North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Felix, not CC and especially not the Yankees – notes on a baseball postseason

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A quick question: what pitcher is more important to his team?

  • 249.2 IP; 232 K;1.057 WHIP; 2.27 ERA, 6.0 WAR, 57 RAR
  • 237.2 IP; 197 K, 1.191 WHIP, 3.18 ERA, 3.18 WAR, 55 RAR

If it helps, I can break those numbers down a bit.

  • Pitcher A pitched more innings then Pitcher B and struck out more batters
  • Pitcher A had both a lower ERA and WHIP, plus higher WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and RAR (Runs better then replacement level)

It’s far from airtight, but surely it seems safe to say A is better then B, something I’m sure you already grasped. And since you probably watch baseball, you have already guessed my blind question is supposing that Felix Hernandez had a better pitching season then CC Sabathia.

It’s something of an already trite argument, one that close to a metric ton of sportswriters are making, usually with better cases then I can conjure up.

Not all are. One example would be Toronto Sun scribe Steve Simmons. Buckle in, kids, this will be a bumpy ride.

Writing in his usual Sunday column style – a collection of loose thoughts thrown together without regard to narrative – Simmons decides to tackle the Cy Young race.  He begins with a comment about how “A lot of people” are saying Hernendez is the best pitcher in the AL. Look at those numbers above: they are very good.

Then Simmons wrote: “You can’t have a 13-game winner on a last-place team as a Cy Young winner. It means he put up all those numbers never pitching a game of importance.”

Take a second and savor that argument. Think about it, what Simmons is trying to say: forget the numbers, forget anything Hernandez did on the mound. Consider his wins, a statistic dependant on the number of runs his own team scores for him, with him sitting on the pine.

Simmons, again: “My vote, if I had one, would go to CC Sabathia of the Yankees, the 21-game winner.”

This is it. Wins are the only thing that counts. Even though the pitcher has no control over them. Even though Hernandez not only had better numbers in nearly every statistical category, he did it with a poor team behind him.

Of course, Simmons’ argument is banal, misleading and – at best – grossly ill informed. He makes a bold statement and instead of supporting it, he just belittles the other guys, namely the Seattle Mariners.

If the above seems like an obvious, hammered-home point made a billion times elsewhere, it’s because it is. It’s a common meme among sportswriters – and a lazy one, too – to call the pitcher with the most wins the best pitcher in baseball.

It’s somewhat forgivable, though, since wins are a misleading statistic. If I knew nothing about baseball, I’d assume the best pitcher wins the most. It’s not an awful mistake, I suppose. But man, is it lazy.

****

I’ve found that I’m watching much more baseball this fall then I have in recent memory. I’m not sure why that is.

It probably has something to do with this bizarre season. This summer has been dominated by excellent pitching: there were six no-hitters, plus two more games that came very close. On a whole, offence is down this season, as has been the trend from the past five seasons; compared to five years ago, the league wide ERA is down nearly half a run and both WHIP and the total number of runs scored have made noticeable dips.

  • 2010: 21308 Runs, 4.08 ERA, 1.347 WHIP
  • 2009: 22419 R, 4.32 ERA, 1.390 WHIP
  • 2008: 22585 R, 4.32 ERA, 1.391 WHIP
  • 2007: 23322 R, 4.47 ERA, 1.406 WHIP
  • 2006: 23599 R, 4.53 ERA, 1.408 WHIP

Obviously, those numbers seem to translate to a lower-scoring game. I like the low scoring games. I like watching a pitcher take a shutout into the later innings.

Honestly, I’m not a giant baseball fan. It’s weird how entranced I’ve become this season. I started watching the out-of-market games on Sportsnet, the Braves telecasts on Peachtree and the FOX game of the week. I’ve fooled around with my radio and picked up broadcasts from Philly, New York and (once) Chicago.  I dunno how to explain it very well.

I mean, I can explain it: baseball just seems more fun to watch this season. But that’s not an explanation. Fun is subjective and pretty much anybody could rightly criticize me for it. What is more fun? More fun then what? How?

Could it be all the great pitcher duels? I’ve never seen a no-hitter live and with a spade of them this season, it could happen. Maybe. The two times I could have seen a possible no hitter this season – Halladay’s in the NLDS and the near no-hitter the Jays had – I was nowhere near a TV.

Or maybe I should go with the simplest, most likely explanation: maybe I’m growing to like baseball.

It’s not hard to figure why. This season had compelling races for the playoffs, even including one in the AL East. It had a great first round of the postseason. It has my former favorite Jay – Roy Halladay – exploding all over the National League. It has my new favorite out-of-market team, the Texas Rangers.

I really enjoy watching the Rangers. This will sound stupid, but they play hard. I like how aggressively they run the bases. I like Cliff Lee and his quiet dominance. I like Josh Hamilton and I really liked how the Rangers didn’t celebrate with champagne around him.

I watched all five games of the ALDS between the Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays, but the one moment that stands out – and is the one which put the Rangers over the top – happened early in game five, when Elvis Andrus made a move for third on a  Hamilton grounder and just kept moving, right on to home, giving the Rangers an early lead.

It’s a really simple thing, but goddamn, is it cool. The way they pounded the bases, rushed at them, wanted them. Even Bengie Molina, the slowest runner I’ve ever seen, stole a base.

It doesn’t hurt that they’re playing the Yankees, either.

Better writers then I have captured the milieu of the Bronx, but let it be said that Yankee fans are generally awful people. When a dope reached over the wall to snatch a ball away from Nelson Cruz it wasn’t just something anybody could do, it was Yankee Bullshit; that it was followed another fan shoving Cruz’s glove away and an exceptionally douchebag-ish dance only cements it.

It’s easy to hate the Yankees for their fans. It’s easy to hate them for their overpaid, underperforming players (especially AJ Burnett). It’s even easier to hate them because everybody else seems to.

But when they’re facing some other monolith of a team (the Red Sox, the Phillies) who throws as much liquid capital into the talent reservoir, it’s hard to really root against them. The Phillies outspend everybody in their own league. There are terrible people who like Boston.

It feels good to hate them because they’re facing a genuinely likeable team. It feels fun.

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Written by M.

October 21, 2010 at 11:11 pm

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