Sunday, October 26, 2008

Baseball Fans Prove They Know Nothing About Baseball

According to, "[t]he Hank Aaron Award officially recognizes the most outstanding offensive performer in the American and National Leagues." The award is unique in that it is the only major end-of-season award that is voted on by the fans, which makes the Hank Aaron Award perhaps the most accurate barometer for just how bad the nation as a whole is at evaluating "the most outstanding offensive performer" in a given year.

Case in point: this year's NL Hank Aaron Award winner was Aramis Ramirez.

Now don't get me wrong; Aramis Ramirez is a tremendous offensive third baseman, and as a rabid Cubs fan, I've watched the man completely obliterate an awful lot of baseballs over the last five years. But in 2008, Ramirez wasn't even the most outstanding offensive performer in the National League at his own position; Chipper Jones and David Wright both had better offensive years at the hot corner than Ramirez did (the three posted VORPs of 75.4, 66.2, and 44.7, respectively). And neither Jones nor Wright were in the same league as Albert Pujols in 2008.

To illustrate the absurdity of any offensive award being given to Ramirez instead of Pujols this year, let's compare some numbers:

Pujols: 96.8
Ramirez: 44.7

Pujols: .372
Ramirez: .297

Batting Win Shares
Pujols: 33.0
Ramirez: 21.0

Pujols: .462
Ramirez: .380

Pujols: .653
Ramirez: .518

Pujols: 1.115
Ramirez: .898

Pujols: 190
Ramirez: 128

Pujols: 37
Ramirez: 27

Pujols: 187
Ramirez: 160

Pujols: 81
Ramirez: 72

Pujols: 342
Ramirez: 287

Pujols: 104
Ramirez: 74

Pujols: 54
Ramirez: 94

And just for funsies, here are some numbers that don't even matter all that much:

Pujols: .357
Ramirez: .289

Pujols: 116
Ramirez: 111

Pujols: 100
Ramirez: 97

The only—only—offensive categories in which Ramirez outperformed Pujols in 2008 were triples (Ramirez 1, Pujols 0) and GIDP (Ramirez 13, Pujols 16). Pujols even stole more bases than Ramirez (7 to 2), and at a higher success rate (70% to 50%), and collected two more SF (8 to 6) than the Cubs third baseman.

These are not comparable seasons. Ramirez had a very good year. Pujols had a monster year by every metric ever invented to gauge the monstrousness of years.

Congratulations, voters, for finding a way to fuck this up.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

2008 Positional MVP Picks: First Basemen

Yes, it’s been a little while since I pitched my picks for the top catchers of 2008, but unfortunately real-world responsibilities were kicking my butt this past week. But it’s the weekend, and that means it’s time for…

Installment #3: First Basemen

On the one hand, picking the top first basemen in a given year is remarkably easy: all a fan really needs to do is pore over the offensive statistics of his or her choice and choose the top offensive performers by those metrics. Unless a first baseman has the defensive capabilities of a potted plant, his value to his team is almost entirely dependent on his bat.

But on the other hand, narrowing down fifteen or so first basemen who can absolutely mash into a top-whatever list is very, very difficult, even ignoring all those pesky fielding statistics. And that is why, even though I’ve cheated a bit and kept seven players on my top five list, there are still a lot of extremely good players missing from my list. Among the honorable mentions: Prince Fielder, Carlos Delgado, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Pena. All had excellent offensive years, but at a position where excellent offensive years are the norm rather than the exception, and are therefore fourth-tier candidates.

Those who did make the list fall into a few categories. My pick for the #1 spot is, in my opinion, all alone at the top not only at his position, but for the 2008 MLB MVP (if such an award existed). Numbers two through four are second-tier positional MVP picks, and although I am confident in my decisions regarding their overall rankings, I can imagine some pretty reasonable arguments for shuffling the order around a bit as long as none of these players drops below #4. Numbers five through seven are almost too close to call (and third-tier picks this season). So what do I mean by all this “tier” nonsense? Quite simply, unless those of you who disagree with my rankings can give me some very compelling evidence, I’m unlikely to buy into a counterargument that argues for re-rankings which move players from one tier to another.

That said, on with the list!

7.) Miguel Cabrera’s excellent year went largely unnoticed amidst Detroit’s abysmal regular season showing. In his first year as a regular first baseman, Cabrera hit .292/.349/.537 with 37 HR, an OPS of .886 (OPS+ 130), a .298 EqA, 21 win shares, and a VORP of 46.8.

His numbers aren’t mind-blowing for a first baseman, but they are very, very good, and Cabrera could legitimately be ranked as high as fifth on this list despite having regressed from his ridiculous ’05-’07 numbers in 2008. In fact, I think any order for #’s 5-7 is defensible, though any higher or lower for these three players would be a much harder sell to me.

6.) Adrian Gonzalez once again put together a tremendous year without generating any media buzz outside of San Diego (where I can only hope he gets a lot of well-deserved love). His 2008 line? .279/.361/.510 with 36 homers, an .871 OPS (OPS+ 138), .309 EqA, 26 win shares, and a VORP of 43.6. The fact that he played half his games in Petco “Pitcher’s Paradise” Park (.796 park factor in 2008, by far the lowest in the majors), and all his games with little protection from a San Diego lineup ranked at or near the bottom of the league in every offensive category, makes Gonzalez’s numbers, particularly his non-adjusted stats like HR, OBP, SLG, etc., even more impressive.

Like Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez suffered on a last place team, but the Padres were significantly worse than the Tigers this year, rendering Gonzalez all but invisible even to some very knowledgeable baseball fans (my roommate, for example, responded “Who?” when I told him Adrian Gonzalez was my pick for #6 on this list). But over the last three seasons, Gonzalez has proven that he should be anything but anonymous, and 2008 was his career year. Still, I don't buy any argument for Gonzalez that places him higher than fifth, as the top four players on this list put together ridiculous 2008 campaigns.

5.) Justin Morneau was nearly back to his ’06 form in 2008. His .300/.374/.499 line was good for an OPS of .873 (OPS+ 137), to which the Twins first baseman added 23 HR, a .308 EqA, 29 win shares, and a VORP of 45.5. And, like Gonzalez, Morneau put up these numbers in a pitcher’s park (the Metrodome’s .887 park factor was third lowest in the bigs this year), though he did so with a better supporting offensive cast.

Along with teammate Joe Mauer, Morneau is one of many MVP candidates in a wide open field, but his candidacy is, in my mind at least, far less defensible than Mauer’s. For one thing, Morneau’s offensive numbers are, at best, only slightly better than Mauer’s. Mauer’s OPS+ was three points lower than Morneau’s (137 to 134), and Morneau hit 14 more HR and 30 more XBH (74 to 44), but the Twins catcher posted a higher EqA (.316 to .308), more win shares (31 to 29), and, most tellingly, a significantly higher VORP (55.5 to 45.5). Furthermore, Mauer plays a skill position, which explains the dramatic difference in VORP despite both players’ similar offensive numbers. Further weakening Morneau’s candidacy (at least, in the parallel universe in which I pick baseball’s end-of-season award winners) is the fact that there is an AL first baseman ahead of him on this list.

But despite the fact that he shouldn’t (and probably won’t) win his second AL MVP award this year, Morneau was one of the best offensive first basemen of 2008, which is high praise at such a competitive position.

4.) Kevin Youkilis has long been a favorite of sabermetricians, but in 2008, the Greek God of Walks put up numbers that anyone can love. Youkilis hit .312/.390/.569 with a career high 29 HR, an OPS of .959 (OPS+ 143), a .313 EqA, 29 win shares, and a VORP of 55.8. Although his walk totals were down in 2008, his power numbers were way up (he eclipsed his previous career bests in home runs and slugging by 13 and .116, respectively), and he hit 30 points higher than his career best to keep his OBP from dropping a single point between ’07 and ’08.

Youkilis was generating some MVP buzz late in the season, particularly after Carlos Quentin’s ridiculous wrist injury broke (get it?) the AL MVP race wide open. But like Morneau, Youkilis’s candidacy suffers from the fact that he may not even be the most valuable member of his team, let alone the league. I love Kevin Youkilis as a player, and I hope that his 2008 season makes a name for him outside of Red Sox and sabermetric circles, but I don’t think he should be the AL MVP. I do, however, think that he is the AL 1B MVP for 2008.

3.) In a year of huge midseason deals, Mark Teixeira is easy to overlook. But the Braves-turned-Angels first baseman had another huge year (and a second consecutive year in which he switched leagues and was therefore excluded from the MVP debate). Teixeira’s combined totals: .308/.410/.552 with 33 HR, an OPS of .962 (OPS+ 151), an EqA of .328, 30 win shares (15 each for Atlanta and Los Angeheim), and VORPs of 37.0 with the Angels and 30.7 with the Braves (9th and 14th, respectively, among full season totals for first basemen).

To put things in perspective, in only 54 games with Anaheim, Teixeira had a higher VORP than Ryan Howard, Carlos Pena, Jason Giambi, Derrek Lee, or NL RoY candidate Joey Votto compiled over the course of the entire season. And Teixeira’s ridiculous season totals aren’t just the result of two torrid months in Southern California; he was already putting together an excellent season (.283/.390/.512 with 20 HR and an OPS+ of 136 in 103 games) in Atlanta before being traded to the Angels at the deadline.

Teixeira may have proven once again that he is one of the premier first basemen in the Major Leagues (if not the flashiest), and his 2008 campaign was nothing short of stellar, but he falls well short of the top spot (in fact, the top two spots) in 2008.

2.) During the first three months of the 2008 season, Lance Berkman hit absolutely everything big league pitchers could throw at him. Through June 30, Berkman was hitting .365/.448/.699 with 22 homers and a 1.147 OPS. He cooled off by midseason, but still put up ridiculous numbers, compiling a .312/.420/.567 line with 29 HR, an OPS of .987 (OPS+ 159), a .333 EqA, 38 win shares, and a VORP of 72.2 for a surprisingly good Astros team.

The case against Berkman at the #2 spot rests firmly on his splits; he was otherworldly for two months, but merely very good for the remaining three. But the same could be said of his closest competition (Mark Teixera at #3), and both Teixera and Berkman put up better season-long numbers, hot streaks or no hot streaks, than the rest of the first base field. But considering the season the next man on this list put together, not even Berkman’s two months as the second coming of Ted Williams could land him the #1 spot.

1.) If you weren’t expecting to see Albert Pujols at the top of this list, you were obviously not watching the same sport as the rest of us were in 2008. Pujols’s numbers were, as usual, absurd—albeit even more so than usual: .357/.462/.653 for a 1.115(!) OPS (190 OPS+) with 37 HR, a .372 EqA, 35 win shares, and an absolutely ridiculous VORP of 96.8.

Put simply, if Pujols doesn’t win his second NL MVP award this year, I think it’s safe to say that the BBWAA has collectively gone mad. Frankly, any first-place vote for a non-Pujols candidate is foolishness (I’m looking at you, Ryan-Howard-and-his-.339-OBP supporters!); Pujols led the majors in a slew of offensive categories, including SLG, OPS, OPS+, total bases (342), intentional walks (34), runs created, EqA, and VORP, and was second in BA, OBP, and win shares. He remained incredibly patient at the plate (a career-high 104 BB) but virtually impossible to strike out (54 SO), particularly for a power hitter.

And to those MVP voters and would-be-voters who privilege postseason berths over numbers, consider this: without Pujols (and, to a lesser extent, Ryan Ludwick), the Cardinals would have been cellar-dwellers in 2008 instead of remaining a Wild Card threat until late in the season. The Cardinals won 86 games this season despite getting only four starts—total!—from Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder and being forced to replace their former closer, Jason Isringhousen, after watching him go from a lights-out reliever (177 ERA+ and 1.071 WHIP in 2007) to a man who couldn’t buy an out (75 and 1.641 in 2008). They didn’t win with pitching (St. Louis pitchers combined for a roughly league-average OPS+ of 101), and Pujols was easily the most valuable piece of a surprisingly potent St. Louis offense.

There is only one real choice for the most valuable first baseman of 2008. There is only one real choice for the 2008 National League Most Valuable Player. And there is only one real choice for the most valuable player in Major League Baseball in 2008.

That choice is Albert Pujols, ladies and gentlemen. Carlos Pena may have (rightfully) stolen the spotlight at first base in ’07, but make no mistake: Pujols is the finest first baseman (and arguably, the finest player overall) of our generation, and certainly the best across the board in 2008.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

You Read It Here First...

Matt Stairs will hit a walk-off home run to win game 7 of the World Series. During the postgame interview, a triumphant, champaign-doused Stairs will thank his Phillies teammates for adding courtesy reach-arounds to their celebratory ass-hammerings.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Matt Stairs Loves Him a Good Ass-Hammerin'

2008 Positional MVP Picks: Catchers

This is the second installment in a position-by-position look at the most valuable players of 2008. I had initially intended to analyze relief pitchers second, immediately after their SP counterparts, but decided instead to switch to position players first and to then return to RP's near the end of the series. So welcome to Installment #2: Catchers.

Thanks to Jorge Posada’s shoulder surgery and Victor Martinez’s two+ months on the disabled list, the race for the top catcher in the big leagues looks much different this year than it did last year. Five backstops had solid-to-big years. Of those five, two have legitimate shots at the catching MVP, and in a wide-open AL MVP race, one even has a chance at a league MVP—you know, a real award—as well.

But before I rank the top five, I want to give a quick “Honorable Mention” to Mike Napoli, who would have easily cracked the list this year given more than 78 games under his belt. Based on his ridiculous partial season numbers and obvious talent (he’s put together better and better partial years the past three seasons), don’t be surprised if he makes a splash as soon as he gets 120-140 starts in a season.

Also, I feel I should make a few statistical disclaimers for this and all future posts concerning position players. I don’t care all that much about runs scored, and I care a whole lot less about RBIs. Both totals are too reliant on teammates’ performances to be primary metrics for individual awards (even made up awards like these positional MVPs). I don’t mean to suggest that a lot of runs and/or RBIs can’t be indicative of a good player and/or season, but rather that fewer runs and/or RBIs are not necessarily indicative of a comparatively worse player/season. Similarly, I don’t care about batting average in a vacuum, but coupled with OBP and/or BABIP it can show whether a hitter puts a lot of balls into play or takes a lot of walks (or both), and coupled with SLG can show how many of those hits go for extra bases. The relative unreliability of these metrics when cited, as they too often are, “in a vacuum” (without qualification) is much less of an issue in this installment than it will be at the big RBI positions (1B and corner outfielders), but I felt a blanket qualification was in order nonetheless.

And now, on with the top five catchers of 2008:

5.) Russell Martin regressed from his 2007 numbers, but he still put together a respectable season, particularly for a guy who spent 149 games crouched behind home plate. Martin hit .280/.385/.396 (BA/OBP/SLG) with 13 HR for an OPS of .781 (which translates into an OPS+ of 103), an EqA of .283, 22 total win shares, and a VORP of 33.7. His offensive numbers aren’t overwhelming (his SLG, in fact, is downright underwhelming), but they are above league average, and Martin was good enough defensively at a skill position to remain a valuable catcher in ’08. But the other four players on this list pace or outpace him in nearly every category, which makes Martin a third-tier catching MVP candidate this year.

4.) Ryan Doumit may not be a household name, having played his entire career (brief though it has been) in baseball purgatory (aka Pittsburgh), but in 2008 he showed what he’s capable of doing with more than half a season of playing time. Doumit’s batting line this year was .318/.357/.501 with 15 HR, good for an OPS of .858 (OPS+ 125), a .297 EqA, 22 total win shares, and a VORP of 35.8. He’s probably the weakest fielder on this list, but his bat kept him near the top of the catching heap in 2008 even though it wasn’t nearly enough to make him more than a second-tier candidate.

Like Napoli, though, Doumit didn’t play in as many games (only 116 games, 106 of them behind the plate) as any of the other catchers in my top 5, so we can only guess at the sort of year Doumit can put together given 20-30 more starts. He'll be interesting to watch, particularly if he escapes the anemic offense and small-market exposure in Pittsburgh.

3.) Geovany Soto will probably run away with the NL Rookie of the Year award, and, as a rabid Cubs fan, I’m very excited at the prospect. That said, Joey Votto is another deserving candidate, but Soto should (rightly) beat out the Reds’ first baseman due to his excellent defensive numbers at a skill position (good reasoning) as well as the fact that he played for a big market, division-winning team (bad reasoning).

Soto’s numbers are fantastic for a catcher, and even more impressive considering 2008 was his first full season (and only second overall) in the bigs. He went .285/.364/.504 with 23 HR, an .868 OPS (OPS+ 122), .288 EqA, 24 win shares (including a very impressive 9 fielding win shares), and a VORP of 39.3. He beats out Doumit for third primarily because he played in more games (allowing him to rack up higher quantitative statistics, like HRs) and played better defense in those games. Soto is a borderline first-tier candidate for the catching MVP, but the next two men on this list are simply too far ahead of him in VORP, and either comparable defensively or, in the case of my #2 man, not so much worse that Soto can make up such gaps in VORP (in particular), EqA and, to a lesser extent, OPS+.

2.) Three full seasons into his career, Brian McCann has certainly proven that he can punish a baseball. In 2008, McCann’s numbers included a .301/.373/.523 line, 23 HR, .896 OPS, 136 OPS+, .307 EqA, 21 win shares, and a VORP of 51.6. In fact, if I were only looking at offensive statistics, McCann might even be #1 on this list, though it would still be a pretty close race.

However, once defense is added to the equation, McCann’s overall value drops somewhat. Not by an awful lot, mind you—he’s ahead of the next runner up (Soto) in too many offensive categories (OBP, SLG, XBH [66 to 60], OPS, OPS+, EqA, and, in particular, VORP) for his glove to drop him past the number two slot—but faced with a similarly valuable offensive catcher with superior defensive skills, McCann falls short of the top catching spot in 2008.

1.) Joe Mauer returned to his ’06 form (see: ridiculously, ridiculously good) in 2008, compiling a .328/.413/.451 batting line with 9 HR, an .864 OPS, 134 OPS+, .316 EqA, a league-leading 31 win shares (22 batting and 9.2 fielding), a VORP of 55.5, and a substantial amount of MVP buzz. Mauer’s EqA, total win shares, and VORP were all tops among catchers.

Mauer and McCann are both very different (albeit very good) hitters. McCann hits for more power than Mauer does: he chalked up 66 XBH vs. only 44 for Mauer, who collected 31 doubles and 4 triples to go along with his 9 HR. But Mauer is an OBP machine. He takes a lot of walks (84 in ’08) to add to his characteristically high batting average (he won his second batting title this year) as well as to Justin Morneau’s characteristically high RBI totals. In a final offensive analysis, McCann has the edge in HR, XBH, SLG, OPS, and OPS+, but Mauer leads in hits (176 to 153), BA, OBP, EqA, batting win shares (22 to 16.2), and VORP.

Even in an offensive vacuum, Mauer probably deserves the nod for the top catcher of 2008, but adding his higher fielding win shares (9.2 to 4.9) to the equation widens his advantage over McCann in total win shares to 10 (31 to 21), giving Mauer the edge by a little over three wins. Baserunners were more conservative with Mauer than with McCann, as well, running on the Twins’ catcher only 80 times (and getting caught 29 times) as opposed to 120 times on McCann (who threw out two fewer runners—27—in 40 more chances).

Joe Mauer should not be the AL MVP this year, but he was definitely the most valuable big league catcher in 2008, and an easy choice for the top spot on this list.

2008 Positional MVP Picks: Starting Pitchers

The 2008 regular season is behind us, and as more and more writers push their picks for the various regular season awards, I can’t shake my frustration with many of those picks (some of which are downright infuriating), but also with sportswriters who don’t do their statistical homework and instead rely blindly on metrics that I and many others believe to be fundamentally flawed (wins, batting average, RBIs, etc.) or on vague intangible words like “clutch,” “grit,” “hustle,” and so on. So I decided that with the MLB regular season awards on the horizon, I would stop complaining and start typing. Over the next two weeks or so, I will be ranking the top MLB individual performers by position, making my case for position/league MVPs and other award winners (CYA, RoY) along the way and guessing at who will actually win those awards.

If you don't care about baseball (and if this applies to you, why are you reading this blog in the first place?), I suggest closing your browser, turning off your computer, punching directly through your monitor, and then running around in circles until you're too tired to feel feelings. That said, welcome to Installment #1: Starting Pitchers.

2008 was a great year for starting pitchers. In my opinion, there are five, maybe six legitimate candidates for the best pitcher in the Majors this year. Of those six, only four (two from each league) should be legitimate Cy Young candidates, and both CYA races are too close to call (though I do my best to do so regardless). I suspect that my pick for the #1 slot will upset a lot of people; frankly, I didn’t expect him to come out on top, even knowing my own statistical biases, until I crunched the numbers. But he did, and barring an unexpected and tremendously strong counter argument [EDIT: read to the end of this post for just such an argument], I stand by my decision. And now, on with the list!

6.) Brandon Webb is a borderline Cy Young candidate at best. Sure, those 22 wins look pretty to a lot of CYA voters, and they may even be enough for him to win the award this year, but wins are a vastly overrated statistic (too reliant on bullpens and run support), and every other pitcher on this list outperforms Webb on most if not all of the following metrics: WHIP, ERA, ERA+, SO, and IP (Webb’s respective totals: 1.196, 3.30, 138, 183, 226.7). Webb deserves votes for the CYA—he just doesn’t deserve first place votes. Sadly, he'll likely get some.

5.) Tim Lincecum is a 2008 NL Cy Young favorite, but the race (or perhaps more accurately, my race) is extremely close between Lincecum and Johan Santana. Since I haven’t written anything about Santana yet, most of you have probably already guessed who my choice is, but Lincecum’s 2008 season was Cy Young quality and included a 1.172 WHIP, 2.62 ERA, 164 ERA+, 265 SO (84 BB), and 227 IP, not to mention (due not only to unreliability in general, but also to unreliability in Lincecum’s specific case) an 18-5 record for an abysmal Giants team (72-90 and 12 games out in one of the two weakest regular-season divisions in baseball).

Impressive though it is, Lincecum’s record should actually be significantly better: San Francisco relievers blew four saves for the young right-hander, and the Giants’ anemic offense resulted in Lincecum taking no-decisions four times after going 6+ innings without giving up more than 3 runs (he gave up 3 twice, 2 once, and 1 once). All told, Lincecum had an even better year than many baseball “pundits” give him credit for, and although I would be happy to see him win the NL Cy Young Award, I believe that honor should go to the next man on my list.

4.) Johan Santana should be getting a lot more Cy Young attention than he is. He had a monster year, as his 1.148 WHIP, 2.53 ERA, 163 ERA+, 206 SO (vs. 63 BB), and 243.3 IP (3 CG, 2 SHO) show. Unfortunately for Santana’s real-world CYA chances, his record is a fairly pedestrian 16-7, but his low win total says much more about the Mets’ shaky bullpen than it does about Santana’s pitching.

Frankly, Santana’s 2008 season is a textbook example of why wins are not a reliable metric for judging pitching performances: Mets relievers blew seven (!) saves for Santana, which is absolutely criminal. If the ‘pen had converted even four of those seven save opportunities, then Santana is almost certainly the runaway NL CYA winner (he’s my pick even at 16-7, but unfortunately English professors don’t get votes). Santana also left two games in the 6th or later having given up two or fewer runs; he went 0-1 in those games.

Admittedly, Santana over Lincecum is a tough call, but Santana’s got the edge in WHIP, ERA, and IP, and the two posted virtually identical adjusted ERAs of 163 (Santana) and 164 (Lincecum). Lincecum’s candidacy largely hinges on his higher SO total, higher SO/9IP total (10.51 to Santana’s 9.33), and better record. But Santana’s record suffered from three more blown saves than Lincecum’s did, and Santana actually outpaced Lincecum in SO/BB 3.27 to 3.15. Frankly, Lincecum is an excellent pick for the NL Cy Young. He just isn’t mine. But both Santana and Lincecum deserve far more consideration for the NL CYA than the next man on my list.

3.) I’ve read more NL Cy Young cases for C.C. Sabathia than I have for Johan Santana, which is ridiculous. C.C. had, in my mind at least, a better season than Johan, but there is no Major League Cy Young Award, and Santana did more for the Mets over the course of the entire regular season than Sabathia did for the Brewers in the second half. On top of that, both Sabathia and Santana came up huge during their teams’ playoff runs, which, in a perfect world, would eliminate vague notions of “clutchiness” from arguments for Sabathia over Santana (note: ours is not a perfect world).

With all that said, Sabathia, not Santana, was the better pitcher in 2008, which should speak volumes for just how dominating Sabathia was throughout much of this past year. His switch from the AL to the NL means that he shouldn’t even sniff the NL CYA, but his season-long numbers are ridiculous: 1.115 WHIP, 2.70 ERA, 162 ERA+, 251 SO (59 BB), 253 IP, and an absurd 10 CG with 5 SHO. Sabathia’s 17-10 record is much less fluky than Santana’s; he had more bad starts than Santana (but also more dominating starts), and Indians and Brewers relievers combined to blow only one save for Sabathia all season. C.C. did take two tough losses (8.0 IP, 1 ER; 7.0 IP, 2 ER) and a 7-inning, 1 ER no-decision, though, so a composite record of 19-21 wins against 9-10 losses would have been a very realistic finish for Sabathia in 2008. But—and I can't stress this enough—he should not be the NL CYA winner.

2.) Cliff Lee is not my pick for the best pitcher of 2008. He’s not even my pick for the 2008 AL CYA. I suspect I have a lot of explaining to do.

First off, let me make one thing clear: Lee had a phenomenal year. He’s an excellent pick for the Cy Young (and will almost certainly win the award), and a great case can be made for Lee as the best pitcher in Major League Baseball in 2008. His 22-3 record will jump out at CYA voters immediately, and unfortunately* will probably be what wins him the award, but there’s a lot more to Lee’s season than his eye-popping .880 winning percentage. He put up a 1.110 WHIP, 2.54 ERA, 175 ERA+, 170 SO against 34 BB, and threw 223.3 innings with 4 CG and 2 SHO. He led the American League in ERA+, BB/9IP (1.37), wins, and winning percentage, and tied for the league lead in SHO with the next man on my list.

And Lee’s ridiculous win total could have been even higher: his bullpen blew three saves, and on July 1st Lee threw 8 innings of 1-run ball against the White Sox but left with a no-decision. On the other side of the hyphen, Lee could just as easily have had a 5 in the loss column: in the three games in which Lee gave up six runs, he went 1-1, though in that one loss only five of the runs were earned. But Lee’s 22-3 record is no fluke; the lefty had a ridiculously consistent year on the mound. In his 31 starts, Lee gave up four or more runs only seven times, and never gave up more than six. Despite such a tremendous year, Lee is still #2 on my list. He will probably win the AL Cy Young, and he is a great choice for the award, but I believe that the next man on my list had the better year.

*I use the word “unfortunately” not because Lee doesn’t deserve the award, but because a W-L record is not a good barometer for CYA voting

1.) Roy Halladay had a brilliant 2008 campaign, posting 20 wins (no, I don’t like the stat, but CYA voters do) against 11 losses in arguably the toughest division in baseball while compiling a 1.052 WHIP (!), 2.78 ERA, 155 ERA+, 206 SO to only 39 BB (a 5.28 SO/BB ratio), and a league-leading 246.0 IP, including 9 CG and 2 SHO. He led the American League in WHIP, IP, CG, and SO/BB (5.28). Among Halladay’s 246 IP are four consecutive starts in which he threw CGs but went 1-3 (including a heartbreaking loss to the Red Sox on April 29th, when he threw 8.2 scoreless innings without any run support only to lose the game 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth) and 2.1 innings of scoreless relief work against the Phillies on May 18th; the man, as always, was a workhorse.

Statistically, Halladay’s 2008 season was actually much stronger than his Cy Young campaign in 2003. His ERA, ERA+, WHIP, and SO totals were all better in 2008 than in 2003. Unfortunately, this year Halladay probably won’t be able to overtake Cliff Lee’s 22-3 season and win the AL CYA.

So why would I pick Halladay over Lee? Lee has the edge in ERA, ERA+, and BB/9IP, gave up fewer home runs (12 to 18), and had a better record in 2008. But Halladay beat out Lee in WHIP, SO, SO/BB (5.28 to 5.00), IP, and CG. The most likely arguments for Lee over Halladay, therefore, are ERA/ERA+ and wins/winning percentage.

Lee’s ERA and adjusted ERA are both significantly better than Halladay’s: 2.54 to 2.78 and 175 to 155, respectively. But Halladay’s WHIP was a ridiculous 1.052 (to Lee’s 1.110). And because I believe that WHIP (which is, quite simply, how many runners a pitcher allows to reach base per inning) is a better measure of a pitcher’s ability to control a ballgame than ERA or even ERA+ (both of which can be influenced by the bullpen), I give the nod to Halladay here. But frankly, this point hinges on which statistic you give more weight: WHIP or ERA+. For the sake of time, and to delay my inevitable case of carpal tunnel syndrom, this is a debate that I will leave for another day.

The difference in wins/winning percentages (22-3, .880 for Lee; 20-11, .696 for Halladay), however, demands more analysis than my cursory WHIP vs. ERA+ treatment. After all, the Blue Jays bullpen didn’t blow a single save for Halladay whereas the Indians bullpen blew three for Lee, so the gap could actually have been much larger. And as I have already written, Lee’s 22-3 record will likely be the final word for many, if not most, Cy Young voters.

Both pitchers were very consistent this year. Neither gave up more than 6 ER in a start, and both gave up 4+ ER only seven times all season. But wins aren’t just about pitching: they’re also about run support, and for these two similarly dominant pitchers, run support made a world of difference in 2008. Halladay’s support was almost a full run lower per game than Lee’s (4.61 for Halladay vs. 5.58 for Lee). The Blue Jays scored 2 runs or fewer in 10 of Halladay’s 33 starts, and were shut out in three of those games; the Indians gave Lee 2 runs or fewer in just four of his 31 starts, and in only one of those starts were they shut out. Since both pitchers posted ERAs in the 2.5-2.7 range, the differences in their loss columns, when compared to the differences in their run support, make a lot of sense. Halladay’s team scored fewer runs than his ERA 10 times, and he lost 11 games; Lee’s team scored fewer runs than his ERA 4 times, and he lost 3 games.

As for the other side of the W-L hyphen, Halladay’s Jays scored 3 or more runs 23 times (he won 20 games), and scored 10 or more runs only once; Lee’s Indians scored 3 or more 27 times (he won 22), and scored 10 or more on 5 occasions.

Because the Cy Young Award should be determined by individual performance, wins/winning percentage is a misleading metric for determining the value of a starting pitcher. And because Halladay and Lee both had such strong seasons, I have to go with the pitcher with the lower WHIP, more SO, and better SO/BB who ate up more innings in a tougher division. I have to go with Halladay. He probably won’t win the Cy Young, and if this honor goes to Lee I won’t be upset in the least. But I think that Halladay was the most valuable starting pitcher in the Majors in 2008, and the most deserving Cy Young candidate in either league.

[EDIT: When I sat down to write this post, Lee was my #1 pick and Halladay was my #2. It was only after going through a lot of numbers that I boiled down the debate between the two pitchers to WHIP vs. ERA+, with Halladay (and WHIP) coming out on top. Unfortunately, I missed some other very important numbers:

Lee 2.92
Halladay 3.09

Pitching Win Shares
Lee 26.0
Halladay 23.6

Lee 75.0
Halladay 71.5

Add WHIP and ERA+ to the mix, and it's 4-1 Lee. I should have trusted my gut; Lee's #1.]

This Site Started Twenty Years Ago...

...when I watched my first Cubs game on WGN. It was towards the end of the 1988 season, and I remember nothing at all about the game. I don't know if the Cubs won or lost. I don't even know who they played. But what I do know is that, twenty years later, I'm still watching baseball, talking about baseball, writing about baseball, complaining about baseball, reading about baseball, and obsessing about baseball, particularly my (now-)hometown Chicago Cubs.

But as I have grown as a fan, from my humble beginnings as a six-year-old with the attention span of a gnat to a twenty-six-year old who is happy to spend hours upon hours culling through statistics, I have become increasingly frustrated at the low level of discourse maintained by most sportswriters, commentators, and other "baseball people." In the baseball world, cliches, truisms, and tradition are too often substitutes for research and analysis, and unsupported claims and groundless assumptions prevent anything even resembling a well-conceived argument from emerging in far too many columns and interviews. Put simply, most of the discourse surrounding my favorite sport is, from an argumentative standpoint, held to lower standards by the media and the general public than the standards to which I hold my eighteen-year-old freshman composition students.

I don't mean to suggest that there is no good sportswriting out there. But for every Peter Gammons there are hundreds of Jon Heymans and Murray Chasses, people who, though they may be good reporters and are sometimes even good baseball reporters, are terrible baseball analysts.

This blog is not an attempt to rally fans beneath the banner of better baseball analysis, nor is it an attempt to show up all those evilnastyjerkfaces whose columns and commentary so often infuriate me; instead, it is simply a place for me to vent when I feel like venting and write when I feel like writing. Sometimes I'll write about baseball in general. More often than not, I'll probably stick to what I know best: the National League Central and, more importantly, the Chicago Cubs. But I have no specific goals for this blog, and am curious to see what (if anything) it becomes.

And with that said, welcome to the (NL) Central Stage.