The Sabathia versus King Felix Debate Verdict

October 6, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Sports Geek.

This season, 2010, has been the so-called “Year of the Pitcher” (just don’t tell Charlie Morton, Kenshin Kawakami, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Milwood, A.J. Burnett or a handful of other pitchers who had less than successful 2010 campaigns). Two shining examples of pitching greatness are featured in the debate Sports Geek and Babe Ruthless tackled. Both C.C. Sabathia and Felix Hernandez had outstanding season, but in different ways.

Sabathia, as argued by Babe Ruthless, represents the type of pitcher who wins games. That’s certainly Sabathia in 2010. The guy just wins games. In fact, he won 21 of them this season. He was no doubt helped by an extremely potent lineup (to the tune of 7.31 runs of support per nine innings pitched). But still, the bottom line is to win the game C.C. gave his team that chance.

Babe also writes that sometimes statistics are overrated, citing some strikeout totals from this past season. Having strikeout pitchers is essential to winning in the post-season (just ask the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling). But that doesn’t always translate to being near the top of the league in wins in the regular seasons.

Sports Geek had the task of defending the honor of the ERA, which is fully represented by King Felix this season. Sports Geek argues that the pitcher can only control what happens when he is on the field, not when his offense is at the plate. In other words, it’s no fault of Hernandez that his team is only scoring 3.75 runs per nine innings pitched when he pitches, which is over 3.5 runs lower than the other pitcher in this debate. That doesn’t exactly speak well of the lineup that Seattle consistently threw out there. Yes, I am talking to you Chone Figgins, Casey Kotchman, and Jose Lopez. Actually, I am talking to everyone except Ichiro. Sports Geek even found a good quote from a proven ace Justin Verlander who said that wins are not that most important stat. Though, in fairness, I’d somewhat expect a pitcher to say that because of the number of times a pitcher loses a chance at victory due to a blown save by the bullpen.

To me, the bottom line surrounding this debate is what defines a pitcher’s dominance. Is it wins, or is it ERA? After reading the arguments I vote ERA, so that is why Sports Geek wins this debate. Babe Ruthless talked about how statistics can sometimes be deceiving. Phil Hughes had 18 wins this season, but with a 4.19 ERA. Derek Lowe had 16 wins, but with an ERA of 4.00. Meanwhile, look at a guy like Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson. In 16 starts after the All-Star break his ERA is a Cy Young-like 2.51. Want to guess what his win-loss record is? Maybe ten wins? Wrong! He’s 2-6, thanks to an anemic offense. That doesn’t take away how dominant he was in the second half of the season, though.

Hernandez’s average win-loss record can’t overshadow his ERA, not to mention the fact that he threw nearly 250 innings. A pitcher can’t control what goes while he is in the dugout. He can only control what happens when he is on the mound. No one did it better this year than Felix Hernandez.

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The Lowering Wins for MLB HOF Debate

June 22, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

When a pitcher wins 300 games in baseball they have achieved an incredible feat, a true rarity. Only 24 pitchers have ever recorded 300 wins in their career, and every eligible pitcher that has done so thus far has been inducted into the Hall of Fame. It is clear that reaching this benchmark has become an important criterion for determining whether a player is of Hall of Fame quality.

Although several players have reached the 300 win plateau over the past decade, the next potential candidates could be quite a long way off. Modern day five starter rotations, innings limits, and the increase specialization of bullpen pitchers have seriously undercut contemporary hurlers’ chances of winning 300 games. Jamie Moyer (265 wins) and Andy Pettitte (237 wins), head the list of active pitchers who are closest to the impressive mark. And there are plenty of super talented pitchers like them who may never see 300 wins – guys like Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, and Mark Buehrle. But, does that mean that great pitchers like these should not reach the Hall?

Today TSD tackles this daunting debate: Should the MLB HOF lower the “300 win threshold” to 275?

Bleacher Fan will argue that baseball needs to modify its expectations. He will need to explain how lowering the bar to 275 wins will help the game evolve without undermining the integrity and history of previous players’ accomplishments. Loyal Homer, on the other hand, will explain why the preservation of the 300 win expectation is important to the game’s legacy. He will have to make a case that does not just pander to purist tradition, but is founded in objective reasoning.

This clash figures to be an epic debate… but which author’s argument is Hall worthy?

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The Lowering Wins for the MLB HOF Debate… Unrealistic Expectations

June 22, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

The current career wins leader, for active pitchers, is Phillies starter Jamie Moyer.

Over his lengthy (that’s an understatement) career, he has amassed 265 total wins in 622 starts, meaning that he has won an average of 14 wins per season (at this writing).

If the 47-year old Southpaw is going to see 300 wins at that same rate, he is going to need to pitch UN-injured for the rest of this season PLUS two more. Can a 50-year old REALLY pitch full time as a starter, AND be successful? In a word – NO!

Below him sits Andy Pettitte, a whopping 63 wins away from the magic mark. Pettitte, who has only had two 20-win seasons in his entire career, and has not won more than 17 games since 2003, would need to notch THREE CONSECUTIVE 20-win seasons just to see 300 by the time he turns 41.

After Pettitte, there are no other active pitchers with even 200 wins.

C.C. Sabathia is currently the active leader for pitchers under-30 (and he’s not THAT far away… he’s 29), and he’s not even HALF WAY to 300 wins. EVEN IF the Cy Young winner and World Series ace were to completely repeat his remarkable career to this point, he would still have only 288 wins at the ripe old age of 38, and that is on the assumption that he, a full-time starting ace, could continue pitching, uninjured, for another full decade.

Face it. When Randy Johnson reached 300 wins last June, that marked the last time we will ever see that feat accomplished.

I know that is a bold statement, but when you consider the way that pitcher utilization has changed, the simple fact is that pitchers don’t see the same opportunities they once did to get a win. Between the shift from four-man starting rotations to one that includes a fifth starter, and expanding the use of relief pitching (middle relievers, long relievers, set-up men, closers, etc.), pitchers today get fewer appearances on the mound, fewer innings pitched, and then are not even guaranteed a decision based on their performances.

With a reduction in opportunity should also come a reduction in expectations.

In the early to mid 1900s, when the majority of Major League’s 300 win pitchers were realized, it was not unheard of for pitchers to toss in 40-50 games per season. Nowadays, if a pitcher can claim 35 starts in a single season it is considered a VERY busy year.

There just aren’t enough chances for a pitcher to have a legitimate shot at the 300-win mark anymore.

In 680 total appearances over 24 seasons, Jamie Moyer has won only 39 percent of those appearances. Andy Pettite has had only two 20-win seasons, and none greater than 21. C.C. Sabathia STILL has not had a 20 season winner.

Compare that to members of the 300 win club.

Roger Clemens had to pitch for 24 years, and sustain a win percentage of 49.9 percent over that quarter of a Century. Tom Seaver required 20 seasons just to hit 311. Within those 20 seasons, Seaver had to reach 20 wins five different times, including a 25-win mark in 1969. Cy Young (obviously the best of the best) won 56.4 percent of his appearances over a 22-season career which included 906 appearances, winning at least 20 games in 15 of those seasons (he actually won 30 games FIVE different times)!

Not surprisingly, when the pitchers had greater opportunities to amass wins, they won more games, making a total count of 300 more attainable.

Here is another statistic for you – the AVERAGE career length for a pitcher who accomplished 300 wins is only 20 years, and the AVERAGE age of retirement for that same group is 41. Based on the averages, EVEN the great pitchers still active today really have no shot at ever reaching 300 wins.

Essentially, the idea that a pitcher could achieve a career win total of 300 means that they would have to be above the average of already well above-average pitchers. So, why hold a virtually unattainable standard as an unofficial benchmark for automatic Hall of Fame induction? You may as well set 4,000 hits as the benchmark for hitters, and while you’re at it, let’s also set an unofficial expectation that you must have also won at least six World Series championships.

While I can appreciate the value in wanting to keep expectations for immortalization at Cooperstown very high, there must also be a need to accept the reality that much of the game has changed today, and that standards should also be changed in kind.

Back before the lively ball (in the late 1800s and early 1900s), season home run leaders such as Frank “Home Run” Baker knocked at best only 15-20 dingers all season. Back then, even the greatest hitters would not see more than 100-150 home runs over the course of their careers. By that standard, a hitter who hit more than 150 home runs would likely have been a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame.

Does that same standard apply today? Of course not! If it did, there would be 60 active players TODAY who would have already punched their ticket to Cooperstown, including Sports Geek’s personal hero, Jacques Jones! The way that the game was played had changed… as did the rules, the technology, and the equipment. As a result, standards had to be changed.

Yet, the pitching standard of 300 wins (which is likewise based on a standard set by guys like Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Eddie Plank, and Pud Galvin) was set during the Dead Ball Era when pitchers could throw spitballs, had more opportunities for starts, and pitched to more complete games. It is a standard that baseball purists are reluctant to throw away. It is a double-standard that will essentially be unreachable for any pitchers throwing in the league today.

By lowering the standard to only 275 wins, rather than 300, the game of baseball would at least be able to acknowledge a realistic expectation – even by Hall of Fame standards – for pitchers to strive toward.

Even if applied historically, that change would only open the door up to five pitchers previously retired who are not yet inducted into the Hall of Fame. And seriously, should a guy with 297 wins REALLY be excluded from the Hall of Fame just because he fell short of the magic number by THREE LOUSY WINS?!

A goal is only a goal if it can be reached.

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The Reliever Winning A Cy Young Debate – No Relief For Cy Young Candidates

October 9, 2009

Read the debate intro, Sports Geek’s argument that relievers should NOT win the Cy Young Award, and Bleacher Fan’s argument that relievers should be able to win.

I am almost directly down the middle on this one. As a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan, I know the importance of starting pitching – obviously. As everyone knows, starting pitchers essentially carried the Braves through the majority of their 14 consecutive division titles. However, as a Braves fan, I also know the importance of the closer – as the Braves lacked a dominant closer for many of those years.

To recap the two presented arguments about whether a Cy Young winner should be a relief pitcher, Sports Geek argued that relievers should not be eligible for the Cy Young. The point that strengthened the argument the most was the fact that relievers already have the Rolaids Relief Man award (what a great idea by Rolaid’s to sponsor this award?!). If is unfortunate that not everyone is aware of the award. Major League Baseball does a poor job of showcasing this award. Basically, it is for relievers only. Obviously, no starter is eligible to win this award. It is not voted on by anyone, but it is an award that is won based on a points system where eligible pitchers accumulate award points by saves, tough saves, and wins, with points taken away after a loss or a blown save.

Bleacher Fan, on the other hand, argued that relievers should be eligible with a statistical comparison of the 2009 seasons of Royals starting pitcher and Cy Young contender Zach Greinke and New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera. He showed that Rivera’s numbers statistically matched up favorably with Greinke’s. I also liked the analogy in the closing of his argument with the analogy of how a starting pitcher is similar to someone at the tee in golf while a closer is similar to someone on the green. In other words, the driver begins the hole but the putter finishes it out. For golf fans, a good analogy is J.B. Holmes starting the hole on the tee with his massive drives and Steve Stricker finishing out the hole on the green with his hot putter (as showcased in the President’s Cup this week).

However, one must make decisions in cases like this… and the decisions are not always popular. Such is the life of Loyal Homer here. Without further adieu, I award the victory to Sports Geek.

What won the debate for Sports Geek was the inclusion of the Rolaids Relief Man award. Relievers essentially have their own award. Leave the Cy Young award alone!! The argument also brought up the pitcher that the award is named after, Cy Young, demonstrating the fact that Cy Young had a whopping 749 complete games!! That is amazing folks. The creators of the award obviously meant for the award to be for a starter, and I agree with them.

As always, feedback is welcome and encouraged and I fully expect feedback from Bleacher Fan.

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The Relief Pitcher as a Cy Young Candidate Debate – Ahhh… Sweet Relief!

October 8, 2009

Read the debate intro and Sports Geek’s argument that a relief pitcher should not be considered for the Cy Young award.

The game of baseball, as it is played today, has evolved into a game of specialization. Nowadays, you have starters, middle-relievers, closers, set-up men, sinker-ballers, and knuckle-ballers. Each pitcher serves a purpose, and each is equally valuable to the organization. With that specialization, the evaluation of pitching success has also evolved, and must provide a fair measure of the game by today’s standards.

It is true that pitchers like Walter Johnson and Cy Young were expected to both start AND finish a game. The expectation at the time was that the best pitchers were those that could start a game and pitch nine innings without allowing runs to cross the plate. This arrangement is no longer the reality of baseball. Today, if a pitcher throws just six innings, it is potentially considered a “quality start.” Based on that fact, relief pitchers (even after a quality start) can still be called upon to pitch for the remaining 33 percent of a game!

Here’s some perspective:

Over the course of any season, the teams in Major League baseball will combine for at least 43,740 total innings of baseball played (that is before extra innings, play-in games, etc.). If a starting pitcher only throws for six innings per game, then relievers will throw for more than 14,580 innings of baseball every year (that is 486 relief innings for EVERY team in the league). That is a lot of pitchers over a lot of innings to exclude from consideration for determining who the best pitcher in the league is, just because they did not pitch in the first inning of the game.

The Cy Young award is supposed to be given to the best pitcher in baseball. It is not for the best starter, or the best pitcher who throws for more than 200 innings in a season. It is simply awarded to the best pitcher.

The candidate that many expect to win the American League award this year is Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals. Greinke definitely had a tremendous 2009 season, but compare his numbers to Mariano Rivera, the closer for the New York Yankees.

The first measure of a pitcher’s success is their ERA. Greinke, in 2009, pitched with an ERA of 2.16, which is extremely impressive. Rivera’s ERA, though, was only 1.76, which is 0.40 runs BETTER than Greinke.

As for the other vital statistics that a pitcher is measured on, compare Greinke and Rivera’s 2009 statistics based on an average of instances per nine innings –

  • Hits per nine innings: Greinke – 7.7; Rivera – 6.5
  • Walks per nine innings: Greinke – 2.0; Rivera – 1.6
  • Strike outs per nine innings: Greinke – 9.5; Rivera – 9.8

When comparing these two pitchers by equal standards Rivera actually has a better ERA, and gives up proportionally fewer hits, fewer walks, and strikes out more batters than does Greinke.

Relief pitchers are the go-to guys. When the starter cannot handle the mess, it is the reliever that is called upon to clean things up. Starting pitchers are like drivers in golf. They exist for a big production early, and hopefully put a golfer on the path towards a successful result. Relievers, on the other hand, come into play on the green. They are the guys who bring everything home. Whether the drive landed in the fairway or the rough, the putter ALWAYS comes out to finish the deal, and as Bobby Locke once said, “You drive for the show, but you putt for the dough.”

In a game that requires so much participation and production from relief pitchers, many of whom are required to perform under moments of extreme pressure, it is unfair to summarily exclude them from consideration when you are trying to evaluate who the best pitcher in the league was.

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The Bad Team with an MVP Player Debate – Failure is NOT a Valuable Contribution!

October 1, 2009

Read the debate intro and Loyal Homer’s argument that a league MVP CAN come from a lousy team.

Every team in the league has an MVP. It does not matter if that team wins 90 games, or loses 90 games, there is one player who is the most valuable to the organization in any given year.

There are also league honors in place for recognition of that player’s accomplishments. Such honors are All-Star invitations, contract bonuses, team MVP awards, even Hall of Fame candidacy for the truly special. Each of those honors exists to recognize a player’s performance on the field, and each are completely blind to the condition of the team on which that player is a member.

There are 30 different Team-MVPs every year in Major League Baseball.

Each of those player’s individual contributions were most valuable, in the context of their teams performance, and each one is duly recognized for those contributions.

When you talk about a League MVP, though, you have to consider their contributions in the scope of LEAGUE performance, not just TEAM performance.

A League’s Most Valuable Player is not necessarily the best hitter… that is what the Silver Slugger award is for. He is also not the best pitcher… those guys get the Cy Young. As for the best fielders, the Gold Glove award is their recognition.

The League’s Most Valuable Player is the award that should be reserved for the one player whose contributions were so vital that their team would not have been able to attain success without him. Consider the most valuable player from each team. Which player had the single greatest contribution to the success of their team in comparison to the other teams? Sometimes that contribution is leading a team to a Division Championship, or a Wild Card berth. That contribution could ALSO simply mean that a player’s performance was so good that a team which would have otherwise been bad was able to remain competitive throughout the season. Maybe they did not reach the playoffs, but they finished at third in the standings instead of dead last, all thanks to the player’s performance.

Sports Geek brings up the example of the 1987 National League MVP award, which was given to Andre Dawson of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs finished 1987 with a record of 76-85. I am curious to know what contribution Dawson made to the team that was SO great that he was named the Most Valuable Player of the entire National League that year, when his team only managed to win 76 games! Is it that the Cubs would have only won 40 games if Dawson had NOT played?!

When discussing the qualities of a LEAGUE MVP (league is the operative word, here), you have to consider the scope of their performance as it compares to the ENTIRE league!

The 1987 Cubs finished 18.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals that year. Do you know who played shortstop for the Cards’ in 1987? It was a guy by the name of Ozzie Smith… ever heard of him? That year, Smith hit with a .303 batting average, had 182 hits, batted in 75 runs, an on-base percentage of .392, and committed only 10 errors for a fielding percentage of .987! Smith also managed to draw 89 walks on the year, with only 36 strike-outs on the entire season. Oh, by the way, Smith also helped lead his team to a Division Championship in the NL East, and into the World Series.

How did Andre Dawson compare? Dawson finished the 1987 season with a batting average of .287 (that’s .016 BEHIND Smith), 178 hits (4 BEHIND Smith), and an on-base percentage of .328 (.064 BEHIND Smith). He also drew only 32 walks (57 BEHIND Smith) but struck out 103 times (67 MORE than Smith). In the field, Dawson committed 4 errors for a fielding percentage of .986 (which is close, but still .001 BEHIND Smith). The only thing that Dawson had that Smith did not was the long-ball, as he hit 49 home runs that year, compared to Smith, who did not hit any.

The MVP is not for the person with the most home runs!

In 1987, Ozzie Smith was a more consistent and reliable hitter, a better fielder, and led his team to a World Series appearance. Dawson did nothing more than hit a lot of home runs for a crappy team. If that is all it takes to win the League MVP award, then there have been many hitters who got robbed!

Criterion for voting on a League MVP should exceed rating the power behind a hitter’s swing. The criteria for this award should be to evaluate the player’s total contribution to the team, and the relative benefit that the team gained from that contribution. When comparing the contributions that Smith and Dawson made to their respective teams AND how that contribution translated into league competition, Smith comes out ahead by MILES! Dawson may have been the MVP of the Chicago Cubs in 1987, but he should NOT have been the National League MVP.

Moving forward once again to present day, the same principles still apply. The MVP of the league is NOT supposed to be the award for the person who hits the most home runs. It should be awarded to the one person in the league whose contributions were SO vital that the team would not have achieved the success they did without him. THAT is what the MOST VALUABLE PLAYER of the league provides… the MOST VALUABLE CONTRIBUTION of the league.

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The Best Pitcher of 2009 Debate – “The Freak” Freaks Out All Of Baseball

September 21, 2009

Read Bleacher Fan’s argument that Zach Greinke is the best pitcher of 2009. Read Sports Geek’s argument that Chris Carpenter is the best pitcher of 2009.

The 2009 Major League Baseball season is entering the last two weeks. While it sadly looks like all the division and wild card races will be settled before the last day (unless the Twins can get hot and catch the White Sox in the American League Central), there are some interesting battles going on in individual competition. As Bleacher Fan pointed out, the writers at The Sports Debates are going to assess the top pitchers of 2009.

There have been some standout performances by pitchers this year. Chris Carpenter, Zach Greinke, Mariano Rivera, C.C. Sabathia, and Adam Wainwright all deserve consideration, but to me, one guy stands out as “King of the Mound” – Tim Lincecum.

Yesterday, Lincecum took the lost against the Dodgers in a very important game, putting the Giants into an even deeper hole in the NL wild card race (4.5 games back of the Rockies). Lincecum struggled with his command, and was never really able to get on track. Despite the loss which dropped him to 14-6 overall, though, he has a 2.47 ERA with an astonishing with 247 strikeouts in 211.1 innings pitched on the season.

It’s true that Lincecum’s Giants have stayed in postseason contention the vast majority of the season, but it can be argued that Lincecum has had to be spot-on in his pitching to get his wins. It is no secret that the Giants’ offense leaves a lot to be desired. As a team they rank 13th in the National League in runs scored at 4.04 runs a game, a stat magnified even more by the .257 overall team batting average.

Obviously, Lincecum needs to have a quality start in order to give his team a chance to win.

When you think of the Giants pitching staff, which is the strongest point of the team, you think of “The Freak.” He and Matt Cain are the anchors of the Giants rotation, and as long as those two stay healthy, they will be a contender in the National League West and in the National League.

Lincecum is not a physically imposing guy. He is listed at 5’11 and 172 lbs officially, though that may be pushing it a little. What adds to his effectiveness, though, is his long pitching stride. It’s hard enough hit a mid 90’s fastball, but with that long stride it appears to be coming much faster. He also has a near unhittable pitch that is referred to as a “12-6 curveball”.

A lot of guys have had great years in 2009. No one is disputing that. However, when determining the best pitcher in 2009, look no further than the 2008 Cy Young winner. If you think someone else is better, then I challenge you to stand in the batter’s box and see if you can come close to hitting his curve ball. I bet you can’t!

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