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View Full Version : Cardinals Burwell: Why Don't Wins Count Anymore? (the worst baseball article of the year)


Reaper16
11-20-2009, 03:29 PM
http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/columnists.nsf/bryanburwell/story/3C87D5BC1B0134E8862576740017024D?OpenDocument


By Bryan Burwell (bburwell@post-dispatch.com)
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
11/20/2009

Of all the many mysteries surrounding our national pastime, none is more baffling than the rather peculiar obsession by so many who profess a love of baseball who repeatedly try to turn this wonderfully simple game into a mind-numbing, highfalutin' brain twister.

So someone is going to have to help me on this one.

When did pitching victories become passé?

Apparently I have been misled for all these years. Here I was thinking that guys who win 18, 19, 20 or 25 games were some kind of special. I always figured that a guy who was able to go out on the mound every five days and pretty much guarantee his team a victory was one of those Cy Young-type hurlers everyone dreams about. Now I find out that I am wrong. Baseball's new wave of deep thinkers and pseudo-intellectuals have told me so loud and clear with the voting in this year's Cy Young awards. <script language="javascript" type="text/javascript"> <!-- // begin DisplayAds("Frame1","",""); // --> </script>


What was my greatest fear in the past is now upon us. Armed with their "advanced metrics" and clutching their spread sheets, the new-age baseball voters have officially taken over the sport both in the front offices and behind the scenes. Baseball's seamheads have won the battle — and I fear are about to forever dominate the old-school vs. new-school war — with the results of this year's Cy Young voting.

Victories are irrelevant, or at the very least now considered the most grossly overrated statistic available when it comes to evaluating pitchers. I know this now because the National League (Tim Lincecum) and American League (Zack Greinke) Cy Young winners were respectively only 15- and 16-game winners.

Particularly in the NL voting, I am taken aback, because two voters — ESPN.com's Keith Law and Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus — did not include Chris Carpenter on their ballots. Law also had the NL's winningest pitcher, Adam Wainwright (19-8), in third place on his ballot behind Lincecum (15-7) and Javier Vazquez (15-10). And apparently all of baseball geekdom is perfectly cool with this.

I am not particularly outraged by any of this, but I am confused.

Look, I think Lincecum is a heck of a pitcher, arguably the most gifted hurler in baseball. But I always thought the Cy Young was intended to honor the pitcher with the best season, not necessarily to reward the guy who has the best stuff.

And up until Thursday, I kept hearing from folks with far more baseball knowledge than mine that this was a three-man race in the NL between Carpenter, Lincecum and Wainwright. I can't tell you how many conversations I've had since the middle of August with any number of Cy Young voters who were all wrestling mightily with trying to sort through the merits of this talented trio. I was under the belief that Lincecum, Carpenter and Wainwright had dramatically and definitively separated themselves from the pack.

But sometimes I guess we get guys who just feel like it's their job to show everyone how much smarter they are than the rest of us. Armed with all their sabermetrics, Carroll and Law — and obviously a lot of other voters — were able to determine that winning the most games in the heat of a pennant push was not nearly as important as looking good while losing.

If I lived in Dallas I would have a problem with this NL vote, so don't tell me I'm a homer. And as evidence of that, please refer to my NL manager of the year ballot where I voted for Colorado's Jim Tracy over Tony La Russa with no hesitation (La Russa was second on my ballot).

So here's what I still don't get. How can you look at what Wainwright did from a won-loss standpoint and essentially dismiss it in favor of Lincecum? As gifted a pitcher as Lincecum clearly is, he faltered down the stretch when his team was in the playoff hunt. In his last 10 starts, the San Francisco ace was only 3-4 with a 3.15 ERA. I'm sorry, but that has to mean something, doesn't it? If won-loss records are suddenly obsolete, why do we bother to keep the stat?

Now look at what Wainwright and Carpenter did. Let's start with Wainwright, who had the most wins in the NL with his 19-8 record. In games that he started, the Cards won 23 contests. Over the final three months of the season, Wainwright had an 11-3 record with a stunning 1.90 ERA. In Wainwright's last 11 starts, the Cards lost one game. All of this was done in the heat of a push to the postseason.

Carpenter was equally dominant, with a 10-1 record (2.06 ERA) in his last 15 starts after the all-star break, and the team won 18 games when he was a starter.

So tell me again, why is winning not an important stat anymore?

It makes me feel like they're either trying to out-think themselves or justify their sabermetric fascinations when I hear people tell me that a pitcher's victories aren't all that important.

Victories aren't important?

In the immortal words of that noted sports philosopher Herm Edwards:

"This is what's great about sports. This is what the greatest thing about sports is. You play to win the game. Hello? You play to win the game. You don't play it to just play it. That's the great thing about sports: You play to win, and I don't care if you don't have any wins. You go play to win. When you start tellin' me it doesn't matter, then retire. Get out! 'Cause it matters."

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Pablo
11-20-2009, 03:32 PM
Fuck that noise.

Hey St. Louis, why don't you go ahead and trade your starting line-up over to KC so Greinke can go for 30 W's?

K. Thx. Bye.

alnorth
11-20-2009, 03:34 PM
This man is literally stupid

Reaper16
11-20-2009, 03:35 PM
Ken Tremendous needs to rev up the ol' Fire Joe Morgan engines and slaughter this piece.

Stewie
11-20-2009, 03:43 PM
Sour grapes. Did this dickbag ever watch Zack pitch? Probably in the All-Star game when he embarrassed the NL hitters. Get your nose out of the stat sheets and WATCH great pitchers pitch.

Reaper16
11-20-2009, 03:44 PM
Sour grapes. Did this dickbag even watch Zack pitch? Get your nose out of the stat sheets and WATCH pitchers pitch.
He's not so much upset with Greinke as he is with Lincecum winning over Wainwright and Carpenter. Burwell is a St. Louis columnist.

Curious as to why you'd tell him to get his nose out of the stat sheet because he's upset with the stat-centric views of the BBWAA this year.

Marcellus
11-20-2009, 03:45 PM
I think a better question would be why are strike outs more important than ERA and wins.

Greinke had an awesome ERA even though he didn't have a lot of wins.

Carp had a lower ERA and more wins than Lincecum but fewer strike outs so obviously strike outs trump wins and ERA.

Demonpenz
11-20-2009, 03:46 PM
i ususally click find and type in herm edwards and if he is in the article it sucks

Pablo
11-20-2009, 03:51 PM
i ususally click find and type in herm edwards and if he is in the article it suckstroof

Reaper16
11-20-2009, 03:53 PM
I think a better question would be why are strike outs more important than ERA and wins.

Greinke had an awesome ERA even though he didn't have a lot of wins.

Carp had a lower ERA and more wins than Lincecum but fewer strike outs so obviously strike outs trump wins and ERA.
I think a question to pose to you is why not consider other statistics in addition to those three? WHIP, FIP, WAR are examples of more advanced metrics that are very useful in determining who had the better season.

(Also, Carp missed like a month, which caused some people to leave him off of their ballots).

alnorth
11-20-2009, 03:55 PM
I think a better question would be why are strike outs more important than ERA and wins.

Greinke had an awesome ERA even though he didn't have a lot of wins.

Carp had a lower ERA and more wins than Lincecum but fewer strike outs so obviously strike outs trump wins and ERA.

Well, its not like Lincecum blew everyone else away in the voting like Greinke.

It was very close, with each of the three having an ok statistical argument somewhere. Lincecum had probably the best statistical argument, but it wasnt far and away better like it was with Greinke vs the AL field. The NL voting ended up close, as it should.

This writer is stupid because he believes wins should be one of the most important stats in evaluating pitchers. The "win" is one of the least predictive indicators of success and depending more on the team's offense and defense than on his own pitching. It is really a crappy simple-minded stat that should be done away with.

Pablo
11-20-2009, 03:56 PM
Why didn't Sabathia win the AL??? I mean, the Yankees won the World Series FFS. That's like the ultimate win right there; so he's clearly the best pitcher in the AL by default.

Marcellus
11-20-2009, 04:03 PM
I think a question to pose to you is why not consider other statistics in addition to those three? WHIP, FIP, WAR are examples of more advanced metrics that are very useful in determining who had the better season.

(Also, Carp missed like a month, which caused some people to leave him off of their ballots).

Carp started 4 games less than Lincecum and compares in every stat except SO's while having more wins. Carps WHIP was better.

4 games difference in starts should not be the deal breaker.

Crush
11-20-2009, 04:04 PM
Fuck the Yankees.

Marcellus
11-20-2009, 04:05 PM
This writer is stupid because he believes wins should be one of the most important stats in evaluating pitchers. The "win" is one of the least predictive indicators of success and depending more on the team's offense and defense than on his own pitching. It is really a crappy simple-minded stat that should be done away with.

I am not arguing that. ERA combined with wins is 2 out 3 major categories.

You cant say Carp had more wins just because of offense when he had a lower era.

He started 4 fewer games and had 3 more more wins. That's significant.

DaWolf
11-20-2009, 04:15 PM
Counterpoint by Posnanski:

Greinke's Cy Young Award is a victory over the victory (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/joe_posnanski/11/17/greinke.cy.young/index.html)

Every so often in this crazy sports racket, you can't help but feel like the conversation has changed ever so slightly ... and changed for the better. Zack Greinke won the American League Cy Young Award on Tuesday. More than that, he breezed to the award. He was named first on 25 of 28 ballots. He was the runaway winner.

And he did it with only 16 victories.

This is kind of amazing, if you think about it. Before I begin, I should probably explain quickly to those who have missed it that I cannot stand the pitcher's victory as a prominent baseball statistic. I quote victories more often than I should because they are inescapable. But crediting the pitcher for a victory has always been somewhat absurd and also -- as Crash Davis said in Bull Durham about strikeouts -- fascist. Why would you give one guy a "victory?" A pitcher has only so much control over how many hits/runs he allows, and he has almost no control over how many hits/runs his team scores. If a third baseman hits three home runs and makes two great plays, shouldn't HE get the victory?

As ridiculous as the pitching victories thing was in the 1970s and before, when pitchers threw complete games with regularity, it's even more ridiculous now because they don't. Starting pitchers generally go five, six or seven innings ... why in the hell should they get a VICTORY for that?

But I digress. Before Greinke, only one starting pitcher in the history of the American League Cy Young had won the award with as few as 16 victories. That, surprisingly enough, was also a Kansas City Royals pitcher -- David Cone in 1994. Of course, the big difference is 1994 was a strike year. Cone went 16-5 in only 23 starts that year.

Four National League starters have won the Cy Young with 16 or less. FernandoValenzuela won 13 in the 1981 strike season -- a season which mostly exists to force sportswriters to use the words "Except for the 1981 strike season" in their stories. Greg Maddux won 16 in the 1994 strike year. Rick Sutcliffe went 16-1 after being traded to the Cubs in 1984 and won the National League Cy Young (he actually won 20 games with the Cubs and Indians). And then there was Brandon Webb in 2006 -- he too won the Cy Young with 16 victories, but that was a weird year because Webb's 16 victories actually LED THE LEAGUE (well, he was part of a six-way tie at the top).

So, this is a little bit different -- this is the first season, I think, when a starter with 16 victories won the award over a viable Cy Young choice with more victories. And there was a very good choice -- Felix Hernandez went 19-5, had a great 2.48 ERA, pitched incredible baseball in the second half and so on. There's little question in my mind that King Felix would have won the award in years past, and I'm not even saying that's wrong. I'm saying it's fairly incredible that the way we watch and study baseball has changed so much that he did not win it this time around.

No, the winner was Zack, with 16 victories. He had a great, great year as we have written here many, many times -- led the league in ERA, WHIP and homers per nine innings, was second in strikeouts, shutouts, complete games and hits per nine. On top of that, he won the Cy Young while pitching for a terrible hitting and fielding team. He won the Cy Young while pitching in a Kansas City market without much media exposure*. He won it while pitching for a team that lost 97 games.

*Even as I typed those words, I realized that the whole "not much media exposure" cry for Kansas City is probably as obsolete as judging a pitcher by his victories. I would guess that for a young fan raised on the Internet, the Royals probably feel preposterously OVEREXPOSED, what with Rob Neyer and Rany Jazayerli and Bill James and Jeff Passan and Sam Mellinger and, you know, others, having a Kansas City slant.

In fact, I wonder -- and you can e-mail me your answer if you like -- who you think are the five most overexposed teams in baseball. You can include everything -- TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, Internet, people in your office who will not shut up, etc. Rank the teams in order, Top 5. And if you are just about to send me an e-mail with this ...

1. Yankees
2. Yankees
3. Yankees
4. Yankees
5. Yankees

... you don't have to. Really.

The Greinke award -- especially him winning so easily -- feels something like progress. Or at least it feels that way to me because (A) I have been in the tank for Greinke since before the season began and (B) I probably am a hard-liner when it comes to using victories as a way to measure pitchers. Of course, I have been saying for weeks that he WOULD win the Cy Young. But was I as confident as I wrote? Probably not. I kept looking at King Felix's 19-5 record and thinking: That could definitely change things.

And in other years, yes, I think it would have changed things. There are a few examples of great pitchers getting little or no Cy Young support because they did not win games.

• Kevin Brown lost the Cy Young to John Smoltz in 1996 by a landslide despite his remarkable 1.89 ERA. That ERA was a full run better than Smoltz (2.95). Brown walked just 33 batters in 233 innings, he led the league in WHIP (.944), shutouts (3), fewest homers per nine innings (.309) and his 216 ERA+ that year is the 11th best since the deadball era. But Smoltz had 24 wins for a 96-win Braves team while Brown only had 17 victories for an 80-82 Marlins team. And Smoltz has mentioned, won the Cy Young running away.

*Brown hit 16 batters and walked 33. I had to believe this is a W/P (walk-to-plunk ratio) record (min. 200 innings pitched). Pedro Martinez in 2000 walked 32 and hit 14 (2.29 W/P). Bronson Arroyo in 2004 walked 47 and hit 20 (2.35). And David Bush in 2006 walked 38 and hit 18 (2.11). But Brown's 2.06 walk-to-plunk is special.

A bonus mention should be given, however, to OrelHershiser's 2000 season. It doesn't count because he only pitched 24 2/3 innings. But that year, his last year, Bulldog walked 14 and hit 11.

• Dave Stieb went 14-13 with a league leading 2.48 ERA in 1985 -- and he finished seventh in the Cy Young voting. Admittedly, it's hard to understand how he could have gone 14-13 with a league-leading ERA while pitching for a Blue Jays team that won the American League East ... well, it was hard to understand then. Looking back now, you can see that six of his losses and eight of his nine no-decisions were what we now call quality starts. His team also allowed 16 unearned runs. So despite pitching 30 more innings than Cy winner Bret Saberhagen and allowing fewer earned runs, despite allowing the fewest hits per nine in the league, he got practically no Cy support.

• In 1993, Cincinnati's Jose Rijo was second in ERA (2.48), first in strikeouts (227), second in innings pitched (257), third in strikeouts to walk ratio, and third in hits per nine innings (7.6) but finished a distant fifth in the Cy voting. He had only 14 wins.

• In the American League in 1993, Kevin Appier led the league in ERA (2.56) and home runs per nine innings, was second in WHIP ... but he won 18 games and finished third in the voting. Jack McDowell won 22 and took the award.

• In 1978, Jon Matlack had a 2.27 ERA for Texas (second in the league) and he was Top 5 in WHIP, walks per nine, complete games (18, if you are counting at home) and strikeout to walk ratio. He did not get a single Cy Young vote. His record was 15-13.

And so on. This is not to say that these players got cheated -- my feeling on it is that you either win the Cy Young or you don't. Second or third place, while fun to talk about, are not especially memorable for most. And I would say the only one of these five who SHOULD have won the Cy Young was Kevin Brown. I'm just saying that wins have always played at least some role in the voting. But with the game changing -- there were no 20-game winners again this season, just like 2006 -- and with people (fans, writers, analysts, everyone it seems except a few former players) attempting to go deeper with pitching analysis, I think this year wins played very little role in people's thinking. And that's why Zack Greinke won.

Of course, because of my crazy mind, I do wish we could come up with something like wins and losses (but better) that would tell us at a glance just how effective a season a pitcher had. Bill James' Game Scores and Season scores are fun. Win Probability Added -- which, to wildly oversimplify, adds up an entire season's worth of winning/losing plays to estimate how many wins a player adds to a team -- is extremely helpful.

But, yes, I can see why people would be drawn to pitchers wins (and losses). It's simple, it's clear-cut and appeals to the certainty we want from baseball. Who is the best winner? If he was so good, why didn't he win more? If he was so bad, how did he win so many? And so on. Wins have had a powerful pull on the American baseball fan and writer for a long time, and I do not doubt that it will again. But for now, the win is humbled. Zack Greinke wins the Cy Young -- a rare victory without many victories.

Reaper16
11-20-2009, 04:17 PM
Carp started 4 games less than Lincecum and compares in every stat except SO's while having more wins. Carps WHIP was better.

4 games difference in starts should not be the deal breaker.
4 games is close to a whole month. Its quite a big difference when the 4 players at the top of the NL Cy Young race were so close in performance.
Even still, Lincecum had a better defense-independent ERA than Carp. Carp's defense played better/he got luckier than Tim, evidenced by Carp's abnormally low BABIP this year. He had a better WARP and VORP. You can't just discount strikeouts; they are not the most important indicator of individual dominance but they are useful.

KChiefs1
11-20-2009, 04:57 PM
Lincecum
Carpenter
Wainwright

They were all in a virtual dead heat in all of the pitching categories.