Friday, November 14, 2008

Zen Dayley: Some real howlers about the underappreciated

The larger point with Cliff Lee vs. Roy Halladay --is that we have no idea where fans' understanding of baseball is heading.

Lee, the Cy Young Award winner over the Jays' talismanic tall right-hander, put up numbers -- 2.54 earned-run average, 22-3 record -- that, if he had not won, you might imagine people looking at in 20 years and saying, "How did he not win the Cy Young?" It's a good ketchup answer that sort of shuts out any fresh insight. In 20 years, it could just as easily be, "How did Halladay not win when he faced the second-toughest hitters and Lee faced the second-weakest?"

Rob Neyer has written a pretty good analysis of Lee vs. Halladay, mostly in reaction to a column out of Toronto on the subject. It appears the latter writer has pulled the same stunt in five years ago when then-Jay Carlos Delgado was edged by Alex Rodríguez for the MVP award, going against his principles to stump for the hometown player.

Neyer's piece might be firewalled. ESPN is doing pretty well financially, so here's what he had to say, in its entirety:
"(Name redacted) somehow has missed the single best argument for Halladay: He faced better hitters. He faced significantly better hitters.

"This year in the American League, 39 pitchers pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title.

The hitters Halladay faced finished the season with a .766 OPS, No. 2 out of 39.

"Lee's opposition finished with a .735 collective OPS, No. 38 out of 39.

"There are 14 teams in the American League. Quick and dirty, we can split them down the middle; the top seven teams in the league are the Good Hitting Teams, the bottom seven the Poor Hitting Teams. Of Lee's 27 starts against American League teams, 14 came against Poor Hitting Teams. Of Halladay's 30 starts against American League teams, only 12 were against Poor Hitting Teams.

"The best-hitting teams in the AL were the Rangers and the Red Sox. Halladay started against them seven times; Lee, just three times. The worst-hitting teams in the AL were the Royals, the Mariners, and the Athletics. Lee started against those teams nine times; Halladay, only four times."

(Editor's note: What would Doc have done if he got to face the Jays' hitters?)

"Halladay pitched 23 more innings than Lee, against tougher competition. He walked five more batters than Lee, and struck out 36 more. Halladay completed nine games; Lee completed four.

"Now let me make the argument for Lee, without even mentioning wins and losses.

"There's not much difference between their ERAs: 2.54 for Lee, 2.78 for Halladay. If Lee had given up six more earned runs all season — just one earnie every month — their ERAs would have been identical.

"But unearned runs count on the scoreboard, too. Lee gave up only five of them, and Halladay gave up 12. Add everything up, and Halladay gave up 20 more runs than Lee. Halladay's 'run average' — all runs included — was 3.22; Lee's was 2.74. That's a significant difference, in a conversation like this. We've grown a lot, we baseball fans, over these past 25 years. But we continue to completely ignore unearned runs, and there's really no reason for it.

"There's no wrong answer here, though. Superficially, Lee's numbers are more impressive. Dig a little deeper, and Halladay's are almost exactly as impressive. If you could have one of them for one game tomorrow, you'd have to pick Halladay. But the award's not given for talent. It's given for performance, and Lee's performance was almost exactly as impressive as Halladay's.

"Lee won the award, because baseball writers have traditionally favored Cy Young candidates who win a great number of games and lose very few. Lee won more games than Halladay, and lost many fewer. (Name redacted) is a traditionalist, usually. I can't avoid the sneaking suspicion that if he covered any team but the Blue Jays, he would be throwing his full support behind the guy who went 22-3."(Emphasis mine.)
Not to be too repetitive, but as noted in the summer, Lee winning is like when Brigham Young was voted NCAA football champions in 1984.
"They had to, though, since BYU was the only unbeaten. The baseball writers might not want to vote for Lee ... At the rate he's going, though, they might have to vote for him.
If memory serves, that "how did he not win?" line of argument had some currency in 1997, when the National League MVP debate was between Larry Walker, Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell. Walker, who hit .366 with 49 homers and 130 RBI while playing in the thin air of Denver, won in a landslide, taking 22 of 28 first-place votes. The two future Hall of Famers who each played in pitchers' parks split the other six.

It was less understood at the time that Piazza had a better park-adjusted OPS+ (185 to 178) as a catcher than Walker, a corner outfielder (true, Piazza was not much of a catcher, but he still contributed more to his team's overall defence than Walker would have in right field, and more important, he was all man). Walker might have still got the MVP, but with 2008 standards, it might have been a closer vote.

(Update: Joe Christensen and Geoff Baker were two of the writers who gave Halladay a first-place vote.)

O Overbay, where art thou?

Jon Hale
at The Mockingbird has done a takedown on the whole notion of jettisoning Lyle Overbay. So what if he doesn't "do everything?"
"It’ll be a great PR move because it 'goes right after' the main problem of last year, but just like spending 55 million bucks (for B.J. Ryan in 2006) on the most highly overrated position in the game in a knee-jerk reaction to the Miguel Batista closer experience, if J.P. (Ricciardi) forgets that the whole reason he pushed hard for Overbay in the first place was that he is more valuable than he looks to the HR-duhhhh-RBI crowd and wastes money just to get him off the team, it will ... thus be punished accordingly."
A Toronto team make a move with more of an eye to PR than wins and losses? It's never happened.

Lee, Halladay really performed equally well (Rob Neyer,


matthias @ mopupduty said...

I think you have to give it to Lee. Going 22 - 3 on a team with an 81 - 81 record is tough to argue with.

With that said I'd rather have Doc over Lee any day of the week.

sager said...

Yeah, to me Lee would have to be the pick. Neyer's point about the "run averages," including the unearned runs, really drove home the point that Lee outperformed Halladay. He was simply pointing out some faulty analysis, and I tacked on the point that a certain staunch traditionalist writer seemed to change his tune when it was a Blue Jay finishing second in the balloting.

Writersare going to have to start looking at imbalances in the level of competition for pitchers and for position players with the MVP voting (my subtle way of saying a guy can't be MVP based on working every five days, or throwing 75 innings out of the bullpen).