Monday, November 10, 2014

HuffPost Goes Full Barve

I like the Huffington Post. In full disclosure, I'm a socialist tree-hugger so HuffPo (as we readers call it) speaks to me. Plus, I prefer my titles long, often unrelated, and oddly disproportionately about Jennifer Lawrence. So imagine my joy when my Braves were mentioned on my uber-progressive blog of choice. A political science professor from LaGrange College in Georgia named John A. Tures asked the question NO ONE ever needed to ask before. "Are Baseball Writers Discriminating Against Craig Kimbrel?" So...yeah...there's that. If you're curious, RateMyProfessor.com has Tures as a 3.5. I'm sure he knows political science very well. That's good since he needs a day job to fall back on because his baseball acumen doesn't come over very well here.

Once again, baseball writers are about to discriminate against a talented player for merely being the best at his position. If the sport was more about being a meritocracy, we would have a few more votes for Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel for the Cy Young Award, and maybe the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in Major League Baseball.

Okay, even if I buy the idea that Kimbrel was deserving of more recognition for those awards, why would he be discriminated against "for merely being the best at his position?" Aren't you essentially arguing that his position, namely as a closer, is causing the discrimination?  I do like your PoliSci background coming over in the usage of the word "meritocracy," though again, it doesn't really apply. Must admit I do look forward to you making the argument that Kimbrel's ability as closer is more important than Clayton Kershaw's ability as a starting pitcher.

...

Kershaw may have been the first starting pitcher to lead the major leagues in ERA (for four consecutive years) and had the lowest ERA for a starting pitcher since Greg Maddux. But he would have to give up fewer earned runs in a nine-inning game to top Kimbrel.

Craig Kimbrel's ERA for 2014 was 1.61, lower than Kershaw's and Maddux's. The year before, it was 1.21. In 2012, his ERA was 1.01. In 2011, his first full year, when he was the Rookie of the Year, it was 2.10. In four full seasons from 2011-2014 (he pitched in 21 games in 2010), Kimbrel's average ERA is 1.43. His save totals are 46, 42, 50 and 47. His average strikeouts per nine innings are 14.8 (in 2014 it was 13.9), while his K-to-walk ratio is 4.41 (in 2014, it was 3.65). Regardless of how well the Atlanta Braves are doing, Kimbrel gets the job done.

So, this is going to be your argument, huh? There is so much to go over here that it's going to hurt my brain. Let's ignore for a second that you are comparing ERA between relievers and starters...you used the term "average ERA"...DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE "A" IN "ERA" STANDS FOR? Now, I get that PoliSci majors aren't typically math minors, but b-ref will do the math for you. His ERA for those four years is actually 1.51...but I just think that it's so hilarious that you couldn't do that much. Oh, shit, now you're talking average K/9 and average K/BB...seriously, why even try, dude? For the record, Kimbrel's K/9 and K/BB for 2011-14 is 14.6 and 4.74.

Now let's compare Kimbrel's record to Kershaw's. Kershaw had his second 20-win season for his career this year. His ERA has never been lower than Kimbrel's, and is 2.48 for his career (2.28, 2.53, 1.83, 1.77). His average strikeout total per nine innings was 10.8 last year, boosting his career totals to 9.4. His K-to-walk ratio was better than Kimbrel's last year (7.71), but for his career, it's 3.41.

Please stop. There is no consistency in the comparison here and I don't understand why that is, especially for a PoliSci guy. I mean, you have to have some background in political statistics and while it's not exactly the same thing as baseball stats, I can tell you from experience that consistency in a comparison is important. So, anyway...ignoring this average BS you add, here's the numbers you were looking for, starting with Kimbrel to keep the numbers close. For a four-year sample of 2011-14, Kimbrel has a 1.51 ERA, 14.6 K/9, and 4.74 K/BB. Kershaw, for the same four-year sample, has a 2.11 ERA, 9.5 K/9, and 4.74 K/BB. Oh, and he threw 627 more innings than Kimbrel did, but that's not important, I guess.

Kershaw's statistics are good numbers, of course. And Kershaw's been rewarded with two Cy Young Awards and a second-place finish. But they aren't as good as Kimbrel's.

Ervin Santana had good numbers last year. Kershaw's numbers are ridiculously good. They are so good that nobody else comes close. Not to wreck this average ERA nonsense with fancy stats, but if we bring up FIP, Kershaw leads the majors (among qualified pitchers) over the last four years. Felix Hernandez is second. The gap looks like this: 1) 2.41...2) 2.79...but yeah, that's still not as good as Kimbrel. If I take the qualification down to 200 IP, Kimbrel leads the pack with a 1.52 FIP. So, you got me there.

No doubt, Dodger fans will argue that Kershaw has to throw more innings. Braves fans could counter that Kimbrel can't afford to make a mistake, where every inning is a pressure inning. Dodger fans can talk about how Kershaw has pitched deeper for his team into the playoffs (with disappointing results for the Dodger starter in the postseason) while Kimbrel backers can point out that Kershaw often pitches with a stronger batting lineup.

I hope no Braves fan would ever make that dumbass argument.

We could play these games forever. But when it comes to comparable statistics, like ERA, strikeouts per nine innings and per walk, Kimbrel has the edge. And yet Kimbrel can't seem to get a top-three finish for the Cy Young Award.

Not so sure you understand the definition of comparable, especially in this context. Just because they both have the statistic doesn't mean we can compare them with much confidence. Yes, Kimbrel is amazing at his job. Yet, Kershaw is amazing at his. What still seems lacking in this argument is whether a closer should be comparable to a starting pitcher in value. This is the argument you need to make. Please make it soon.

How does Kimbrel compare to other relief pitchers who have won the Cy Young Award?

Or do that, I guess.

Bruce Sutter won the Cy Young Award in 1979. He had 37 saves, an ERA of 2.22, a strikeout per nine inning statistic of 9.8, and a K-to-walk ratio of 3.44.

For what it's worth, Sutter finished second in fWAR that season to J.R. Richard of the Astros. Granted, the fWAR stat wasn't around. Sutter was amazing, but I don't get why Richard was screwed out of the award. Though, at least Sutter should have been in the discussion.

Steve Bedrosian of the Philadelphia Phillies got the Cy Young Award in 1987. He had 40 saves, an ERA of 2.83, a strikeout per nine inning statistic of 7.5, and a K-to-walk ratio of 2.64.

Yeah...and he shouldn't have won. Thank you for pointing that out. But basically, this seems to come down to no single starter pulling ahead. Voters couldn't hold their nose and vote for Nolan Ryan and his 8-16 record. Hilariously, Bedrocks blew eight save chances that season, too. There is a real argument that he was handed an award he didn't earn.

In 1984, Willie Hernandez of the Detroit Tigers captured the Cy Young Award. He had 32 saves, an ERA of 1.92, a strikeout per nine inning statistic of 7.2, and a K-to-walk ratio of 3.11.

He also "captured" the AL MVP that year because the voters in the 80's did a lot of coke. Sports writers showed how little they thought of Bert Blyleven that year. He even gave them a traditional smorgasbord of numbers (19-7, 2.87 ERA, 170 K's) and couldn't take home a Cy Young. In fact, he couldn't even finish behind Hernandez. Another closer, Dan Quisenberry, did that.

San Diego Padres' reliever Mark Davis took the Cy Young Award home in 1988. He had 44 saves, an ERA of 1.85, a strikeout per nine inning statistic of 8.9, and a K-to-walk ratio of 2.97.

Err, it was actually 1989. Again, we're talking about how no starter really pulled ahead of another. That said, Rob Dibble was a more deserving reliever that year and damn you HuffPo for praising that douchenozzle.

There's Eric Gagne of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who was awarded the Cy Young honor in 2003. He had 55 saves, an ERA of 1.20, a strikeout per nine inning statistic of 15, and a K-to-walk ratio of 6.85. Only Gagne's numbers on this list are comparable to Kimbrel's. Statistics from Dennis Eckersley and Rollie Fingers are also similar to Kimbrel's and they were honored with a Cy Young Award.

"Comparable?" Try better. Gagne was a roid-head, but he was better than every version of Kimbrel except for 2012 Kimbrel, which is really the year Kimbrel deserved more recognition. But Gagne did have the fortunate circumstance of a down year for starters. Both of the primary contenders, Mark Prior and Jason Schmidt, missed time leaving full-year starter Russ Ortiz to get votes for the Cy Young award. Ugh. Voters simply weren't going to award guys who were hurt and missed 4-5 starts and weren't Kershaw dominant.

So why is Kimbrel not receiving the same consideration as other pitchers? There are a few reasons. Kimbrel has had to compete with some good starting pitchers for these awards, like Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. Atlanta may be a small market team, but that didn't keep John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Chipper Jones from getting awards.

Did you not see that outside of Gagne, all of those awards took place from 1979-89? Sportswriters were enthralled with the idea that a closer was extra special. Part of this was due to bullpens not being so specialized. Sutter didn't have a team of guys getting the ball to him. B-Ref has tried to go back into the past and update game logs with the stat "hold." I don't know how accurate it is, but the Cubs had 14 as a team. Jordan Walden had 20 just last year. As such, closers threw 100 innings and often took the ball from the starter. Their importance was greater.

Small market team? The last four NL MVP's include players from Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. Of the last five AL Cy Young winners, we have a Royal, Ray, and Mariner. And when the hell did the ninth largest media market in the country, Atlanta, become classified as "small market?"

Now, you did stumble on a big reason why closers struggle to win the Cy Young. Who are they competing with? Is there a clear and deserving starting pitcher like Waino or Kershaw? Yes? Sorry, Kimbrel. And since you never made the argument, here it is for you. Kimbrel is great at his job. More accurately, he is elite. But as is Kershaw. So which is one is more important?

In this post, the word that is used with consistency is "comparable." The reason why this word is brought up so often is because there are numbers that can't be compared. Chief among them is that Kimbrel tossed 61.2 ING this season. 131 pitchers in the National League threw more innings than Kimbrel. Including Kershaw, who threw 198.1. Amount of innings is important. You wouldn't award the NFC MVP to Dan Bailey even if he is the best. Why? Because even if Bailey is the best at his job, his job isn't the most important one. Same idea with Kimbrel. He might be the best...that contention is arguable, by the way...but his job is of less importance than other jobs that require more innings. It's the same reason why I'm not a big fan of pitchers winning the MVP, by the way. It's all about value. That guy playing 120 more games is simply more valuable.

Now, to read about that substitute teacher that had sex with one of her students on her first day...seriously, HuffPo, this is what I expect out of you.

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