandez wasn't among the leaders in was wins. That's it. If he had 18 wins, then Murray would have advocated for him as the Cy Young Award winner.

Now the standard has hit rock bottom. Ross Ohlendorf has won his salary arbitration case despite having won only one game last season.

He won his arbitration case! Insanity! He should have been forced to pay the Pirates money for being so terrible! Or at a minimum, he should have been executed on the spot.

One victory equals $2,025,000, the three-member panel of arbitrators ruled last week. The $1.4 million salary Pittsburgh submitted wasn’t enough of a raise from the $439,000 salary Ohlendorf earned last year.

I will agree the arbitration process is sort of out of control. Any process that gives Jeff Francoeur a raise at any point in his career is a process that needs to be re-examined. Arbitration isn't always a terrible idea, but I am not sure Ohlendorf deserved a $1.6 million raise.

The poor pathetic Pirates didn’t have to wait for the 2011 season to extend their historic 18-year losing streak. The arbitrators have done it for them.

(Starts throwing fruit at Murray)

In the past a pitcher who won only one game the previous season would have been thrilled to settle his salary before a hearing for a figure between the salary he submitted and the figure the club put it;

Yep, that's why they call it the past...because it isn't what happens today. This isn't always a bad thing.

But times have changed for pitchers. They don’t have to win games any more. Just throw some good-looking statistics out there other than wins, and they can win Cy Young awards and salary arbitration cases.

It is not OTHER than wins, it is IN ADDITION to wins. Why does it just have to be black and white with no gray area? No one wants to completely get rid of wins, but some people (like me) merely want to stop the over-reliance on the statistic.

Arbitrators do not have to explain their decisions; they issue no oral or written opinions.

Murray should like a system where a person can just write something or give a proclamation and then get no feedback from it. That's what he liked most about the pre-Internet days when he could write a column and feel good about what he wrote being perfect without hearing from those pesky readers that they disagreed with him.

The way salary arbitration has worked, though, is the players most often win even when they lose. As Mike Norris, an Oakland pitcher, said years ago after losing his case, “No problem. I was either going to wake up rich or richer.”

This is pretty much the case for any sport when it comes to a team negotiating a new contract with a player. Whether it be a one year deal or a long-term contract, that player is going to be wealthy if an MLB, NFL or NBA team wants him. In terms of salary most professional athletes in the three major sports are rich.

He played for the Yankees in parts of 2007 and ’08 before they sent him to Pittsburgh in a four-player package for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. He had an 11-10 record and 3.92 earned run average in 2009

Only 11 wins with the Pirates? He should have paid them for the opportunity to pitch in the majors.

Last year an early-season back ailment and a late-season shoulder injury limited Ohlendorf to 21 starts in which he produced a 1-11 record and a 4.07 e.r.a.

Here are some other statistics Ohlendorf accumulated as well. A 100 ERA+, 1.385 WHIP, and a 2.0 WAR. So he was a pretty league average pitcher.

Yet he and his lawyer, John Fetterolf of the Washington firm of Williams (Edward Bennett) and Connolly, engineered an argument that overcame his one-win season.

They basically emphasized statistics other than wins and losses, especially the run support the Pirates provided Ohlendorf.

How crazy! You mean his lawyer looked out for his client and ensured he got the best possible deal? Attorneys are scum!

In the new age of judging pitchers run support has become a telling factor. That’s why Hernandez won his Cy Young award.

Felix Hernandez also won the Cy Young award based on the fact he was the best pitcher in the American League last year. I have highlighted Hernandez's numbers for 2010 many times. He didn't win the Cy Young award for no reason, he won because other than wins he was the best pitcher in the American League. The Cy Young award wasn't just given to the pitcher who got the least run support, though Hernandez would be in the running if it was decided that way since the Mariners gave him 3.06 runs per game.

Under this new-age thinking, if a team doesn’t score more than three runs a game, a pitcher isn’t expected to win.

This is absolutely not true. There is not new-age thinking that says this. What the new-age thinking says is that if a pitcher only has on-average 3 runs per game scored for him then he isn't going to have a very good chance of winning and this should be taken into account when looking at the number of wins he earned. It's very logical.

No longer is a pitcher expected to win 3-2 or 2-1. If his team doesn’t score at least four runs, it’s not the pitcher’s fault if he doesn’t win.

There is nothing like completely making up the opposing side's opinion. It makes it much easier to frame your own argument when you can misinterpret and deceive your audience on what the opposing side actually believes. It is the pitcher's fault his team doesn't win, but it isn't completely his fault the team doesn't win, so the loss he gets isn't entirely his fault. This is due to the fact that pitcher's team needs to provide him some sort of offense in order for him to win. Yes, the pitcher deserves some fault for his team losing, but to saddle him with the loss and blame the loss all on him is deceiving. The offense has to score runs for a pitcher.

There was once a time when pitchers were expected to win unless their team scored no runs, and then they were expected to tie.

I agree with this. It's a nice, dreamland way of thinking about it. In the real world though, the blame for a team losing a game because the offense didn't score any runs should be on that pitcher's offense for not scoring the runs...specifically in the American League where the pitcher doesn't even bat.

But those days disappeared with the advent of the quality start, the questionable creation of a Detroit writer, John Lowe, a nice guy but a little off in his thinking.

Lowe actually wrote for the Philadelphia Enquirer at the time. Details! Who needs them?

If a pitcher pitches six innings and gives up three or fewer earned runs he is credited with a quality start. Never mind that three earned runs in six innings computes to a 4.50 earned run average; that’s a quality start.

I will admit the quality start threshold may be a bit low. Still, an offense has to score runs for the pitcher. Pitchers get blamed for not doing their job well if they lose a 12-11 game don't they? No one would say the offense didn't do enough to win the game. So why wouldn't the opposite be true and an offense get part of the blame for a pitcher losing a 2-1 game?

Eleven of Ohlendorf’s 21 starts fit the so-called quality category, but he won only one, which happened to be a genuine quality start in the dictionary definition of the word because he shut out the Phillies for seven innings.

This is the dictionary definition of quality start (you will see the dictionary definition isn't at all what Murray thinks it is. His delusions of how he wants the world to be extend outside of baseball to definitions in the dictionary):

"a quality start is a statistic for a starting pitcher defined as a game in which the pitcher completes at least six innings and permits no more than three earned runs."

Maybe Murray Chass is looking in the "Imaginary Dictionary for the World Murray Chass Would Like to See Created," but in the real world dictionary definition Ohlendorf had 11 quality starts.

Players can compare themselves with others, and Fetterolf compared Ohlendorf with Armando Galarraga of Arizona and Brandon Morrow of Toronto, each of whom has a $2.3 million salary.

Galarraga won 4 games and Morrow won 10 games.

If they had been dealing with at least occasional paycuts, arbitrators this year might have looked at Ohlendorf’s 1-11 record and said don’t give me that nonsense about poor run support and other impressive statistics. Pitchers are paid to win games, and he didn’t win games. He won one game.

Pitchers are paid to pitch as well as they can. If the offense scores more runs than the pitchers gives up then he will get the win. Pitchers are paid to win, but there is also an assumption that the offense of the team will do enough to help that pitcher win. After all, a pitcher can't win a game where his offense doesn't score any runs. Hitters are paid to win games by scoring more runs than the other team, I don't get how this fact is conveniently ignored when evaluating a pitcher's record.

Wins are a dumb category to base a pitcher's entire performance upon. It is like basing a hitter's performance entirely on his batting average. It is not nonsense that some pitchers don't get enough run support. Any moron who can do basic math can see this isn't entirely accurate. The hitters on a team have to score more runs than their pitcher gives up and these are two separate events that have to happen for a team to win a game. No matter how good a pitcher is, if a team doesn't score many runs for him or his bullpen can't hold a lead, he can't win a game.

Pitchers can not be perfect and they can't pitch well enough to win a game because pitchers are not telepathic and don't know what the final score of the game will end up being. So they pitch the absolute best they can and hope their team scores enough runs to win the game. Just like hitters don't get held completely accountable for not scoring enough runs to win a 10-9 game, pitchers should not be held completely accountable for losing a 2-1 game.


rich said...

Oh, and let’s not forget that sun-starved stat geeks insist wins are overrated.

Depends on the context. If you're evaluating a team, wins are pretty important.

If you're talking about a single individual in a team sport, then yes, wins are absurd.

For example, Kyle Kendrick had only 1 less win than Cole Hamels last year, despite an ERA that was over a run and a half higher...

I am not sure Ohlendorf deserved a $1.6 million raise.

He's a starting pitcher in his 20's who posted a 4.07 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP.

The year before, he had a sub 4.00 ERA and threw over 150 innings.

When relievers are making 3-5M for similar numbers and half the innings, I have to argue against the notion that the arbitration process is messed up because they awarded him 2M.

In the past a pitcher who won only one game the previous season would have been thrilled to settle his salary before a hearing for a figure between the salary he submitted and the figure the club put it;

He won 11 the year before and had a pretty good year considering he was still on the Pirates.

Again, considering what other pitchers are making ::cough:: Joe Blanton ::cough::, 2M is chump change.

. A 100 ERA+, 1.385 WHIP, and a 2.0 WAR. So he was a pretty league average pitcher.

I could go back and delete my above post, but fuck it.

especially the run support the Pirates provided Ohlendorf.

Okay, Kyle Kendrick made 5M (I think) last year putting up stats that are similar to that. Is he more valuable simply because the Phillies overcame his awfulness to get him 11 wins?

Also, the guy had 11 wins for the same shitty Pirates team the year before, so the Pirates should have given him whatever he wanted.

No longer is a pitcher expected to win 3-2 or 2-1.

This is where the idea of "expected" is absurd. I expect aces (Halladay, Hernandez, etc) to win some games 2-1, but I can't expect them to post 20 win seasons when they have to win every game 2-1.

There was once a time when pitchers were expected to win unless their team scored no runs, and then they were expected to tie.

I don't think this expectation has changed, I just like to think people are smart enough to realize that expecting them to win those types of games doesn't make them shitty pitchers when they don't.

rich said...

Just finished another grant proposal (95% of grad school is trying to get people to bank roll your stupid research) decided I'd add one more point about the horrendousness of this "article"

Pitchers are paid to win games, and he didn’t win games. He won one game.
Wins are a dumb category to base a pitcher's entire performance upon. It is like basing a hitter's performance entirely on his batting average.

BGF, you're being too kind. Wins are to pitchers what team fielding percentage is to a hitter. A hitter actually has some control over his BA (of course "luck" factors into it as well). A pitcher has very little control over whether he wins or not.

As you pointed out, pitchers are paid not to "win" games, but rather to put their teams in positions to win. Sometimes you suck and your team gets you a win, sometimes you pitch great and the offense sucks and sometimes your bullpen sucks so much donkey dick that it classifies as a donkey show and has been outlawed in the US.

Ohlendorf's game log shows that the Pirates won six of his starts, but he only got credit for one of them.

5 innings, 2ER, 1 unearned
7 innings, 1ER
7 innings, 0ER (got the win)
1.1 innings, 4ER
0.2 innings,0ER
6 innings, 1ER, 1 unearned

The only game he got the win was the one he allowed 0 runs. The first game he lost because of an unearned run and the last game because Joel Hanrahan (who had 4 wins) allowed 3 ER in one inning. Then Sean Gallaher comes in and allows 2 more runs and gets the win (one of his two on the season).

Now lets look at the games where the Pirates lost (the abridged version):

6 innings 2ER (4-3 loss)
6 innings 0ER (3-2 loss)
7 innings 2ER (2-0 loss)
6 innings 1ER (3-2 loss)
6.2 IP 1ER (4-1 loss)
8 innings 3ER (3-2 loss)

Out of his 21 starts, 5 of them were "bad," in the other 16, his team had a good to great chance of winning the game. In those 21 starts, the Pirates scored a total of 61 runs and I mean in those 189 innings they scored 61, not just when he was pitching. TWELVE of those 61 runs came in one game. Which means in 20 starts, the Pirates scored an average of 2.45 runs per game

The Pirates were shut out in four of his starts. That's four games he couldn't win, no matter how well he pitched.

Another two games where the Pirates managed a titanic one run, including a game where Evan Meek came in and absolutely shit himself to the tune of 1/3rd of an inning, 4ER.

Had he not made his last start in St. Louis, he would have had a 3.90 ERA. I'm sorry if you have a sub-4 ERA and you only have 1 win, then it's clearly a huge indicator that it's the team's problem and not yours.

In 2009, Joe Blanton put up a statline similar to what Ohlendorf did last year: 4.05 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and got 8M a year.

Kyle Kendrick is making 2.45M this year on the back of a 10 win campaign in which he managed a staggering 4.2 K/9 and an 85 ERA+.

Like you said BGF, he's an average pitcher. According to the USA Today, back in 2000 the average salary for a starting pitcher was over 3M. Jeff Samardzija is making over 3.5M a year for crying out loud.

Arbitrators are told to look at the production of the player (not the team) and compare that to other equivalent players. The fact that the Pirates think a guy like Ohlendorf is only worth 1.5M may explain why they suck so badly.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, Cole Hamels didn't do enough to win last year while Kyle Kendrick did. That's what that information tells me.

I can see your point about Ohlendorf getting a raise, but it still seems weird that he didn't really improve all that much and got such a raise. Obviously it got him into similar salary structure as his counterparts, so that means it was probably fine. Still, it is jarring to see such a raise for a pitcher who didn't outperform his career norms.

Winning 11 games on the Pirates was pretty good for Ohlendorf, and it even got him in Sports Illustrated with an article about him after the 2009 season. You are right, it is better than some pitchers can do (Kenshin Kawakami).

I just don't get what it says about a pitcher that he can't win a 2-1 game every time out. That he can't have a sub-2.00 ERA? That he isn't having one of the greatest seasons of all-time?

The expectations hasn't changed about a pitcher winning a 2-1 game, it is the judgment on that pitcher's ability that has changed. We can recognize it isn't all his fault and he did pitch well enough to win if his offense scored more.

ivn said...

and to come to the aid of Felix Hernandez, Murray's strawman for the apparent lowered expectations for the Cy Young: in his 12 losses, he allowed 39 earned runs. 14 of them came in two games; this means he allowed 2.5 earned runs per game in ten of his losses. there was also another game against the Indians where he lost when he gave up a grand slam after Chone Figgins muffed a grounder with two outs. there were a bunch of no decisions where he left after giving up one or two runs with a lead and the Mariners bullpen immediately blew it. guy could not catch a fucking break this past year, and I would thank Murray Chass to leave him out of this.

Matt said...

ya know, i thought murray was starting to figure it out towards the end of last baseball season. i guess not. he's rejuvinated in his quest to sound like the biggest idiot in the world.

my 10 year old step-daughter could understand the folly of his argument. it's borderline autistic how murray cannot understand this very basic concept.

as for other baseball chatters, i'll look around, but i read dave cameron's chat's on fangraphs weekly. he's a very smart guy but his chats are interesting to pick apart. he's very smarmy and condescending, probably the result of LUIB NELUG disease (Locked Up In Basement, Not Enough Light Under Ground).

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, I meant to respond to you in my other post. That's why Murray is so lost. He doesn't break down the information and statistics like that. He just takes the information and assumes it means something when in fact the information beneath (like you showed) shows something else.

That's some good information and many teams wouldn't mind having him on their staff. I thought the raise in arbitration was a lot, granted he got to where he should be paid though. Murray doesn't look at individual games and just assumes if a pitcher lost then it means he sucks. It's a huge failure and I don't know why he can't see it.

Ivn, no shit. Felix Hernandez would have won 20 games on the Yankees roster easily. He had terrible luck this year. I wish Murray could see WHY he lost those games and see it didn't have everything to do with his pitching.

Dylan said...

I understand the point of advanced metrics to better determine players ability. I also understand the counter argument that there's a point where you can go too far into statistics and get away from understanding a player's pyschological makeup. For instance, no matter how wel Zack Greinke's sabremetric stats portray him, he could never have played in a big baseball market. That said, there has to be an accepted middle ground. As everyone has already noted, there's a reason why no one considers wins as a viable stat anymore: there are too many external factors. Too much sabremetrics is a bad thing, but to completely ignore them, as many writers do because their used to the old way of thinking, is simply ignorant. Every claims baseball is steeped in tradition. Well, tradition is only repetition of the past, which is not necessarily a good thing. As my old basketball coach used to say, practice makes habit. Perfect practice makes perfect.